February 7, 2016

Crystal ball Nepal: How do we design the future?

Nepal culture by altitude

The current tension between the world’s momentum and its inertia is playing itself out in Nepal’s ancient cultural landscape, revealed in interacting social, economic and geographical forms, which include some of the worlds lowest, and its highest features. What is happening in the world is happening in Nepal.

Small in geographical area, Nepal’s spectacular landscape rises from 194 ft elevation in the tropical Terai to 22,966 ft, at the summit of Sagarmatha (Mt Everest), where arctic weather conditions prevail. Its timescape spans the worlds of the ancient nomadic culture of the Raute people in western Nepal, and of the jet-age culture of capital city Kathmandu.

Nepal’s extremes in many dimensions make it a highly readable barometer of life’s conditions. The people, divided by caste, religion, ethnicity, and politics are stitched together in a social quilt which mirrors the country’s radically exaggerated terrain, weather, and ecosystem.

Nepal is therefore a crystal ball into which we can project the world’s social, organizational and political conditions, and see there the jobs, pains and potential gains they entail, reflected in exaggerated relief.

The road from Kolkata to Kathmandu and back, is long and hard, crossing borders, and government and social hurdles, and negotiating rough terrain, high and low. Like a stream of molecular nutrients and byproducts flowing in and out of a cell, crossing the cell’s wall and negotiating its functional subunits, the flow of goods along this road is crucial to cell-Nepal’s vitality, and pertinent to that of neighbor-cell India.

Conditions of flow vs bureaucracy, lack of generative review, and reliance on threats and penalties in business culture, impede realization of gains in Nepal and the world. All of this is set in a backstory of old emotions, grievances, loves and beliefs.

Thirteen thousand people died in Nepal’s civil war during the period from 1996 to 2005. This was the price paid for a hoped-for resolution of societal issues that have ancient roots, and led to Nepal’s emergence as a republic in May 2008.

In early August last year (2015) the Legislature Parliament’s ruling coalition and its main opposition agreed on and released a new draft of the constitution. Protests broke out in the lowland southern belt, the Terai, or Madhes, because the proposed geographical provincial borders did not represent historically marginalized ethnic minorities. In the first month of clashes with the government, 45 more people died and hundreds were injured.

In September, Madhesis began blocking customs ports along the border with India, Nepal’s main source and conduit for imported goods, in order to pressure the ruling coalition of the Legislature Parliament, who are seated in the upland capital Kathmandu.

India, with its culturally intertwined and ethnically complex historical relationship with people of the Madhes, seemed to impose trade restrictions on goods going into Nepal, strengthening the blockade.

In January 2016, amendments were made to the constitution, to increase Madhesi representation in Parliament, and in state jobs.

In the meantime, relief pledges of 1.9 billion dollars for last April’s earthquake have hardly been tapped, and organization of relief and reconstruction has hardly begun. Development of roads, hydroelectric plants and other projects is stifled either by the lack of materials or lack of bureaucratic approval. Tourism and investment have dwindled.

Smugglers began supplying Nepal with petroleum, diesel, cooking gas, and supplies, diluting the blockade — and sparking clashes with fellow Madhesis. In spite of the clashes, it is now the smugglers who are keeping Nepal’s economy going.

Mainstream Madhesi parties were not satisfied with the constitutional amendments, and were seeking fewer provincial subdivisions and more local power, and appear to be ready to continue protesting until the next election. Some people are now spilling out of the parties’ mainstream and asserting the right to secession.

The price for social conflict resolution has been paid in thousands of lives, but Nepal’s (and the world’s) transaction with itself has not been completed, and  the crystal ball remains partly clouded.


Nepal’s unity hinges on the outcome of the Madhes movement
Trouble in the basement
Madhesis in Nepal to continue protests till next election, says separatist leader
Indian leaders’ statement ‘provocative’
The Next Nepali Revolution
This Is Hell interview – Shubhanga Pandey
Images: bottom, middle, top, crystal ball