Sunday, March 29, 2009
Heres just something short I have done up on my time in the camps for The Red Star.
Nothing too new from the earlier short piece with pictures i dont think- but might be of interest.
Just so you know, I did do several interviews in the camps- but they are not real great. There were limitations due to the language barrier ect- and often the best stuff i got in more informal discussions, so i dont think there are any of the interviews worth putting up here in that sense- but i hope that the other post and this one can get across the spirit of the camps. They are amazing places- a highlight of my trip so far- and i learnt allot about so many things while i was there. If nothing else the camps really taught me allot about humanity. While thigns werent perfect it was amazing to see that community of people and how they intereacted- i think im just ranting but it was like taking a step into the socialist future, respect and "oneness" guided life and relations.
Socialism is a drug that once you get in your bones you never forget it...
Sorry for the tangent- heres the article:
Chitwan is famous around the world for its national park. Within the midst of the jungle there are rare and exciting animals. Rhinos and elephants and tigers, and all a manner of things that every year thousands of westerners flock to see- for they cannot be seen anywhere else in the world.
And as a very western foreigner I too descended out of the hills and comfort of Kathmandu and into the jungle, but not in search of any of this. The jungles of Chitwan hold something much more important than endangered animals, and something just as rare. It is a force that has been unleashed and fed by the huge discontent in the country and turned upon the peoples oppressors with a fury and enthusiasm that has been a major factor in bringing about and continuing the enormous process of change that is ongoing in Nepal.
In the jungles of Chitwan waits the JanaMukti Sena- the peoples liberation army.
The mainstream media and a wide range of non-governmental organisations talk of this army is one of child soldiers and human rights abusers. A dictatorial leadership that has played on the insecurities of the poor an uneducated peasantry, and forced them into their army. At any rate the PLA proved themselves to be a formidable fighting force, as during the war they had repeatedly beaten back the Royal Nepalese Army, despite it being funded, armed and trained by international superpowers such as the USA, UK and India.
So in the face of this I really did not know what to expect, however despite all the reports and propaganda, I didn't meet child soldiers starving and home sick- and I didn't meet indoctrinated and brainwashed drones determined only to follow their party. This was a peoples army, and all that was to be found were people.
This is an army of people. The people of Nepal have had enough of the grinding poverty in their society. They have had enough of the parasitic monarchy that lives in phenomenal wealth while the people starve. They have had enough of hollow democracy that talks but never provides. They have had enough husbands, sons and fathers being sent overseas for work, of daughters, mothers and wives being left along to work at home or sold into the sex trade. They have had enough of the indignity and defeat that had been forced upon them, and when a clear path to fight against it was given, they enthusiastically took up the challenge.
The idea that these amazing people are ignorant and being exploited is insulting to the sacrifices they have made. The whole camp is now like a school, people who either left school early to fight or never had the opportunity to study in the first place are now deep into their books, studying at all levels and in all subjects. They understand why they fought and what they set out to achieve and their thirst for knowledge is unquenchable. I could barely get questions in for interviews, as the people their were always asking about my experiences, my country and its foreign policy and ideas for development here in Nepal.
There is nothing to prove that the People's Liberation Army is blindly and dogmatically politicised. The PLA is a political peoples army, but their political dreams are for development, democracy and equality. All that I talked too said that their dreams were that Nepal would be developed and that their children could study and then work in Nepal, without the crushing poverty, and without the oppression and discrimination against ethnic minorities, women, and people of low caste.
But while this is an army of the people- from the people and for the people there was clearly a massive effort to do away with the many problems that can plague Nepali society. People of all castes stood on equal standing. There were inter caste marriages that would never have been possible before the peoples war. While there was officers, there was little distinction between them and the rank and file. Everyone ate and cleaned in common. Importantly women, who were often forced into a cruel existence previously, enjoyed a much higher participation and involvement in the society. Men could often be seen caring for the children and cleaning the home while the women used their time to study or go off axe in hand to chop wood.
A week with the PLA was a painfully short time, and I only met a fraction of the people and heard a fraction of the stories available but it is clear to anyone that sees the amazing people of the JanaMukti Sena's almost 30,000 members that they are some of the best sons and daughters of this country- and if their hard work and sacrifices are allowed to go to developing this nation, then the future of Nepal will one that is radically different.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
These were two married comrades (please forgive, I only briefly met them and didn't record their names). He was tending to their child while she was studying for her School Leaving Certificate. They are representative of many in the camp. Many of the people i spoke to were studying. As Many members left school to fight and join the PLA, many of them are now not qualified. Alternatively, many others just simply didn't have access to any real sort of schooling.The PLA is now like a university- everywhere peoples are studying something.
This is also a common scene in that the men often spend allot of time tending to the children. In fact in my time there i saw no division of labour based on sex, women could often be seen axes and saws in hand to go off and cut wood while the men stayed back to cook, clean and care for the children.
Their interview of me went for at least as long as my interview with them. Once they found out i was a progressive journalist they were full of questions about Australia, the struggle here, how strong the socialists are, our government, our governments relations with Nepal and with America, the nature of imperialism, and what the conditions for people in Australia. Many journalists come to these camps and here political talk from people who were previously peasants and write it off as brainwashing by some evil party. These people are often uneducated, but they are not stupid. They know exactly what they are doing and why. They are thinking things through, and they crave information. People who want to write off the "simple" people of Nepal- do so at your own peril.
Women with guns. Enough said.
I will add that in this brigade it was made up of a little over 20% women, which is below the average for the PLA. But while women were a minority, and are still underrepresented in the higher ranks, they were in my experience much more serious as a general rule. Some of the male comrades were sometimes a little hazy, but the women were often the most political and well read. Men on guard duty would often talk to me if i asked, while on duty the women would direct me on to someone else.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Ben Peterson: Subash Pokhrel thank you very much for meeting with me.
Subash Pokhrel: You’re Welcome.
BP: Ok, so I have read allot about Nepal and it is clear that Hindu, and in particular an orthodox form of Hinduism plays a big role in the society here. Is that something that has been of a concern for people of sexual minorities?
SP: It is a religious society so, basically, One Culture, One Religion, one pattern, I think every religion is like that, but we have a diversity of religions and cultures and patterns in the society. For more than two centenaries the Hindu religion was carried out by Brahmins, the so called high castes in the society dominated. And that religion dominated in all aspects of society as well as government bodies, policy makers, decision makers, all were basically Brahmins, the Hindu based caste group. Due to the thinking, and because of this religion, they cannot imagine that certain other cultures, other groups, other genders, exist in this society. They only recognize the established, such as the male and female relationship. But while older generations feared this, slowly attitudes are changing. We are starting to come out at the front, committee groups are already raising out voice in the decision making bodies, like the present Constituent Assembly. We have a representative in the House, Sunil Babu Panta.
BP: The openly gay member of the Constituent Assembly?
SP: Yes, that is him. He has been implementing that committee. So right now we are a bit comfortable in society.
BP: Well that’s good to hear.
SP: Thank you.
BP:So you said that there has been allot and in recent times there has been increasing amount of change, and you've been able to open up, or there has been allot more space for diversity...
SP: I think we are in the process of making the constitution, a new constitution, in Nepal and the process has started and we have been engaging in that process. And very good political sentiments are already in the scheme, like including out committee. In every front they are trying to include Male, Female and other groups. Others can be included. Some of the provisions are already there, there is already a sexual and gender minorities committee. So it’s very positive. We are very much hopeful in to or three years at least we'll have very inclusive legal documents, legal framework, legal mechanisms.
BP: That’s fantastic
SP: Three years, or lets say five years, depends on how long it takes to make the constitution.
BP: So how large is the LGBTI community in Nepal? I have noticed, although I have only been here a short time, that unlike in Australia, it is very acceptable to show affection to members of the same sex, and even hold hands and hug in public. So do the lines between the communities sometimes blur?
SP:Yes, Tentative time. We have to asses the fact that society ill always change slowly, not abruptly. Today’s government policies and legal framework... Until e have good legal mechanisms, there can be no change, legal binding things to the society. It's very hard to expect that society will change without the laws being changed also. And when bad laws re enforced this leads to discrimination. We are hoping that in the right legal framework ill include the right provisions and on that basis we can advocate, lobby/ You know in society e are citizens, the same as other citizens, so why you not accepting us? And through this society will change. But already we are starting to extend our networks, with other organizations, like civil liberties organizations, civil society organizations, media and political parties. We have very good relations, and they are starting to understand us, slowly we are entering into society.
BP: So how is your relationship with the Maoists, now that they lead the government? I have read some things that up until a few years ago, and even more recently, their cadre would pressure people not to accept queer tenants, and these sorts of things. But I have also been seeing allot recently which would suggest a change in their policy.
SP: Yes, in principle, the Maoist culture has also been monolithic. They also believed in one culture, and one command. I think that kind of culture has influence in any kind of organization, but because we have, and we can channel our voice into their party organisations, due practically to our representative in the Constituent Assembly. I think you would probably know about the two lesbian commandos. Rebels in the Maoists rebel group (Peoples Liberation Army). They expelled them from the cantonments. (The PLA is currently in cantonments under UN supervision as part of an ongoing peace process).
BP: No I wasn’t aware of that.
SP: I can show you the media after... After they were expelled they came to our office, and we provided them with some accommodation for one month, and we continued to explore within the Maoist organisation, later on after one month, our approaching and our relationship with the leadership meant that after one month they were able to return to the cantonments. This is a great example of how we have been able to make them believe. We are as human as you are, we are citizens as you are. We have a very natural sexual activities. We are sexual beings. It's not a crime. This kind of thing made them convinced.
BP: And now they have been returned to the camps?
SP: Yes Yes. At least we are able to convince others. They are trying to learn. They are listening to us. This process is going on. Although all these things are happening, we are able to convince them and they are fixing the incidents.
BP: I think I will have to look into that case more.
SP: At least we can go to the certain cultural organisations and put our voice forward. This sort of environment encourages us to use our voice because the democracy is there. Democracy makes us go and ask and encourage others.
BP: SO you’re with the Blue Diamond Society...
SP: Yes Yes.
BP: So what sort of activities does the Blue Diamond Society do? You mentioned before about providing accommodation for the PLA women when they ere expelled, what sort of activities do you do besides lobbying?
SP:Well, the organisation was established in 2001. Formally an NGO, non government organisation. We have a very long struggle. First time our committee focused on HIV prevention and treatment, that kind of thing, because our committee was very alarmed by HIV. Basically through donors like Family Health International, USAID, UNAID, these organisations assisted us greatly in the area of HIV/AIDS prevention. And later on we realized that only confining to HIV related things will not take us into our different issues. We were experts on HIV because of our sexuality. We are operated by donation and government donation. We are not stranded in this city only confined to issues of HIV/AIDS, it will not resolve our whole social issues, so e started to campaign and raise our voice in the medium of human rights campaigning. By working with other group’s e were able to establish good networks with the Media, human rights organisations even the political parties. So on the basis of our human rights work and our HIV/AIDS work we have built our capacity.
BP: Has there been much risk involved in this work? In recent times in Nepal there has been widespread human rights violations, so by taking up the struggle for LGBTI rights have your brought much anger to yourself and your organisation?
SP: In previous years the committee and our people, because we have no legal protection in the law we could not plead to the police to protect us from violations. Basically our community had to rely on sex work, we had no other means of livelihood in the previous years, but now the society is able to employ more than 500 people. Blue Diamond Society now has more than 35 offices in Nepal. It’s a very good network, and we are very influential already. That sort of violence against the community was very great in previous years, but now because we have support from other organisations we are able to have confidence in our protection, and do our work, but there is still violence there.
BP: Starting in 2001 and already having 35 offices, that’s a pretty impressive effort. Do you do much work in rural areas as well, and if so, how does this differ from urban work in say Katmandu?
SP: People in our community they have too, almost all, more than95% I would say, if they are to become open about their sexuality, they are expelled from and have to get out of their family, community and even village. So it is typical that those who have been expelled from their villages tend to center around the cities. I don’t know why the community centers around the city areas, in search of employment I think. So we concentrate on city areas. People come to live there, and open up offices. Initially we had one office, but so many people came, and got in contact with the Blue Diamond Society, we encouraged them to open up more offices in their area. In that way we are able to grow. We were able to increase our HIV work and we have support in our HIV prevention work, because we are recognized and work with the government’s plan of prevention. So because of that, and the international community we have been able to open up our offices.
BP: So you are largely assisted by international organisations?
SP: Yes, and the government. Recently there has been a land mark case in the Supreme Court granting all sorts of civil rights to the LGBTI community. Slowly we are being included more in the government. There is a very small but symbolic support for our community.
BP: So we mentioned the new constitution being written earlier. What are your hopes for the new Constitution and the "New Nepal"?
SP: It is in the discussion process, and the Supreme Court has ordered the government to form one committee, a study committee, so they will research the needs of our community and the international norms and make recommendations for the constituent assembly. It is in the discussion phase. But all of our rights have been committed too.
BP: So as you say it is an ongoing process, but is there any already noticeable difference in the attitudes of people? Is there more acceptance then there was a few years ago?
SP: Ultimately attitudes are changing. Our public based programs are bringing more people into contact with the LGBTI community. The antagonisms between our community and society as whole is starting to slowly lessen, but even in developed nations things are not perfect and ideal.
BP: Yes Australia is an example of that.
SP: I do not know the situation in your country, but it is very hard for some elements in society to recognize and accept our rights.
Talking with Subash afterwoods he also said that they pride themselves on their international links. If any persons or groups from other international LGBTI rights groups, feel free to drop me an email and ill pass it on.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
I'll start with a highlight of the trip so far. Nepal for a country that is among the worlds poorest has some really impressive architecture within Kathmandu. The Durbar Square was the historical palace, with temples and shrines dating back centuraries and a craftmanship that would outdo carvers and builders just about anywhere. Also there is the Singha Durba, which was once among the biggest buildings in South Asia, was built by one of the Rana Prime ministers. It is an enormous structure, built mainly on the basis of western influences. It is obvious and apparent that when an entire nations budget is the personal plaything of a family and a monarch, truly amazing feats of architecture can be achived (at the expense of the welbing of millions of people).
I think the most obvious of these momentous buildings is the Narayanhiti Palace, which until just a few months ago was the private dwellings of the Shah Monarchy. This is an enormous complex that looks out over the city and symbolically dominates the surrounding area. The king has now been disposed, and the palace has from a couple of months ago been open to the public, as a mueseum and a national treasure.
These days almost as striking as the palace itself is the enormous line of people out the front waiting to get their cahnce to go in, and to see the lifestyles of their previous rulers. This line, litterally a couple of hundred meters long is there from the time it opens in the morning to shortly before it closes at night. And this is some time after the Palace opened. The People of Nepal are now flocking to see what is now THEIRS, and to personally reclaim the treasures of their nation, on the site where they were previously forbidden to even walk along the footpath outh the front.
I walked alng the line and talked to the people who were lining up. I cannot really describe the excitment that people had to see the palace for the first time. The feeling was enhanced by a sense of achievement. The people had earned this. The King was only overthrown after the People's War led by the United Communist Party Nepal (Maoists) and the Janaandolan (Peoples Movement) led by the Maoists and other parties, that raged for 19 days before peoples power was finally able to dislodge the monarchy and send it into the dustbin of history.
And i cannot give justice with words to the luxury that was to be found inside the palace. It may suffice to say that no expense was spared. It is truly an enormous complex, that is filled with riches that i had never seen. I would think I would be correct in saying that even Australia does not have a private residence that can rival the Narayanhiti Palace. All this and I only saw half the palace, as the rest is not yet open to the public.
As the people- from all walks of life- walked through the palace there was three distinct emotions that I got from the crowd.
Firstly, amazement. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, the average person lives on less than a dollar a day, yet here the people were coming into contact with wealth that they litterally would not have dreamed possible-especially in Nepal, and even more so considering that a 10 or 15 minute walk from the palace doors there are people living with absolutley nothing. The reality of the palace and the lives of the Royals was overshadowing even the wildest of rumours on the streets.
Secondly, disgust. Once people got over the "wealth-shock" the air was less amazement and more anger. THIS is how THEY lived?!?! And all of this was on the backs of the hard working people of Nepal! The royals enjoyed this livestyle, carefree and open, while most popel in the country cant even read!
But the thrid and i think the biggest emotion in the people going through the palace was a real sense of pride and achivement. After 240 odd years of the Royals- now all of this was theirs! And it was directly on the basis of their struggle and sacrifice that they were able to finally overcome the monarchy. This was very clear in the people's minds who i talked too. Everyone I talked too had played some role in the Peoples Movement. Also was that despite the abject poverty that people were familiar with, it was refreshing for them to se that, despite the reality for most, Nepal DOES have a wealth, and if its resources and potential are focussed on the best interests of the many, rather than the private pockets of the few, then anything truly is possible.
And so the people i talked to here, and elsewhere, are optimistic. People are committed too and have high hopes for the "New Nepal". While it isn't certain exactly what that is yet, if the masses who have fought and sometimes died about have anything to say about it, "New Nepal" will be something radically different to anything this tiny himalayan nation has ever seen before.
So as i have said I have been busy. Yesterday I interviewed someone from the Blue Diamond Society, which is a LGBT rights group here, and i ave also met the Vice Chairwoman of the Constituent Assembly Purna Kumari Subedi, who was the one time head of the All Nepal Womens Organisation (Revolutionary) aslo. There is much more to come- Watch this space!
Sunday, March 8, 2009
However to come to these conclusions one has to disregard the facts and the real issues surrounding this recent controversy. This recruitment has been in response to a recruitment by the (ex Royal) Nepali Army. The recruitment by the army took place against the instructions and orders of the Defense Ministry, the government, the Supreme Court, yet did not receive the same condemnation from the various political parties in opposition.
The political opposition, lead by the Nepali Congress, has called for this recruitment to be stopped, and has demanded the United Communist Party (Maoist) halt the recruitment. However the UCPN (M) is not in a position to do so, as the People's Liberation Army is not longer the military wing of that party. It has been repeatedly been stressed by both the UCPN (M) and the PLA that the PLA now takes its directions from and is loyal to the civilian government.
The PLA and the UCPN (M) both continue to reconfirm their commitment to the ongoing peace process and the process of creating the New Nepal. It is the army, with the political support of the opposition, which is putting the peace process in jeopardy and continues to move against the spirit of the People's Movement of 2006 and the mandate given to the government in the constituent assembly elections last year.
When placed in a position where despite its commitment to the peace process and the government, its opponent in the Nepali Army continued to grow and build its strength, the PLA was left with no option but to follow suit.
The peace process only can be brought to a logical conclusion when the two forces are integrated into a new, democratized national army, loyal only to the New Nepal. Contrary to the opinion of the political opposition, the most pressing need in this matter is not to rehabilitate the PLA into the community, but (as this whole episode shows) firstly to bring the rogue army back under the control of the civilian government, and secondly dissolve both of these forces, and then reintegrate them into a New National Army for the New Nepal.
This however will be a struggle for the Maoist led government as those inside and out of the army will fight tooth and nail to preserve it in its current state as insurance of the status quo. IT is clear to most observers that while the King may be gone and the constitution is still being written, the shape and form of the New Nepal is anything but certain, and is still to be played out in the future.
Friday, March 6, 2009
This is less of an in depth analysis and more of a account of my personal experiences so far, which have been really intense.
I was met at the airport by a political Comrade of mine, Narendra Jung Peter. He has been an amazing help so far, and amongst many other things has helped arrange a room to stay, a Sim card and introductions to already a mind boggling amount of people.
SO it wasn't until Wednesday that i got to look around Kathmandu a little bit. Its an amazing place, and so unbelievably different to the comforts of the West. To describe it best i think all that really needs to be said that it is loud, chaotic but amazingly open and friendly. I've been lost a few times already, but everywhere i go there are people more than happy to help me out, and have a chat which has been great.
There is allot of political graffiti and posters on the walls in Kathmandu. Most of it, at least where i am staying, is just residual stuff left over from previous events etc. There is still allot of stuff left over from the election, most of it Maoist. I have some good photos which i will upload later. Their are also allot of posters, around where i am they are mostly in relation to the UML Congress that was held two weeks ago. There was also some i saw in another part of the city advertising a programme for the Newari (an ethnic group) National Liberation Front. I am pretty sure this is a Maoist group, but unfortunately it has already been, so i couldn't try and attend. There have also been posters around where i am staying for the local shopkeepers union, but i have not yet found anyone to translate for me.
There is some more recent stuff, there was a big slogan on one wall from the Maoists women's group, which is organizing something in regards to International Women s day, which i saw around, but the areas near the Schools and universities are saturated with material, due to the ongoing student elections. Hopefully I will be able to make contact with some of these students and get an insight to the student movements, as the struggle here has been fierce, often escalating into confrontations.
The last few days have been amazingly intense. I haven't had time to think, it's been really crazy, but so amazingly rewarding. Again, comrade Narendra Jung Peter has been an invaluable contact, and i already owe him more than i can thought possible.
Yesterday I got up early to go see the Dabur Square. It is an amazing place, it is the central square of Kathmandu and has temples and other architecture dating back literally over a thousand years. It is an amazing mix of Nepali culture and architecture which is so amazingly impressive, with smaller additions and influences taken from other cultures that passed through the valley, as Kathmandu is on what was the traditional trade route between India and Tibet/China. The exception to this rule of subtle influences is the domination of the beastly building that is sort of tacked onto the side of the old royal palace which is based on the Bank of England building in London. There is nothing subtle about the imposition of this palace extension, and if endemic of the fact that while as a independent nation Nepal was able to resist becoming a part of the British Empire, the cultural (and economic) imperialism wasn't able to be stopped at the border.
After seeing the Darbur Square Narendra called me and invited me to a meeting at the Ministry of Communications and Information on the need to spread responsibility and accountability within the media of Nepal. Present at the meeting where ex-ministers, heads of journalist federations, veteran and respected journos, academics and editors.... and me. Needless to say i felt a little out of my depth, especially as I don't speak a word of Nepali, but ti was still a good experience that i am very grateful for.
Their are many issues in the Media at the moment. Firstly and foremost, there is the issue of the Army integration, which has recently flared up. The (ex-royal) Nepali Army recently went ahead and recruited several thousand new members, despite it being against the interim constitution, the peace agreement, the supreme court and the directions of the government and defence ministries. However only in the last couple of days has the in response to this the People's Liberation Army has also started a process of recruitment. The right wing media is now starting a shit storm about how the PLA is putting the peace process in jeopardy and the UCPN(M) is at fault. It is a ridiculous argument, and the root cause of a the current issues is that the Army is still loyal to the Royals and the opposition, and not to the government.
Also is the issue of the load shedding. Kathmandu is without power for up to 16 hours a day, which naturally is causing massive disruption to peoples lives and the economy. While Nepal is a third world country and it definitely has issues with energy, there has recently (since the Maoists formed government) has been a noticeable increase in the problem. While there has now doubt has been chronic under funding from the government in energy for years, i think that the recent increase in the problem is suspicious to say the least.
I will try and write articles on all the issues i see happening, and also try and get some interviews done. I also need to go to the countryside and see things a bit better as will and meet the rural peoples. At any rate tho i am really looking forward to this challenge, and will write as regularly as possible.
On a final note, the comrades i have spoken too here have really enjoyed Green Left Weekly. I highly recommend, its a great paper and that who ill be writing for predominately. www.greenleft.org.au