Bandhs leading to nowhere For whom the bell tolls?

Bandh (closure) and brata (fasting) are two great heritages of Nepal. One is political and the other is cultural. An occasional bandh is, of course, a dramatic relief from the rat race and dirty air.

But regular bandhs are overbearing and driving us to madness bordering on mental derangement. Brata is an occasional occurrence with a strong religious tinge but fraught with a stronger cleansing effect on mind and body.

What the nation needs is actually a regular brata to assuage national restlessness and calm down the agitated nerves over rising aspirations and falling attainment. To our dismay, we have ascending rate of bandh and descending trend of brata in our society. Hence, we are where we ought not to be.

The most regrettable part of bandh is that it is becoming aimless and reckless. There is no major national conflict to call for such a drastic and devastating measure. The main political dispute over monarchy has been resolved by establishing a republic.

The major issue of electing a Constituent Assembly has been accomplished and the writing process is going on. The political parties can keep their disputes confined to the all-powerful national body. Why should they come to the streets to clean their dirty clothes? Can someone explain which bandh has visibly achieved its demands?

The other justification for it could be to make the people aware of the issue in hand. However, the frequency of bandh has made the people so insensitive that they don’t bother to know who is behind it or what for it is being clamped.

The sponsors, be it political parties, social organizations or activist groups, organize it to let the people know about the issues they are raising and to pressurize the decision-making authorities to meet their demands.

Both the objectives are waylaid most of the times because people often don’t listen and care less what the organizers are saying.

On the other hand, there is no authority capable of addressing the demands. One wonders who is saying what, to whom, and to what effect. It is not clear who is protesting against whom and what for.

It is further inexplicable why the public property gets destroyed? Nobody knows for whom the bell tolls. You are angry with somebody but you express it on some others.

The demands may be related to fee raise in the educational institution, police investigation, or some wrong doing that can be dealt with administratively or otherwise. Does every misshapen or accident deserve a complete closure of public life? If not, what is the fun going to the streets for every petty matter? It raises the fundamental question if we are capable of enjoying freedom in a sensible way.

As people are fed up with the current crush of bandh, they should remember that Nepal was in a state of bandh for a century during the Rana regime from 1846 to 1950. That was the time when bandh was enforced in all public activities.

There was no school nor was it allowed to be opened. There was no hospital nor was it permitted to be established. There was no road except the pedestrian track to negotiate the mountains and plains.

When there was no racing vehicle, no roaring motorbike and no traffic, bandh was spontaneous and all pervasive. Naturally, it is described as the darkest period in the history of Nepal when there was an unannounced but total bandh in public life. Bandh is the other name of backwardness in mind as well as in physical reality. Are we not reviving it?

It was nearly 40 years of opening of our closed society to international interactions that Nepal again entered into an epoch of bandh ironically with the introduction of democracy in 1990.

This time there was a difference. It is thenceforth widely announced and coercively enforced. It has nonetheless the same effect as that of the Rana times on the schools, hospitals, markets, roads and vehicles, which become completely inoperable. Is there any distinction between non-existence and non-operation of public institutions as far as their

impact on our forefathers who lived during the Rana times and on us who are undergoing a great suffering now? It is actually more painful to us as we are conscious of our losses that

perhaps our forefathers were not.

In this context, bandh should logically be termed as reactionary and recalcitrant as the Ranas were. But, on the contrary, it is being increasingly used as a

revolutionary weapon by none other than the progressive forces of our country. They are using it as a road to establish a new Nepal, but it is leading us to the old Nepal of the nineteenth century Ranas. There is yet another similarity between the Rana rulers and modern bandh organizers.

Both are thriving on national treasury. People paid high price during the Rana times remaining in ignorance and oppression. Comparatively, we are also paying equally high price in political, economic, security and mental terms. Are we really different from the Rana days?