Ben Peterson: First Impressions and Adventures in Nepal
Posted by irisbright on March 22, 2009
Maoist graffiti in a village in Myagdi district. From United We Blog for a Democratic Nepal
Ben Peterson, of Melbourne, Australia, is currently traveling in Nepal. He is writing reports of what he finds and learns about the revolutionary movement and the people of Nepal on his blog, Lal Salam — Revolution in the Himalayas. We will be posting his reports in installments, as they come. Posting them on Kasama does not mean we endorse his analysis.
by Ben Peterson
[March 6, 2009] And here I am. After too long speculating from the sidelines (and sidelines 10,000 km away) I have finally arrived in the land of Mountains and Maoists. On Tuesday Night at about 10 pm I landed in Kathmandu to see with my own eyes the processes unfolding here.
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. It’s 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 a lot 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 a lot 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 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 it was still a good experience that I am very grateful for.
There 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, it’s a great paper and that who I’ll be writing for predominately.