TOPICS : Promises aplenty but no delivery

For the vast majority of Nepalis, neither the words of the King, the Maoists or international agencies, nor the deeds that sometimes follow their promises, are improving their deprived lives.

Ilam has mild climate and misty skies that nourish the tea bushes. Today the tea estates of Ilam are silent, the valuable leaves are turning to waste in the midst of the picking season, and about 45,000 people are without work after the Maoists ordered an industry shutdown late July, following employers’ refusal to meet the demands of rebel-linked unions.

Earlier this year Maoists ordered all private schools in Ilam to close, arguing that education should not be a profit-making enterprise. That sent hundreds of students to government schools, which cannot cope with the demand while those who could afford it went to India. Amnesty International (AI) says the decade-long conflict between the state and rebels, who are fighting to establish a system of government that excludes the king, is “shattering the lives of an increasing number of Nepali civilians”.

Per capita annual income here is about $200 but lower among non-urban residents. Recently AI released a report highlighting the growth of citizen’s vigilante groups that target the rebels, and which the organisation says are backed by the state. “Restrictions on freedom of movement, extra judicial killings and disappearances, as well as illegal detention by security forces and torture, unlawful killings and abductions by Maoist forces, are a day to day reality for the Nepalis, said the report. It was not supposed to be this way. Not after King Gyanendra tossed aside the civil liberties on Feb. 1 to restore peace and a working multiparty system; not after promises from the Maoists to stop killing civilians; and not following April’s confrontation at the UN human rights commission, where the King’s government was ‘forced’ to accept the establishment of a human rights outpost in Kathmandu.

“Although the Maoist supremo Prachanda issued a statement saying that the Maoists will not kill unarmed civilians, (they) have killed 62 persons, including 16 political activists, after the statement,” said Informal Sector Services Centre president Subodh Raj Pyakurel on Thursday, reported in The Himalayan Times. Ian Martin, the chief of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “I can’t say that the human rights situation is improving.”

So, given this dreadful situation, why aren’t Nepalis rising up? Why not a second ‘democratic spring’, months of street protests in 1990 that forced the then King Birendra to accept multiparty democracy?

Outside the capital, in many of the country’s roughly 4,000 villages, another menace has emerged. Drought threatens current and future crops as present monsoon rains have spilled just a fraction of their usual moisture on the land. Seventy-five percent of the district’s farmland could not be planted with rice this season because of the failure of the monsoons, according to The Himalayan Times. — IPS