On Thursday evening I went to a meeting held by a newly formed organization called Canada Nepal Solidarity for Peace. It is a group formed by human rights workers, Canadian and Nepali, who are working to raise awareness of the on-going crisis in Nepal.
The photo here shows Nepalis celebrating the King Gyanendra's promise to restore democracy. While his announcement was certainly cause for celebration, many fear it is little more than words since he has not given up any of his power nor his control over the army.
Millions of Nepalis have participated in pro-democracy demonstrations and general strikes across the country calling for an end to Gyanendra's autocracy. Police and army have responded with bullets and tear gas. At the presentation on Thursday I saw photos of people who had been shot in the back while fleeing the police, as well as photos of people being beaten, dragged and killed.
Having grown up in Nepal, these images were shocking and very sobering. Although I have been vaguely aware of the situation, followed what little I could find in newspapers, I have not realized the gravity of the situations. Hospitals are overflowing with injured, while many others cannot afford treatment. Jails are over crowed with people arrested for participating in demonstrations. Thousands of them are injured and denied treatment. Amnesty International claims Nepal has the highest rate in the world of disappearances.
Yet even all these facts and statistics don't convey the situation. As so often in the face of such news, I feel helpless and discouraged. However, as was often mentioned at the meeting, the Nepali people have come together in a way that would never have been anticipated ten years ago - people from all professions, ethnic groups and castes marching together in solidarity. Women's groups are finding a new voice. And finally the world seems to be paying attention.
Although after September 11, 2001, Gyanendra declared the Maoist political party as terrorists and received $42 million worth of weapons, troop training and helicopters from the USA. That's not the kind of world attention the Nepali people need. International pressure is needed to urge the King to surrender power back to the people in the form of democratic parliament.
I have not in any way done this issue justice in my short blog. If you'd like more information, you can read Nepali online media such as www.kantipuronline.com. You can also lobby your government to support Nepali political parties in forming a constituent assembly and re-writing the constitution. (Currently the King has veto power over Parliament and directly controls the army.)
I will post new developments on this situation as I become aware of them.