Nepali Times

Circus Kathmandu in Europe

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Circus Kathmandu has stayed almost one month in Norway, and left for England today. And it is not just any circus, the performers are all Nepali children who were trafficked or they were rescued from the streets.

The Circus was set up four years ago by the British charity, Freedom Matters, after it rescued the children from circuses in India where they had been sold by human traffickers. Circus Kathmandu put their acrobatic as well as their many other skills to good use with structured training in a safe environment.

First performance at the festival.

First performance at the festival. Photo: Marit Bakke

Earlier this year, Circus Kathmandu performed a fundraiser in Dubai prior to the troupes current tour of Norway. The 10 circus performers are between 18-25 years old now and have been putting up shows for Norwegian school children and conducting workshops.

Circus Kathmandu had its first show in Pokhara in May last year, and the performers conducted workshops among street children and in factories.

After initial funding from Freedom Matters, Circus Kathmandu is now earning its own keep.

It was a great disappointment when last year they were refused visas to perform at the Glastonbury Festival in England, but they finally made it there after staging events at the Kalvøya Circus Festival, Norway. Their five ”Swagatam” performances 20-22 June were greeted with huge applause from the audience as the Nepali performers showcased somersaults, acrobatics with rings, and re-enactments of their difficult childhood days.

Ali Williams is founder and creative director of NoFitState Circus, a 28-year-old company with an international reputation for creating innovative contemporary circus. She did a 14 month sabbatical in 2012-13 in Kathmandu working with Circus Kathmandu. Understanding the group’s potential , Ali brought in volunteer trainers, including Felipe Salas from Colombia.

Photos: Marit Bakke

Felipe knew exactly what was at stake, having himself lived on the streets from the age of three before joining Circocolombia. He now works with homeless children to help them become circus artists.

“Felipe told us to work hard, he pushed us,” says Rajan, one of the performers.

Ali is full of praise for the determination and talent of Circus Kathmandu members, some of whom were trafficked into Indian circuses and rescued, rehabilitated and educated. In Norway, Circus Kathmandu has been hosted by the Xanti Circus.

Marit Bakke in OSLO

Read also:

Nepal’s circus champs Rubeena Mahato

Juggling with young lives Pranaya SJB Rana

A faraway rescue Rubeena Mahato


Conservation first

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Interview with former finance secretary Rameshwor Khanal who was appointed chairman of the recently formed Chure Hill Conservation Committee.

Read the original interview at

Why was the Chure Hill Conservation Committee formed?

The Chure region is an ecologically sensitive area, and the rampant degradation of the fragile Chure range has a direct impact in the Tarai. People downstream are already facing a range of problems including water sources drying up, frequent floods and landslides.

Why do you think you were chosen to lead this committee?

The Minister for Forests and Soil Conservation would be able to give an exact answer on this matter. But I feel that I might have been selected for this post since I was the finance secretary when the budget was allocated for Chure conservation.

What rights will the committee have?

The main task of the committee is to stop the ongoing, indiscriminate extraction of sand and stones in the Chure range. The committee will be responsible for designing and implementing programs and plans to save it from this practice’s destructive effects. It will also direct appropriate bodies to implement the committee’s decisions. The second objective is to ease the burden on and improve lives of affected local communities.

What will be done about ongoing debates over the jurisdictions of concerned districts and village development committees?

We will coordinate with all the district development committees and VDCs for Chure conservation. However, the conservation efforts shouldn’t be affected regardless of which concerned body objects.

Similar committees to protect the Chure range in the past struggled to yield substantial results. How will this committee be different?

The Chure Hill Conservation Committee wont be ineffective as others have been because I plan to involve committed, capable and qualified people.

Read also:

Help save Chure hills

Original Interview can be found at


Elections 2.0

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

The final preparations for the Constituent Assembly (CA) by-election scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday) have been completed, the Election Commission (EC) said on Saturday.

The voters in Kathmandu-2, Chitwan-4, Kailali-6 and Bardiya-1 are casting their ballots on Sunday.

The by-elections are being conducted as Madhav Kumar Nepal, Sushil Koirala, Sher Bahadur Deuba and Bamdev Gautam won the CA election held on November 19 from two constituencies.

The EC said that the voters would cast the votes through the electronic voting machines and all the officials have been given trainings for the same.

According to the EC, a total of 3,520 officials would be deployed in the four constituencies to conduct the by-election in a free, fair and fearless manner.

All the election materials and human resources needed for the by-election have been supplied to the concerned voting centres and the entire preparations needed for prior to elections were completed, Chief Election Commissioner Nilkantha Upreti said.

The EC has estimated the total expenses of Rs 110 million for the by-elections in four constituencies.

Nepal Police and Armed Police Force have been mobilised for the security.

Going local

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Traditional farmers from mountainous communities of Peru, Bhutan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea have come together to share traditional knowledge based climate change adaptation.

An International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples was formed in Bhutan last week to address the impacts of climatic changes on their food and farming systems and the adaptation responses needed.

The network also developed the “Bhutan Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples”. The Declaration calls on governments to support adaptation based on traditional knowledge which is specific to local contexts, and to respect indigenous peoples’ worldviews and cultural and spiritual values that lie at the heart of their adaptive capacity. It also calls for the full implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

At the Bhutan workshop, the communities also agreed to exchange seeds, to increase the chances of producing food in the face of more extreme weather.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the impacts of climate change increase with altitude. This means that mountain ecosystems are the first to be affected and will experience the most severe changes. The 5th IPCC report also recognises the role and value of local and traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation, while noting that such knowledge is often not included in adaptation planning.

The workshop in Bhutan was co-organised by Asociacion ANDES, IIED,  International Society for Ethnobiology and the National Biodiversity Centre of Bhutan.

Fish fight

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Nepal Army soldiers and locals clashed at Golaghat in western Chitwan on Tuesday evening over fishing dispute.

Three soldiers and two locals were injured in the clash. One police personnel was also injured when a police team that went to take the situation under control came under attack, Deputy Superintendent of the Chitwan Police, Shanti Raj Koirala, said.

According to Koirala, the injured are undergoing treatment at the Bharatpur Medical College and they have started investigations into the incident. The names of the injured have not been disclosed.

People from areas around the buffer zone of the Chitwan National Park fish in local streams and swamps. Fishing is allowed in the areas only with permission.

Locals said they have taken an army vehicle under control after the clash.

Modi Doubles Down on the Neighborhood

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

Pragmatic politics and economics lead India’s Modi to nuture strong ties close to home

Alyssa Ayres in Washington 


Foreign policy begins with neighbors: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, and Bhutan is set to be his first foreign stop (top); neighbor Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, right, traveled to New Delhi to attend Modi’s inauguration

Foreign policy begins with neighbors: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, and Bhutan is set to be his first foreign stop (top); neighbor Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, right, traveled to New Delhi to attend Modi’s inauguration

Foreign policy expert  Leslie Gelb argued in 2010 that “GDP now matters more than force.” Early indications from India’s new government suggest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi agrees. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s decisive win in India’s national elections has infused new energy and spirit into discussions of India’s future – especially economic.  As many have noted, Modi’s priorities appear focused foremost on a pragmatic growth strategy to get the Indian economy back on track. To achieve that he has indicated that international economics will acquire greater prominence in Indian foreign policy. A muscular foreign policy, Modi seems to have concluded, can only follow when economic strength can be translated into political and military muscle.

Thus,  contrary to earlier speculation about his Look East policy, he has been looking at the neighborhood to strengthen India’s economy and by the same token reduce China’s appeal to these countries. As Modi pursues a trade-and-investment-led agenda, his approach has the potential to enhance India’s influence through its markets, using economic leverage to more fully realize itself as a powerful regional engine while benefitting its economy at the same time.

Modi has already surprised the world with his unprecedented inauguration outreach to all seven heads of government from the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation countries, plus the Mauritius Indian Ocean neighborhood. Within South Asia, economics plays an enormous role in some of New Delhi’s most important relationships – the border with Nepal is fully open; India has a free trade agreement in place with Sri Lanka and an agreement with Maldives; and three years ago India offered duty-free trade concessions to all SAARC least developed countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Cementing strong economic ties among the SAARC countries has a ways to go – regional trade is under 2 percent of regional GDP, contrasted with East Asia’s 20 percent – and the Modi government now has the chance to double down on the effort. Given that over the years Delhi’s rival Beijing has developed close economic ties with India’s neighbors, becoming an increasingly important foreign investor as well as provider of infrastructure loans to countries across South Asia, building closer integration with these counries serves as a geopolitical objective.

So it is fitting, albeit unexpected, that his first visit abroad would be to Bhutan, as the Government of India just announced. Bhutan has a particularly close relationship with India, relying on New Delhi exclusively until recently for foreign policy guidance and defense. India is overwhelmingly Bhutan’s major trading partner, especially for electricity generated from hydropower resources. India has assisted with three completed hydropower projects, 10 more are under agreement, and three of those are currently under construction.  India and Bhutan have a trade and commerce agreement dating back to 1972, renewed for another 10 years in 2006, and India is also Bhutan’s leading development partner. Of course, India is also closely watching China’s border talks with Bhutan and China’s recent efforts to establish stronger ties with Thimphu.

Nepal, the current host for the SAARC meeting slated for November, has similar potential to benefit from India’s large market and Nepal’s own hydropower potential, something long discussed but unrealized due to a decade-plus of political instability. Now that Nepal has a government in place after a year and a half of drift, it can more proactively pursue its ties with India, and press reports indicate that Modi has indicated readiness to visit Nepal in November. With the Nepali Congress back in power in Kathmandu, relations with New Delhi should be smoother than during periods of Maoist rule – and it is certainly the case that the Modi government will see strong cultural linkages with Nepal, a Hindu kingdom until 2006 and now a majority-Hindu democractic republic. As with Bhutan, India is Nepal’s largest trading partner, source of transit and source of investment. But Nepal has long thought of itself as a “yam between two boulders,” squashed between giant India and China on either side. In recent years, as Human Rights Watch has documented, Nepal has come under more intensive pressure from China to restrict Tibetan refugee activities, changing the dynamic of Nepal’s traditional role as a safe haven.

Looking to the east, trade and regional connectivity with Bangladesh, a country of 155 million people, promise some of the greatest rewards should the Modi government surmount domestic objections that have delayed realization of a river-water sharing agreement across West Bengal and Bangladesh, and the finalization of land borders that would at last regularize the patchy enclaves that demarcate the border. An Indian gesture to provide a $1 billion credit line to Bangladesh in 2011 has been challenging for Bangladesh to utilize due to reported procurement requirements, so finding a way to make that work would help facilitate ties. Strengthening ties with Bangaldesh would help Dhaka in fighting Islamist extremism that threatens India and would curb China’s appeal. The most enticing opening would be stronger infrastructure connectivity to help link India’s northeastern states through Bangladesh and to develop more intensive linkages. Only about 20 kilometers remain without rail linkages, and an agreement signed last year between both countries should result in tracks laid from Agartala in Tripura, India, to Akhaura in Bangladesh. That link, coupled with the existing rail line between Dhaka and Kolkata, the Maitree Express, would substantially increase the ability for India to have transshipment access to its northeast along major routes – current access is through a tiny swath of land called the “chicken neck” – and would develop regional economic connectivity throughout the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor.

It’s in Pakistan where Modi faces the greatest challenges with a trade-led regional policy, but one that could deliver huge regional transformation if realized. Trade has been at the leading edge of India-Pakistan normalization, but the ball is in Pakistan’s court at this point to reciprocate and offer India “non-discriminatory market access,” otherwise known as “most favored nation” status under World Trade Organization rules, which India accorded to Pakistan in 1996. Estimates of trade volume that could result from Indo-Pakistan trade normalization run as high as $40 billion, up from $3 billion. Pakistan has been close to making this policy shift at least twice in the past two years, but as recently as April again declined. While this drama plays out internally in Pakistan, Modi has strategically sidestepped the matter, suggesting in his conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New Delhi that India and Pakistan could “fight against poverty” together.

Should India and Pakistan finally overcome their barriers to trade, Pakistan could truly serve as a trade corridor linking Afghanistan and Central Asia to India’s huge market and vice versa – part of the New Silk Road vision better linking Afghanistan to its region. At present, and even through non-contiguous access provided via Iran, India is the fifth largest bilateral donor to Afghanistan. Its private companies have invested in mining consortia, led trade delegations, and provided infrastructure support as well as connectivity among regional chambers of commerce. With eased trade between India and Pakistan, and transit access linking India to Afghanistan via the Pakistan landroute, increased economic opportunities could result for all.

The Modi doctrine will soon fully reveal itself.  Advance speculation about Modi’s regional priorities had conjectured he would prioritize East Asia – particularly Japan and China, which he had visited as Gujarat chief minister – among his first foreign visits. Instead, he’s first looking to consolidate India’s ties throughout South Asia. It’s a strategic bet: The World Bank has called South Asia one of the “least integrated” regions of the world. But that just means there’s everything to gain.

Alyssa Ayres is senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, based in Washington, DC. She served most recently as deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia during 2010 to 2013, covering all issues across a dynamic region of 1.3 billion people (India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, and Bhutan) and providing policy direction and support for four US embassies and four consulates.


Finding an Invisible Burma

Saturday, June 14th, 2014
Photographer Nic Dunlop (left) at the 'Burmese Days' talk with Nepali Times editor Kunda Dixit and author Emma Larkin, who requested to not be photographed.

Photographer Nic Dunlop (left) at the ‘Burmese Days’ talk with Nepali Times editor Kunda Dixit and author Emma Larkin. The name is a pseudonym that has allowed her to go in and out of Burma. To continue doing so, she requested not to be photographed.

On Friday the 13th, auspiciously the same evening that Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Kathmandu, Nepali Times hosted “Burmese Days,” a talk on the transition of Burma from military dictatorship to democracy.

Writer Emma Larkin and photographer Nic Dunlap shared insights from their work from more than a collective 30 years in Burma, and answered questions from a full lecture hall at Yala Maya Kendra in Patan Dhoka.

Emma Larkin is a pseudonym that allowed the writer to travel throughout, research, and author two books on Burma. Larkin discussed Finding George Orwell in Burma, a travelogue of her experiences in Burma. Finding, seeing, and gaining access while in Burma was part of the process and struggles of her work.

“Burma was an amazing place to travel around as a tourist, because you know there’s a dictatorship, you know there are political prisoners, you know there is a civil war, but you can’t actually see anything,“ Larkin says. “You can have this disturbing and intriguing phenomenon of an invisible dictatorship.”

Photographer Nic Dunlop had his own difficulties with this phenomenon. In his first trip to photograph Burma, he too was told about the military dictatorship. But how do you show something that you can’t see?

“There are no soldiers around. There were no guns,” Dunlop says. “We often see stories of victims, but we rarely see the other side. It made me doubt why I chose photography as my medium.”

Dunlop’s work, from over 20 years in Burma, is published in his book Brave New Burma. Many of those exclusively black and white photos were featured in a slide show Friday evening, and he told the story behind them.

Portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi by Nick Dunlop

Portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi by Nick Dunlop

Dunlop took the famous portrait of Ang San Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest (pic, left), and discussed what he was trying to achieve, but there’s more than the intended take away.

“I wanted to reflect something of her moral courage and defiance of a dictatorship,” Dunlop says. “But you can glean many different stories from a single image. That restored my faith in photography.”

Both Dunlop and Larkin emphasized that the situation in Burma today and over the course of their work was not so black and white—it was not good vs evil. On the role of the changes in Burma, Larkin was very interested on the long term psychological effects of 50 years of a military dictatorship has on people.

“The breakdown of trust was one of the more insidious things I saw,” Larkin says. “How does that affect you on a long term basis?”

There is more press freedom than ever in Burma, but finding answers to important questions like this is as challenging as ever.