Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Pre-Desain Prayer

Outside the lights of Kathmandu fill the darkened sky, while colleagues, who have come from Nepal’s five remote regions, seek lessons from the work that fills our lives.

As we drove this morning from Harihar Bhawan, the decaying 19th century Rana palace where the National Human rights Commission has its office, we passed buses of young Maoist supporters heading into Kathmandu to apply pressure on the government for an instant republic and greater proportional representation.

I wonder, as the days slip by, like the latest effort to hold a Constituent Assembly election, a pre-Desain chill creeping from the nearby ridges, are we coming closer to the cusp of a dramatic historical change or another false dawn for the aspirations of the struggling people of this tired land?

Of course, there is reason to celebrate this Desain as the constant conflict that kept the country in suspended animation for a decade has been officially over for the last year. The fear of nighttime attacks in district centers and brutal incidents in the cities has waned. The wasteful self-destruction of the nation’s limited infrastructure appears over. The pressure among schools to send students for military indoctrinations or use their compounds for armed encampments may have ended.

In all of this, there is cause for some hope as the Maoists and Seven Parties keep a fragile hold on the anniversary of their Comprehensive Peace Accord, signed last November.

Yet, equally, there is deep concern given the history of Nepal’s political leadership failing the country while, too often, putting personal gain & prestige above realistic compromises and lacking a sincere sensitivity to the ceaseless suffering of their own people.

We all watch mutely the increasing communal violence, the constant bandhs, the daily murders and abductions, the sharp splintering of radical and reactionary movements, and the international community’s reluctance to speak frankly to leaders who no longer command the respect of their own people.

Fortunately, the past is not necessarily a roadmap to the future. We hope that the current context -- and even the individuals -- may change enough that they, too, may finally be weary of the anxieties and uncertainties that their internecine conflict has inflicted upon the darkened Himalayan landscape.

Painfully, after their numerous peace process violations and obstructions, without elections, we have no choice but to live with the self-proclaimed leaders who rule Nepal’s government and parliament. The once-again postponed or suspended or neglected election is still the only democratic path forward to find new, capable and untarnished leaders for Nepal’s long-suffering people.

Therefore, this week, on the cusp of Desain, when Nepali families gather for tika and blessings, as the peace process hangs in the balance, leaving many worried about the coming months, each of us must find our own personal commitment to a manageable peace amid the painful truths of continuing human rights abuses.

As night settles here out on the edge of the Valley, I wonder what our national leaders, the men in whom we must place our faith, are thinking. Is there a trace of pride in having come so close, at last, to their political ambitions? Or, per chance, is there a sense of humility when they think of the cost paid by so many others’ lives, of villagers who have lived in fear for so long or the women who became youthful widows or the children who have grown up in uniform missing years of school?

At nighttime do these large political men reflect like the rest of us? Do they wonder about the long-term impact of their words and actions over these past ten years? In the quiet of their minds are they able to acknowledge some of their own responsibility for the suffering of others?

Or, are these men of history for whom there is no past -- only an idealized future they can see on the distant horizon. Having achieved rehabilitation among Kathmandu’s enclosed political elite, are they busy seeking even more power for themselves? Can we believe that their latest rounds of discussions, after two lengthy years, offer a sincere promise of further accommodation and responsibility in the months ahead?

Tonight, do they look out their windows and see the same darkness outside that I see? Illuminated by the tentative, flickering lights of the city below -- a vulnerable valley lit, it appears, with thousands of butter lamps at the feet of the eternal Himalaya.

These lights, for me, represent those common souls who will never have a seat around the table. People, who in Faulkner’s famous phrase, ‘endure’. Nepalis who walk each day to work or travel in crowded micros, who struggle to feed their families, send their children to neighborhood schools and dream of a modest success by which to measure their world.

People for whom prayer is still a form of communication.

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