EDITORIAL: Engage locals

Authorities must include locals in the reconstruction of Kasthamandap, as it is also about building back a part of their history

Believed to be built in the seventh century during the Lichhavi era, the three-storeyed Kasthamandap is being reconstructed three years after the devastating earthquake destroyed it in April 2015. This cultural and religious heritage, also believed to be built by the wood of a single tree, is the manifestation of the ways of living developed by the Newar community of the Kathmandu Valley and, passed on from generation to generation, including customs, practices, places, objects, artistic expressions and values. The Newar community living close to the Basantapur Durbar Square, listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, wants the Kasthamandap rebuilt keeping intact its original texture, design, methods and process that their ancestors had applied. However, reconstruction of the temple could not start promptly as the Department of Archaeology (DoA), Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) and the local community were at loggerheads over the modality, process and financing of its reconstruction. Its reconstruction was halted in 2016 after the DoA, which is responsible for preserving all historical monuments, temples, shrines and cultural heritages, started rebuilding it using modern materials including steel, cement and concrete.

Now the problem seems to be resolved, albeit with local resentment, after the KMC and DoA agreed to follow the traditional methods of its reconstruction. Minister for Culture, Civil Aviation and Tourism, Rabindra Adhikari, initiated the reconstruction work of the temple on Monday. The temple will be rebuilt within three years at an estimated cost of Rs 190 million to be financed by the KMC and Nepali people across the world. Kasthamandap Reconstruction Committee has been formed, chaired by Provincial Assembly member from the area, Rajesh Shakya, and chairpersons of Ward No 19, 20, 23 and 24, cultural experts and a few locals as members. However, the local people’s resentment still continues as they allege concerned authorities that they were excluded from taking part in the reconstruction process. People associated with Kasthamandap Reconstruction Campaign were particularly excluded from the new panel. The concern shown by the local people is genuine. They should be an integral part of the rebuilding process.

Without the participation of local people, reconstruction of any heritage site like Kasthamandap will be incomplete as they are very much familiar with intricate details of the works. The KMC’s decision to rebuild the temple on the basis of public-private partnership is the main reason that has irked the locals. KMC Mayor Bidhya Sundar Shakya, who took this decision, must allay the locals’ fear of exclusion from the entire process. Even if the panel is led by an elected official, the panel members should have had resourceful people from the local community who are familiar with history, tradition, culture and customs; experts in heritage conservation and senior artisans who can lead young generation in reconstruction of the cultural heritages. As the work has been initiated, the KMC and DoA must work in close coordination with each other by taking locals into confidence. The entire process of rebuilding the temple should be well-documented from the beginning to the end.

Whither justice?

Even 12 years after the end of the decade-long insurgency, victims are still awaiting justice. While justice must be ensured to all conflict victims, there is also a need to pay extra attention to rape victims, single women and their children. Conflict-affected women,  those who lost their husbands and were sexually harassed, are facing a hard time when it comes to social, psychological and economic security.

The two commissions formed to deal with war-era crimes have been hamstrung by lack of laws and budget. It’s a shame that it took almost 10 years for the government to form the two commissions. Even after their formation, not even a single war-era case been settled. The state must ensure social, psychological and economic security to the conflict victims. Of the 63,000 complaints registered with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, nearly 500 are related to rape and sexual harassment. But lack of laws and policy, the commission is facing difficulty in addressing these complaints. The state and political parties must show the will to ensure justice to conflict-affected women and other victims.