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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Friday, June 26, 2015

एमनेस्टीको गलत कदम

 यो लेख नागरिक दैनिकमा  असार ११, २०७२ छापिएको हो ।

वरिष्ठ मानवअधिकारकर्मी तथा नेपाल शाखाका पूर्व सभापति कृष्ण पहाडीलगायत ९ जना पदाधिकारीले मानवअधिकारको क्षेत्रमा क्रियाशील अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय संस्था एमनेस्टी इन्टरनेसलबाट सामूहिक राजिनामा गरेपछि बेग्लै तरंग उत्पन्न भएको छ। विवादास्पद मधेसी बुद्धिजीवी सीके राउतलाई अप्रत्यक्ष समर्थन गरेको र नन्दप्रसाद अधिकारीको अनशन तथा त्यसैकारण भएको उनको मृत्युमा कुनै अडान नलिएको आरोप पहाडीले लगाएका छन्। यसको जवाफमा एमनेस्टीले राउतको क्रियाकलापलाई समर्थन नगरे पनि उनको अभिव्यक्ति स्वतन्त्रतालाई सम्मान गरेको भन्ने स्पष्टीकरण दियो। तर, यो स्पष्टीकरण चित्तबुझ्दो देखिँदैन।

पहिलो कुरा त, अभिव्यक्ति स्वतन्त्रता लोकतन्त्रको आधारशिला भए पनि यो निरपेक्ष हुन कदापि सक्दैन। एमनेस्टीले मान्ने गरेको मानवअधिकारको महत्वपूर्ण दस्तावेज नागरिक तथा राजनीतिक अधिकारसम्बन्धी अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय महासन्धिको धारा १९(३) ले राष्ट्रिय सुरक्षा तथा सार्वजनिक सद्भाव कायम राख्नका लागि कसैको व्यक्तिगत विचारमाथि अंकुश लगाउनसक्ने व्यवस्था गरेको छ। राउतले मधेसलाई नेपालबाट छुट्याउने अभियान लगातार चलाउँदै आएका छन् र त्यही क्रममा नेपाल राज्यविरुद्ध घृणा उत्पन्न हुने किसिमका अभिव्यक्ति पनि दिँदै आएका छन्। मधेसी र पहाडी समुदायबीच फाटो ल्याउन बल पुग्नेखालका उनका विवादास्पद अभिव्यक्ति सामाजिक सञ्जालमा आइरहन्छन्।

पटकपटक पक्राउ पर्दै अनि छुट्दै गरेका राउतले राज्य विप्लवको मुद्दामा विशेष अदालतबाट सफाइ पाएका थिए। उक्त मुद्दामा अभियोजन पक्षले आरोपको प्रमाण पुर्यारउन नसकेका कारण उनले सफाइ पाएको भए पनि उनका अभिव्यक्ति गैरकानुनी नै छन्। भूकम्पले घरबारविहीन बनाएकाहरूलाई तराईमा बसोबास मिलाउँदा मधेसीहरूलाई पहाडीले विस्थापित गर्ने षड्यन्त्र भएको देख्छन् उनी र त्यो रोक्नुपर्ने माग गर्छन्। मानवअधिकारको विश्वव्यापी घोषणापत्रको धारा १३ र नागरिक तथा राजनीतिक अधिकारसम्बन्धी अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय महासन्धिको धारा १२ ले सबै नागरिकलाई आफूले चाहेको स्थानमा बसोबास गर्ने अधिकार प्रदान गरेको छ। यो हक कुण्ठित गराउन चाहने राउतलाई प्रोत्साहन गर्ने एमनेस्टीले मानवअधिकारको कुन अभ्यास गर्दैछ नेपालमा?

नारीहरूप्रतिका राउतका कतिपय आपत्तिजनक अभिव्यक्तिले लैंगिक हिंसालाई बढावा दिन्छन्। सबै नेपाली नारीलाई अनि नेपाल आमालाई नै गणिकाको दर्जा दिने उनका भनाइ सभ्य समाजमा किमार्थ पाच्य ठहर्दैन। मधेसमा बसाइँ सरेका पहाडी महिला वेश्यावृत्तिमा संलग्न हुन्छन् भनी आरोप लगाउने राउतका तुच्छ अभिव्यक्तिलाई लैंगिक अधिकार र समानताका पक्षमा वकालत गर्ने एमनेस्टीजस्तो सम्मानित संस्थाले आँखा चिम्लेको कसरी सुहाउला!

लोकतन्त्रको उदारतालाई दुरुपयोग गरेर यसलाई आघात पुर्यासउन कोसिस गर्ने तत्वलाई ठेगान लगाउन 'लडाकु लोकतन्त्र' (मिलिट्यान्ट डेमोक्रेसी) को अवधारणा विकसित गरे जर्मन दार्शनिक तथा राजनीतिक सिद्धान्तकार कार्ल लोएन्स्टाइनले। उदार लोकतन्त्रले सबैलाई असीम स्वतन्त्रता दिँदा उग्रवादीसमेतले त्यसको फाइदा उठाउँछन्। अझ, संक्रमणकालमा त्यस्ता तत्वले झन् खेल्ने मौका पाउँछन्। नेपालमा पनि अहिले संक्रमणकाल चलिरहेको र राजनीति तरल अवस्थामा रहेको छ। त्यसैले यो बेलामा पूर्ण लोकतान्त्रिक आदर्शवाद व्यावहारिक ठहर्दैन, बरू न्यूनतम स्थिरता कायम गराउन लडाकु लोकतन्त्र उचित हुन्छ।

लडाकु लोकतन्त्रको अभ्यास विश्वका धेरै विकसित देशमा हुनेगरेका छन्। मार्क्स थिएलको पुस्तक 'द मिलिट्यान्ट डेमोक्रेसी प्रिन्सिपल इन मोडर्न डेमोक्रेसिज' मा विभिन्न देशमा कसरी यो सिद्धान्त लागु भएको छ भनी उल्लेख गरिएको छ। आफ्ना नागरिकको सुरक्षा, देशको अखण्डता, सार्वभौमसत्ता र स्वतन्त्रताको रक्षा गर्नु राज्यको दायित्व हो। यसले जनताको मौलिक हकलाई पनि रक्षा गर्नुपर्छ, तर दायित्वको सन्तुलनमा व्यक्तिगत हकलाई थाती राख्नसक्छ। राउतको अभिव्यक्ति स्वतन्त्रताको हक देशको अखण्डताको सवालभन्दा माथि हुनै सक्दैन।

वास्तवमा मानवअधिकारको डिस्कोर्सले जहिले पनि राज्यको तुलनामा व्यक्तिलाई महत्व दिनेगर्छ। राज्यले व्यक्तिको अधिकार उल्लंघन गर्छ भन्ने पूर्वाग्रहमा मानवअधिकार समुदाय चलिरहेको हुन्छ। अति आदर्शको चक्करमा परिरहेको यो समुदायले हकको सन्तुलन सिद्धान्तलाई बिर्सिदिन्छ। त्यसैकारण एमनेस्टीले देश टुक्राउन बल पुग्ने राउतको अभिव्यक्ति हकलाई यति महत्व दिएको हो।

पहाडी समुदायका केही विवेकहीन व्यक्तिले गरेको विभेदका सिकार भएकाले राउतमा उग्रता आएको हुनसक्छ। उनको आत्मकथा 'वैरागदेखि बचाव'सम्म पढ्दा उनले काठमाडौँमा तीता घटना भोग्नुपरेको पाइन्छ। तर, उनी आफ्नो प्रतिभाको बलमा वैज्ञानिक र लेखक बन्न सके र उनलाई राज्यले प्रतिभा तिखार्नमा कुनै बाधा पुर्यातएको देखिँदैन। केही व्यक्तिको उनीप्रतिको मूर्खतापूर्ण व्यवहारलाई उनले सम्पूर्ण समुदायमाथि नै थुपार्न मिल्दैन र यसैलाई मुद्दा बनाएर देशै टुक्राउने अभियान सञ्चालन गर्न कुनै पनि हालतमा मिल्दैन।

राउतको छुट्टै मधेसको प्रस्ताव आफैमा समस्याग्रस्त विषय हो। स्वायत्त मधेसमा मधेसीको हक स्थापित हुने भनिए पनि आदिवासी थारू तथा अल्पसंख्यक मुस्लिम समुदायको हकका बारेमा स्पष्ट खाका केही छैन। सबै थारूलाई मधेसी बनाउने र उनीहरूको पहिचान मेटाउने षड्यन्त्र भइरहेको भनी थारू नेताहरू शंका गरिरहेका छन्। पहाडी समुदायमाथि विष वमन गर्ने राउत र उनका सहयोगीहरूले आफूइतरका तराईबासी समुदायको भयलाई सम्बोधन गर्नेतर्फ कुनै ध्यान दिएका छैनन्– दिँदैनन्।

हाल विकसित देशहरूमा पहिचानको राजनीतिले संकट निम्त्याइरहेको भन्ने बहसले बौद्धिक वृत्तमा चर्चा कमाइरहेको छ। व्यक्तिलाई विभिन्न पहिचानका वर्गमा सीमित गरेर व्यक्तित्व विकासमा बाधा पुर्याौउने काम भइरहेको छ भनी विचारकहरूले चिन्ता व्यक्त गरिरहँदा विदेशीहरू यहाँचाहिँ जातीय पहिचानको राजनीति चर्काउन खोज्दैछन्। यस्तो विभाजनकारी काम गर्न पाउँदा उनीहरू आफ्नो स्वार्थसिद्धि सहज हुने ठान्छन्। अनि पहिचानवादी भनिन रुचाउनेहरू त्यसैलाई अनुसरण गरेर रमाइरहेका छन्! एकात्मक राज्यले पहिचान हरण गरेको तर्क दिनेहरूले आफ्नो गौरवपूर्ण भाषा र संस्कृतिलाई उत्थान गर्नेभन्दा जातिवादी राज्य स्थापित गरेर इतर जातिलाई दबाउने चेष्टा गर्दैछन्। राउत पनि त्यही समूहका नाइके भएकाले उनको उदयबाट आममधेसीलाई भन्दा पनि उनका विदेशी प्रभुलाई फाइदा पुग्ने देखिन्छ।

नेपाल राष्ट्रको अखण्डता र नेपालीबीचको सद्भाव कायम राख्नका लागि सिके राउत प्रवृत्तिलाई निरुत्साहित गर्नैपर्छ। उनलाई उक्साउने राष्ट्रिय तथा अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय संघ–संस्थाका क्रियाकलापमा सरकारले अंकुश लगाउनैपर्छ। हुन त राज्यले सबै समुदायलाई बराबर महत्व दिएर कसैप्रति पनि विभेद नहुने प्रत्याभूति गर्नुपर्ने हो, जसले गर्दा राउतजस्ता उग्रवादी नजन्मिउन्। अनि एमनेस्टीजस्ता संस्थाले पनि कस्ता व्यक्तिलाई समर्थन गर्ने अनि कस्तालाई वास्ता नगर्ने भन्ने कुरामा विवेक पुर्यामउनु जरुरी छ। भूकम्पपछिको समयमा अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय गैरसरकारी संस्थाका क्रियाकलापमाथि प्रश्न उठिरहेको बेलामा एमनेस्टी जस्तो संस्थाले आफ्नो साख बचाउनु जरुरी हुन्छ।

Dispute deferred

This article appeared in Republica on June 15, 2015.

The 16-point deal among four major parties has raised hope of a constitution. Poles apart and bitterly divided for a long time, the parties reached an agreement after the country faced great devastation in the wake of the April 25 earthquake. The unity and solidarity shown by Nepali people in the aftermath of the quake even amidst government apathy must have shamed leaders to iron out differences. UCPN (Maoist) Chair Prachanda and CPN-UML Chair KP Oli, who couldn't see eye to eye and constantly traded insults against each other, warmed up and backed down from their rigid positions. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala also let go of his adamant stance of incorporating the term "pluralism" in reaching the current deal.
But the picture is not rosy yet. Apparently the deal has been reached to deliver the constitution, but the real intention of the major leaders is to be part of the lucrative reconstruction process post-quake. Sushil Koirala government received widespread condemnation for its sluggish approach to relief delivery in quake affected areas, so much so that even after a month of the quake people in certain hinterlands had yet to see any relief materials. The mismanagement and allegations of wrongdoing tarred the government image more. Finance Minister and Home Minister fought with each other to hold command of relief process. The personal secretary of the Finance Minister resigned from his post after allegations of ferrying zinc sheets meant for quake victims to his home with the intention of selling them.

Seizing this opportunity, KP Oli, eying the PM post, wasted no time in criticizing the government sluggishness, conveniently forgetting that his loyal comrade Bamdev Gautam is in charge of the influential Home Ministry and shoulders equal blame. Oli was being impatient for the post for long as his party had struck a "gentleman's agreement" with the Nepali Congress that CPN-UML would lead the government after the promulgation of the constitution.

Adoption of the fast track route and summary process of constitution making would pave way for UML to ascend the throne with possible help from UCPN (Maoist) as Prachanda, who wants to emerge as the kingmaker after the second Constituent Assembly (CA) poll debacle, has assured his backing to Oli. This would drive the wedge between the ruling coalition and Prachanda will seize the opportunity to play his role. Be that as it may, given his proximity with the southern neighbor establishment, Oli seems all set to become the next PM.

Nepali Congress, on the other hand, is trying hard not to lose power at any cost and turn the incumbent government into a national unity government under its leadership. The PM seems to be in two minds. On the one hand, he seems to want to be remembered as the executive head under whose tenure the constitution got promulgated. He may even be offered the post of the country's President by CPN-UML. But he too doesn't want to be left out of the reconstruction process. If he is able to handle that process well, his legacy will be written in golden letters of the country's history.

However, it would be better if the PM honored the agreement with the UML and stepped down rather than opting to head a national government. NC should take the role of a strong opposition. Fickle voters didn't learn the lesson from the CA-I polls to give any single party the majority in CA-II polls, so there is no reason for the NC to perpetuate the uneasy coalition with UML (it was unnatural as well because the biggest and the second biggest party generally don't make a coalition government).

Moreover, democracy becomes strong when there are checks and balances against government authoritarianism and a strong opposition can warn it against any misdeeds. One of the reasons why Maoists went into a further slump was that they didn't assert the strength as the opposition to the government's anti-people decision of hiking consumer good prices; rather they seemed to collude with the government. That caused their shameful loss in by-elections. If NC is assertive in its opposition role and takes the opportunity to go to the people and deliver them succor, it can win a comfortable majority in the next parliamentary election.

This political tug of war, however, has exacerbated the contentious issue of federalism although the recent deal seems to have put a lid on the can of worms. The major bone of contention between the parties was/is the issue of federalism and the real deal has been deferred to the yet-to-be-formed Federal Commission. Explosion is imminent after the promulgation of the constitution once the Commission starts functioning. Some fringe parties have taken offense exactly on this deferral charging the four major parties of bypassing the sovereign CA to allocate names and boundaries of the provinces. But since they have not got people's backing—they were ignominiously drubbed in the second CA elections—their voices may not amount to anything substantial.

However, since the issue has not been completely addressed as yet, federalism can still put Nepali politics in limbo for a long time. Many years will be wasted before this issue is settled. It is noteworthy that federalism and secularism were never the agendas of Janandolan-II. Democratic and left parties were fighting against their common enemy—monarchy—but the issue of federalism had not been floated. Although the Maoists, during the so-called People's War, had incited people that the unitary system had been responsible for the entrenched inequality and the solution lied on federating the country the issue gained traction only after the Madhesh uprising.

Hot on the heels of the uprising, Maoists tried to cash in on the issue by supporting even ethnic federalism proposed by Madheshis and Janajatis that has the potential of sowing seeds of ethnic strife. Nepali Congress and CPN-UML were hesitant on federalism, but nonetheless agreed to make it their party agenda fearing the loss of votes in the CA polls which they did regardless.

The logical settlement of federalism issue will put the wayward politics back on track. But that seems unlikely as the Federal Commission may meet the fate of several commissions of the yore—submitting its report but not having its recommendations implemented. Political appointments will compromise the integrity of the Commission.

Federalism will prove to be an expensive experiment for a poor country. The better solution would be improved decentralization with strong local governance whose benefits reaches the remotest and the most underprivileged part of the country. The federalism backers didn't allow local elections to be held of whose necessity everyone felt in the aftermath of the earthquake as it would have ensured accountability. If we go beyond the shrill rhetoric of a handful of leaders, the majority of the population opposes federalism. Let there be a referendum to settle this contention for once and all.