Science - April 27, 2006

In the news/ Unrest in Nepal

For the past three weeks, the people of Nepal have been out on the street protesting against the absolute power of King Gyanendra. He now proposes to reinstate parliament. But is this enough to satisfy the Nepalese?

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Narayani Tiwari from Nepal is finding it difficult to concentrate on her PhD research at the moment. The situation in her homeland is distracting her from the work of writing up her thesis at the department of Sociology of Consumers and Households. ‘And it’s not only me – other Nepalese master’s students in different departments are also distracted by the events.’ She shows photos from Nepalese newspapers on the internet. ‘Everybody is out on the street. People are excited and want an outlet for the feelings of suppression. If I had been at home I would have protested: I’m also fed up with the situation.’

Narayani worries about her parents, the girl she has taken under her care there, and the rest of her family and friends in Nepal. Her husband is working in Australia at the moment and her son is studying in New Zealand. ‘Several protesters have been killed, and my mother also told me that the police had fired with automatic guns very close to their house.’ The killing last week of a professor of Kathmandu University with whom she was planning to cooperate, has also upset her. ‘He was knocked down by people on a army motorcycle, who then took him away and killed him.’

Searches
One example of the suppression in recent years was that the police could ring your bell any time of the day or night and enter your home to do a search. ‘They ask you to open cupboards and show your photo albums, but they carry guns. And I’ve heard about them making a mess of the kitchen and spoiling the food.’ She goes on to explain that you had to report who was staying in your home. ‘We are fed up with it.’

Three main forces are involved in the conflict: King Gyanendra, the Maoists and the seven-party alliance. ‘At present most of the power lies with the King or the Maoist rebels, because both are armed. Instead of fighting the parties should sit down and talk to solve the problems. The people want peace and development. But three weeks ago, while the parties were meeting, the King had bombs dropped from a helicopter at a Maoist meeting in Sindhupalchok district.’ These violent incidents are normal in the country. The army opens fire in public places and temples where religious gatherings are held and then report that they did so because the Maoists were holding a meeting there.

At the root of the unrest is the absolute power of King Gyanendra. ‘Nepal has been a monarchy for more than two centuries. Everywhere in the world monarchies are giving way to democratic systems of government. But last year our King gave himself even more power and dissolved parliament. The problem is he has the constitutional right to do so.’ But according to Narayani, even democratic elections won’t solve the problem. ‘We had democratic elections in 1990 and Nepal became a constitutional monarchy with a multi-party parliament. But it didn’t improve the people’s situation. Instead corruption grew.’ The Maoists split off and started a Maoist guerrilla force. They want equality for men and women, for the suppressed, for all ethnic groups. But they use violence to force people to live by their rules and make people leave their homes.

Economy
The main demand of the people now is a constitutional assembly. As far as Narayani is concerned the key issue is that the violence should end. ‘It’s nice that the King has suggested reinstating parliament, but he remains the only one with power unless the constitution is changed, and he has control of the army and the police. That should be given to the people too.’ King Gyanendra has not given any indication about when he will make the changes. ‘He just wants to continue on the throne. But he’s no good to the country. Lately he and his son splashed around tax money on a holiday in Europe. He could have opened hospitals and educational institutions in rural area instead.’

Narayani worries about the future. ‘I don’t know what is going to happen, but bullets are not the way to solve the conflict. Even if we get a new government, we still need hard working people. Incomes are low and we do not have enough resources for people to live on. The ailing economy is what we need to concentrate on,’ she concludes.

Yvonne de Hilster

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