Protests are a part of daily life in Nepal, including the capital Kathmandu–it has always been.
And today, while leaders are mulling over the extension of “new Nepal’s” constitution drafting process, people were on the streets.
There was a three-day general strike, popularly known as bandhs, that paralyzes the country. When there is a bandh, nothing works, literally. Vehicles stop running, shops are closed and life comes to a halt.
So in protest of the bandhs, and also protesting against the concept of ethnic federalism in Nepal that would divide the country in 11 states, Kathmandu’s “critical mass” gathered in one of the city’s most exclusive area.
Twitter and Facebook were buzzing of this afternoon’s mass gathering to promote communal harmony; there were text messages going almost viral, calling people to join the rally.
Rewind May 7, 2010: There was a similar rally where some hundred city dwellers, dressed in white, came to the streets protesting the five-day Maoist general strike that started from May 2.
So-called the capital’s “white class,” they have gathered time and again, often in the exclusive area of Durbar Marg, a stretch of street with chain restaurants and branded stores.
When I posed the question about the prominence of the venue to Ujwal Thapa, one of the facilitators of today’s rally, he answered, “This was the last option. All other public venues were booked.”
There were peaceful gatherings in popular public areas in the capital by certain ethnic minority groups.
“We wanted to do it in a place where there is no conflict with social and political institutions,” Thapa, also one of the core members of a youth activist group Nepal Unites, said.
As about approximately 500 people dressed in white shirts, polos, tops, skirts and jeans, gathered at Durbar Marg today, the conversation was little focused into politics.
A bunch of people I talked to said they were there for “peace.”
But as it seems the word “peace” has been abused and overused. Maybe it is the decade-long Maoist conflict in the country that ended in 2006, and the violence associated with it that keeps on Nepalis saying, “We want peace.”
Bijay Lal Maskey, 58-year-old businessman, stood by the sidewalk trying to become a part of the rally. He stood there watching young people hooting to the songs of Nepal’s famous pop singers singing nationalist songs.
“At least people now can express freely,” Maskey said comparing it to autocratic regimes in the past where freedom of expression was limited.
But at some point, the purpose of the rally seemed to have diverted from its purpose: more or less it looked like a concert for national unity. However, music was louder than the message.
As people watched from the sidewalks, windows of coffee shops, restaurant terraces and from close by Sherpa Mall, the ones on the streets were waving the triangular Nepali flags.
The Nepali flag has become a tool to demonstrate patriotism these days. But people seem to have forgotten the meaning behind the flag, what it stands for.
Shreeya Rana, 19, was among the young group of people waving one of the many Nepali flags. Durbar Marg was colored with hundreds of the red, blue and white triangular flag.
Standing by her mother, also dressed in white, said she was there because she “did not appreciate the country being divided into pieces.”
Sitting on the sidewalk, close to Rana and another supporter, 40-year-old Ramesh Mainali said he was there for “ethnic harmony.”
Away from the crowd, dressed in a white shirt, 26-year-old Farjana Banu was looking at the rally. Though she claimed to be a part of the rally, she was at a distant “because of the crowd.”
“I don’t want the country to be divided,” said the banker. “Nepal is small, and if you’ll divide it, what will remain?”
A country once known as “a common garden of four castes and 36 sub-castes,” in the words of the Prithivi Narayan Shah, the Shah king who unified Nepal, seem to have lost its significance. The 240-year monarchy is history now, and soon could be the wise words of the king who envisioned unity in diversity.
Though many present at the crowd were diverse and represented various social strata, mainly the upper middle class, most of them were busy posing with flags for photos — some have already ended up in Facebook –and busy singing, dancing and hooting. Very few seemed to be discussing politics or the political state of the country.
But Thapa claims that people are “interacting, touching base and figuring out the propaganda [of what the leaders are up to].”
Bashing the notion on ethnic federalism, he said, “There are only two castes of people — one who talks and one who acts Nepal Unites’s purpose is to unite, get the youth to act rather than talking.”
But will this mass mobilization of people work? Will this “critical mass” or “white class” people’s voice be heard or will it just fade with away within a day or two as they get busy in their personal, professional and social life?
Which road will this rally take? Only time will tell.