From internet sources in Nepal and elsewhere, January-February 2007 X-6



Revolt in the Jungle. Last year’s demonstrations that ended up in taking power from the monarchy and giving promise of a new and more responsive government stirred the hopes of many in Nepal who have long felt neglected by the powers in Kathmandu. Among these were the Madhesis, a name given to the people who live in the flat southern plains of the Terai that were formerly largely jungle but are now extensively developed. Although Madhesis constitute 30 to 45 percent of Nepal’s population, they have had only minor representation in its government. More than 40 percent of them do not even have citizenship or voting rights. Their land (about a quarter of all that in Nepal) is the most fertile and productive in the country, yet this has benefitted very few of its residents. Many earn less than the equivalent of one dollar a day, and most feel that successive governments have short-changed them in terms of educational opportunities, health care, development programs and economic opportunity. The government’s new interim constitution (see below) did not, in the view of many Madhesis, properly address these problems. Upendra Yadav, the leader of Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF), responded to its unveiling by burning it publicly. That led to his arrest, which in turn led to a Madhesi transportation strike in Lahan in Siraha district. A vehicle there that was carrying Maoist cadres, refused to stop when ordered. When the strikers forced it to a halt, someone in the vehicle is believed to have fired the shot that killed a 17-year-old student. (“Ramesh went to Lahan to shop for me and sit his exam,” said his weeping mother. They told her someone else had been shot, “but I went to the clinic and saw his body. People say Maoists killed him, but how would I know?”). When word of the shooting got out, people went wild. Protesters vandalized seven government offices and set fire to five vehicles. In an attempt to control them, police fired several rounds of tear gas into the crowd and later fired real bullets into the air. Not all of these were wasted shots. When all was over, three people were dead. A 15-hour curfew was declared in Lahan, and as the violence quickly spread to other parts of eastern and central Terai, people were ordered off the streets in many other towns and villages. The MPRF announced a demonstration that would run from January 14 to February 7. It included a transport strike that seriously impaired Nepal’s economy, which depends on the transport of good from this area. In Malangwa, protesters attacked police, who responded by firing into the crowd, killing at least two people. Tens of thousands took to the streets in the city of Birgunj and marched with bamboo sticks and spears on the District Administration Office. In defending it, police wounded at least five. In Biratnagar, protesters focused their wrath on a local journalist, beating him severely. Although the Maoist leadership did not take the uprising seriously (“the splinter groups in Nepal are very small,” said Maoist leader, Prachanda. “They are located in only a few districts and they have very small numbers. . . in a clash, we can cross them in one week.”), the government did. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala announced that the interim constitution would be amended to give greater representation to the Madhesis. The government promised to pay one million rupees (around US $14,000) to the families of those killed and to pay medical expenses for those hospitalized. Yadav, who had been quickly released from arrest, declared a ten-day halt in the demonstrations, but promised further violence if there was no immediate progress in meeting Madhesi demands. The death toll up to that point was 24 (the student killed by the Maoists, 18 people killed by police, three dead in “civilian scuffles,” one policeman killed in Biratnagar, a truck driver in Sarlahi, and three killed by the “government-led” Janatantrik Tera Mukti Morcha). In addition, 67 people were critically injured. Another casualty was Nepal’s economy. The violence caused the shutdown of what is described as a major industrial hub of the country, with industries and businesses closing. The affected areas are also key transit points for goods traveling between Nepal and India. Among other things, this caused a fuel shortage in Kathmandu. Hundreds of cars and motorcycles were lined up outside of the few service stations selling gas. Automobiles were allowed no more than 1.32 gallons per car; motorcycles a little over half a gallon. The Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry estimated that the 20 days of unrest cost the economy Rs 2.50 billion (about US $350 million). Transport, industry, and - particularly, the agricultural sector suffered badly. In addition, property losses - mostly vandalized government buildings - amounted to around Rs 40 million (US $560,000) (various media, January 14 - February 14)


Other Ethnic Groups Making Themselves Heard. Ever since Prithvi Narayan Shah, who today might be described as a warlord, conquered the many disparate peoples that now make up the nation of Nepal and assigned their governance to his generals and supporters, the country has tended to be run by a centralized government that has been composed of a relatively narrow group of people. Things have loosened considerably since the 18th century, yet both politically and economically, the country is still dominated by upper-class Hindu men. Now, as recent events in the Terai show, others are beginning to want more of a voice in their own governance. “What is happening in the Terai is in a sense inevitable,” said Louise Arbor, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on a six-day visit to Nepal. “The conflict has obscured a lot of chronic, human rights shortcomings. . . As the space for democracy opens, marginalised groups take it seriously.” The Madhesis are not the only minority group that is seeking better representation. Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, which is dedicated to the welfare of 60 ethnic groups, staged a rally in Kathmandu in early February demanding proportional representation in the forthcoming elections for Nepal’s Constituent Assembly. Marchers brandished cardboard khukuris but promised that, if no steps were taken to advance their goal, the next time the weapons would be real. This was only one of eight scheduled demonstrations in different parts of the country. The Federation’s president, Pasang Sherpa, maintains that “we want our protests to be peaceful,” yet if, as in the past, no-one pays attention to its demands, the group will take more disruptive measures. Among the communities that feel under-represented are the Tharus, original inhabitants of the Terai who have become virtual slaves of the hill peoples who have moved into their territory, taken their land and developed it; the Limbus, thought to be the original inhabitants of Nepal but now concentrated in its eastern portion; the Tamangs, another Tibetan-related ancient population whose greatest numbers are in districts surrounding Kathmandu Valley, and whose young women are the country’s most frequent The Climb to “Partly Free.” Things have proceeded more or less according to plan since November’s signing of a peace treaty between the seven party alliance and the Maoists and the drawing up of a blueprint outlining steps leading to a new government. A 330-member interim parliament has been named, in which the Maoists have 86 seats. The 1990 constitution has been scrapped and an interim statute put in its place. Both interim constitution and parliament are now being amended to ease the Madhesi crisis. The United Nations has been monitoring the registration and storage of Maoist and government arms, and intends to do the same for elections in June for the Constituent Assembly. There are still suspicions and accusations being made by the two old enemies. Both sides have scolded the other for being behind the Terai uprising, and there have been isolated instances of violence. Yet basically things are on track - to the point where Freedom House, an American nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, to declare that “the region’s most important development was Nepal’s climb from Not Free to Partly Free due to the end of direct rule by the king and return of parliament. (various media, January 28 - February 15) victims of traffickers. These groups have organized local strikes and are promising more. “The government is hatching a conspiracy and trying to ignore the demands of the janjatis [original inhabitants],” says one of their spokesmen. The Himali People’s Alliance is made up of mountain people. It also is calling for “fair and proper” representation in the Constituent Assembly. “We had to form this alliance by involving representatives from 16 to 17 districts to press our cause.” The mountain districts need more, rather than less, representation, it claims because these areas are so undeveloped. The authorities seem to be listening to these voices. If so, there is a chance that the new Nepal may end up as a truly representative government that cares for all of its citizens. “We are coming into a new arena of politics where the various ethnic, linguistic, cultural and geographical groups in Nepal are clamoring for identity,” says Nepali Times Chief Editor, Kunda Dixit. “We need a political system that gives them a voice.” (various media, February 2-15)


What Happened to the Missing 812 People? Red Cross Pushing for Investigation.Bipin, the 21-year-old son of Shanta Bhandari was staying with friends in Kathmandu when security forces pulled him out of bed and took him away. “From that day,” says his mother, “I have been searching for him. I am sure he will come back one day.” He is only one of 812 people who are still missing at the end of “the People’s War.” The International Red Cross is concerned about this and is pressing the government to see what it can do to find them or at least to learn what happened to them. “The families of these missing persons suffer intolerably from not knowing what has happened to their loved ones, and they have a right to know,” says the head of the Red Cross delegation in Nepal. The government has agreed to set up a panel to look into the problem. Both Maoists and government have a record of seizing and often torturing and executing people they believed to be their enemies during the conflict. (Reuters, February 14)


New Citizens Added. Nepal now has 300,000 new citizens thanks to a recent Home Ministry drive that involved 520 mobile teams handing out citizen certificates in various districts across the country. Before the drive is finished, in two months, the estimated number of new citizens will be around three million. So far, 286,457 have been issued certificates based on descent; 13,964 on the basis of birth; and 407 on the basis of marriage. Although all babies with a Nepalese father have previously been eligible for citizenship, this is the first time that a Nepalese woman married to a non-Nepalese man can claim citizenship for her child. The task of distributing the certificates has not always been easy. There have been a number of instances where people not qualified for citizenship have tried to use force to obtain it. There have been beatings and death threats. Documents were stolen in southern Nepal and mobile teams held captive overnight in Siraha, also in the Terai. Most of those wanting citizenship but not meeting the requisite criteria were said to be from bordering areas in India. The Home Ministry promises to cancel citizenship cards if they are proved to have been acquired by illegal means or under pressure. (eKantipur, February 2)


Lights Out 40 Hours a Week. Darkness has descended over much of Nepal after Nepal Electric Authority (NEA)decided to impose a nearly-seven-hour per day power cut to reduce energy consumption by 25 percent. “We plan to keep one day power-cut-free, with power cut schedules on the rest of the days,” said a spokesman. Power needs in the country have been soaring but the weather has not been cooperative, with a drier-than-usual monsoon season. The power outage represents something more than an annoyance to many businesses and industries that have already been suffering from transport strikes and unrest in the Terai. The NEA has been in consultation with some of these. “We have requested them to cut down consumption by 20-25 percent,” said an official. “If that happens, the situation will improve.” Some industries are revising their shifts, and others considering a five-day week. The hope is that there will be some respite after the summer rains. If these fail to meet expectations, outages could go up to eight hours daily. Nepal has been trying to buy power from the neighboring Indian states but efforts have been thwarted by a lack of high-voltage power links between the two countries, as well as India’s own increasing energy needs. (, February 13)


Army Wants Outspoken General Punished or Dismissed. Dilip S. J. B Rana is Chief of the Nepal Army’s Western Divisional Headquarters. He recently made a speech at an army conference in Pokhara that has upset other Army leaders. These have written to the Defense Ministry urging it to take action against the general for remarks that they consider contrary to Army “tradition and policy.” Rana had claimed that Maoist violence had taken birth in the country because of political instability, rampant corruption, and poor governance following the restorationof democracy in 1990. The army, he said, had fought relentlessly against the Maoists, forcing them to renounce the politics of violence and sit for dialogue. He believes that vested activities on the part of the political parties has added fuel to the fire of Maoist violence, and that the National Investigation Department will not act as anticipated, since political parties have filled it with their own men. After the Pokhara conference, Army authorities demanded an explanation. He was summoned to Army headquarters to clarify his statement but was found guilty after interrogation. One of the punishments being considered is dismissal from the Army. (, February 8)



Nepalese Soldiers in Haiti. A contingent of 350 soldiers from Nepal have arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to augment a UN peacekeeping force there. They will be used to beef up efforts to contain criminal gangs operating in that city. The UN has launched a recent campaign to tame the armed street gangs who have been terrorizing the city of Port-au-Prince. Some of its troops have been lost in violent encounters with the gangs, but their nationality is not known. “The Nepalis have a great reputation as disciplined and professional soldiers,” says their UN commander, Major General Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz. (Himalayan Times, January 31; New York Tmes, February 10)


Larger Numbers Leaving Nepal for Work Abroad. The number of people leaving Nepal to seek employment in other countries increased by 11.34 percent from mid-July to mid-February. During the past month, it was up to 38 percent from last year’s total. Malaysia and Qatar absorb most of the Nepali workers, but lately, dwindling job demand in Qatar and low wages combined with an income tax in Malaysia, has steered more of the job aspirants to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. The number of workers leaving for Saudia Arabia increased by 98 percent, and for U.A.E., 37 percent. (eKantipur, February 14)


The Shooting at Nangpa La: a Follow-up. When, last September, Chinese border guards shot and killed two Tibetans, including a nun, who were trying to enter Nepal on their way to see the Dalai Lama, the world learned about it because there were Western climbers nearby who filmed the event. These watched while the Chinese marched the Tibetans who were not able to escape away at gunpoint. No-one knew what happened to them after that. Now one of them, Jamyang Samten, a 15-year-old, has been able to make a second, and successful, attempt to leave the country and can tell us at least what happened to him. With the others, he had walked for eleven nights to the high border pass of Nangpa La, sleeping behind rocks during the day to avoid detection by Chinese authorities. When the Chinese started shooting, some of the Tibetans were able to flee. Others, like Samten, hid behind rocks for three days. When their food ran out, they made another attempt to get over the pass but surrendered when the Chinese started shooting near them. He does not say where he was then taken, only that he was regularly beaten, given shock treatment, and made to do hard labor. One day, they told him he was being released because it was his first arrest for escaping. “If I tried again to escape and was caught, I could face execution,” the policeman told him. He returned home, then went to Lhasa where he went to see a high lama who told him that if he tried a second escape, he would succeed. His uncle put him in touch with smugglers who knew “a shorter, but more expensive” route to freedom. He does not say where he entered Nepal - only that the journey was even more physically punishing than the first. “I was exhausted but I decided that even if I had to crawl I would make it to the border. . . I knew in my heart that I would succeed and that kept me going.” He did indeed succeed, and a month later, he reached Dharamsala and the Dalai Lama. (Associated Press, February 10)



King’s Motorcade Stoned. Angry crowds stoned King Gyanendra’s motorcade as it was taking him to Pashupatinath to celebrate the Hindu festival Mahashivrati. One vehicle was hit but the king safely arrived at the Hindu holy site. The attack came in spite of authorities deploying thousands of policemen at the pilgrimage site out of fear that hordes of sadhus from India would be used to create an incident that would discredit the new secularization of Nepal’s government (see under “Religion,” below). At the same time the crowds were shouting, “Gyanendra thief, leave the country!,” the city was plunged in darkness with a power outage. Before the king made his return journey, the police, wielding batons, had driven the crowds back from the route. (Reuters, February 18)


Watching Peacocks. “King Watches Peacocks as South Nepal Burns,” shouted a headline, easily evoking the image of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Yet there is very little else King Gyanendra has to do these days except watch peacocks. Unlike Nero, he has no authority these days to take action in south Nepal or anywhere else. Nearly all his powers have been taken away from him and he is now awaiting a vote on whether the monarchy will be abolished entirely. His face has even been removed from Nepal’s ten rupee note and replaced by a view of Mount Everest. He was described as looking glum as he and two aide-de-camps spent a long time watching peacocks at play on the grounds of Narayanhity royal palace. Gyanendra does not live at the palace. He has moved to a new mansion in Nagarjuna, which is said to be the epitome of luxury, complete with a helipad, tennis court, swimming pool and home theater. Rumors have been circulating that he is planning to abdicate in favor of his grandson Prince Hridayendra, or at least to leave the crown in the little boy’s hands while he leaves the country to spend some time alone. Those near him say that he says he is tired and wants to take a break. The palace has vigorously denied these rumors. “The king is very much here, the peace process is on, and everything is going as people would want. . . . There is absolutely no truth to this report whatsoever. It is highly irresponsible reporting.” As for how Gyanendra looks at his seizure of power in 2005, he says, “I took the step thinking it would be good for the country. It did not turn out that way, but I have no regrets.” (several media, February 4-12)


Dipendra’s Forbidden Bride to Marry. It is believed that it was because his parents did not want him to marry the woman he loved that Crown Prince Dipendra went on a drunken rampage and killed ten members of the royal family on June 1, 2001. Diprenda himself did not survive the massacre but Devyani Rana, the lady he wanted to marry, has been working for the UN, and, after “passing through trying times,” has accepted the offer of marriage to Ashwarya Singh, scion of one of India’s leading noble families. It will be “a chance to exorcise the ghost of the royal palace massacre and begin a new life,” say family members. Devyani’s mother is an Indian maharani and her father, the head of Nepal’s powerful Rana family. It is expected that there will be 5,000 guests at the wedding, including such celebrities as Sonia Ghandi and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. King Gyanendra is said not to have been invited. (The Australian, January 20)


A Quiet Birthday Party. What made Crown Prince Paras’ 36th birthday bash newsworthy was that there was nothing newsworthy about it. In earlier celebrations, the prince has gotten drunk, had fights, and been involved in automobile accidents, including one that resulted in the death of a popular singer, but this was a very staid and quiet affair. “Incredible!” was the reaction of a writer in Ghatana R Bichar, a Nepali weekly. “The crown prince parties in a five-star hotel and yet there are no untoward incidents!” The article went on to say that the event was “one of the most low-key celebrations the palace has seen in its 238-year-old history.” The event was described as “a discreet family gathering attended by his royal cousins and their spouses and a few select guests.” Although pressed by other guests, the prince refused all alcohol. With the institution of monarchy being put to the vote in June and parliament expecting to take a part in deciding the next succession, it does not hurt the royal family - and particularly Prince Paras - to keep a low profile. He has not been popular in Nepal (see below). (India, January 6)


Crown Prince’s Son Involved in Road Accident. It was not Crown Prince Paras but a car taking his son, Hridayendra, for a visit to his aunt that ran into (or was run into?) a motorcycle in early February. The details of the accident are not clear, but for many people, including those near the scene of the accident, it was a reminder of the time the drunken crown prince, coming home from a night club in the late 1990s, collided with a motorcycle and killed a popular musician. (Because members of the royal family were at that time considered basically above the law, he was not punished.). Following this accident, an angry crowd gathered, blocking the road, burning tires and shouting anti-monarchy slogans. The little prince was quickly whisked away to a remote and inaccessible place in Gokarna where he would be safe from public anger. A few days later, palace officials handed over 24,000 rupees (around US $340) to the traffic police officer on the scene to be used to compensate the stricken motorcyclist. (rxpg News, February 3)



Koirala’s Last Speech? “I am old. I am sick. This may be my last speech, so listen to me.” That is how Prime Minister Girija Koirala opened the speech in which he pleaded for a peaceful resolution of problems. To help this along, he pledged that a future Nepal will be federal in nature and that the number of electoral constituencies in densely populated areas, a demand of the Madhesis. The interim constitution will be amended to reflect these changes. The Prime Minister is 85 years old and has been diagnosed with Hepatitis E. (BBC News, January 31)



Valentine’s Day Snowfall. Kathmandu Valley experienced its first snowfall in 63 years on February 14. There was no need to bring out snow shovels. The snow might at best be described as a “dusting” that was mostly confined to the higher elevations. Yet it was enough to bring people to the streets and school children from their classrooms. The mobile phone system was paralyzed for an hour as people tried to call each other to share their excitement. Kathmandu’s last snowfall was in January 1944 at which time one foot of snow covered the city. (, eKantipur, February 14)


Street Vendors Impede Foot Traffic. Kathmandu pedestrians are complaining that because the streets in such places as Ratnapark, Sundhara and New Baneshor are so crowded with street vendors that thers is no place to walk. “If we walk along the road,” says one of them, “there is the fear of accident. There is no place to put foot on the footpath.” Vendors have woes of their own. “What else can we do? We have no other option to eke out a living,” complains a vendor at Sundhara. Most vendors, he says, would prefer to be doing something else. “Who wants to become a street vendor if a respectable job is available?” demands a vendor based near Bir Hospital, who says he makes around 3,000 rupees (a little over US $42) per day and has three dependents he has to take care of. The city has rules forbidding street vendors to operate during evening hours and has so far collected around 1.5 million rupees (more than US $21,000) from 3,000 street vendors who have “flouted” this restriction. “Street vendors are a big problem,” says a Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) official. “There is no place where these people can be shifted.” Yet security reasons make it impossible to operate night markets. (Himalayan Times, January 31)


A Casino War. Nepal’s casinos are one of its biggest tourist attractions, bringing the government an annual royalty of 1.5 milion rupees (around US $21,000). They are owned not by Nepalis but by an Indian and an American. Richard Tuttle is said to be a former soldier who came to Nepal and became close to the royal family. He now runs Nepal Recreation Center, which operates Kathmandu’s six casinos. Rakesh Wadhwa was a New Delhi accountant who later became a partner in the casino business. He runs Casino Royale and Casino Everest, and his wife runs a new gaming center, Casino Shangri La. The story is that a Maoist trade union took a look at the books and discovered that large sums were being paid out of casino profits to the royal family on a monthly basis. Their opposition to this practice led to a lessening of payments to the palace and this, in turn, is said to have led to pressure on Tuttle to do something about it. Looking for a scapegoat (as the rumor has it), he turned on Wadhwa and demanded that the latter close Casino Royale within 24 hours. When it appeared that the casino would remain open, 100 men stormed through its doors, stopped all work and replaced Royale’s chips with those of another casino. Police arrived to take both Tuttle and Wadhwa into custody. Casino Royale is considering legal action. (rxpgnews, January 10; India, January 14)



17 Years in a Cage. Indira Pyakurel, 37, has spent the last 17 years of her life in a cage outside her maternal home in a village in Dhading, not far west of Kathmandu. Her husband abandoned her when she gave birth to a girl only six months after her marriage. At that point, she apparently went to pieces. “She started to abuse others, hit them by stones and roamed here and there,” said her father. They gave her treatment for witchery but this did not help, so the only thing left was to lock her up. For nearly two decades, her cage has served as her bedroom, dining room and bathroom. Her brother is urging the government to undertake her support, treatment and rehabilitation. There is no-one in the family to take care of her, he says. (Rising Nepal, February 8)



200,000 Carpet Workers Idle. Nepal’s carpet industry pays its workers more than seven times what India pays its workers, and the government demands that carpets be hand-made rather than machine-made. As a result, its carpets cost 60 percent more in the international market, and have fallen way behind those of India in export sales (4,500 square feet exported as opposed to India’s 2.61 square feet). It has not helped that labor unions affiliated to the Maoists are insisting on higher wages for carpet workers and have padlocked the offices of Nepal Woolen Carpet Exporters Association and ten major carpet factories. Although the move is ostensibly to benefit the workers, it has left some 200,000 of them out of worki. (eKantipur, February 7)


Apparel Exports to US Down. Nepal’s sale of readymade apparel to US markets has been in decline since 2003. It is not tariffs that have impeded sales so much as procedural complications, long customs processes and requirements for detailed documentation. 2006 saw a 6 percent drop. This was a little better than for the two previous years, yet still discouraging. The US accounts for nearly 85 percent of garment exports from Nepal. (, January 4)


Attempt to Stop Surcharge Brings Death Threat. Hotels and restaurants have been adding 10 percent to their customers’ bills after signing an agreement “sometime back” with trade union workers. A lawyer, Jyoti Baniya, is one of several who recently filed a petition before the Supreme Court on behalf of the Consumer Rights Protection Forum. They claim that the charge is unjust and illegal. The union, the Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Hotel and Restaurant Workers Association, is upset about this. So upset, in fact, that they are ready to take drastic action to keep the added charge in place. Baniya says he received a call one morning from the union’s president, Kamesh Panta. “He threatened to kill me if I declined to withdraw the writ petition within two hours.” Instead, Baniya reported the threat to the press and to the Nepal Bar Association, which issued its condemnation. Panta, when interviewed, claimed, “we did not threaten him. Rather, he is against the workers, as the agreement is for the workers.” Under the agreement, workers and trade unions get 68 percent of the additional revenue and the owners, 32 percent. “We will organize and protest to insure our right,” declared Panta. (Rising Nepal, February 7)



Peace Benefits Rhino Population. It is not just Nepal’s ordinary citizens who may be relieved that “the People’s War” is over. The restoration of normal life in the country may save the lives of many of Nepal’s endangered one-horned rhinos. Poaching has been taking place for a long time but was given a boost when Nepal’s insurgency intensified and the soldiers who would normally be able to guard against poachers were needed somewhere else. According to Dr. Udaya Raj Sharma, Acting Secretary at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, 25 of the National Parks’ 32 security posts were abandoned during the conflict. In Nepal, the Army is responsible for running the parks and when there are more urgent things for it to do, the parks are left without protection. In 2000, there were 612 rhinos in Nepal’s protected forests (Chitwan and Bardiya National Parks and Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve). In the most recent count in 2005, there were only 379. Poachers were known to be responsible for more than half of the deaths. Rhino horns and other body parts fetch high prices in China and elsewhere, making poaching extremely profitable for its practitioners. Sharma reports that security posts are being restored and, although poaching still continues, it is on the decline. “You cannot protect the rhinos just on the basis of the gun,” he says. “You need participation of local communities also.” Yet he believes that the level of awareness of the problem is increasing. “There is a growing realization now that rhinos are the heritage and property of all the people of Nepal.” Local communities are taking responsibility for stopping poaching in community forests outside of park boundaries, yet they are not match for poachers with sophisticated weapons. To deal with the “buffer areas,” he is planning a Mobile Rhino Security Team, based in Tikauli in Chitwan, that can respond to particular threats. (Spotlight, February 2)


Primate Export Policy Protested. Nepal is one of the few countries in the world that allows the use of apes for biomedical research. This does not sit well with animal lovers in other countries. Last year, almost 1,200 people from 21 countries signed a petition opposing the Nepal Biomedical Centre’s plan to export a sampling of monkey, both bred in captivity and from the wild, for use in the US for biomedical research. Several groups dedicated to wildlife protection are lobbying strenuously to reverse the Nepal government’s 2004 wildlife farming policy that allows the Washington National Primate Center and Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research and their Nepali partners to catch, breed, and export Nepali monkeys to Washington and Texas. India banned primate exports in 1977 when it learned that its monkeys were being used in gruesome radiation experiments. (Nepali Times, February 2)


Attempt to Lock Park Office Foiled. When members of the group “Save the Rhino” learned that conservation officers at Chitwan National Park had given what they considered an overly light punishment for serious poaching in the park, they decided to take action. Their plan was to lock up the main office of the park but the Nepal army, whose responsibility is to run the national parks, was able to stop them. Thus foiled, they locked ten different offices associated with the conservation drive, including community forest offices in six different communities. (Himalayan Times, February 2)



Urge “Sexual Harassment” to Include That Against Men. According to a study conducted by the International Labor Organization and the Forum for Women, Law and Development, almost half (48.4 percent) of working women in Nepal face sexual harassment in their places of work (73 percent in agriculture; 27 percent in other sectors). Nepal has signed international treaties outlawing sexual harassment and is committed to stop its practice. There are no statistics on the number of men who have been subjected to sexual harassment by women, yet the Law Reform Commission is now considering redefining “sexual harassment” to include just that. It also recommends compensation for victims who are “physically, psychologically, socially and mentally affected” and urges that employers be held liable for not maintaining a fair environment at their place of work. (Himalayan Times, February 1)


Bigamist? Child Molester? Girl Trafficker? Prospective Husband Says Intentions Innocent. Mohammad Taswa is a young Indian who came to Nepal to find himself a wife. Maybe he was greedy. Maybe he just couldn’t make up his mind. Or maybe, as suspected by Nepalese authorities, he was engaged in girl trafficking. In any case, he has been detained by police after the families of two girls accused him of luring their daughters away to sell them in India. His intentions were innocent, he said. He planned to marry them. The fact that there were two of them and their ages were 11 and 15 did not seem to present a problem. Authorities are alert to the fact that, every year, thousands of women and some young boys are trafficked to India, usually with the promise of marriage or well-paid jobs, and often with the connivance of government and security officials on both sides of the border. (, February 8)



More than Half of Nepalis are Without Toilets. For most Nepalis, if you’ve got to go, you just go, usually in the nearest open field. Sixty-one percent of the people in Nepal do not have access to toilets, according to a recent report by Nepal Water for Health and Nepal Living Standard Survey. What may be more remarkable is that even the 39 percent who do have toilet facilities do not necessarily use them. There are various reasons for this, such as the ugliness involved in cleaning them, their foul smell, the collapse of latrine roofs and pits getting filled with water during the monsoon season. There are people in some communities who are unwilling to accept rhinos as role models and have noticed that only rhinos defecate always in the same place. Some public health groups have decided that the only way to change bathroom habits is to educate people to the dangers of open defecation. Government figures indicate that 80 percent of diseases contracted by Nepalis are the result of poor sanitation and unsafe water. More than 33,000 people in Nepal die of diarrhea, a water-borne disease. Open defecation is also the biggest cause of anemia in the Terai. It means field are strewn with hookworms that enter the body through the feet and there feed on human blood. If latrines are to be the answer, they will be a long time coming. As things stand now, Nepal would have to build 14,000 latrines every month to meet Nepal Water for Health’s minimum goal of halving the number of people without access to sanitation by 2015. (eKantipur, January 17)

Doctors Missing in Eastern Nepal. A quick count in late January revealed that only half of the doctors allotted to positions in district hospitals and primary health centers in the eastern region of Nepal were present for duty. Forty of the 95 positions are vacant and eleven doctors have left for training or have simply gone home. This has left the district hospitals of Ilam, Dhankuta and Panchtar, each of which is supposed to be staffed with three doctors and a medical superintendent, with no doctors at all. No explanation was offered in the news report for the absence of doctors. (eKantipur, January 18)



More Girls in the Schools. There have long been complaints that only boys -- or at any rate, mostly boys - have a chance to get an education in Nepal. Now comes word that, at least in the far eastern district of Ilam, increasing numbers of girls are attending community schools and that there are even schools where girl students outnumber boys by well over 50 percent. “Back in our times,” remembers a secondary school teacher in Laxmipur, “daughters were not sent to schools.” Now there are 115 girls in his class 10 with 93 boys, a margin of 20% more girls. (eKantipur, February 1)




Indian Doctor Retrieves Kidnapped Son. Deepak Kaushal is an Indian cardiologist who set up a medical college in southern Nepal before joining the staff of Norvic Heart Hospital in Kathmandu, where he is regarded as one of the best heart specialists in the country. He had been planning to return to India when he agreed to see a new patient at home. The so-called patient arrived with three men who said they were relatives. Once inside, they whipped out guns and went around the apartment, seizing whatever money and jewelry they could find, as well as a digital camera and other electronic equipment. What was more upsetting to the doctor was that they also took away his 3-year-old son. A short time later, he received a phone call from someone who claimed to be a Maoist. “Pay us 5 million rupees [more than US $70,000] if you want your child back,” said the caller. Dr. Kaushal turned to the police and to someone whom he knew had connections with the Maoists. When contacted, the Maoists said they knew nothing about the kidnapping and agreed to take part in a sting operation planned to trap the wrongdoers. They and others followed Kaushal when he took the money to a place designated by the kidnappers. Once there, the doctor was told to go to a five-star hotel in another part of the city, and once there, to another hotel near his home. It may have become obvious to the bad guys that the group that following the doctor on each of these moves was his support team. They fled without collecting the ransom. Later, passers-by encountered an Indian child roaming the streets alone, unable to speak Nepali. They took him to a police station and he was eventually reunited with his anxious parents. This was at least the sixth kidnapping in a month in Kathmandu that had people of Indian origin as its target. (, January 28)


Stolen Cell Phone Leads to Arrest. When a former Inspector General of Police, Moti Lal Bohara, was attacked with knives on the street, the rumor quickly spread that it was the work of royalists or criminals seeking revenge. A massive manhunt was launched before the assailants were discovered and apprehended. They turned out to be three drunken teenagers who wanted the former official’s Motorola cell phone. The two 15-year-olds and one 18-year-old assaulted Bohara “after being overcome by the charm of the mobile set,” said the Police Superintendent. “They had never intended to kill Bohara.” It was the cell phone itself that led to their arrest. Police were able to track them down by tracing the phone. (eKantipur, February 1)



Olympic Torch To Burn on Summit of Everest. Mount Everest will offer the backdrop for political pageantry when a torch will be carried to its summit to announce the opening of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. A rehearsal is being planned that will take place during this spring’s climbing season. A team of Nepalese Sherpas and porters is being trained to take the torch up their side of the mountain and funds for their support are being solicited by the Nepal Mountaineering Association. The climbers will be met on the summit by “specially-trained” Chinese mountaineers, who will descend with the torch on their side of the mountain and send it on its way to Beijing. A torch that can perform at high altitudes is being designed. It is traditional that each Olympics be opened with a torch carried from Athens, home of the original modern Olympics. This one will pass through five continents on its way to its destination. Planners seem confident that Everest will cooperate with their scheme in providing good weather and favorable climbing conditions (it is not always reliable in this respect). The Nepal Olympic Committee and National Sports Council are looking forward to the event. “It will be a huge thing for us.” (DNA [Daily News and Analysis], January 14)


A Pilotless Rescue Plane for Mt. Everest. If a New Zealand company has its way, the next rescue on Mount Everest may take place without the presence of any human rescuers. It will not be yetis who do this but an unpiloted, full-size alpine rescue helicopter. It has been six years in the making at TGR Helicorp Ltd. They call it the Alpine Wasp and claim it will be able to operate at altitudes up to and beyond 30,000 feet. This would mean that you could be saved even if you were to be struck down on the summit of Everest (29,028). The project is the company’s response to Everest Rescue Trust’s “Rescue on Everest Challenge,” a call for designing, building and operating a self-funding rescue helicopter service for the extreme altitude regions of Nepal. As part of the plan, an alpine rescue base will be established at Namche Bazaar in the Everest vicinity, complete with aircraft hangar and rescue facilities, a prosthetics facility for porters and Sherpas, as well as a frostbite prevention facility that will provide clothing and footgear to those who need them. Everest Rescue Trust, which hopes “to help other people all over the world,” has also launched, an official website with information and regular updates on its Everest project. The Alpine Wasp will be capable of airlifting up to two sick or injured climbers at a time. “I’m excited to be part of a project that will benefit the Nepalese people in so many ways,” said the Goodwill Ambassador for the Everest Rescue Trust. “It’s terrible to see porters and Sherpas without the proper equipment in the high mountains, and as well as helping the locals who have already lost limbs to frostbite, the Trust is planning to equip them properly too, free of charge.” (Vertical Magazine, February 2; Radio New Zealand, February 4)


Turning Trash into Treasure. Never mind the glory of climbing the world’s highest mountain. What attracts this man to Mt. Everest is its trash. Jeff Clapp of Brunswick, Maine, discovered that there were many unused oxygen bottles there in a National Geographic documentary and hit on a plan to make them into bells, bowls and ornaments. He travelled to Nepal in 2004 and was able to obtain 132 cylinders from the Nepal Mountaineering Association for $7,000. Since then, he has been turning them into objects that people pay high prices for ($1,600 to $3,000 for bells and $500 to $1,500 for bowls). Even the scrapings get put into glass balls to become $15 Christmas ornaments. Clapp does not plan to go back for more canisters when his current supply runs out. Yet he would like to return to Nepal to show locals how to create bells and bowls out of them and help them make money for themselves. From the time that he first visualized creating these art objects, “I was driven with the concept that it would be a benefit to others, specifically in Nepal.” (, January 13)



Tourism Up. It is probably because Nepal is more peaceful that it is attracting more tourists. Tourist arrivals by air grew by 5.8 percent in January as opposed to last year. A large number of these were people from Japan (41.6 percent increase) and South Korea (82 percent). There were fewer tourists from China, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan, but more from Europe (an 11.2 increase), Thailand (37.8 percent), and the United States (33.6 percent). Australia shot up by 118.6 percent. (, February 13)


Maybe the Question for the Airline is “Have YOU Seen Nepal?.” “Have you seen Nepal?” demanded a Royal Nepal Airlines (now Nepal Airlines) poster that bore a dramatic photograph of a mountain scene. Nepal, of course, has some of the most spectacular mountains in the world, but it turned out that the particular mountains shown were not in Nepal but Peru. The error was evidently not noticed until a Peruvian mountaineer spotted the poster in the airline’s New Delhi office and recognized the photograph as one of Peru’s most famous tourist site, Machu Picchu. Peru’s foreign ministry lodged a complaint and Nepal Airlines offered its apologies. “It was an isolated error,” the company said, adding that the person responsible was a manager, and that he had been fired. Whether or not the poster has boosted tourism in Peru, no-one will probably ever know.

(Reuters, January 11)



Playboy to Feature Maoists. You will probably not find it on a newstand near you, since this edition of Playboy is for the Japanese market. Described as the publication’s “serious edition,” it will feature the Maoists and their movement. The article is by Kiyoko Ogura, a Japanese journalist who came to Nepal during the pro-democracy movement, stayed on and eventually wrote a book on the Maoists. The six-page feature is scheduled to appear in the March issue. The guerillas, whose notions about sex and nudity are only a little less conservative than the Taliban’s, make it clear that they will be fully clothed in any photographs. (Asia Media, February 9)


Nepali Filmmakers Document Peoples War. Now that, in a sense, “the People’s War” has become history, a number of filmmakers have gone to work to present their view of what happened and why. One of them, Bimal Poudel, is himself a Maoist. His film, he says, “explains Nepal’s class struggle, his party’s policies, and the nature of the upcoming elections.” He is hoping it will encourage people to vote for a republic. Narayan Puri has already made a movie on the struggle. “Aago,” which tries to trace the causes for the conflict was ruthlessly chopped up by censors under the monarchy and was kept in the can for nearly a year. Now he has re-shot the movie, restoring the deleted scenes. He has also made another film, “Alpo-Biram,” that looks at the temporary truces called by both sides and urges a lasting peace. There will be a sequel to this one that takes a look at the responsibilities the Maoists now have to shoulder to justify their revolt. “Naya Nepal,” directed by Kishore Dhakal, does not look at the conflict from a partisan point of view. “Our subject is the people who for ten years suffered between the guns of the Maoists and the army.” The plot revolves around two brothers, one of whom joins the army and the other the Maoists. It is narrated by a European woman who comes to Nepal before the insurgency and then gets caught up in the turmoil. It does not have a happy ending. All three die, the woman while giving birth to a child fathered by the Maoist brother. Two other films are in the works: “Aawaz,” directed by Badri Adhkikari, and sympathetic to the movement; and “Lal Salaam,” directed by Shivaji Lamichhane. (, February 14)


Grammy Winners Perform. The two-time Grammy Award winning band Ozomatli staged a free concert in Kathmandu in mid-February in the interest of promoting “peace and understanding through diversity in music throughout the world.” The nine-member Los Angeles group is described as “a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, Latin hip-hop band,” and is known for its unique urban sound and its dedication to addressing social issues. (, February 13)



Government Worries About an Invasion of Sadhus. There have been many threats to the government of Nepal in the last few years but the one it is now most concerned about is an invasion of naga babas (naked Hindu saints) and other babas. These have been pouring over the border from India to take part in the annual Shivaratri festival in Kathmandu, and the government is worried that they will be used to stir up trouble in support of a restoration of Nepal’s status as a Hindu state. “Hindu fundamentalists are planning to sneak into Nepal in the guise of sadhus to support like-minded groups such as Shiva Sena in Kathmandu as part of a conspiracy to reestablish Nepal as a Hindu state,” says the editor of a journal published in India. Fundamentalists in Nepal are hoping to use the influx to create chaos by compelling security forces to take action against Hindu sadhus and other devotees, he continues. The leader of the World Hindu Federation, which supported the king in his power grab two years ago, has been vigorously campaigning in India to get Hindu groups there to come to the king’s rescue. When he first announced a naga march, he claimed tht he would bring 50,000 naked holy men to Kathmandu. Now he has promised only 2,000. The government has asked security forces and local administration officials in the districts bordering India to tighten the flow of the holy men. It has made it clear that it will not stop a religious march, yet it plans to be on guard against any “untoward incidents.” Maoist leaders have been worrying about Hindu fundamentalists for some time and the possibility that they will act to oppose Nepal’s new democracy, but the government has not taken notice until recently. (eKantipur, February 11; rxpgnews, February 12)


Muslims Agitate. In spite of other antagonisms, Nepal has for long been a place where people have been able to practice their religion peacefully, whether they be Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, or others. Now, perhaps in response to a wider Muslim “reawakening,” Nepal’s Muslim community is demanding to be heard. A spokesman for Madrasa Islamic Sangh warns that if the Muslim community is not represented in the interim government or the Constitutional Assembly, there will be nationwide protests. Another Muslim leader in Sunsari district, which, because of an influx of Bangladeshis, has a large Islamic population, wants Islamic law to be incorporated in Nepal’s laws and Urdu taught in government schools. Still another spokesman has called for Muslim festival days to be celebrated as official Nepali holidays. Muslims make up approximately 13 percent of Nepalis. (Asian Tribune, January 16)


Nepal Gains a Bishop. Pope Benedict XVI has just elevated the Apostolic Prefecture of Nepal to the rank of Apostolic Vicariate, which means that the country will now have a bishop. There are some 6,600 Catholics in Nepal, five parishes, two churches that are virtually parishes, six mission stations and 22 substations served by eleven diocesan priests and 40 religious priests. In addition, the Church has 44 educational and 16 charitable institutions. The new bishop is Anthony Sharma, a Jesuit who was born in Kathmandu and, after teaching at St. Joseph’s College in Darjeeling, was appointed Ecclesiastical Superior of Nepal in 1984. When the country was elevated to the rank of Apostolic Prefecture, he became its first Apostolic Prefect. (ZENIT News Agency, February 11; Spero News, February 12)


“Buddha Boy” Reappears. We have earlier reported on Ram Bahadur Bomjam, “the Buddha Boy,” who, for some ten months sat in meditation under a pipal tree in the Terai district of Bara, without apparently taking food or water. Hundreds came to view him and after a while, the noise and confusion became too much for him, so he slipped away into the jungle. Now, after nine months, he has reappeared. A team of police discovered him sitting under a tree in the Piluwa jungle in Bara after receiving reports from local citizens that they had spotted him. But devotees should not rush to the site to see him. He is presumably still anxious to be alone and has probably already removed himself to some other tree in some other part of the jungle. (, December 26)


Astrologers Predict a Stable Nepal with a Monarchy. In America, we have Tom Friedman, talk shows, and the pundits. In Nepal their place is taken, at least for many, by astrologers. These have lately been carefully studying the stars and have come up with what appears to be good news. “We are entering a golden phase,” says Acharya Dhruva. “The next thirteen months are highly auspicious, thanks to Mars, which is in its first house with a compatible Jupiter. This portends a friendly atmosphere (among all involved) well until December 2007.” The problem of the dragon head and dragon tail (Rahu and Ketu, respectively) might make things complex, yet “things will fall into place eventually.” That is the message of another astrologer, Ashok Bajracharya. Although there will be “the usual tumult” through February, June and July, the latter two months “could alter the status quo. The period after October will certainly see stabilization (of national politics).” Still another astrologer, Tilak Raj, notes that because the year arrived with a strong Saturn and Moon, “war and battles will continue to erupt in different regions. Though Nepal has seen the worst of violence, bombs and bullets will continue and lives will be lost.” He has good news for the king. “In 2007, the king’s birth signs will be in ascendance as well as his planet Jupiter.” That means that the monarchy will probably survive in a vote in the upcoming Constituent Assembly. Damodar Lohani agrees that the position of the stars during the time of the promised election will not be inimical to monarchy. “The nation was nowhere near any titanic change that could put an end to the monarchy.” (Himalayan Times, December 30; DNA [Daily News and Analysis], January 1)


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