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Did You Kill Somebody Tonight?

Eliana Cardoso's picture

“Did you kill somebody tonight?” Durga Pokkherel asks the police officer while in police custody in Nepal, after hearing terrified screams. As told in her memoir, Shadow over Shangri-la, the police officer replies: “You always imagine something big. He is not killed. As a routine treatment he was enclosed in a sack and beaten. But he would not speak a word, so some other police friends put a couple pins in his fingers. That is all.”

The dialogue took place in late 1990s, when both Maoists and the state committed human rights abuses in Nepal, a country on the top of the world, where caste, ethnicity, gender status and regional disparities have largely determined inequality. Social exclusion fostered state fragility, a Maoist rebellion, and a civil war that lasted for ten years (1996-2006).

After an unpopular royal coup in February 2005, the international community put pressure on the government to accept international monitoring under the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The monitoring created the space for peaceful political protest and, in April 2006, the King restored Parliament. Civil war came to an end with elections and the declaration of the Federal Republic of Nepal in May 2008.

The good news from the home of Everest and Annapurna is the curb on violations of human rights since then. Work has begun to support poor and excluded groups to articulate their needs and views and to promote new political leaders and voices.

The bad news is that the underlying problem of social exclusion and inequality along with the lack of effective service delivery remain largely unaddressed.

Yet, despite political fragility, the economic situation in Nepal appears to be by and large stable. Nonetheless, loose monetary policy may have contributed to two digit inflation rates, driven mostly by food prices increases and fiscal slippage could undermine macroeconomic stability. At the same time, structural reforms and infrastructure investment continue to be crucial in making Nepal competitive.

The challenge is to sustain growth and create jobs to reduce the risk of conflict from recurring, while at the same time ensuring that this growth and accompanying opportunities it generates are inclusive for all. Which initiatives would you suggest to the Nepali government to boost employment opportunities? Public works (in the repair and refurbishment of dwellings, feeder roads, and small-scale irrigation schemes)? Employment service centers (to facilitate information and training)? Business promotion? Let me hear your voice.


Submitted by sujan on
I think, it would be better to focus on Public works especially, feeder road and irrigation schemes. Most parts of the rural Nepal are cut off from urban market center due to lack of road and other communication infrastructure; thats why market is poorly work in rural areas. Poor market means inadequate demand and supply of business service providers in that locality leading to subsistence economy. In this environment, the potential income generation capability is hardly realize. So, its prime necessary to work on two fronts- linking rural center to urban market center through infrastructure and enhancing human capabiity of rural dwellers to tap the opportunity generated with market linkage. This is whay we have to do in Nepal for sustainable income generation. sujan thank you

To Sujan: Thank you for your ideas. Yes, public works will be important to link rural regions and urban centers. What constrains the implementation of public works? Resources? Administration capacity?

Submitted by Ramu Bishwakarma on
Thank you for initiating this discussion. For me there are two important things Nepal should focus on now 1) A massive public work (like you said), and 2) Institutional strengthening/reform. The first part-- massive (labor intensive) public work-- is a need of this time. This can make multiple contributions to the country. For example, Nepal is in a dire need of engaging youths that represent the largest size of national population. The unemployed mass, specially from the minority ethnic/caste groups, if continue to be unemployed, may be pushed to find their way to the activities that are counter-productive (violence, conflict) to the development. Due to the agrarian nature of the economy, mass absorption of the labor by the private sector is nearly impossible at this time. Thus a large scale public work is important. Furthermore, the harsh physical make up of the country makes it extremely difficult for efficient exchange of goods, services, and information across all subnational units. Since a majority of the population (nearly 80%) still live in often scattered remote rural areas, public infrastructure projects that help them connect to the market and mainstream society is critically important for Nepal's growth and development. This is particularly important in these days as the changing climate has exposed an increased risk of these populations' livelihood (agriculture, livestock, water resources and so forth). Second most important aspect would be a massive institutional reform/strengthening effort. The service delivery mechanism of Nepalese institutions is extremely poor. This is especially the case in rural areas. For instance, a letter sent from Kathmandu to Kalikot district--western part of the country through public postal office, may take several weeks to reach there. For a small country like Nepal, this should not be the case. Likewise, despite the prevalence of health posts/health centers in most of the villages, thousands of children die by diarrhea every year across the country. This also suggest that existing institutions are not functioning well. In fact many traditional institutions (many of them counterproductive for the development) govern Nepalese daily life. Hence, the institutional structures are needed to be updated or modernized so that people get efficient service without paying a huge transaction cost as they do now. Such efficiency could help boost the growth and development. These are some of the points that I feel strongly about. Thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts.

To Ramu: Thank you for your thoughts. We must work to make your proposals reality.

Submitted by Bob Spencer on
Your powerful statements make me want to vent a bit. In the midst of an insurgency or conflict between identity groups, it is the broad base of common people that become refugees; are victims of inscription by one side or another; and cannot conduct their normal struggles of squeezing out a subsistence living. They lose their opportunities for increasing security and wellbeing. They are the ones that get caught in the middle and lose their possessions, their families, their communities, their identities, their morality and their lives. They have no or very little power to prevent these calamities. But, I agree with the Ford Foundation and others that say, ““To empower people and strengthen their political voice, we need to help them gain access to the sources of power in any society. Typically, those include assets such as skills that are marketable, economic resources, and social supports. This is essential if we are to make a difference.” Jobs are necessary, but If they do not accumulate those kinds of assets, then they will be vulnerable to continually losing their jobs, and being a victim to the greed and wars of the powerful few. Bob Spencer

To Bob: Yes, the Ford Foundation is right. But we should not forget that it is through their work that the majority of people (myself included) build a sense of dignity and inclusion and power over their own lives. And without jobs...

While the sectors you mention would certainly benefit from efficient government intervention, a good level of security would certainly help both the people in their daily lifes, but would also be a strong incentive for investment. I understand that it is easier said than done, but it is difficult to envision succesful projects without a strong commitment from the government and the different political parties for peace.

To Frederik: Right. Security is key and it is the function of the state.

Submitted by Mallika Shakya on
You rightly point out that Nepal now has a small window of opportunity as the violent insurgency has been contained and an inclusive platform for dialogue has been built in the form of national constituent assembly. It is important that Nepal uses this transitional opportunity to address the issues that gave rise to the insurgency in the first place. This will inevitably include issues of economic interlinkages with, first, cultural identities, and second, political ideologies. On latter, democracy has been a winner in Nepal in that extreme right and left are now mainstreamed into the middle ground of competitive, multi-party democracy. Public works, employment service centres, business promotion are all important for reconstruction. But these programs must ensure that they work to strengthen democratic norms at the grassroots level. And that they uproot the lingering roots of patronage, hiearchy and elitism. And that they also preempt any seeds being sown for class-based animosities. On former, issue of cultural identity has now been ushured into Nepali State-building on multiple fronts. Any reconstruction programs should ensure that they do not fuel divisive ethnicity politics, nor that they disacknowledge ethnicity-nuanced issues of discrimination and exclusion, and that they address these issues in a constructive manner. Nobel Laureate Economist Amartya Sen has talked about identity economics at length both in his Identity and Violence book (2006)and his earlier book on Culture and Public Action (2004). I think these have great relevance for Nepal at this point in time.

Submitted by pushpa on
Public works would be a short term solution for employment generation. But long term goals would only be achieved by providing trainings to the people to start micro/mini enterprises. This would make the people more independent and it would create a sustainable employment.

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