Enough is enough! How it all started and where is it headed
On the evening of June 11, the Home Ministry issued a notice warning against all kinds of gatherings or any form of protest that would defy the lockdown imposed by the government.
This warning has come in the wake of “apolitical youth” organising peaceful protests at Baluwatar in the Capital — while youth from others cities are following this, or planning to follow in the footsteps of the Capital’s youth.
These protests that are planned via social media without a designated leader, and without being affiliated to or under any political banner or slogan have forced the government to issue a warning against such gatherings.
So, who are this young minds who have been able to organise protest programmes that have gained such momentum in just a couple of days, and what do they want?
It all started on June 9 when a couple of hundred youth staged a peaceful protest maintaining social distance at Baluwatar, near the residence of the Prime Minister, all donning safety measures like masks and gloves, among others.
They carried placards that read: ‘No RDT, 100 % PCR’ ‘# Down With Incompetence’, ‘Alert Sarkar, Youth is Awake’, ‘Laaj Lagdaina?’, ‘Rog ki Bhok’, ‘Enough is Enough’ and more such slogans that sought the government’s answer and accountability.
Though the peaceful protest ended in chaos with the police charging these protestors with batons and water cannons towards the end of the two-hour protest, they have not been deterred and came on stronger in the following consecutive days with the June 11 protest in the Capital seeing hundreds of protestors on the streets of the Capital at Bhatbhateni and Baluwatar areas.
In a ‘Statement of Solidarity’ issued on the Facebook page ‘COVID-19 Nepal: Enough is ‘Enough!’ on June 11, from where the movement started, they have once again made their agenda clear.
They are demanding something every Nepali has been wishing for and many experts have been suggesting the government to do since a long time to help control the spread of coronavirus — stop RDTs, use PCR testing method and expand the testing urgently. They demand safe quarantines, expansion of medical capacity, ensure safety and dignity of frontline healthworkers, dignity of migrants and returnees, relief and better policies for working class, transparency of expenses made for COVID-19, and accountability.
How did it start?
What started as a voice of dissent in a couple of youth on social media (Facebook) has turned to a group of over thousands with many taking to the streets. This is not what a group of nine youngsters, who took the initiative to voice their dissent, had expected.
They had been discussing about ways to raise a voice against the government incompetence in response to COVID-19 via Instagram, as per Robic Upadhayay, a freelance photographer.
One of the few to take the initiative to start the protest, the 29-year-old revealed, “But we realised that staging a protest via social media wouldn’t be that impactful. So we decided to go out on the streets with a peaceful protest, taking all safety measures.”
One June 6 they created a Facebook group ‘Covid-19 Nepal: Enough is Enough!’ with around 20- 25 members. “We started sharing ideas for slogan, venue to stage protest, opinions on government response on COVID-19, and creative ideas to organise the protest,” shared another initiator for the protest 29-year-old filmmaker Prajwal Bhattarai.
They chose Baluwatar as their venue, time to protest would be from 10:00 am to 12:00 noon, and date would be June 9.
Then they started reaching out to other people on social media while also asking social media influencers — actors Surakshya Panta, Raymon Das Shrestha, Miss Nepal Universe 2017 Nagma Shrestha, Miss Nepal Earth 2018 Priya Sigdel, vlogger Krisha Bajracharya aka Kichhy Vlogs among others — “reach a wide number of people”.
It worked and around 400 people gathered at Baluwatar on the first day of protest — June 9. As the protest was being held amidst a pandemic, all participants maintained social distancing and while participating in a peaceful protest.
“It felt like finally we can be heard. But as the protest was 15 minutes from concluding, the police charged us with water cannons and batons.
We were helpless,” recalled Bhattarai.
Some of them got injured in the melee.
Aided by social media
This protest by a small group however was widely noticed on social media — filled with posts, opinions and pictures of the protests. And people started expressing their solidarity on the Facebook group while members kept on increasing — as of June 11 there are over 120K members.
“People started requesting for ideas to conduct similar protests in their districts and we are guiding them with slogans, creative resources like pamphlets, posters, placards as well as water and medical kits,” informed Upadhayay.
And till June 11 the silent protest has branched to 20 other places of the country including Pokhara, Chitwan, Dharan and Birjgunj, among others. More youth are preparing for protests in their respective areas.
“If there was no social media, it would have not been as impactful at it is now,” Upadhyay added.
One such youth from outside of the Valley to take the initiative is Abhishek Thapaliya, 23, from Chitwan. Together with like-minded youth, he held a protest at Chaubiskothi of Chitwan on June 11 for the first time.
He has found social media helpful to reach out to a larger group of people, assembling around 200 people for the peaceful protest.
“We felt the agenda of Baluwatar protest are so right and we felt the need to step up to carry out the initiative in our district,” he revealed.
And he also felt, “For the first time people are making the right use of social media. Or else most of us would have remained stuck with Tik Tok and PUBG.”
Before the notice of Home Ministry, these youth had already planned a series of protest programmes for June 12. From Butwal to Bhaktapur to Bhairahawa and Lalitpur among others, the youth are looking forward to holding peaceful protests.
Twenty-one year-old Sabin Gyawali, a BTech graduate from Butwal, too has been getting updates on the protests via social media. “Seeing the posts of Baluwatar protests we (youth from Butwal) have felt we too should also initiate such protests,” he said.
Sughosh Dhungel, 19, also a initiator of Baluwatar protest has been planning Bhaktapur’s protest, and revealed, “We posted in the official group for the protest and various other social service related groups. Many people showed interest and responded quickly.”
Virtual meetings have been their way to plan things and said, “Protest is risky but we will follow all protocols of a peaceful protest. I pray that we don’t face police violence.”
Another 19-year-old Vatsal Singh from Bhairawaha revealed that people are uniting via social media in his place for the protest. And though youth like him don’t pay much attention to political aspects, he said, “I feel everyone knows about COVID-19. The mechanisms used by the government is not appreciable as cases are growing instead of getting normalised.
So I decided to go out on the streets.”
Samikshya Shrestha, 24 from Lalitpur is all set with her placards and medical kits for the peaceful protest being held at Jhamiskhel on June 12.
Shrestha, who got the information via her Instagram, said, “I had been to protest at Baulwatar on June 9 and it was really worth it. I may not be aware about many political aspects of the nation, but I know that in this uncertain time the government is not responding properly to COVID-19.
Thus I want to be a part of this initiative.”
‘Till intended impact is made
Bhattarai feels that the movement will continue till they get the intended response — a proper way to contain COVID-19 and transparency in budget being used to control COVID-19 — from the government.
“We are heading without any external support.
We all are citizens and we don’t support any kind of interest. All we want is a fully functioning and accountable government, and if what we demand is met, we will back off appreciating our government,” he added.
The police however have been using force on these protesters. But Bhattarai revealed that they will continue with the protests.
Ratopool-resident Shweta Pandey, 27, echoes a similar view. “The protest will go on until the government revises its approach to fight against COVID-19.”
Pandey, who went for the June 9 protest, was not allowed by her family initially to participate. Yet she went out and when she returned home after the protest, “my family were proud of me. Even my dad is joining me in the June 14 protest at Maitighar Mandala”.
Upadhayay is uncertain when this protest will end.
“When we started we had no idea it will take this form. People from almost all districts are reaching out to us for guidance for the protest.”
So, who is leading everything in the protest? All protests are self-organised and spontaneous.
And with interest of more people increasing, Upadhayay stated, “These evidences show that we don’t need a leader for a movement to last or to take place. All we need is like-minded people and a nationalist force.”
Echoing a similar view, Dhungel said, “Every citizen is a leader. We may not be politically active but we know what is wrong and right for us. If the approach was wrong or a leader was needed to lead, then all the protests would have been stopped by now. But it’s flourishing and growing bigger and better in short time.”
As the initiators of the protest, Upadhayay and Bhattarai are worried how June 11 protest turned different from what was proposed initially.
“We wanted to have a peaceful protest following all safety measures. But some people were using abusive language, not following social distancing, chanting slogans that are not part of our agenda, and prioritising violence — this is harmful for all.
We need to have a formal approach. Let’s not behave like our government.
Let’s go with peace,” they urge protestors in unison.
A version of this article appears in e-paper on June 12, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.