Monday, August 31, 2015

Federal bogey

This appeared in Republica on August 24, 2015.

Just when people were expecting a statute of their own promulgated after a long and wrenching transition, the bogey of federalism once again threatens its existence. The unresolved issue of state restructuring had curated the first Constituent Assembly before it was able to give birth to a constitution. The same fate seems to be awaiting the CA-II. Federalism is turning out to be the ride of the tiger for major political parties, without any logical solution in the offing. It has generated a million mutinies with divergent and often mutually exclusive demands that cannot be met to the satisfaction of all.
Much of the blame for the present imbroglio lies with the major parties. Rather than taking expert advice on the sensitive issue of state restructuring, the Big Four syndicate randomly drew boundaries and haphazardly cut and pasted existing districts to new provinces. People at the grassroots, with attachment to their lands, were understandably angry by this and demanded united development regions and districts.They want their provinces to prosper and for that they need transportation routes, something the current delineation fails to address. The important components of identity and capability of federal states too have not been satisfactorily incorporated.

Influential leaders carved provinces and drew boundaries not with any pious motive but for their short-term electoral gains. This gerrymandering has let loose petty regionalism and communalism that will dictate our future political course. More offensive is the top leaders' stance in the face of violence across the country. Rather than genuinely try to bring the disgruntled forces to talks table, they have been issuing empty statements for calm. There are hints that the leaders themselves have been inciting "Akhanda" and "Tharuhat" movements and using their cadres to ignite emotions, thereby inviting police crackdown.

Leaders' indifference to commoners' death only goes to show that they want a statute at any cost, whether or not that is acceptable to a large section of the population. After all, the 16-point deal and the super-fast drafting of the problematic statute based on it had no other motive than facilitating change of power.

In this context, questions regarding federalism should be raised. Why is federalism necessary for the country? How would it ensure equal representation of all communities? How is it any better than effective decentralization? Are the provinces being carved with Nepal's geo-strategic location in mind?

Federalism, although not the magic bullet as some claim, is also not a pure evil as certain sections of intelligentsia believe. The underlying idea is to eliminate backwardness, underdevelopment and povertyof the regions outside the national capital. The centralized state has always been apathetic to the genuine worries of mofussil. People outside Kathmandu valley have to come here even for minor administrative works. Federalism would facilitate self-rule and local empowerment.

But the federal idea in the country focused more on identity than economic viability with prosperity of provinces as its cornerstone. Deliberately ignoring the co-existence of multiple ethnicities in a single region, certain forces aggressively pitched for provinces with single identity with priority rights. In the charged atmosphere, the divisive voices of "us" against "them" reached a crescendo that sought to completely exclude "them" . There was no substantial effort to cool things down and bring communal harmony. This is the reason some people consider federalism as a design of the foreign elements to rupture national harmony.

As if to prove that federalism will indeed sound death knell of communal harmony, influential Madheshi leaders have been poisoning the environment. Quitting the sovereign CA to raise their voices in the streets and issuing inflammatory statements have made things worse. Rajendra Mahato says the Madhesh will impose blockade of goods to hills. Upendra Yadav keeps telling the Madheshis that hill folks are the sole source of their misery. Amaresh Kumar Singh threatens to break Madhesh away from Nepal if every single Madheshi demand is not met and challenges the home minister to put him behind bars for his barefaced remarks.

More brazenly, disgruntled Madheshi leaders announced compensation of Rs 5 million to potential martyrs in Madhesh movement. This open call for martyrdom like some terrorist outfit shows that Madheshi leaders take the people as stepping stone to their political ambitions rather than look to genuinely solve problems in Madhesh. Moreover, it shows that they want the conflict to snowball to unmanageable proportions, rather than seek compromise solutions. General Madheshis might not share their leaders' antagonism against hill folks but some excitable youths can be puppets in the hands of these exclusionary leaders and help prolong the conflict.

Despite the conflicts it has generated, the reality is that federalism has charted a certain course from which the country cannot back down. It would have been better if this sensitive issue had been taken to a referendum. But in light of what has transpired so far, the leaders have their task cut out. They should take expert advice in state delineation. Unfortunately, they have never given serious thought to it. This process will take some time and the promulgation of constitution will be deferred. But that is the risk the leaders should take.They should not fix a date for the constitution that they cannot honor. There is no point in making a constitution that will have to be changed after a short period. There is also a need to make people aware that federalism rather than the unitary state structure will institute inclusivity.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Flawed document: Draft constitution

This article appeared in Republica on August 4, 2015.

The proposed constitution of Nepal will take the country to an uncertain future given its provisions that contain seeds of authoritarianism. Many apparently progressive clauses have been qualified by certain restrictions that can be exploited by a ruler with authoritarian bent.
Take Article 24: Rights regarding mass media. The first clause ensures that there shall be no prior censorship of publications but the very next paragraph lists several conditions to be met to enjoy freedom. The long list functions as the Damocles' Sword that the journalist should be aware of before filing a story or providing an opinion that might be unpleasant to the establishment. This is a direct attack on democratic ideals. Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of democracy and it cannot be subjected to restrictive conditions. In extenuating circumstances like war, press freedom is generally restricted but at a small sign of unrest against an unpopular leader, it can be curbed with misinterpretation of this Clause. With these many restrictions on press, can democracy prosper in future?

The thought behind the incorporation of this offensive Clause in the constitution is that the state knows what is in the best interest of the people. It holds individuals as forces of anarchy, malleable to be swayed by the pernicious influence of a news piece or an opinion. Thus the state has to act as the strict disciplinarian. Yes, some media outlets have misused press freedom to indulge in character assassination and libel at certain times but these incidents are exceptions rather than the norm. Muzzling the press cannot be justified based on some stray incidents.

Another provision that can be exploited to assert the power of a dictator is forcing the citizen to perform mandatory labor. Ironically it falls under the provision of right against exploitation. Article 34 (4) reads, "No person shall be subjected to forced labor." But, the Clause puts a condition, "Provided that nothing in this clause shall prevent the state from enacting a law requiring a citizen to participate in compulsory service for the public purpose." This Clause demanding compulsory service is in direct violation of individual privacy. Some countries have this provision as part of penal law. The courts award mandatory public service for some crimes in these countries. Is this the case here?

A democratic constitution ought not to impose upon the individual. It should not provide leeway for arbitrary interpretation of law. But clearer is the requirement to give up privacy in Article 52 (c). It is the duty of the citizen to "compulsorily enlist when the nation needs the service." This is forceful conscription, pure and simple. Collate this with the incorporation of the term "enemy state" in right to justice provision. Does it mean that the constitution envisions war with another state requiring all citizens to contribute their labor in war effort? What about Nepal being a zone of peace?

Continuing with the constraints on individual liberty, Article 28 defines that "no person shall be put to preventive detention without sufficient grounds for the existence of immediate threat to the sovereignty and integrity or law and order of Nepal." This means that a person can be put in preventive detention when the state furnishes sufficient grounds. Rallies and mass demonstrations, parts of democratic practices, against an unpopular ruler can be taken as threat to sovereignty and law and order by the ruler to put demonstrators in preventive custody and curtail minimum rights. It happened during Indira Gandhi's rule of emergency in India and the constitution was misinterpreted by legal eagles close to the regime to justify authoritarian rule. The same can happen here.

These concerns are relevant in the sense that there are demands of directly elected executive. This demand stems from the desire to see the country ruled by executive fiat. Sick and tired of ill practices of parliamentary democracy where horse-trading, floor crossing and illegal inducements to parliamentarians to form or topple the government were a norm, people during the constitution feedback campaign might have demanded directly elected executive (although the demanders may have been brainwashed by party apparatchiks). People might be thinking that a charismatic and strong-willed leader can come down hard on anarchy and steer the country in the path of prosperity and development.

But there is no guarantee that there will be stability in the country after a directly elected executive assumes power. The executive has to be accountable to the parliament and in the situation when the executive's party fails to win comfortable majority in the parliament, his/her moves can be blocked. Frustrated with this, demands to declare parliament null and void could emerge. Without check and balance against executive overreach, there is every chance of an authoritarian rule. Given the country's geo-strategic position, sovereignty can be put in peril by an authoritarian ruler. Rather than this elitist demand, fostering inclusivity and strengthening state institutions will ensure Nepal's development.

The chattering class loves to give the example of Singapore's charismatic leader Lee Kuan Yew who transformed a backward country to become a developed one and dream of a similar leader here. But they seem to forget that Lee alone couldn't have done anything and he had capable assistants and, more than that, strong institutions to bring about change. Given the sorry state of our institutions, an authoritarian leader is likely to foster bad practices rather than change them for the better.

Matt Andrews, Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University busts the myth of hero-worship in underdeveloped country like ours by saying, "It is disempowering to see leadership as something that demands waiting for special individuals to do special things. It is empowering to see leadership more empirically; as something that emerges in certain contexts and manifests in multiagent groups."

The proposed constitution cannot be given the benefit of doubt that it is a document of compromise. None of the stakeholders is happy with the statute. Cosmetic changes after the incorporation of public feedback might be made but that would not ensure its longevity. It would be unfortunate if the constitution has to be scrapped after another 10 years. After all, it has been hastily prepared to facilitate change in power. That is why it lacks any vision. Therefore, rather than promulgating this ill-conceived constitution that can give birth to authoritarianism, it would be better if the country waited for a better document prepared with great care.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Vignettes of War- Mantha Dareyeko Jug-book review मान्ठा डराएको जुग

This review appeared in Republica on July 31, 2015.

Journalist Mohan Mainali's latest book Mantha Darayeko Jug paints the real picture of the common people caught up in the 10-year war between the state and the insurgents. The writer is loyal to neither of the groups and his sympathies lie with the common people. His is the stance of an observer who comes across the devastating consequences of the conflict. But he is moved and inspired to write a moving feature that would generate help for the victims. In this sense, Mainali's reporting can be called humanitarian journalism.

Humanitarian journalism aims to give voice to the voiceless. Amidst the shrill blaring of gunshots from both sides, the voice of the common people had been silenced. People were looking for an outlet to express their pains. The writer and his colleagues provide the opportunity for these muted people to open up. Armed with their video cameras, they visit Sankhuwasabha, Dhading (Jogimara), Bajura, Kalikot and Jumla districts to be aware about the ground reality at the time of ceasefire and also when the war was in full swing. Going to these hinterlands to record people's pains might appear churlish but Surya Prasad Giri of Bajura tells them that their presence had a balmy effect on the grieving villagers.

The feudalistic structure of Nepali society had led to discrimination against a large number of people for a long time. Despite the ushering of democracy on different occasions, the lives of ordinary Nepalis had not changed for the better. In this context, Maoists waged a war against the state demanding equality for all. Many disgruntled people joined the war but it soon took an ugly turn as more innocent people than combatants were killed in the name of war. The pincer attack of combating forces on

non-combatants destroyed many families.

The war not only killed people but more tragically it annihilated people's belief in others. Thus, any stranger that came to the village was held in suspicion. The video journalists, including the writer, with their cameras on the tripod appeared as soldiers with guns to a middle aged villager working in the fields in Bajura (the term "shooting" is used with both implements).

He ran away from them and later returned after being assured that they meant no harm. This is emblematic of the advent of fear that separates people from one another, a bitter consequence of war. People become rude and unsympathetic due to this fear. The writer meets rude Maoists and army officers who irritate him and his friends with unnecessary questions and unwarranted comments. But it should be understood that fear of death has made them so and they too have their personal sorrows to deal with.

One of the most tragic incidents of war was the death of 17 laborers from Jogimara, Dhading in Kotbada airport, Kalikot. These dirt poor people were lured by the contractor's offer of attractive wages and they went to Kalikot despite their relatives telling them not to do so. While they were working there, the government had imposed emergency in the country. One Maoist combatant fired at the Nepal Army helicopter and scampered away. The Army was unscathed but it returned the next day with vengeance. It randomly opened fire at the laborers, not even bothering to find out whether they were combatants or not. The laborers, however, were declared to be terrorists.

Guerilla warfare generally works like this. Rather than combatting face-to-face, the insurgents provoke the state forces from hiding. The state forces are so afraid of the invisible enemy that they lose rationality. In retaliation, they kill anyone that comes their way. This is the main reason why people not belonging to any combat group become unwilling casualties. Those people without knowledge of politics and ideology are termed as terrorists by the state and martyrs by the insurgents.

In Mantha Darayeko Jug, Mainali presents vignettes of war through words. His words function as the viewfinder of a camera through which the reader gets a vivid picture. Simplicity of expression helps perfect that picture. The writer avoids grand words and meticulously explains it if he comes across any. He also records dialects used in the region that brings authenticity to the feature.

One may say that the book has been published a little too late as people have gradually lost interest in the war. But the direct victims of the conflict can never forget it. In this sense, this book serves an archival purpose. It stands as the reminder to authorities that they cannot remain apathetic to the plights of victims. Conflict victims are yet to get justice for the violations of their rights. Unless their demands for justice are fulfilled, their desire for exacting revenge against the wrongdoers will remain and it will generate another bout of violence.The book is a plea for peace and justice.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bajrangi Bhaijaan: Amor vincit alles (Love conquers all)

This review appeared in Republica on July 24, 2015.

Let me confess in the beginning. I don't consider myself to be an emotional person and generally don't burst into tears even when sad.

But Salman Khan's latest offering Bajrangi Bhaijaan forced tears out of me with its strong emotional content. Fellow audiences watching this movie in the theater couldn't stop tears coursing down their cheeks. A woman was sniffling and unable to stand up from her seat after the screening ended.

Helmed by Kabir Khan, Bajrangi Bhaijaan tells the story of Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi aka Bajrangi (Salman Khan), a person with thick head and large heart. A staunch devotee of Lord Hanuman, he is poor at studies but is morally upright. Once during the Hanuman festival in Kurukshetra, Haryana, he comes across a mute girl Munni/Shahida (Harshaali Malhotra).

Shahida, with a cherubic face and dilated eyes, has been lost while returning to Pakistan after paying obeisance to Hazrat Nizamuddin in New Delhi when her mother (Meher Viz) fell asleep in the train and Shahida wandered away. It's an uphill task to take Shahida back to her home as she cannot speak. After knowing that she is a Pakistani, Bajrangi enters Pakistan through an underground route without any passport or visa.

The second half gets interesting when Bajrangi is wrongly considered a spy and is on the run from the authorities. With the help of a bumbling video journalist Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), Bajrangi continues with his humanitarian mission. Whether he is successful or not in his mission in the face of adversities builds the narrative that reaches a rousing climax.

Salman Khan is not critics' darling actor but this time he scores a victory over their cynicism. He proves that he possesses histrionics acumen (only that he hadn't flaunted his potential to the full). He has changed tack in his film in that he doesn't rip his shirt apart and bare his chest at the drop of a hat like in other films. He lives up to the role of a pious man guided by love for humanity venturing outside the boundary of religious and national bigotry. After all, travel broadens one's horizon of thought.

Debutante child actor Harshaali wins everyone's heart of with her powerful acting. Even a stone-hearted member of the audience bursts into tears when she weeps. In one particularly strong scene, she remembers her lost mother with trembling lips and teary eyes. This scene alone makes her a good prospect in acting. Kareena Kapoor, however, fails to impress and she hasn't even got a significant role. The super-talented Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the sincere journalist Chand Nawab delivers a terrific performance. While providing much needed comic relief in a lachrymose-dominated tale, his one-liners carry deep meaning.

The film is so strong because of minor characters. Om Puri's cameo as the Ustad is delightful. Unlike narrow parochial teachers, he puts Bajrangi, a person from different faith, at ease with his generous gesture. Meher Viz as the suffering mother of the lost child proves what an accomplished performer she is. Rajesh Sharma, as the tough Pakistani cop, who has a change of heart after knowing Bajrangi's truth is an equally powerful actor.

Kabir Khan deserves all praise for pulling off this narrative. There are numerous plot craters that threaten to derail the narrative but Kabir puts powerful emotions and deep meanings in various scenes to make up for the errors. He shows that non-violence is the only viable option to bridge gaps by making slightly stooping Bajrangi to walk with the stick just like Mahatma Gandhi. The Switzerland reference to Kashmir is a jibe at politicians who have made that beautiful valley the most dangerous place to live in.

In fact, all the comic scenes serve as satire against artificial differences created by people. Thus, the conjecture of Shahida's milk-white complexion as belonging to a Brahmin is a satire on inhuman caste system. When Bajrangi tells Chand Nawab that Lord Hanuman will protect him from anything, the latter asks, "Even in Pakistan?" This is a biting satire on narrow religious thinking. Kabir's genius is reflected in the parallelism of cricket teams and Shahida raising hands in religious gestures.

Pritam's music is ordinary. None of the songs is memorable.

I urge you not to miss this movie. There is no point in waiting for the DVDs to come out. Let go of your inhibitions and shed some tears. You can take your hankie along.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Feast for the eyes: Bahubali (review)

This review appeared in Republica on July 17, 2015.

The redoubtable South Indian director SS Rajamouli's forte is fantasy and larger-than-life excess. While his grand vision was reflected in the epic Magadheera, Eega took the clichéd revenge story to the next level by fantasizing the fly taking on a human being. Now comes the granddaddy of them all in Bãhubali—a combination of revenge fantasy at a grandiose level. The special effects in the movie are simply jaw-dropping even if the story is a patchwork.

Set in an imaginative time and location, Bãhubali tells the story of Mahendra Bahubali better known as Shiva (Prabhas). Born to a blue-blooded family and raised by a tribal headman, Shiva's Lord Krishna reference is too easy to miss. The very first scenes of a woman carrying Shiva on her palm above water is an obvious tribute to Nanda carrying Krishna on a basket and crossing the Yamuna River on the day of his birth. Blood calls Shiva as he vies for scaling the imposing mountain of his locale and finding out what lies beyond. He gets the opportunity of finding the terra incognita at the drop of a mask that his intuition tells him to be a girl's. This archetypal journey of the hero to find his true lineage builds the story.

The girl turns out to be an accomplished bow-warrior Avantika (Tamannah) with hints of Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen. Shiva makes her see the feminine side inside the tough warrior by disrobing her in a seductive scene that reminds one of a similar scene in The Mask of Zorro. Her feminine side revealed, Avantika falls in love with Shiva. Her life mission of releasing Queen Devasena (Anushka Shetty) from the clutches of evil king Bhallal (Rana Daggubati) of Mahismati Kingdom becomes Shiva's mission as well.

The first half of the movie unfolds at a leisurely pace as the background to the story and the characters are established. However, post-interval the plot gathers pace as Shiva goes to Mahismati. He makes his presence felt with superhuman power in propping up a huge statue of Bhallal Deva inspiring chants of Bahubali that gives Bhallal nightmares. Shiva manages to rescue Devasena chained to a wall in a dungeon, reminding of captive Sita of the Ramayana in Lanka whom Hanuman tries to rescue. Katappa (Satyaraj), the loyal minion to the crown, at first fights but later surrenders to Shiva once he realizes that he is up against the famed Bahubali. Then he tells the story of palace intrigues that has Mahabharata influence written all over it.

The film then takes the flashback route, and the climactic battle that established the legend of Bahubali is shown that make audience reminisce of Troy. The grand war of Mahismati against barbarians at the gate has been filmed in a grand manner. The strange language of the barbarians and their disgusting makeup has accentuated their evil. The swooping camerawork and war choreography has the vice-like grip in the audience. The brutal killings and beheadings remind the audience of 300. Thereafter, however, the movie ends abruptly and those without having prior knowledge that this is the first part of the two-part series are in for a shock.

The actors essay their role well. Prabhas and Rana Daggubati show off their well-toned muscles inviting wolf-whistles from the female audience. Besides all posturing, however, they demonstrate their acting chops with intensity. Prabhas, with his charming smile, reminds of great Rajnikanth. Ramya Krishnan as the feisty queen Shivagami is the strongest character. Shivaraj as the crown loyal too delivers a praiseworthy performance. Tamannah's histrionics, however, leaves much to be desired.

Some silly mistakes in the story could have been avoided, though. An accomplished warrior like Avantika being unaware of Shiva tattooing her sitting just over her is ludicrous. Shiva and Avantika's love story has been hurried and the song and dance interruption is jarring. The sequence of Shiva and Avantika running away from the avalanche on a makeshift toboggan feels a bogus.

The recounting of various influences and the shortcomings of the movie shouldn't make the reader think that it can be given a miss. It deserves a watch as Rajamouli's hard work (the movie took four years to complete) and his penchant for details pay off. Great amount of budget has been spent on grand sets that are pleasing to the eye. Beyond ostentatious display of grandeur, Rajamouli aims at the heart of the audience by lacing various scenes with emotions. These days when small scaled psychological dramas are dominating the screen, this majestic film manages to blow the mind of the audience who will surely leave the theater satisfied.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

धार्मिक कलहको बीजारोपण

यो लेख "नागरिक" दैनिकमा असार २३, २०७२ मा  प्रकाशित भएको थियो :

लामो समयको विवाद र तिक्तताबाट गुज्रिएको राजनीतिक संक्रमणकाल संविधान निर्माणसँगै टुंगिने छाँट देखिएको छ। प्रमुख ४ दलबीचको सहमतिमा बनेको १६ बुँदे दस्तावेजमा टेकेर संविधान सभाको संविधान मस्यौदा समितिले 'मस्यौदा संविधान' विचारार्थ प्रस्तुत गरेको छ।

यसमा सबै दलका फरक मत परेका छन्। संविधानका धेरै प्रावधानमा चित्त नबुझ्ने अनेकौँ विषय छन्। त्यसमध्ये धर्मनिरपेक्षताको सवालमा राखिएको गोलमटोल प्रावधानले भविष्यमा ठूलै विवाद जन्माउने सम्भावना छ।

सर्वप्रथम त नेपाल धर्मनिरपेक्ष राज्य हुनेछ भनेर भाग १ प्रारम्भिकको धारा ४ मा उल्लेख गर्नु आफैमा धोकेबाज काम हो। दोस्रो कुरा, जनआन्दोलनमा कुनै एजेन्डा नै नबनेको धर्मनिरपेक्षता प्रतिनिधि सभाको पुनर्जीवनसँगै रातारात पारित गरियो। जनतालाई यसबारे मत जाहेर गर्नसमेत दिइएन। संविधान सभाको पहिलो चुनावमा समेत दलहरूले यो एजेन्डा बनाएका थिएनन्, तर संविधान सभा गठनपछि गणतन्त्र र लोकतन्त्रसँगै यसलाई हुलेर जनताले धर्मनिरपेक्षताको समर्थन गरेका हुन् भनी पहिलो बैठकबाट पारित गरियो! यसरी जनतालाई छलछाम गरेर लादिएकोले 'धर्मनिरपेक्षता' विदेशीको हिन्दु धर्म मास्ने चाल हो भन्ने आरोपलाई पुष्टि गर्न पर्याप्त छ। धर्मनिरपेक्षता घोषणा भएसँगै चर्चहरूको संख्यामा निकै वृद्धि हुनु र कतिपय गाउँमा धार्मिक कलह देखापर्नुमा यही कुत्सित चालले काम गरेको छ।

हिन्दु धर्मलाई सखाप पार्नका लागि धेरै अघिदेखि नै षड्यन्त्र हुँदै आएको हो। २०४७ सालको संविधान जारी गर्दाका बखत नै धर्मनिरपेक्षता संविधानमा पार्नका लागि ठूलो पैरवी भएको थियो, तर त्यतिखेर यसले सफलता पाएन। माओवादी जनयुद्धकालमा हिन्दु धर्ममाथि आक्रमणका शृंखला नै चलाइए। कैयौँ मन्दिर तोडफोड गरिए भने पुजारीहरूमाथि भौतिक कारबाही भए। हिन्दु संस्कारमा बसेका किरियापुत्रीलाई कोरा बसेकै स्थानमा हत्यासमेत गरियो! नास्तिकतालाई आधारशिला बनाउने भौतिकवादी कम्युनिस्ट माओवादीले एउटा धर्मलाई मात्र किन तारो बनाए भन्ने कुरा घामजत्तिकै छर्लंग छ। शान्ति–सम्झौतापछि मूलधारको राजनीतिमा आएका माओवादीले आफूलाई विजेताको रूपमा प्रस्तुत गर्दै धर्मनिरपेक्षता लादे र कांग्रेस–एमालेले त्यसलाई चुपचाप स्वीकारे!

हिन्दु धर्मावलम्बीहरू सहनशीलताका लागि प्रसिद्ध छन्। त्यसैले ८१ प्रतिशत हिन्दु बसोबास गर्ने यो मुलुकमा कहिल्यै पनि धार्मिक दंगा भड्किन पाएन। यद्यपि, राष्ट्रविरोधी केही तŒवले नेपालगन्ज र कपिलवस्तुमा त्यसो गर्न नखोजेका हैनन्। यही सहनशीलताका कारण हिन्दुहरू धर्मनिरपेक्षताका विरुद्ध सडकमा ननिस्केका हुन्। जनता राजनीतिकरूपमा तीव्र ध्रुवीकृत छन्, त्यसकारण पनि धार्मिक सन्दर्भलाई लिएर ती सडक संघर्षमा उत्रिएनन्। अधिकांशको के अपेक्षा पनि रह्यो भने, अब बन्ने संविधानमा यो शब्द रहने छैन। तर, अहिले फेरि यसलाई घुसाएर आफूअनुकूल व्याख्या गर्ने प्रयास गरिँदैछ।

मस्यौदा संविधानको भाग ३, धारा ३१ मा 'धार्मिक स्वतन्त्रताको हकमा : (१) प्रत्येक व्यक्तिलाई आफ्नो आस्थाअनुसार धर्मको अवलम्बन, अभ्यास र संरक्षण गर्ने तथा कुनै धर्मबाट अलग रहने स्वतन्त्रता हुनेछ' भन्ने प्रावधान राखिएको छ। कुनै धर्मबाट अलग रहने स्वतन्त्रता भन्ने व्यवस्था किन गरिएको हो? कुनै नास्तिकले 'म कुनै पनि धर्म मान्दिन' भन्न पाउने स्वतन्त्रता हुन्छ भन्न खोजेको हो यो प्रावधानले? नेपालमा नास्तिकको संख्या कति नै छ र उनीहरूका लागि यो व्यवस्था गरिरहनु पर्योा? नास्तिकमाथि दमन कहिले भएको छ र यहाँ उनीहरूको हक स्थापित गरिरहनुपर्ने? बहुसंख्यक हिन्दुको चाहनालाई चाहिँ लत्याउने, तर सहरकेन्द्री एक–दुई नास्तिक बुद्धिजीवीलाई ध्यान दिने यो कस्तो कदम हो? त्यसमाथि अझ यो प्रावधानलाई अपव्याख्या गरेर धर्मपरिर्वनलाई कानुनले छुट दिएको भन्ने अर्थ नलगाइएला भन्ने कुनै निश्चितता छैन। हुन त त्यही धाराको उपधारा (३) मा 'कसैको धर्म परिवर्तन गराउने काम वा व्यवहार गर्न वा गराउन हुँदैन' भनिए पनि त्यसलाई छुट्टै उपधारामा नराखेर सार्वजनिक शान्ति भंग गर्ने अवस्थाभित्र घुसाइएकाले धर्मपरिवर्तनको खतराका बारेमा दलहरू गम्भीर छैनन् भन्ने देखिन्छ।

धर्म व्यक्तिगत विषय हो र कसैलाई पनि स्वविवेकका आधारमा कुनै पनि धर्म अपनाउने छुट हुन्छ। तर, नेपालमा व्याप्त गरिबीको फाइदा उठाउँदै प्रलोभन दिएर धर्म परिवर्तन गर्न लगाउने क्रिस्चियन मिसनरीको ठूलो सञ्जाल छ। क्रिस्चियन बनाउनका लागि अर्बौं खर्च गरिँदैछ। हिन्दु धर्मका जातिगत भेदभावजस्ता केही कमजोरीलाई चर्काएर धर्म परिवर्तनका लागि प्रेरित गर्ने खेलहरू खेलिँदैछ। परापूर्वकालदेखि चलिआएको सर्वधर्म समन्वयको मान्यतालाई छिन्नभिन्न पारेर संस्कृति विनाश गरी अफ्रिकी मुलुकहरू, विशेषगरी नाइजेरिया र बाल्कन मुलुकको जस्तो स्थिति यहाँ ल्याउन खोजिँदैछ।

वास्तवमा धर्मनिरपेक्षता युरोपेली 'सेकुलरिजम'को अनुवादमात्र हो। यसलाई युरोपको क्रिस्चियन इतिहासको आलोकमा हेर्नुपर्ने हुन्छ। युरोपेली पुनर्जागरणको युगमा धर्म र राज्य छुट्याइनुपर्ने माग उठेसँगै सेकुलरिजमको चर्चा चल्न थालेको हो। चर्चले राज्यका हरेक क्रियाकलापमा हस्तक्षेप गरेर शक्ति प्रदर्शन गर्ने गरेकाले चिढिएका बौद्धिकहरूले राज्यसँगको सहकार्यमा उसको प्रभाव कम गर्न सेकुलरिजमलाई बढावा दिए। वास्तवमा १८औँ शताब्दीअघि धर्मका लागि 'रिलिजन' शब्दसमेत प्रयोगमा आएको थिएन, बरु 'फेथ' भनिन्थ्यो। त्यसले हाम्रो सनातन परम्परामा धर्मले जस्तो व्यापक अर्थ दिन्थ्यो, तर अहिले साँघुरिएको अर्थमा रिलिजन प्रयुक्त हुन्छ अनि त्यसकै अनुवाद धर्म भनेर गरिन्छ। हाम्रोमा मन्दिर र राज्यको यस्तो शक्तिका लागि कहिल्यै द्वन्द्व भएन।

भारतमा धर्मनिरपेक्षताले सबै धर्मलाई राज्यले समान व्यवहार गर्ने अर्थ जनाउँछ। यो अर्थमा सबै धर्ममा रहेका आआफ्नै कानुनी संरचनालाई मान्यता दिनुपर्ने हुन्छ। त्यसैले भारतमा मुस्लिमको आफ्नै शरिया कानुन छ जसका अगाडि राज्यको कानुन दोस्रो ठहर्छ। यहाँ पनि त्यही माग उठ्न सक्ने सम्भावना हुन्छ। अनि बहुसंख्यक हिन्दुले कहिल्यै पनि धर्मलाई आधार लिएर मतदान नगर्ने, तर अल्पसंख्यक समूहले यही आधारमा मत दिने भएकाले भारतीय राजनीतिकर्मीले जहिले पनि भोट बैंकका लागि अल्पसंख्यकलाई प्रयोग गर्ने नीति लिइइरहे। बहुसंख्यक हिन्दुको डर देखाएर अनि विभिन्न आरक्षणको प्रलोभन देखाएर अल्पसंख्यकलाई आफ्नो दललाई मत दिन राजनीतिकर्मी सधैँ उद्यत् रहन्छन्। त्यसैले केही विद्वान्ले भारतको धर्मनिरपेक्षतालाई प्रच्छन्न धर्मनिरपेक्षता भनेका छन्। यस्तो तुष्टिकरणले धार्मिक तनाव फैलाउन मद्दत गर्छ जुन बारम्बार हुने हिन्दु–मुस्लिम दंगाले प्रमाणित गरेकै छ।

हाम्रो देशमा यही स्वरूपको धर्मनिरपेक्षताले धार्मिक कलह ननिम्त्याउला भन्न सकिन्न। संविधान सभाको चुनावमा नेपाल परिवार दल र जनजागरण पार्टी नेपाल भन्ने क्रिस्चियन पार्टीले समानुपातिकमा सिट ल्याउनेगरी भोट पाउनु र कपिलवस्तुमा एक स्वतन्त्र मुस्लिम उम्मेदवारले जित्नुमा धार्मिक आधारको मतदानले काम गरेको थियो। त्यसैगरी, राष्ट्रिय प्रजातन्त्र पार्टी नेपालले हिन्दु राज्यको मागको नारा राखेर भोट माग्दा काठमाडौँमा निकै मत ल्याएको थियो। यी घटनाक्रमले भविष्यको नेपालमा धर्मले राजनीतिक दिशानिर्देश गर्ने प्रारम्भिक संकेत गरेको छ।

धर्मनिरपेक्षता शब्दको सट्टा प्रस्ताव गरिएका धार्मिक स्वतन्त्रता र धार्मिक बहुलता भन्ने शब्दावली पनि सारमा उही कुरा हुन्। यसो भन्दै गर्दा धर्मनिरपेक्षताले एउटा मार्ग तय गरिसकेकाले अब यसलाई उल्ट्याउन गाह्रै हुनेछ। हिन्दु धर्म कायम गराइपाउँ भन्ने माग राख्नु अब व्यावहारिक नठहर्ला। बरु संविधान यसमा तटस्थ रहेर केही पनि नबोल्नु उचित हुन्थ्यो। तर, यहाँ त द्विअर्थी प्रावधान राखेर कलहको अवस्था निम्त्याइयो।

Sunday, June 28, 2015

No to torture

This appeared in Republica on June 27, 2015.

On June 26 the world celebrated the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. This is the day the world pays respect to torture survivors. Torture is said to be the mother of all human rights violations as it subjects people to the extreme form of indignity. Broken bodies might heal over time but the impressions they leave in the mind are indelible. Since human beings are extremely attached to their bodies any assault to the body haunts the memory for a long time.

Torture is practiced in police custody in Nepal, although with the intervention of rights activists it is on the wane. State mechanisms like Office of the Attorney General and National Human Rights Commission and lawyers from private organizations like Center for Victims of Torture, Advocacy Forum, among others, carry out detention center visits to check.

Generally, torture is employed by the police to extract confessions. Since our criminal investigation system lacks scientific tools to establish criminality, the police rely on confessions of the accused as evidence. Especially in the cases of theft the police are pressured to nab the criminal and recover the stolen property. The police see extracting confessions as the sure-shot way of sealing evidence. Although any confessions obtained from torture are inadmissible as evidence in the court, judges generally accept them.

The practice of torture was widespread during the conflict. Both the security forces and Maoists tortured detainees. The army and the police tortured detainees to have them disclose the location of Maoist rebels. Maoists, on the other hand, tortured those who failed to give extortion money they demanded or those who were suspected to be informers. With the peace agreement, torture has decreased.

There are various instruments to safeguard detainees from torture. The Interim Constitution of Nepal has explicitly prohibited torture. Article 26(1) has provided that “no person who is detained during investigation or for trial or for any other reason shall be subjected to physical or mental torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Besides this, Nepal is party to several international human rights instruments including Convention against Torture. Under Article 2 of this convention state parties are obligated to prevent torture and other ill-treatment and under Article 4 torture is an offense under criminal law.

A separate Act against torture also exists. Torture Compensation Act (1996) provides certain safeguards against torture but legal experts believe they are not adequate. For example, the statutory limit for filing complaints for torture is 35 days. This is not practical as the victim may fear reprisals from perpetrators or may be suffering physical or psychological trauma from torture. S/he should be given enough time to prepare for delivery of justice, possibly six months. However, the bruises from torture might disappear by that period.

The name of the Act itself is problematic. Rather than preventing torture it seems content to compensate torture victims. There is a provision of awarding Rs 100,000 to torture victims but since the state provides it and not the perpetrator. Even if there is a provision of departmental action against the perpetrator in police, this provision is rarely enacted. This has effectively let the perpetrator go scot free. But torture is subject to Universal Jurisdiction and the perpetrator can be nabbed in any part of the world, as seen in Colonel Kumar Lama’s arrest and trial in the UK.

Because of the inadequacy of the existing legal protection, the government has prepared a new bill to address torture. In August 2014 the Ministry of Home Affairs tabled the Torture or Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (Offence and Punishment) Bill in the Parliament. This proposes to criminalize torture, to provide a mechanism for the investigation and prosecution of torture complaints, and compensation to victims. It puts the onus on officers in charge to prevent torture or ill-treatment and sets out a system of receiving complaints and investigation, including the possibility of detaining those under investigation. With the incorporation of these provisions torture in police detentions could be minimized.  

However, with the increase in custody monitoring, the police have started refraining from inflicting visible torture on detainees. According to Advocacy Forum’s latest torture report, the rate of victims reporting physical torture has decreased but psychological torture seems to be on the rise. “Threats against the detainee or the detainee’s family members increasingly are being reported to AF lawyers. These changes in the methods of torture may lead to torture being underreported, either because the detainee does not perceive threats and psychological manipulation as a form of torture, or because of the difficulty inherent in proving that psychological torture has occurred.”

This reflects the global trend in torture. Darius Rijali in his seminal book Torture and Democracy points at this trend in chilling details. In authoritarian countries the state is least worried about human rights activists and justice so that they have no hesitation in leaving scars and bruises on detainees. But democracies have to uphold minimum standard for treatment of detainees and thus resort to psychological torture that is undetected in medical examination.

Rejali observes “a global decline of the scarring techniques that characterized pre-modern torture. The evidence gleaned from human rights reports, truth and reconciliation commission testimonies, and perpetrators’ confessions confirms a shift toward stealth or clean torture.” Nepal Police seems to have adopted this technique. This is more dangerous than physical torture because it can damage the detainee’s psychology in the long term.

To prevent this form of torture, the state has to modernize its criminal investigative system. Standardized forensic practices in crime investigation will reduce the instances of the investigation officer relying on confessions to establish a crime. Similarly, scientific evidence obtained by thorough forensic evaluations can assist the examining authority in investigating, prosecuting and punishing each incident of torture. In the absence of forensic labs, sometimes torture victims can’t corroborate their claims of torture. This should be avoided. 

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