The Downsizing of Nepali Democracy
by Kamal Pande



The most painful cause of Nepali adversity is poverty. The daily struggle for survival, to make ends meet, is a constant struggle for the majority of Nepalis today. Being landlocked, Nepal may be said to be a captive of its neighbour's interests. India and China have hurt Nepal in many ways because of geographical vulnerability. Our foreign policy is nothing but a balancing act between these two large nations. The rapid changes in geo-political and economic ties between nations of South Asia, however, may provide Nepal the much-needed psychological space for growth and development.

The Nepali judicial system is notorious for lengthy court cases, and this system has not performed to the expectations of the Nepali people. Revitalisation of the criminal justice system is long overdue.

The many incidents of human rights violations, torture of prisoners, deaths in police custody or encounters, the poor conditions of Nepali prisons, visitors not even being allowed to see prisoners, illicit dealings, bribes and kickbacks, have combined to give us a bad image, Surprisingly our leaders seem totally unaware of Nepal's dismal record.

In past decades many international tourists have been murdered, robbed or have just vanished without a trace on trekking routes. Foreign tourists are advised by their consular offices to take precautions to protect themselves.

The release of criminals goes back to the time of the interim government, when the then Home Minister Yog P Upadhaya (who was incidentally, Nepal's first ambassador in Washington), boasted that he was the most competent and successful Home Minister from among the SAARC nations. Not content with that, to add insult to injury, he went on to release 63 criminals, imprisoned for serious crimes ranging from narcotics smuggling to murder.

Before the well-publicised trip of the Prime Minister and his entourage to attend the UN sponsored "World Conference On Human Rights" in Vienna last June, the government gave out that Nepal Police had organised a workshop-seminar on human rights for its personnel. This did not convince human rights activists at home or abroad, since it was perceived as a PR exercise.

After the Jana Angola, Nepal's law and order situation has gone from bad to worse. Nepali people still feel insecure during the many serious breakdowns of law and order such as during bandhs and chakka jams. That rape, child abuse, murder and other heinous crimes have increased alarmingly reflect on Nepal's record of enforcing the rule of law.

Another serious crime that has been going on for decades is the trafficking in Nepali women and young girls, sold to brothels in India and elsewhere. This is one of the saddest parts of Nepal's current problems. Statistics indicate that the on-going trade from Mahakali to Mechi has increased almost tenfold. This has now been corroborated by international media including the 'London Times', 'Time', 'New York Times' and 'Le Monde'. The rise in prostitution in all towns and cities of Nepal has also brought deadly diseases such as AIDS in its wake. The fear of an AIDS epidemic spreading into remote villages is now very real, as many diseased. sick and retired Nepali prostitutes return from Bombay, Calcutta and other Indian cities.

About a year ago, Home Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was here in New York on his way to Washington D.C. to attend a ministerial level international conference on drug trafficking. In a meeting with Nepalis of New York he was questioned whether Nepal had sent fact-finding missions to the various Indian cities where Nepali women were prostitutes and also whether the government had any programmes for their rehabilitation if they returned home. He replied that there were more pressing matters and priorities in the country.

Today Nepal's image has been blighted by the sad treatment of Nepali women. Emancipation of Nepali women has a long way to go. Analysing the poor treatment and exploitation of Nepali women, who constitute a major segment of the population, one can see that they have been greatly oppressed by the shackles imposed by society's customs, traditions and other religious taboos.

Not only that, hundreds of Nepalis are currently in various Asian European and American prisons for drug-trafficking. Many men and women have been hired by criminal gangs operating in Nepal to smuggle drugs, antiques, and other cultural artefacts looted from Nepali temples and stupas.

The mysterious deaths of Madan Bhandari and Jeevraj Ashrit have exposed the lack of security extended to Nepal's political leaders, Members of Parliament and other public figures. The mysteries of their deaths need to be solved, as Nepal must protect its elected leaders more than anyone else. In a democracy, they represent the people.

The recent news about the theft of Lord Gautama Buddha's holy relics, 'Asthadhatu' from Swayambhu is a blow to Buddhists all over the world. They are stunned that there was no respect or security for the holy relics. This is another major crime committed by international gangs involved in the plundering of Nepal's national and religious heritage. The Kathmandu valley, which had been declared part of the world heritage, is today rapidly losing many of the priceless relics created by our ancestors.

Nepali timber, herbs and minerals also are smuggled out of the country unchecked, Government bureaucrats, police and smugglers operate hand in glove.

The Hundi and foreign currency rackets that have been going on for years are not salubrious for Nepal's economy. After the liberalisation of the Nepalese economy, Nepalis and investors may be holding accounts in foreign banks. The policy was intended to encourage the entry of foreign investors without restrictions and give them incentives to set up businesses and industries. The recent arrest of Mohan Khetan is just the tip of the iceberg. Even that has not convinced the public about the Government's seriousness, as the Khetan case has been blown up out of proportion.

The customs department at Tribhuvan International Airport has long been known to be a centre of rampant corruption. Even small officers are known to earn crores in no time. The Bangkok and Hong Kong trade blighted the Nepali economy, but for the smugglers and there officials, they were blessings. Hundreds of homes have been constructed from illegal earnings, bribes, kickbacks and smuggling. All this has impoverished the nation.

Kathmandu has become a centre for international traffickers, smugglers and other criminals, who operate openly with this city as their base of operations in South Asia. Kathmandu is rapidly developing a reputation for being a crime centre and part of the route for South-east Asia, Europe and the far East.

The open border with India has brought many ills of Indian society from the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal. Colonialism, language issues, dacoity, goondaism and other crimes have made inroads into Nepali society in the last few years.

The border towns along the Indo-Nepal border from Mahendranagar to Kakarvitta have become common centres of criminal activity. In the border areas, Indian criminals openly enter Nepal to seek shelter and escape from the Indian police. In the Tarai, the word dacoit, or bagee, terrorises the minds of visitors. Villages are regularly terrorised by Indian and Nepali gangs. Smuggling of goods, stolen motor vehicles, and drugs is common in the border areas. A lot of these activities take place under the noses of the police checkposts.

Nepali society is being raped from within by these corrupt elements. Add to that the failure of our law enforcement agencies, corrupt bureaucrats, inefficient civil courts, and the inertia of the present government to take corrective measures.

The Nepali Congress government has not been aggressive enough in fighting crime. The Nepali people are becoming silent victims of crimes committed against them. Since there are so many people breaking the law, there is little hope for justice. The police and other law enforcement bodies being poorly trained, and without proper advanced equipment is proving incapable of solving sophisticated crimes.

Nepali People Feel Insecure:

To implement the security of its citizens and create a climate of civility and decency, a society must possess mechanisms for the maintenance of law and order in good condition. The Nepali people are feeling more threatened and insecure than before the Jan Angola. It seems democracy has come as a blessing for criminals and corrupt elements of society as well as the common man. One would like to know what the causes for poor law enforcement, and the existing state of lawlessness in the country, are.

Auditor General's Report On Government Corruption:

The recent announcement that, after the establishment of multi-party democracy in the country, the government machinery has misappropriated or illegally spent more than 10 arab, 89 crores and 31 lakhs rupees, shocks me. (The figures were announced by the Auditor General's Office.) This is a mind-blowing figure. this is continuing, even after the Jan Angola. What happened to the establishment of a clean, moral, responsible and accountable government?

Reading about the magnitude of institutionalised corruption from the highest level of the government to the lowest, one may conclude that the threat to democracy, and the nation, is from within the elected government. The bureaucracy, and the nexus between smugglers, commission agents, businessmen and politicians, are contributory factors. The vicious circle that evolved during the Panchayat days, has now turned into a monster that towers over the aspirations and hopes of the Nepali people.

Several departments of the government - such as the excise, customs, income tax and other departments, have been known for corruption for a long time now.

For Nepali democracy to flower, one of the foremost requirements is the maintenance of law and order, protecting the rights of citizens and, last but not least, the provision of security to one and all. When the trust between the people and government is broken, the former feel alarmed. As a captive nation, Nepal will have to break her shackles to develop into a free nation.

(First published in The Independent, Nepal, on 15th December 1993.)


Footnote.

The only thing that has changed is that the new King has seized power. Does he care about the people?

My sympathies go to the ordinary decent people of Nepal, who deserve so much better.


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