Since January 25, Monday, I have been spending a bit more time at home. This is mainly to recover from the injuries which I incurred from the ruthless attack by the police on a peaceful rally of civil activists, and not an indication that I have been intimidated by the brutal tactics to surrender my fundamental rights to peaceful assembly, expression and association.
It has given me time to put my experience of the Broad Citizens’ Movement’s peaceful pro-democracy protest into a broader context, to try and see what it tells us about the state of Nepal today, 14 years after the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) and the state of its democracy and the extent to which people can now enjoy their universal rights under the Constitution as well as international commitments that the Nepali state has signed up to.
This extra ‘free time’ has given me the chance to look back at some records and newspaper cuttings.
One that resonated with me was this: “My friend……. has a headache. A big one. She also has severe back pains.
Both of these newly acquired ailments come courtesy of the government.
My friend was participating in a peaceful democracy rally …. when all of a sudden she found herself cornered by latthi-wielding riot police. Falling to the ground, blood pouring from the gash in her head, she was then subjected to further latthi blows to her body.”
Well, it could have been me at Baluwatar on January 25attending a peaceful civil society rally. I was seeing my story from 2021 told in the Nepali Times of April 9, 2004. At that time the victim was a fellow activist, Manjushree Thapa, calling for a return to parliamentary democracy following the takeover by the King.
Different times, you may say.
Not so much, I would reply.
One similarity is that both Manjushree in 2004 and me in 2021 were concerned about the dissolution of the elected parliament.
There was excessive use of force for no reason other than to suppress freedom of expression.
We await the Supreme Court ruling on whether or not the suspension of parliament was illegal. Yet, it is not a legal question only. It is also a concern of the democratic course of country which has been abruptly derailed.
My main concern is that the Nepal Police (NP) and the Armed Police Force (APF) have not changed their behaviour since they discredited themselves in 2006 when violently suppressing the Jana Andolan, in cases of extreme violence, such as was witnessed at Kalanki chowk on April 12, 2006, when four protesters were killed and many injured.
What is worrying is that there has been no obvious attempt to reform the Nepal Police after those shameful events. Part of this is due to the fact that there was no justice after the repression of the Jana Andolan in 2006. Even the official report, the Rayamajhi report, on the events was suppressed and never published, much less implemented.
Just like the recent Lal commission report on Tikapur and killings in the Tarai region.
Meanwhile, the NP and APF continue to behave in response to peaceful protests as they did in 2006.
Despite all the investment in training and reforms, they have not improved their relationship with civilians.
The extrajudicial killings in the Tarai dramatically demonstrated this, and the public would be properly informed if only the Lal report were published.
What is the message that the Oli government wants to send to the people through the violence of the police forces? What is the message when one of Nepal’s leading journalists and intellectuals is so badly beaten? Like most victims of human rights violations, I have been asking, “Why me? Why was I beaten?”
Someone can say I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Mind it, I am convinced that it was my duty to be there to help protect democracy, the Constitution (flawed as it is and unfair to both women and minorities) and the peace process that we have all invested so much in. I can only hope that I was not savagely attacked because I am a minority community woman and that at the time of the attack I was trying to defend an elderly Fourteen years after the CPA in a country made up of minorities, we should have completed the transition from a royal, feudal police force to one that reflects and represents all Nepalis and protects them all without discrimination.
But the main lesson learned over the past 14 years is that we have the same police force that we had at the start of the Jana Andolan. If we had tried to improve it along inclusive lines, and failed, then that would be a shame. The fact that we never even tried to reform it and make it fit in the new inclusive Nepal is a stain on our history, a collective failure.
Normally, I would hope that the NHRC would investigate the events and answer these obvious questions, which actually go to the heart of Nepali democracy.
But as some of you will have realised, since our term in the NHRC came to an end in October, the government failed to name a new set of commissioners until precisely the moment of the dissolution of the House, so it risks being tainted with the same political doubts and questions.
We can only hope that whoever ends up being the new NHRC commissioners do not have their efforts wiped out in advance because of the process of their nominations.
Let me finish by pointing out that I didn’t wait until I was beaten with a latthi defending democracy to speak out on this issue. I did so many times before and, when I did so in Geneva at the UN in 2016, I was called into the PM’s office and warned for raising such issues with ‘foreigners’, for such is the view some of our compatriots have of the UN even though they depend on it.
Ansari is a former NHRC commissioner
A version of this article appears in the print on February 23, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.