Monday, November 15, 2010

Moving to a New Website

Dear visitor,

It's been fun using blogspot and interacting with you here. But now's the time to move. I've launched my new website Deepak Adhikari.

Now on, I will post my blogs and other pieces there. So, please visit the site and do provide links to mine in your sites/blogs. I will try to reciprocate.

Thanks a lot!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nepal's First President VS Last King

This appeared in TIME:

Deepak Adhikari/Kathmandu
It was during Indra Jatra, the festival that marks the end of monsoon and honors the rain god Indra, that Prithvinarayan Shah attacked a bowl-shaped valley and expanded his kingdom to form what would eventually become modern-day Nepal. That was 1768, and in keeping with the local custom of the now-famous Nepali institution of Kumari — the worshipping of young girls believed to be incarnations of the Hindu deity Taleju — the new king went on to get blessings from the living goddess.

The last king of Shah's dynasty, however, wasn't as lucky. Last month, the site of the yearly celebration of Indra Jatra in Kathmandu's ancient Durbar Square became the latest frontline in a battle being waged between Nepal's ousted king and the nation's young government. When former king Gyanendra Shah, who left his post after the government voted to become a republic on May 28, 2008, attempted to pay homage to nine former royal Kumaris in the square, government supporters gathered to protest the former king's visit, and he was physically prevented from his visit. The government cited security reasons for the interruption, but one local news commentator said that the tussle amounted to nothing less than a battle between the old and new Nepal.

Read more in TIME

Friday, October 01, 2010

A Nepali Actress in Australia

Suesha Rana is a Nepali-origin Australia-based theater actress. In late August she responded to my questions about her life, career and what it means to be an Asian artist in Australia. A profile based on the interview was published in Hello Shukrabar, a Kantipur Daily supplement on youth and lifestyle.

Q: Can you tell me about your childhood? Where were you born, what did your parents do for living etc.
A: I had a pretty normal childhood growing up, I was born in Kathmandu and went to a few schools there. I also went to school in Jaipur, India during primary school. But, I settled in Perth, Western Australia when I was 9 years old. My father was Sahadev Rana, he was the managing director of Hotel de'l Annapurna and my mother was a full time mom. 

What drove you towards acting? 
Acting was something that came quite naturally to me and always really enjoyed. I've always been a bit of an entertainer, being a clown and loving the attention. I've always enjoyed exploring characters, I use it as an escape from the monotony of life every now and then.

Which was your first play? Can you share your experiences of that moment?
My first play was The King and I, and it was a school play. I loved being on stage, especially the adrenaline of being in front of so many people and being appreciated for what I was doing which was entertaining. 

When did you feel that you will be a full time actor?
I'm hoping to fully launch into acting next year when I have finished my bachelors degree in commerce. Also, living in Western Australia there is very little opportunity for work in terms of acting, therefore I have decided to go to L.A next year to study more acting and pursue a career there. 

What is it like acting in
Australia? Can you give a sense of what it is like to be acting in that country? 
Acting in Western Australia is a very good starting point. It's great in terms of gaining experience. There is definitely more work available in the eastern state of Australia, however I find there is very little jobs available for Asians.

What is your biggest achievement so far? Any awards, recognitions for any role?
My biggest achievement so far would be having the opportunity to work with Melanie Rodriga who is a very well known director in Australia

What types of role do you do? When and how did you get your first break in Australian movie?
I like many different roles. The more different the better, as this really expands your versatility as an actor. I like characters that need a lot of thought, it's exciting to delve into the minds of complex characters. I'm still waiting for a big break in Australian movie as I originally started as a theatre actress. 

Do you also do stereotypical roles that the non-white actors in a predominantly white country often do?
Definitely, especially when starting out its always the stereotypical characters.

You have mentioned in you bio that you've acted in movies like My Past My Present, Music etc. What were your roles? What was your experience like?
My past My present was a great experience, I got to understand the film world as I originally started as a theater actress. My role was a supporting role of a self fish young well established woman. 

What is your next goal/movie/theater act? Do you plan to enter
I'm a pretty easy going person, I'm thankful for any role that comes my way. I'm keen to do more film and television rather than theater and next year I plan to do so in L.A if all goes according to plan

Have you watched Nepali films? If yes, what are they? 
I left Nepal when I was really young and Nepali movies don't really make their way into the western world. The only one I remember is Prempind and that was a very very long time ago.

What is your dream role? Who is your dream director? What is your most favorite movie? Actor/actress?
My dream role would be a someone like Angelina Jolie's character in the movie Girl Interrupted and my dream director would be Tim Burton and Sophia Cappola. Favourite actor would be Johhny Depp and favorite actress would be Sandra Bullock

Anything you would like to say (that I haven't asked)?
I always tell people to dream big and go for it no matter what it takes. The universe always brings to you what you ask of it. 

Also check my interview with Nepali writers: Samrat Upadhyay and Ravi Thapaliya.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sex Trafficking by Siddharth Kara

In the autumn of 2008, I and a friend working with an NGO run by sex-trafficking victims embarked on a research of sex trade in Kathmandu. Having previously worked on the subject for a cover story at Nepal Weekly magazine in 2004, I had some understanding of the subject. But my second attempt at exploring the dark side of this gruesome trade would prove to be a difficult experience. I met a girl, barely 14, who was trafficked from Dang and was forced to work in a run-down Gongabu restaurant that doubled as a brothel. 

After listening to the girl’s harrowing story at a nearby shelter, my friend and I visited the restaurant where the waiters seemed laidback and the tea arrived after much delay. As we sipped our tea and scrutinised the place, the modus operandi started to unravel itself. A young woman who was applying lipstick and carelessly grooming herself seemed to eye us as prospective clients. Pin-ups of scantily clad models adorned the walls. Sitting there, I wondered about the misery the young girl had told us about.

I was reminded of this while reading Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Siddharth Kara, the first fellow on human trafficking at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Kara came face to face with the horrors of slavery in mid-1990s when he visited a refugee camp in Slovenia where he saw first hand the refugees living in limbo, and in utter despair. The Slovenian sojourn left an indelible impression on him. 

Haunted by that, in 2000 he resolved to put aside his job as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch and began his life’s mission: to unveil the workings of sex trafficking. He visited brothels, massage parlours, sex clubs and met all those involved in this trade. After traversing 18 countries and interviewing more than 500 victims, he has produced a very compelling book. 

Sex Trafficking provides answer to one of the world’s most appalling (some would say the oldest) trades: selling sex. The book—which covers India, Nepal, Europe and Africa—analyses in detail the economic aspect of sex trafficking. “Sex slavery is primarily a crime of economic benefit,” he writes. According to Kara, the origin of sex trafficking can be traced to a few phenomena: collapse of the Soviet Union, spread of globalisation and capitalism. “The supply of slave erupted in 1990s concurrently with the havoc wreaked by economic globalisation,” he writes. He suggests: sex trafficking is the most profitable industry because the labour cost is very cheap. 

The book opens with the story of Maya, “a gaunt and distressed” 19-year-old from Sindhupalchowk, who spent “four years as sex slave in each of Mumbai’s two main red-light districts, Kamathipura and Falkland Road.” Maya was duped with the promise of a job at a carpet factory in Kathmandu. Once in the Indian brothel, she was raped, tortured, starved and even drugged. Finally, she fled, but only to discover that she was infected with HIV. Even returning home was fraught with stigma. “They (the rescuers) helped me contact my father, but he told me not to come home. He said I can never be married because I have HIV. I can only bring shame,” she tells the author. She had come out of the brothel in Kamathipura that was established in the 17th century for the service of British troops. 

Globally, 500,000 to 600,000 women are trafficked every year. The reasons outlined by the author are poverty, bias against the gender or particular ethnicity, lawlessness, military conflict, social instability, and above all, disparities in economic opportunity. Along the shady edge of the huge movement of people and demand for sex and money, sex trafficking thrives.

Kara says factors such as corruption in law enforcement, border control and judicial system allow traffickers to conduct their business with minimal consequences. When he says “police take bribes in every country I visited to allow sex-slaves establishments to operate” it sounds like he is talking about Nepal. “Lack of coordination among origin and destination countries also hampers prosecution of trafficking crimes,” he writes, “…The absence of political will to enforce the law, as well as endemic corruption, allows trafficking…” 

At one point, a victim’s mother laments: “So many bad men are hurting young girls. How can we stop them? Is there any end to the suffering of women?” Kara suggests a number of ways to control the trafficking. He urges the UN to create an international slavery and trafficking inspection force; targeted and proactive raids against establishments that have sex-slaves; forming fast-track courts to prosecute trafficking crimes; and imposing stringent laws with massive penalties for traffickers.  

As a work of narrative journalism, Sex Trafficking is gripping. It’s erudite, evocative and above all an engaging read. No other work has dealt with the subject as comprehensively. The book deserves a wide readership.

First appeared at The Kathmandu Post

Also check my review of Sold, a novel about a Nepali girl trafficked to India. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Koirala's Legacy

With Nepali Congress, Nepal's Grand Old Party, engaged in the search of the leader who would fill the late GPK's shoes, below I've published an obit of the late leader, written just after his death:

With the death in March 20 of Girija Prasad Koirala, the five-time Prime Minister of Nepal who helped bring the underground Maoist rebels to mainstream politics and oversaw the end of Nepal’s 240-year-old monarchy, the Himalayan nation’s fragile peace process has suffered a severe blow. Koirala was at the helm until his death at 85.

As an architect of the peace process, the octogenarian leader had died in the thick of the things, leaving behind several unfinished tasks, the key among them the drafting of constitution through 601–member Constituent Assembly (CA) elected in April 10, 2008.

Though Koirala’s absence will be felt throughout the nation, it is nowhere more acute than within his party. When the three senior most leaders of Nepali Congress (NC), former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, Acting Chairman Sushil Koirala and NC’s parliamentary leader, Ram Chandra Paudel, were seen waving to the crowd from the cortege in the funeral procession, it reminded many of the NC troika: Ganesh Man Singh, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Girija Prasad Koirala. The three leaders had led the grand old party till mid 1990s. But even before the late leader’s ashes are buried throughout the country, fissures among the top three have begun to surface. 

Many believe this is Koirala’s own making, for he never nurtured the second generation leaders. Instead, in recent years, he was keen to promote his daughter, Sujata Koirala, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in current cabinet, as his successor. Criticized for promoting nepotism and forming a coterie around him, Koirala was Nepali Congress president for nearly 15 years.

A man of action and conviction, Koirala is largely credited for bringing the war-ravaged country back from the brink. Born in Bihar, India in 1925 in a politically active family of Krishna Prasad Koirala who was in exile for defying the autocratic, hereditary Rana regime, he started his political career with a worker's strike in eastern town of Biratnagar in March 1947.

He honed his political skills fighting autocratic regimes. First it was Rana regime that collapsed in 1951 after the joint struggle by King Tribhuvan and NC which was led by his elder brother BP Koirala. Till then, Nepal was a medieval kingdom, closed to the outside world. Parliamentary democracy was established and BP Koirala became Nepal’s first elected Prime Minister in 1958. However, Tribhuvan’s son Mahendra usurped the executive power and imposed partyless Panchyat system that ruled Nepal for three decades. Koirala remained in his elder brother’s shadow till the latter’s death in 1983.

Eventhough Koirala’s political career paralleled that of Nepal’s tryst with modernity, it was only after 1990 that he was at the forefront of the country’s politics.  A stubborn person by nature, he was schooled in his brother’s socialist ideology, but he drifted away from it and became conservative. However, as a politician at the helm in democratic Nepal, he was instrumental in ushering the country into an era of liberalization in post 1990s.

A tireless organizer, he was a man of few words but had a strong determination. He lacked his brother’s erudition; nevertheless he was a pragmatic person. After the restoration of democracy in 1990, he was entrusted with leading Nepal to prosperity. But he could not institutionalize the democracy. In the decade that followed, he faced several corruption charges. His opponents have accused him of political deception.

Koirala was prime minister when the palace massacre occurred on June 1, 2001. According to the findings of the two-member investigation committee, Crown Prince Dipendra, upset by his mother’s refusal to let him marry his girlfriend, killed King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, his brother, a sister, an aunt, two uncles and two cousins; he later shot himself dead. Koirala was kept in dark for many hours about the massacre. With Gyanendra’s ascent to the throne, he grew disillusioned with the palace.

Over a year into his reign, Gyanedra, a former businessman who was never meant to be a king, started a gradual weakening of democracy. In October 2002, he sacked Prime Minister Deuba, who had succeeded Koirala, on the grounds of incompetence and failure to conduct mid-term polls.

Koirala had resigned from Prime Minister following his difference in July 2001 with Nepal Army, long a bastion of monarchy. Once out of power, Koirala started the secret negotiations with the Maoists whose ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai had proposed a joint struggle against the king.

Former king Gyanendra Shah’s bloodless coup in early 2005 brought the best in Koirala. He unwaveringly stuck to his demand of reinstatement of the parliament, which was dissolved by the former king. In the meantime, the negotiations spearheaded by Koirala with the Maoists culminated in the 12-point agreement in New Delhi in November 2005 at the behest of India. This paved the way for the peaceful pro-democracy protests in spring of 2006. He even midwifed the Maoist rebels’ transition from a guerilla force to the government office bearers in Singhadarbar, the seat of power in capital Kathmandu.

Koirala died at a time when the peace process was at a crossroads. The Maoists are now in opposition and a disparate coalition of 22 parties is in the government. Issues like integration of former combatants and the restructuring of the state remain unresolved while the May 28 deadline to draft the constitution inches closer.  

After Koirala’s death, every politician across the political spectrum, vowed to work for the realization of his dream of peaceful, democratic, federal and republican Nepal. Indeed, the successful completion of peace process that he led would be a fitting tribute to him. But not many believe that politicians in Nepal will rise above their petty partisan interests. The prominence of the hardliners in the Maoist party who have renewed their threat to stage revolt and the rise of extreme right force that wants to undo the changes, have made things more precarious.

With his death, Nepal has lost a leader who was deft in forming consensus and reaching out to leaders across the party lines. Nepal’s much of the future course hinges on the political leaders’ ability to handle his legacy.

Related links:
My blog about his political career at UWB.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Unsettling Resettlement of Bhutan’s Refugees

As resettlement of refugees from Bhutan gains momentum and the UK becomes the eighth country to take them in, leaders in exile wonder if repatriation is now a lost cause, Deepak Adhikari writes for ISN Security Watch.

Swanky and snow-white buses emblazoned with blue IOM (International Organization for Migration) ferry a group of people who seem out of place in Kathmandu's crowd. Led by an IOM escort, the passengers – men, women children and the elderly - queue up in single file at Kathmandu's only international airport.

They are Bhutanese refugees, who after languishing in the sprawling refugee camps in southeastern Nepal, are now heading to western countries, thanks to a 2006 offer floated by the US. In early October that year, Ellen Saurbrey, US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, told the UNHCR's executive meeting in Geneva that the US would absorb up to 60,000 refugees over three or four years.

The relocation of Bhutanese refugees (third country resettlement), which began in earnest in November 2007, is largest such project in the world. Read more:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

On the Road in Kathmandu

One afternoon a year ago, I received a call at my office in Kathmandu. The voice at the other end sounded familiar but I could not recognize it. Sensing my anxiety, my friend introduced himself: He was Saroj Thapa, my roommate in early 1990s when both of us were new to the capital city.

Like many young people of our generation, we had moved to Kathmandu to further our studies. I was seventeen and he was a few years older than me. We lived in a dark one room basement apartment at Ghattekulo neighborhood,  a ten-minute walk from our college. I relied on a meager monthly stipend sent by my father who taught at a school in eastern hills. His father had left his family. Therefore, Saroj was on his own, studying and eking out a living as a helper in a printing press.

He had chanced upon my piece published in a magazine. I was happy to hear his voice after nearly ten years. "Let's meet some time and talk about these past years," he said. The idea fascinated me and without a second thought, I promised him I would manage time. He hung up.

The time never came. Or, so I thought until one recent day, he called me up and asked if I was free.

In fact, I wasn't.  I was giving the final touch to  the weekend youth supplement I oversee. I had a tight deadline. The layout person was in the throes of designing the pages. But, I also thought I had lingered too long. I was tired. I badly needed a drink. I also wanted to take some rest. I thought: there's nothing wrong in sneaking away for an hour. A while later, I left for the intersection where my friend would be waiting in his car.

The dusk was falling. I negotiated the potholed road outside my office building. Upon crossing the road,  I found myself in the crowd of people heading home or waiting for bus. My friend saw me from a distance and stopped his car.

We drove towards Sinamangal neighborhood near Nepal's only international airpot. I had suggested to him a new restaurant with a good menu and green lawn. The monsoon rain had washed the road clean. The evening felt incredibly lovely. The road had a light traffic.

We found out that the entrance to the restaurant was under construction. My friend, who's been driving for five years, decided to park the car on an empty space beside the road. I suggested him to rethink his decision but he was adamant.

We mostly talked about the time we spent and struggled together. We recalled how we managed to survive the saddest phase of our life. I reminisced how at college I would attend both the day and night classes, how watching a movie was a luxury.  I told him how I relished a plate of momo, a Nepali dumpling, which at the time was the most delicious food on earth. .

He recalled his infatuation with a girl who stayed next door to his office. "We used to wax eloquent about our love affairs," he said. We laughed at our naivety. I felt sorry for our humble beginning.

A wave of nostalgia  engulfed us as we sipped beer. We concluded that our initial foray into the urban landscape had been pathetic. Past had been unkind to us.

At around eight, we left the restaurant and climbed up to the road. We were still talking, unable to detach ourselves from our terrible past.

A little tipsy, we boarded the car. He was turning it right in order to drop me at my office. Right at that moment, a motorcycle hit the car. All I could hear was a bang! Then, I saw a man thrown up in the air. We looked at each other, trying to figure out the problem. He said: "This is how things end up!" We got off the car and started to assess the damage.

The motorcycle was badly damaged. It's headlight was broken. The car's fender was hit hard, creating a niche. The pillion rider was writhing in pain. A gaggle of passersby gathered in the scene. People silhouetted against the evening's dim light, inquired, "Ke Bhayo? Ke Bhayo?" (What happened? What happened?). Their faces were unrecognizable, lending an eerie feeling. I felt as if I were looking at apparitions.

My friend and I rushed headlong on to take control of the situation. In Kathmandu's accident prone roads, anything can happen. I recalled witnessing incidents in which drivers were beaten up immediately after the accident, without judging whose mistake it was.

A tall, thin, sad-faced traffic police man arrived. He identified the drivers and took their licenses. The motorcycle driver turned out to be heavily injured. But he was very quiet. His friend, who was crying, sounded like he was badly hurt. But he wasn't. Blood was dribbling from the driver's shin. He had another injury in his chin. The helmet's glass might have torn it.

The pillion rider told me he was speaking on his cell phone when the bike hit the car. Later, someone brought back his cell phone which was already battered.

My friend offered to take them to the hospital and pay for their medical bills.

We drove in silence towards Kathmandu Medical College. The driver in his early thirties was admitted to the emergency. I found myself queuing  up at the drug store. The injured were returning from a house party. They seemed more drunk than us.

The pillion rider had come to Kathmandu on a business trip. The driver ran a small grocery on the outskirts of Kathmandu. It turned out that all of us came from the same region in eastern Nepal. Even though there appeared a chasm between us--the two on an old bike and we on a four-wheel--an unlikely camaraderie formed inside the hospital.