Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bunned in Kathmandu

Ever heard the expression, "What if they gave a war and nobody came?"

That's how the Kathmandu version of the current Huge Mega-Spectacular Multi-Episode 10-Day Bandh is turning out.

Before I get into the latest bandh, which is the Star Wars: Phantom Menace of bandhs (another episode? it'll be a SMASH! the BEST OF ALL! oh ... uhhhh ...), here's a word of explanation for those who have stumbled onto this blog from a place that is not Nepal. A bandh is what snow days would be in Washington DC if political parties could order the snow to fall. It's a general strike wherein one group tries to prove how many people agree with whatever statement they're making, so the city (or country) shuts down, in theory because everyone supports the statement, but in reality because (a)  it's a day off work and (b) you might get your shop windows broken or your motorbike or taxi or car torched, which makes a day off work sound like an extra good idea.

Unless, of course, you're a rickshaw wallah or a porter, in which case your work load increases. Sometimes literally.

Porter carries sofa on a bandh day. Note the high number of rickshaws,
and also the not-very-intimidated motorbike. Of course porters work like this on other days, too,
but sticking a sofa on a taxi or truck generally isn't an option during bandhs.

The current Bandh has been called by the Dash Maoists, who ...


... are a splinter group that broke off from the main Maoists and now call themselves the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, which is confusing because the party they broke with is the United Communist Party of Nepal and still another party is the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist)You'd see red just trying to sort it out. And that's before you get into the dozens of little parties. 

At any rate, their name has a dash, so they're called the Dash Maoists (Dash Maobadi) to set them apart from the Cash Maoists (Cash Maobadi), who include the main leaders from the insurgency who went into the government and presumably pocketed a lot of loot. You can read all about it in this article from the New York Times, wherein the wife of the leader of the Cash Maoists cheerfully admits to their reputation as shakedown artists. Incidentally, they're said to be called "Cashists" and "Dashists" by the Times, which rhymes nicely and is less unwieldy in journalesebut if you google it, you'll find the term "Cash Maoists" gets all the hits and "Cashist" and "Dashist" are just found in a few measly pages, which point back to the New York Times. Good article. But when the New York Times checks my blog, I want an explanation. With sources. Ahem.

Anyway, yesterday was Episode Three of the Ten-Day Mega-Bandh Directed by George Lucas. My day started with drum banging and music from a long line of Cash Maoists outside as they wound through the area politicking, since they actually are participating in the election that the Dash Maoists and their coalition of 33 supporting parties are boycotting for various reasons (some of them rather sensible, actually, but I won't get into it).

This turned out not to be the only noise during the bandh. The other noises were the beeping and honking of traffic.

Motorbikes. Taxis. Even public transport like micros and buses.

When I got to the chowk in our 'hood, it was being circled by scores of motorbikes going round and round and waving flags of Nepali Congress, one of the few major parties that does not have "Communist" in its name, zooooooom zooooooom take THAT you Dash Maoists, we're out here on our motorbikes, weeeeee!, and after that came lots of cars with Congress flags waving from the windows, nyanyanyanyanya.

Meanwhile, business owners drove their cars around the city to bravely show defiance in an anti-bandh rally, which had the unfortunate effect of clogging the traffic that wasn't supposed to be there. It seems that, as Republica reports in the wonderfully headlined article Life Normal in Capital, 10 Arrested, "the transport strike was foiled after laborers of the lower class and communities themselves started the services."

There's a radical notion. Rebel! Revolt! Power to the People! LET'S GO TO WORK!

Of course, there was another factor involved. The government had promised compensation for anyone whose vehicle was destroyed in the bandh, and somehow there were a surprising number of cruddy taxis and even buses (the cruddiest ones) on the road. Burn mine! Hey, burn mine! It's REALLY valuable!

So my husband, who like many people (including the "laborers of the lower class and communities") had decided to just go about his business as usual, and also to do it by car (heck, we wouldn't mind a brand-new car either), got stuck in a traffic jam caused by a protest against the lack of traffic.

Nevertheless, my son's school has closed down for a week. Maybe it's secretly a teacher's strike. The Teenager is not as happy as you'd think, given that it means Homework By Internet and also School on Sundays for a Month afterwards. Turns out school in Nepal isn't that different from homeschool after all. 

The Alleged 10-Day Strike will continue through the election next week, which will also cause its own shut-downs. All of which is well-timed to follow a month of festival-related shut-downs. 

So what's really happening out there? And how do we know? Well, we can check the news online, which I have helpfully screen-captured for posterity:

Nepal strike passes off peacefully

Times of India - ‎12 hours ago‎
KATHMANDU: A strike called to oppose the November 19 elections in Nepal went off peacefully even as traffic stayed off the roads and businesses were shuttered across the country.

Nepal opposition-called strike turns violent - ‎Nov 11, 2013‎
Dozens of Maoist activists were arrested as a general strike brought Nepal to a virtual standstill amid sporadic violence aimed at disrupting next week's elections.

OK, I give up.