Kathmandu Metropolitan City erasing mural that honoured frontline pandemic workers invites ireFour artists had painted it with permission from authorities. The highhandedness is another example of the City’s insensitivity to needs of citizens and its incompetence, observers say.
Ever since the pandemic began last year, the people most at risk of being infected with the coronavirus have been frontline health workers. Also at risk are security personnel who have been at the forefront of enforcing frequent lockdown orders.
In appreciation of their efforts at checking the spread of the pandemic, Dujang Sherpa, a social activist and artist, decided to pay a tribute to them by painting a mural on the wall of the overhead pedestrian crossing at Ratnapark.
“The painting was to appreciate the work of front liners in the fight against the pandemic—doctors, nurses and security personnel—as well as those who passed away from Covid-19,” Sherpa told the Post.
But on Wednesday, half a dozen Kathmandu Metropolitan City policemen whitewashed the mural.
This was despite Sherpa having approached the ward 28 office of Kathmandu Metropolitan City for permission for the art work.
“Before we started our work, we had taken permission from ward 28,” said Sherpa.
Appreciating the efforts of Sherpa and four other artists to commemorate the work done by frontliners, Bhai Ram Khadgi, the chairman of ward 28, gave the go-ahead.
“The artists came up with a good cause and I gave them permission,” Khadgi told the Post.
Sangey Thinley Lama, Kipa Sherpa, Sumina Shrestha and Bishal Maharjan started working on the mural on June 7 and took seven days to complete it.
Sherpa, who came up with the concept, spent Rs100,000 from his own pocket for the expenses.
Following the Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s highhandedness and insensitivity by painting white over the mural, there was an uproar against the move.
What the City did was wrong, according to Khadgi.
“If that was a wrong move they could have called me and told me to stop the painting,” said Khadgi.
According to Sherpa, on the first day of painting Rajeshwor Gyawali, chief administrative officer of Kathmandu Metropolitan City had visited the site.
“But he didn't say anything,” Sherpa said. “If it was problematic he should have stopped us.”
The artists who painted the mural said they had received so much positive response from the larger public.
“After we painted the mural, doctors, nurses and many others praised our work for appreciating their real work,” said Sumnima Shrestha, one of the four mural painters. “It was positive support for our work, but when I heard authorities erasing our work it has undermined not only our value but also the work of health workers during the pandemic.”
This is not the first time that Kathmandu Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya and his administration have become subjects of ridicule.
Ever since Shakya was elected mayor of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City in May 2017 he has failed to carry out any sensible work for the citizens who voted for him, according to observers.
“If you evaluate his past four years, he has misplaced all his priorities,” said Kishore Thapa, an urban planner and former government secretary. “There has not been a single innovation, but he has spent his time on many inappropriate tasks while other mayors in the Valley are doing relatively good work.”
Shakya’s election slogan was to make Kathmandu a ‘Cultural, Clean and Liveable City’ and he promised he would build back and restore earthquake-flattened historical structures better.
He made tall promises such as accomplishing 101 tasks in the first 100 days, but instead he kept on working against the values of the City.
He built a concrete wall around the historical Rani Pokhari and planned to convert it into a swimming pool with coffee shops. After widespread criticism he backtracked.
He could not make public toilets but kept on talking about smart public toilets in the name of making Kathmandu a ‘smart city.’ He could not accomplish his plan to make it a ‘cycle-friendly’ city. Garbage on the streets, stray dogs, bumpy inner roads, leaking pipelines, tangled wire on poles are the perennial problems with which his citizens have been habituated to live.
In October 2019, campaigners, that included city residents, environmentalists and heritage activist launched ‘Occupy Tundikhel’, a drive to reclaim public spaces that have been encroached upon, painted flowers on the derelict Khula Manch podium but Shakya sent a police force to remove the artwork. After his act was criticised, the City police returned the artwork.
In April this year the City installed a 500 kg 10 feet iron map of Nepal spending Rs 1 million at Maitighar Mandala but that brought widespread ridicule for spending money unnecessarily. Town planners called the move nonsensical.
“The mayor has not done anything sensible. Kathmandu has shrinking open spaces. Open spaces should remain open instead of installing iron maps,” said urban planner Suman Meher Shrestha. “Greenery could have flourished in the area instead.”
During the pandemic his lack of efforts to check its spread has been criticised despite Kathmandu becoming a Covid-19 hotspot twice—last year and this year as well . But Mayor Shakya said rather than prevention he would work on treatment.
In contrast neighbouring Lalitpur Metropolitan City and Bhaktapur Municipality have been better prepared.
Last September when he was infected, Shakya stayed in quarantine at a five star hotel, for which he was widely criticised but he is yet to make a single quarantine or isolation centre despite promises to construct a 5,000-bed integrated quarantine centre.
As of Wednesday, 67,883 people have been infected with the virus and 491 have lost their lives, according to the City’s data.
But he does not seem to want to have the frontliners fighting the pandemic appreciated for their work.
“This has saddened me. It was a good art work on an empty space. If there were some political slogans their removal might have been justificable. But the painting’s theme was very honorable and attractive,” said Thapa, the former government secretary.
For doctors, the mural had meant that their work was appreciated but the action of Kathmandu Metropolitan City has been an insult.
“That work of art had given value to our work,” said Dr Rajib Ojha, a neurologist at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital. “But when I heard of authorities erasing it, it showed that they have undermined our value and health workers’ contribution during the pandemic.”
Khadgi, the ward 28 chair, said that he, Deputy Mayor Hari Prabha Khadgi and other ward representatives are going to the mayor's office on Friday.
“I even inquired at the City’s environment division about the erasing of the mural, they said they were not aware of it and it was orders from higher up,” Khadgi said.
The City’s chief executive officer defended the move on Wednesday.
“...In a few days the city’s culture department is going to paint a cultural art at the same place. Please understand our problem,” he said in his tweet.
But that response invited more criticism from the general public.
“How would a city habituated with stinking toilets understand the value of art? Besides that the city didn’t get any tax or commission letting them paint, so why wouldn’t it erase,” tweeted Shishir Vaidhya.
“They might have tendered to do that n took good amount of commission. Possibly they paid in crore to do that,” tweeted Dreamer.
For artist Shrestha, the response on social media is telling.
“It shows how the general public knows the value of art when our authorities don’t,” said Shrestha.
The Nepali Congress too has waded in to criticise the move to erase the mural and said that the act has disrespected frontline workers, during the pandemic.
“The piled garbage in different corners of the city didn’t interfere with the City’s beautification, but the painting did,” a statement signed by Nepali Congress spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma reads.
For Sherpa the mural was the least they could do to appreciate the work of the frontliners and commemorate the lives the pandemic has taken.
“It was impossible to pay for the loss caused by the pandemic and we didn’t have anything to give for those real heroes, so it was just a tribute through the art,” said Sherpa. “The City failed to comprehend that.”
Its significance was not lost on Khadgi, the ward chair who gave permission for the artwork.
“The painting was very meaningful at this trying time,” Khadgi said.