A Protest a Day Keeps Progress Away in Nepal

Nepal celebrated New Year’s Day with a nationwide banda, a forced closure of businesses and roads. That’s no surprise: Every day there are bandas, transport strikes, labor actions and disruptive protests throughout the country. Nepalis are fed up with incompetent governance caused by political bickering and, despite a long tradition of patience and civility, are taking action into their own hands when they have a grievance.

The costs are high. Students suffer because schools find it impossible to operate for the legally required number of days in a year. Businesses suffer from reduced productive capacity and lower sales. Development work slows to a crawl with 100 or more days of forced inaction each year. And the poorest of the poor, those dependent on hourly wages or day-labor, suffer the most, sometimes to the point of going hungry when they can’t work.

At least seven major protests disrupted Nepal on Monday, about par for the course recently.

Maoist cadres in Taplejung district continued a week-long forced closure of government offices over a demand that three of their activists killed in 2006 be declared official martyrs by the government. On Monday six protesters were hurt when police clashed with Maoists while trying to reopen the offices.

In Dhading district a student union affiliated with the ruling party enforced a district-wide banda after one of the student union members, 15-year-old Bir Bahadur Tamang, was hauled out of a school examination and attacked with knives and iron rods. Tamang’s assailants, the UML student union says, were members of the Maoist YCL militia.

In Kailali district Maoists continued an indefinite transportation and business strike over police action to clear squatters from a community forest last month. Police allege that the squatters were motivated and transported to the forest by agitators bent on pulling down the government. The Maoists are protesting the “disproportionate violence” of the police move, which left several protesters dead and scores injured.

In Sano Thimi, outside the capital, students have locked administrators of the university there out of their offices for the last month, protesting plans to close the campus after enrollment slipped from 4,200 students to about 3,000. The university says that the school is not economically viable at that size: The students want the university to offer additional majors to increase enrollment.

And in Kathmandu, lawyers, teachers and doctors all protested on Monday, disrupting essential services and snarling traffic.

Several hundred lawyers staged a large sit-in on a major street in front of the Constituent Assembly building to protest delays in the constitution-writing process and what they call the failure of the government to enforce the rule of law in the country.

Tribhuvan University contract teachers – those without permanent appointment letters – demonstrated for a second day at the University over their demand for tenure status and what they say is a failure of the university to post job openings on a regular basis over a 12-year period. The teachers vowed more serious action if their demands were not met.

And a doctors’ strike at government-run Bir Hospital entered its thirteenth day. The doctors want the government to implement an earlier agreement on pay and security at the hospital. The original strike by junior physicians has expanded since it began, and now all doctors, helpers and security guards have joined the protest. Bir hospital is the only low-cost medical facility in the capital and served approximately 12,000 poor and indigent patients daily before the strike.

Apart from the impact of the protests individually, the sheer number and frequency of them has severely disrupted the country and has led to growing public frustration and incivility here.

If Nepal could get back to only one protest a day everyone would be grateful.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.