To reclaim democracy, citizens hold Tundikhel marchBrihat Nagarik Andolan vows to fight to protect the country from falling into an abyss.
Nepal’s civil society members on Friday organised a Tundikhel march to assert that the open space, a symbol of democracy in Nepal, belongs to the people.
People from different walks of life under Brihat Nagarik Andolan, a broad citizen movement, however, were barred from entering Tundikhel. Security was beefed up since early in the day.
After circumambulating Tundikhel starting from Ratna Park, the citizens gathered at the side of its main gate close to Mahankal temple, from where they announced their first declarations ever, vowing to ensure people’s supremacy.
“What is the present fate of Nepal Mandal developed by the communities in 2,000 years? The sugarcane field has been turned into an army parade ground, thus making Kathmandu a thirsty town,” said writer Narayan Wagle, one of those at the forefront of the Brihat Nagarik Andolan.
“After destroying ancient free water spouts, the rulers are selling the dream of expensive Melamchi. Kathmandu itself was prosperous, your slogan of prosperity was just a conspiracy.”
Another writer Khagendra Sangraula said the people’s rights are always at risk and autocrats always want to snatch people’s rights.
“Today in this gathering the presence of police is more than the participants. What it means is that when an autocrat fears people, he or she sends police, army, tank and fireballs—all that they have,” said Sangraula. “So our citizen movement is becoming stronger. This is our victory. I salute all the brothers and sisters of the security forces present to listen to the voice of the people.”
Security personnel including those from Nepal Police and Armed Police Force were standing nearby in riot gear to make sure no one entered the parade grounds. Behind the gate were Nepal Army soldiers.
It has been 70 years since the country declared democracy in the presence of Kharibot here, according to Wagle, but now there is neither the tree and the culture that goes with it nor democracy with people’s mandate, but instead the salute has become a culture in the name of democracy now.
The Brihat Nagarik Andolan has concluded that the KP Sharma Oli government over the years has gradually inflicted damage to the constitution and the rule of law. According to them, Oli’s December 20 House dissolution dealt a massive blow to democracy, risking that the hard-earned gains of various movements in the past could fast unravel.
“Actually we wanted to tell everyone in a symbolic way by protesting the capture of public space that we are against autocracy and militarisation,” said Bhaskar Gautam, one of the leaders of the citizens’ movement. “What we want is people’s supremacy.”
The major objective of Friday’s gathering was to announce what actually the movement is for through the declarations, probably the first of its kind by the civil society.
The citizen’s manifesto has imagined a lively democracy that ensures rights, ownership, self-respect of the historically left-out and discriminated communities including Aadibasi, Janajati, women, Dalit, Madhesi and sexual and gender minorities.
In the declaration, the Brihat Nagarik Andolan has said that all citizens need to join hands to ensure that the Nepali society becomes democratic and social justice is established.
"Respecting the spirit of the previous people's movements and struggles and people's aspirations, it's time for a struggle to end the regression that has been going on for a long time," reads the 5-page manifesto.
“Remembering the sacrifices of the people, standing here now we vow that we need a free Tundikhel and a free democracy,” said Wagle, addressing the function. “We need such a democracy in which citizens can face the world with heads held high.”
According to Wagle, now the civil society will have to vow that they will join hands with the people who struggle for and dream of a better future and continuously raise their finger and create pressure on the rulers.
Seventy years after the country became a democracy, having been released from the clutches of the oligarchic Rana regime, thousands of people from different walks of life marched around the Tundikhel and gathered at the main gate of the open space where the government organised the ‘Democracy Day’ event hours before the citizens’ march.
The organisers of the Brihat Nagrik Andolan deliberately chose Democracy Day to issue their manifesto—and reclaim the historic open space where the declaration of democracy was made seven decades ago.
As Kewal Binabi, a poet from Bajhang district, delivered his message through the poem ‘Aandhi ko Parkhaima’ (Waiting for the Storm), the civil society movement that had erupted after the abrupt dissolution of the House of Representatives by Oli, is expecting more people to join after the manifesto is unveiled.
The focus of those participating in the function was not just on reclaiming peoples’ right to the open space captured by Nepal Army, but also to oppose Oli’s ‘regressive’ move.
Knowing that the main focus of the protests was reclaiming the Tundikhel through the march—security forces were deployed heavily throughout the rally and the function. There was a four-layer security to make sure that the demonstrators wouldn't enter Tundikhel.
Another activist and poet Rajbhai Jakami said people would sacrifice their lives but they won’t let the people’s constitution die.
With his paralysed legs, Jileshan Shah, 45, of Rautahat, who teaches English at St Xavier’s College, stood at the forefront of the rally on crutches having taken leave from work.
“Sometimes I feel frustrated seeing the situation of our country,” Shah told the Post. “Therefore, I have been participating in most of the protests programmes organised by the Brihat Nagarik Andolan.”
"The basic aspiration of federalism was to bring drastic changes in the form of governance by transforming the state structure. It was expected that such change would ensure justifiable distribution of resources, political and economic progress of the country, address the cultural and social diversity and establish constitutional culture,” the manifesto made public on Friday said. “Let's fight together to end the centralised mentality of the rulers in the name of federalism."
Shah expressed happiness that, though late, the civil society movement is gradually gaining momentum. “Had the civil society been active earlier, I think Oli would not have dared to take the situation to this level,” he said. “Since the civil society itself is divided into different political lines it has been difficult to gather people.”
Shah said the latest move of Oli to arrest lawmaker of the dissolved Parliament Ram Kumari Jhakri galvanised the people because it became evident that Oli was not going to spare anyone.
“Today we have declared that Tundikhel belongs to people and it will remain with the people,” Sangraula said. “Today no door of Tundikhel is open but if it remains closed they will be broken.”
The thousands of members of the civil society cheered.