Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Nepalitics as usual

My small-town life pales in comparison to events northeast of here. (Okay, I am getting a bit fatigued and enjoying having Guest Ghostwriters). The newshound in me wishes I were on location to get a first-hand story.

Looks like the Maoists have called off their strike - for now.

Just before this happened, I received a letter from an American friend, a priest and academic who's lived in Nepal for 20 years and speaks most of the languages. His house was requisitioned as a polling place by the governement, it seems. Foreigners are no longer exempt from the threat of violence, if they ever were. In his own words:

I have received private reports that large numbers of Maoist cadres have gathered in villages on the edge of the valley, perhaps preparing for attacks on or after election day. Polling stations are expected to be targeted.

A few weeks ago this all became very personal when the election commission informed us that they wanted to use the GAA headquarters as a polling site. I live on the top floor of the GAA. We immediately replied that GAA would not be available since we have rented out the hall and parking lot to a third-party, and thus have no control over its use. We also reminded them that the GAA is private property, and there are plenty of nearby government owned facilities that would be more appropriate.

When we heard nothing further we assumed the matter was settled. We checked several days ago and were told that the local government school would be used.
Yesterday, at about 7 in the morning, election officials arrived with armed police back-up and slathered our walls with notices announcing us as a voting station. A few hours later an army squad came and took over the building. Our protests were useless. The best I could do was to get the commander to agree that my apartment is off-limits. Who knows whether this decision will be respected.

We hurriedly moved all of our electronic equipment from the GAA offices to my apartment. I then vacated the building, taking important documents (and the computer I'm using!) with me; I'm staying at the M. residence about a mile away.

My greatest fear is that the GAA building will be attacked or bombed today or tomorrow. Even if it isn't, we will still be at risk of Maoist retribution for at least several weeks. The attackers are likely to think they are damaging an empty office building, unaware that several people sleep there. At the same time, we cannot protest forcefully, or advertise our unwillingness to cooperate with the elections, without risking trouble from the Army.

Once the elections are over, we will be obliged to hire a number of professional security personnel to guard the property day and night. This is an expensive measure that our organization can barely afford. On balance the scenario is that I am personally safe at present. I continue taking precautions including not sleeping in my own house for at least a month. The situation otherwise is fairly tense. If, as expected, the king tries to validate sham election results - particularly if the winners are royalists there is sure to be a great upsurge in disruptive political protests. The Maoists are also likely to step up the number of bombings and political assassinations. They have already killed several election candidates and uncontested "winners"from areas outside the Kathmandu Valley.

If the situation deteriorates any further, to the point where there is open fighting in the streets between the security forces and Maoists, then I will be obliged to evacuate the Volunteers to India or Thailand.

There is a good chance that communication lines phone and e-mail will be cut off this evening and remain off for a few days, in connection with tomorrow's elections. No need for that communication break to alarm anyone. If there is a serious problem I will get word out via satellite phone.

Feel free to pass this letter on to friends of mine or to post it, where appropriate.
Please keep us in your prayers.
Father S.

By the way - the bright red garb of the Nepali women shown in these photos does NOT signify Communism or Maoism! Red is the traditional colour for Nepali women to wear. Red is the Nepali black or navy blue - the default colour. You know you've been in Nepal a while when the colour red matches everything (even pink, and brown)!


Bernie Quigley said...

Always interesting. Maoism, like Marxism, must be the Dark Face of the Enlightenment; it has scattered the Sacred Things of the East as it has in the West - it may be fate for the Sacred Things of the East to Abandon and escape to the North American continent (as Tolkein implies " . . . the Elves" had already fled Europe . . .) maybe the Canadian Rockies will offer new sanctuary . . . how like Aleaandra David-Neel's your life and journey is - Quigley

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Well, it was prophesied by the Tibetan oracle that "the star of Dharma would shine in the West..." and many other things that have come to pass.

Wow - comparing me to ADN! My day, or maybe month, is made! and I haven't even made it to Tibet yet!