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what's going on in nepal

Throughout history, young people have helped bring social and political change. In Nepal, the People's Movement of 1951 and again in 1990, it was students who helped give power to the people through a system of multiparty democracy.

The campuses are once more in ferment after the royal takeover. The student wings of various political parties are again at the forefront of the struggle to restore democracy. But while many political factions in government colleges protest and demonstrate, a large number of students in private institutions are not as active.

Before the municipal elections in early February, the students of Amrit Science Campus in Lainchor were pelting stones and shouting slogans to protest the February First move while students from neighbouring private colleges, NIST and Kanya Campus, stood watching the demonstrations. Ironically, the onlookers outnumbered the demonstrators. The scenario was much the same all over the capital. A majority of private college students remain aloof. Does this mean that these young people are unaware of the country's political status?
"I wouldn't say we are unaware or ignorant. We know what's going on, we just don't think pelting stones or vandalising public property is the way to do it," says Pratikshya Regmi of Institute of Advanced Centre for Education and Research. Politics has become the topic of many conversations as the 10-year conflict drags on. "During breaks, we discuss politics as we realise it affects our lives directly," adds Regmi, "we even had to write a paper on the failure of municipal polls, which is something that wouldn't have happened a few years back."

Girls of Padma Kanya Campus carrying an effigy to symbolise regression in a funeral procession.
The urban youth are aware of the Maoist conflict and though some think that politics isn't a matter of their concern, they are starting to understand that it directly affects their lives. Most of them are too young to remember the details of the Panchayat era but when on 1 February 2005, telephone and Internet services went suddenly dead, they knew that certain rights had been seized. What these young people still fail to grasp is that if problems are not addressed, they will continue to grow.

However, the silent majority of students frown upon enforced bandas, burning tyres, scrawling slogans and destroying public property. They don't think the end justifies the means. In fact, such violence and vandalism are the reasons why private college students have remained distant and disillusioned with the 12 years of multiparty democracy. What the difference in opinions between students of private and public colleges does expose, however, could be class. The privileged are more in favour of the status quo.

"The new generation does not look at what we gained after 1990, these gains outweigh the corruption and the instability of that period," says student leader Gagan Thapa, who is among the few well-educated individuals to enter Nepali politics. "We have not been able to reach students in private institutions. There is no dialogue. We need to listen to them and share our views." Thapa, who led many destructive protest programmes in colleges, has now changed his stance as he says, "Burning effigies and throwing stones got us nowhere. Peaceful protests are more effective and appeal to the majority."

More than half of the 9 million young Nepalis are students. About 1,50,000 attend private colleges while an estimated 3,00,000 attend government colleges. There are no political student affiliations in private colleges. Though the eight student organisations in Nepal claim to have the participation of 6,00,000 students, only 2,00,000 students of Tribhuvan University affiliated colleges are actively involved.

Silent protest against media censorship after 1 February.
The abduction and torture of students by Maoists three years ago prompted Sandesh Adhikari, Dipendra Tamang, Urmila Thapaliya, Ajay Babu Shivakoti, Subodh Acharya and friends to start Alliance For Peace (AFP). They report to the Human Rights Commission and United Nations about abduction and detention of students in Nepal. "There's no need to go to the streets. We contribute whatever we can," says Sandesh Adhikari of AFP. About the plus-two generation, he adds, "They prioritise their studies and careers, and are disinterested in politics. They are always looking to fly abroad but I believe they can be made politically aware through education."

Private institutes might not have political student organisations but they do have student councils and alumni associations. AFP's Dipendra Tamang says, "Few councils and alumni associations raise issues of Humla, Jumla or Ratna Park. They concentrate on fashion shows, dance parties, and picnics. Young people are taught that politics is a dirty game. Most don't expect to live in Nepal forever."

When they do go abroad, many Nepali students hunger for news from home. "I'm always reading up on news and following the events in the country. Every night I log on to nepalnews.com and other Nepali news sites to find out what's happening," says Rajan Adhikari, who's studying at a university in California. He adds, "When we meet other Nepalis, we always ask for news from home. We weren't as aware of politics in Nepal as we are now."

A college girl plastering posters in the run-up to student elections.
According to AFP records, not one percent of the urban young are involved in protest programmes. Pashupati Campus is the only private college in Kathmandu whose students take to the streets in pro-republic programmes. "Even if we are interested in political goings-on, we've heard of various parties using students for selfish purposes, even paying them to stage protests, which is a turn-off," says Srijana Limbu, who studies in Kathmandu University School of Management.

Lack of political interest in private college students is also because they are very career-focussed. Abhinav Baidya, an Apex College graduate who's looking for a job, says, "I don't want my investment in studies to go to waste. Most students want to fly abroad so why bother with politics? Our focus is on building a career."

Yubaraj Khatiwada of Nepal Commerce Campus believes that if student organisations could reach such students, politics in Nepal could have a better chance. He adds, "Career-focussed students should understand that if the political situation of the country is not stable and the economy continues to plummet, their dreams of a career could be in jeopardy."

Young engineers throwing stones to protest the hike in fuel prices.
A classic example of the great divide is the eight student organisations' demonstration staged three years ago against expensive tuition fees in private educational institutions. The students of private colleges resented their demands saying the protests had disrupted their studies. Many colleges even make students and their parents sign application forms agreeing not to get involved in political activities within the college. Contrary to this, in government colleges, students themselves initiate and arrange political programmes.

Today, as Nepali TV serials with political satire grow popular, even high school students are beginning to ask about democracy, republicanism, and monarchy. Akhil Nepal National Free Students Union's (ANNFSU) president Khim Lal Bhattarai believes that sooner or later the young generation will join the campaign for a republic. But ANNFSU admits to being unable to spread into private colleges. Bhattarai adds, "Even then, the majority of protestors today are students, which is a good sign. Many young people still doubt politicians."

Nepal Students Union president Pradip Paudel says that only political awareness and action can change the country's political situation. "If we don't care about the country's future, who will?" he asks, "It is up to us to make sure that tomorrow's leaders are good enough. To remain silent is a weakness and a breach of your own rights."

Nursing students show their solidarity for democracy at a protest programme.
Akhil's female leader Ram Kumari Jhankri agrees with Bhattarai. "You can't say 'I have what I want so why bother about others'," she adds. Binita Adhikari, chairperson of Padma Kanya Campus' Free Students Union agrees, and says awareness is the key. "All the students in our campus might not join the street protests but they raise their voices when they can," says Adhikari, "they are free to choose when and how to act. As students, if you are really future-focussed, politics could help make a difference. You might lose two years of study but you will have a future of 200 better years."

Street protests aren't the only way to participate in politics. Sarahana Shrestha went to the US to study computer graphics four years ago. She wasn't concerned about politics then, now, she runs samudaya.org. She started the website after 1 February 2005 to create a platform for Nepalis all over the world to express their views. A few months later, it was banned by the state along with a few other pro-democracy sites.

Says Shrestha: "Politics plays a major role in our future, many don't understand this. We don't support the Maoists, rather we've been criticising those who go against democracy." Samudaya.org can still be viewed through mirror sites like www.everybodybreed.com. A multimedia designer for Greater Than One Interactive Online in New York, Sarahana devotes whatever time she has between schedules to raise awareness about politics among young Nepalis. Her latest is a T-shirt campaign with the slogan 'Naya Nepal Sambhab Chha'.


All Nepal National Free Students Union (CPN-UML)
Established: 13 April 1965
President: Khim Lal Bhattarai
Total members: 5 lakhs (Male:Female – 62:38 percent)
Structure: 75 districts (61 government, 200 private colleges; active in universities)

Nepal Student Union (Nepali Congress)
Established: 19 April 1970
President: Mahendra Sharma
Total members: 6 lakh (Male:Female – no records)
Structure: 75 districts (61 government, 200 private colleges; active in high schools in Nepal, India, and the US)

Nepal Student Union (Democratic)
Established 19 April 1970
President: Kishor Singh Rathore
Total members: 7 lakh (Male:Female – no records)
Structure: 75 districts (61 government, 200 private colleges; active in high schools in Nepal, India, and the US)

All Nepal National Free Students Union (CPN-ML)
Established: 13 April 1965
President: Bhim Rai
Total members: 2.5 lakhs (Male:Female – 60:40 percent)
Structure: 62 districts (61 government, 200 private colleges; active in high schools in 50 districts of Nepal)

All Nepal National Free Students Union, United (Peoples Front Nepal)
Established: ANNFSU on 13 April 1965, ANNFSU United in 2002
President: Krishna Adhikari
Total members: 6 lakhs (Male:Female – 70:30 percent)
Structure: 68 districts (50 government colleges; active in 68 district high schools)

Nepal Progressive Students Union (CPN, Marxist)
President: Raju
Total members: 6 lakhs (Male:Female – 70:30 percent)

Nepal Revolutionary Students Association (Peasants and Workers Party)
Established: 1969
President: Saroj Raj Gosain
Total members: Data unavailable

Nepal Students Forum (Nepal Sadbhabana Party, Anandi Devi)
Established: 11 August 1990
President: Ram Babu Yadav
Total members: Data unavailable
Structure: 22 districts (12 government colleges; active in all districts in Terai)


A young man raises his hands from the statue of Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah in front of Singha Darbar on 6 April 1990, hours before King Birendra gave up direct rule.
1951: Young Nepalis help end 104 years of Rana Regime. The protest gains momentum after students of Tin Dhara Paatshala declare Jayatu Sansritam.

1961: King Mahendra's coup ends democracy and brings in 30 years of partyless Panchyat. The regime creates a pro-government student union (called 'Mandales') to marginalise party-affiliated pro-democracy students.

1980: Student-led protests force King Birendra to announce a referendum on democracy. The people vote for a reformed Panchayat system.

1990: Students actively participate in the People's Movement in the streets that snowballed, forcing King Birendra to unban the parties and give up his absolute powers.

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