Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Interesting times

Desperate times call for....

It's an interesting time to be in Nepal. The Government (which, since Feb. 1, 2005, has meant the King) shut down another FM station yesterday, Radio Sagarmatha, for thinking about broadcasting a BBC interview with Maoist leader Prachanda. The station had already decided against airing it, but security forces came and seized their equipment anyway and arrested 5 journalists. The official BBC Nepali website was also shut down (still can't access it). Radio Sagarmatha has petitioned the Nepali Supreme Court for return of their broadcasting equipment.

The Maoists and the Seven-Party Alliance have come to an historic agreement (not on every point, but they're getting chummy). The Maoists' unilateral ceasefire, which everyone from the common people to the UK to the EU asked the King to reciprocate (he refused) ends on December 3rd; a major demonstration is planned for December 2. Tension is mounting as the new strange bedfellows wonder if they'll have to throw down with the King.

What will His Autocracy do next? It's hard for an outsider (or anyone) to assess the goings-on. Opinion on the street and in the press appears to be that the King is not planning to compromise, but attempting to consolidate his power. Rajendra Baid, the journalist who had been in Delhi on a hunger strike to the death demanding a return to democracy and media freedom, a few days ago called off the strike at behest of his colleagues. Former Nepali Student Union leader and outspoken democracy advocate Gagan Thapa is out of jail, for the moment.

The ceasefire, while it did take a bit of wind out of the royal sails (keeping peace? that's supposed to be my job), was welcomed, but was not exactly a complete stoppage of violence. There were plenty of reports that the Maoists (and teenagers with guns calling themselves Maoists) continued to abduct and "disappear" rural people including schoolchildren and their teachers; demand donations, and otherwise carry out their usual activities, as did the Army.

This blogger isn't taking any side or advocating anything at all; just commenting on the complexity of the situation. The average foreigner's experience here, after all, is not even the tip of the iceberg - just the maraschino cherry on the tip of the ice cream scoop atop the iceberg, or in this case, glacier.

In modern America, and even in Kathmandu city, it wouldn't mean quite so much just to shut down FM radio - newspapers and cable TV are everywhere. But when visiting villages on the outskirts of the Valley, one realizes the significance of the airwaves crackdown. Many of the villages do have electricity (evidenced by the unsightly wires in my photos), not to mention transistor sets. Radio programs -Nepali folk music or the occasional Bollywood hits- blared from many a cottage as people participated in the fall rice harvest, winnowing, threshing, pounding and sifting golden grains. Newspapers are available only by slogging all the way down the roadless hills on foot, into the nearest "town" with a high street and a shop. And the older, rural generation often doesn't even read Nepali. Literacy outside the cities is quite low. To censor radio is really to deny the villagers access to word from the outside world.

...desperate measures.
Is anyone else as hooked on Desperate Housewives as I am?
Never thought I'd have anything in common with Laura Bush. It's equal parts American Beauty and Twin Peaks, the Danny Elfman score adds brilliant tension, and I love the narrative voiceover, done by the ghost of the dead neighbor who pulled a Hemingway in the pilot. But I personally can't believe that even a stupid materialistic bitch like Gabrielle would stay with a beastly, abusive pig like Carlos....

This just in....
Radio Sagarmatha has resumed transmission following the favourable Supreme Court order.

Do you think I can fit any more links in this post??


Jak said...

Oh Caroline....

It's so good to actually see you after all this time...the travel seems to have actually made you younger. Thank you for posting the link. I'll check back.

It would be lovely to see you again in Tennessee.


Shinu Mathew said...

We are at a lose to understand the current situation in Nepal. The king is acting in a weird way and no one (read the US or Europe) seems to notice. Or even if they do, there is not enough pressure on him to roll back to democracy.
On the other hand India resumes the arms supply in fear of Pakistan taking advantage of the situation. India couldn't afford to have another breeding ground for terrorists. But as it seems things are getting a bit out of control.
Caroline, are you safe there? I mean do you have enough freedom to roam around and click. The news we receive here is not a bit optimistic.
Take care!