December 17, 2007
DUNHAM: I’ve asked you to meet me tonight because I regard you as the fresh voices of Nepal and because I know you deserve far more attention than you receive from the old guard. When I ask people in power about the deplorable waste in youthful human resource in Nepal, they pay lip service to the youth, but I see very little resolve to take action on your behalf, even though, astoundingly, 60% of the population in Nepal is under the age of 30. I’m here to find out what it’s like to be young in Nepal. What are your aspirations? What are the pitfalls of trying to promote new ideas in a patriarchal society?
To put this is perspective, just this morning, I interviewed a group of teenagers, a little younger than you. When I asked them about their plans, the majority said they wanted a visa to America or Australia or Malaysia so that they could get the hell out of Nepal. Permanently. Except for one student, they were strictly non-partisan.
On the other hand, everyone in this room, either directly or indirectly, is politically involved in Nepal’s struggle for democracy. You have made a conscious decision to remain in Nepal. You are knowledgeable. You care about Nepal. You are determined to make a difference.
So let’s begin with what it was like for each of you growing up in Nepal and how it came about that you followed your respective paths to this room tonight. Since we are meeting in the offices of “Youth Initiative”, let’s start with you, Robin.
ROBIN SITOULA: Co-founder of Youth Initiative, President of Liberal Youth South Asia, and President of Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation.
The kind of work we do at Youth Initiative, as you know, is not perceived as political work. We are simply trying to bring forth the voices of young people-- to put them in the driver’s seat. But that effort, of course, is also part of larger politics. Still, my involvement, for a long time, has been in non-partisan politics, which I believe is of greater benefit for young people.
I started my career as a youth activist in 1996. That was after I attended an international youth camp in Singapore where a lot of people younger than me were making a significant difference in their countries. They were having a voice in their countries. They believed they had a stake in their respective countries. This was a major revelation for me-- a big contrast from what I had experienced in Nepal.
When I returned to Nepal, initially, I had difficulty in getting young people interested. But in 1999, I met a group of people who were like-minded-- people like Rajendra Mulmi-- and so we began the Youth Initiative. Our goal was to make a difference and have our voices heard.
DUNHAM: Gagan, what was your introduction to politics?
GAGAN THAPA: General Secretary of Nepali Students’ Union; President of Nepali Congress, Kathmandu Constituency 04.
I became involved when I was 14, in Class Nine. That was 1990, during the People’s Movement. I realized that if I became actively involved in a political organization, there would be a larger scope for me in which I could influence the whole political process for positive change. I’ve never regretted this even though it has not always been easy. From the beginning, there were pressures from seniors members of my family; they wanted me to pursue other options as a youth.
But age is just one of the bases to define youth. For me, “youth” is all about having an appetite for adventure and a willingness to take risks. I always try to put myself in this category. I want to live as a youth-- to accept the challenges and the risks. So, even though there were several opportunities for me, at several points in time, to leave Nepal, to pursue a higher education abroad, to just be concerned about my personal future, I chose not to move in that direction.
DUNHAM: Ram Kumari, were you also influenced by the 1990 People’s Movement?
RAM KUMARI JHANKRI: National Vice-President of All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU), the sister ally of Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist Leninist)
Yes. I was studying Class Seven in 1990. After that, I took membership in the ANNFSU and then, slowly, I got more involved.
I came from a very rural family background; I wasn’t exposed to a lot of opportunities or urban life. I came from Gulmi District—in the mid-west hilly region. The education level there was quite poor. My school was a two-hour walk from my village. At that time my aspirations were limited to completing my education. After I graduated, I also had the opportunity, like others, to go abroad and look for better alternatives, but I came to Kathmandu instead.
It was here in Kathmandu that I had the opportunity to interact with senior leaders of my party and understand politics a little bit better. I had already experienced the inequalities between the rich and the poor-- between the rural and urban. I knew the impoverished and the marginalized had a very weak voice. I felt it was my responsibility to help people struggle with inequality even though life was difficult for me in the city-- staying in a rented home where I had only a brother who had a very simple job to support me. Becoming engage in politics was the best way that I could make a difference.
My family is still in my home village. I’m still connected to my roots. But I have remained involved in all the political movements-- the recent April Movement of 2006 and other political processes, either as a participant or, at other times, as leader of a movement. I’m really happy about the work that I do for the communist party. This is where I belong.
DUNHAM: Rajendra, how did you get involved with the political situation in Nepal?
RAJENDRA MULMI: President of Association of Youth Organizations Nepal (AYON); Program Manager for Search for Common Ground; Co-Founder of Youth Initiative
I started my youth advocacy in my early college days as an HIV/AID peer educator. I was one of those guys brought up in an urban environment, but sort of hated politics. I didn’t see any point in getting involved. It was other people’s jobs, not mine.
Understanding the gravity of the AIDS problem made me want to change, to help others. And the more I realized that politics governed everyday life, the more I embraced the idea that a member of society cannot afford to hate politics or run away from politics.
I also began to realize that politics is often defined very narrowly. Usually, political engagement is thought of as an involvement in partisan politics and partisan politics alone. But, in fact, there are numerous ways that you can meaningful contribute and participate in the political processes. Even though I am engaged in a social youth organization, an NGO, a lot of our work is political. We work with the youth and student political organizations; it’s all about different perspectives but it’s all the same. It’s like a group sitting at the same table and seeing the “6” and the “9” from opposite directions: We are still seeing the same thing. And the more that we engage one another with different perspectives, the bigger the picture becomes.
Sure, there is a lot of political apathy among young people. That’s the challenge. We engage the so-called “non-partisan” youth by saying: “Hating politics is not the answer. Let’s discuss this.” We try to raise their political awareness from that perspective. And we also strive to bridge the gap between the partisan youth and the non-partisan youth by focusing on the social, political, economic transformation of Nepal – issues that everybody feels strongly about—thus creating a newfound synergy.
MANISH JHA: President of Hridaya Group
I’m from the mid-southeastern part of Nepal, from Janakpur. It’s in the Terai and far from the Kathmandu Valley. I moved to Kathmandu in 2000 after completing my Plus Two [equivalent of finishing high-school], to continue my studies and get my bachelors in management. That’s when I joined several youth organization and became socially involved. Later on, I helped create “Hridaya Group”. Our objective is to make young people aware of their social responsibility. My feeling is that, if you live in Nepal, you are automatically involved with the government and must become part of the political situation. It’s all about knowing how things work in our country. Hridaya Group connects young people with political activities as well as the social ones. Even though I am not affiliated with one particular political path, I feel strongly that we young people should be aware of every political activity that is going on in Nepal.
DUNHAM: Coming from the Terai, did you feel any extra pressures or discrimination?
MANISH JHA: Sometimes, but not as much as some people I know. I was actually born in Kathmandu, have always known people here and visited it many times before moving here. I speak Nepali without accent and understand the local Newari language, both of which help keep regional discrimination minimal.
DUNHAM: What about you, Sudyumna?
SUDYUMNA DAHAL: Fulbright Scholar; Program Director of Youth Initiative; General Secretary of Association of Youth Organizations Nepal (AYON); Chair of UN Global Youth leaders, Network, South and West Asia.
Even when I was a small child, I was inspired to contribute to social activities. In my case, my family encouraged me to do these sorts of things.
In my family and my environment, everybody was expected to become either a doctor or an engineer. That was typical. Even in this room, most of us, as students, found ourselves forced to study science to suit our parents, even if our hearts weren’t in it. What I really wanted to study social sciences, but I couldn’t let my parents find out. At one point, I wrote to one of my cousin-brothers, asking, “How can I become an ambassador or an advisor to a Prime Minister? What are the subjects that I have to study to get into that position?” I still have his letter-- a four-page reply with detailed instructions.
So I enrolled in economics, political science and development studies, which gave me a solid foundation for what I am doing now. But I felt that studying was not enough. So began volunteer work. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to work with one of the best activists in Nepal: Gopal Sivakoti, Chintan, who was working on dams and developments issues, and foreign aid issues when people were just beginning to talk about them. Then I came into contact with Robin and Rajendra, here at Youth Initiative, and began working with them. For the first time, I was working and interacting with young politicians—people I had seen on TV. Gradually, I began to understand the underlying dynamics of this kind of work. And I found it fascinating.
I learned that the key issues are ultimately determined by politics. The closer you look, the more you realize that all the dynamics are linked to politics. And it’s so interesting to work with young people and talk to them about this interconnectedness.
DEEPENDRA CHAULAGIAN: President of Youth Initiative
I became interested in youth activism 17 years ago, when I was still a kid. I organized a camp with similar-minded youths. Then, when I entered the university, I encountered youth politics for the first time. That was initially a bad experience for me. Like others in this room, I had come to study science-- not because I wanted to, but because my father’s dream was for me to become a doctor. Then the university was closed for six or seven months and, when it reopened, I just dropped science and enrolled in management. I realized that politics was everything but it seemed to me that youth politics was corrupt. So I joined with non-partisan youth activities.
Finally, after graduation, I came to Kathmandu and I met Robin, Rajendra, and everyone involved with Youth Initiative. That was one of the happiest moments for me. I had been searching for this kind of organization. Now I work here fulltime.
You mentioned that, currently, there are lots of young Nepalis who just want to leave Nepal and go to America and settle down there. That’s true. But we at Youth Initiative believe that by staying in Nepal, we will make a big change in the political situation. There are lots of young people who share that hope.
DUNHAM: Let’s talk about the fabric of a patriarchal society. What are the stumbling blocks, the challenges you have personally experienced as young Nepalis?
ROBIN SITOULA: It’s true: We live in a hierarchal-based society in Nepal, where people who are more important than you-- either by seniority or gender or economic status-- have the last word. For most of us young activists, whenever we came up with our own ideas, our elders would put us down: “Hey, you’re just a kid. It’s for us to decide what you want to be.” Earlier, many of us mentioned that we were compelled to study science because that was our elders’ ambition for us.
In Nepal, as long as your father is alive, you are regarded as a child. You must obey your elders’ command. But this family hierarchy system exists throughout Nepalese society—whether you are talking about the political system, the corporate center, the civil organizations, or the smallest decision-making levels of elders in small villages-- it’s the elders who will make the decisions. For us at Youth Initiative, this is our greatest grievance. It’s not just that we want to make decisions for ourselves; we want to take responsibility for those decisions.
When we first began advocating for our freedom to decide, we encountered a great deal of resistance. We went to various forums where we were not invited. We sat in the corners, raised our hands and said, “Hey, you never asked us what we want.” And the response would be, “Where did you come from?” They would just put us out.
But we grew in numbers. Almost everybody in the colleges started going to the ministries and saying, “Well, what have you guys been doing about young people? What thought have you put into it?”
There was condescension. When we came up with new youth-oriented programs, the older generation thought, “Since it’s young people who are doing this, maybe they are organizing a picnic or a small sport,” or something like that because insignificant social activities were, historically, what young people were supposed to be engaged in-- nothing more important. But we were focusing on something else: We were discussing politics and what we expected Nepal to be like. And we struck a chord with our peers. Gradually, a lot of young people joined our ranks, understanding the power of youth uniting. The Youth Initiative became a regular drop-in center for young people who shared our grievances. This gave us the motivation and encouragement to prove ourselves further.
DUNHAM: Gagan, patriarchal traps?
GAGAN THAPA: My experiences are similar to Robin’s. We came from the same class and caste. And both of us are male.
But to have a clear picture, we should put the youth issue in a broader context.
“Nepali society is patriarchal.” That statement is true, as far as it goes. But is there not a relationship between patriarchal society and politics? And wasn’t this relationship deliberately constructed?
We have to go back in history-- 250 years back-- to the first days of the state formation. There you will see that these issues are closely linked. After the expansion of the Gorkha regime, in order for the Shah dynasty to sustain its rule, the kings needed to strengthen their power by constructing a Hindu identity. They needed a very centralized structure and that’s why they deliberately connected the state to the traditional fears and beliefs of the Hindu religion-- thereby creating a common identity and legitimacy. [The Shah Dynasty claimed that the kings were avatars of Vishnu, the Hindu god.] The Hindu religion is patriarchal. The Hindu culture is patriarchal. And we citizens of Nepal were supposed to follow those values. It wasn’t always like this. The culture itself was a multilingual society. And prior to the expansion of the Gorkha regime, we had different cultures, different religions. Why are young people suffering? Why is being a female different than being a male? Why is being a Janajati [someone from an ethnic minority] different than being Brahman? It’s all political.
Look at the structure of the Shah dynasty: the successor of the ruling king must be the eldest son of his family. They have transferred this royal stipulation to the general society at large. In my family, my father has a greater say than my mother or me. This was all created. And it has become so embedded in all strata of society, over the last 250 years, that, unknowingly, we have all come to share these values. As a result, we tend to treat patriarchy as a current issue or a personal, individual problem within our own particular family, rather than the political issue that it really is.
That’s where we failed, even up to and including the People’s Movement of 1990. Fortunately, the 2006 People’s Movement was more encompassing: It didn’t only address the need for change in regime or change in power relations; it addressed the need for a completely fresh restructuring of the state. We want to go back to the very beginning of our nation. We want to look at all issues from an historic perspective. We want to re-invent the state in such a way that we can resolve all these problems, including the issue of living in a patriarchal society.
DUNHAM: Ram Kumari, I’m particularly interested in your thoughts because you represent the women in this group.
RAM KUMARI JHAKRI: I wasn’t always aware that I was being discriminated against or that I was a victim of inequality. In my childhood, I just accepted my treatment as fact. That’s how families were. It was how this society behaved. The males had an elevated position. That was the reality.
But when I realized that there was inequality, I began to take the issue very seriously. Discrimination has always been a part of the state building process. We have it in every household. You see that the role of your father is the power in the family-- or your elder brother-- they make the decisions. And this had been going on for a long time.
It’s true, like Gagan said: Over the last 250 years the nation state has been Hindu-ized to support the patriarchal system. But that’s just 250 years. Inequality and discrimination have been going on for a lot longer period than that. After all, it’s a natural phenomenon for the strong to dominate the weak.
For centuries, inequality has thrived in Nepal, based on language, gender, caste, age and geography. But the most vicious discrimination has been in the economic sector. The person who suffers the most is the poorest of the poor. Even in a very small village you will experience the power of the feudals, who control everything and enjoy privileged access to the resources and/or the ownership of the resources. Those who have access are those who have the power. It is they who make the decisions. It’s as simple as that. And for women—for me and my female counterparts-- we experience this on a day-to-day basis. It’s very personal for us.
DUNHAM: Deependra, your thoughts?
DEEPENDRA CHAULAGAIN: I agree with what the others have said. Thousands of years ago, our seniors created our culture for their own benefit. The upper class patriarchal society emerged and remains in control today. Even after we young people get our education, we face the ancient traditions. We have to prove ourselves worthy-- over and over again--prove that we are capable. Even after we get our education, we are forbidden to question our elders.
However, I believe that this system will change. I believe if you raise your voice regularly-- if you never let up, keep putting pressure on the policy-makers—eventually, they will have to start listening to us. And this requires a great deal of effort, time and determination.
RAJENDRA MULMI: One of the big challenges of growing up in a patriarchal society is the extent to which you must compromise -- with elders both in your personal and professional life--whether that compromise is the classes you take, the jobs you pursue or the woman you marry. These are areas in which your elders have more control than yourself. You really struggle in Nepal to find your own niche.
On the other hand, the youth of Nepal show a lot of reluctance to become bold, to grow into their potential. The stereotype forced upon them-- that they are incapable of acting on their own-- has intimidated them. This is the way Nepal society works: You can have ears but you can’t have your mouth; you can listen to your elders but you can’t question them. Your opinions are not valued. And that has been quite frustrating for all of us. As a direct result, on a very large scale, this lack of respect for the younger generation has contributed to our youth being less creative, less innovative, less capable of being analytical, and less articulate in the decision-making process. Why? Because the youth have not been trained to question.
Also, youth are discriminated against because they lack experience. What the elders don’t seem to realize is that sometimes experience can be a bad teacher. Planning creatively for the future is undervalued in our society. A caterpillar, from its past experience, can never be a butterfly. If you look from the caterpillar’s experience, he has always been a caterpillar; if he looks at his future, he can only foresee becoming a bigger caterpillar. What young people bring to any society is the potential-- the belief-- that a caterpillar can become a butterfly, that it could actually have wings and fly. Belief in one’s future, belief in one’s potential doesn’t come from experience.
Originally, the youth movement was established to stand up and promote the agenda of having a republican state, a kingless state. It was the youth who took the lead and institutionalized this movement. The adults in Nepal would never have accepted such a forward-looking vision on their own. It was only later that the adults were forced to turn in the direction of the youth.
MANISH JHA: For me, it’s been a different experience because I am from the south where there are different cultures and systems. Society in the south is very strict. We males generally don’t talk to the females in the family about our professional lives. We don’t share our daily lives, our personal experiences or our health problems with females. The wife of the younger brother must hide her face whenever husband’s older brother appears. We simply cannot raise our voices at our elders.
Whenever I return to my hometown, I must remain silent, even if I sense that something is going wrong. I am not allowed to speak up or comment. If my brother or sister is getting married, for instance, and I know something is going wrong there-- like my sister will not be happy in the future-- I can’t ask my father to change his mind. I meet my grandfather everyday when I am down there and everyday, I must touch his leg in respect. When he comes, I must leave my seat. We can’t talk about our girlfriends, our wives or our futures. Nothing. Being candid is very wrong according to the old tradition. We all know that this traditional system is not good for the personal or emotional life. But the old tradition goes on.
SUDYUMNA DAHAL: As a male being brought up in an upper-class society, I didn’t personally experience most of the discriminations in society. I got better food than my sister. I took things for granted. Of course, had I been born as a female from a Dalit community [poor and oppressed people previously call “untouchables”], I would have had a very different experience. But as it was, I didn’t understand the impact of a patriarchal society or the issue of discrimination-- not until more recently.
Recently-- just to give you an example-- I went home and told my family that Rajendra and I were working on the National Planning Commission as advisors for the three-year interim plan; my family didn’t believe me. I showed them my card, which proved that I was an advisor. It didn’t matter: They questioned the card’s authenticity. It shows you how little trust they had in my capability. The point is this: Even in your immediate family, you have to prove yourself, again and again-- that you are capable of doing something good. You are still seen as a small child.
Slowly, this in changing.
DUNHAM: The 2006 Movement exuded youth and optimism. There were older people involved with the movement as well, but the predominant image was one of youth. The entire country felt youthful. Now, in December 2007, the exuberance has dissipated, which is natural enough; exhilaration can’t be sustained over a protracted period of time. Still, the elections have been repeatedly cancelled and postponed and now pessimism has crept into the Nepali psyche. Some people are convinced that the elections won’t ever take place, blaming the old leaders of being either incapable or unwilling to move forward. So what’s next, from the perspective of the youth?
As a group dedicated to creating a New Nepal, how best can you proceed so that, ultimately, you can restructure the state from the bottom up?
DEEPENDRA CHAULAGIAN: You are right: After the Jana Andolan, people became frustrated. Why? Because expectations were left to wither. Our old leaders regained their power and forgot everything else: forgot about the young people, the caste issue, the gender issue, and the ethnic issue. They just settled into enjoying their power, money and authority.
I’m not saying, “Let’s throw all the old people out.” But let’s consider the role of youth. The youth are dynamic and innovative. Can we say the same thing about our elders? They’re just listening and looking around. If we tap into young people’s ideas-- if we look from outside the box-- we really can make a difference in our future.
In the meantime, there are many issues that we can deal with ourselves. There are economic and social agendas, which we can address immediately and observe quick results and benefits.
DUNHAM: Robin, as Program Director of Youth Initiative, what are your goals?
ROBIN SITOULA: We have several programs that we are implementing that focus on young people’s visions and hopes. Our slogan is “New Nepal: Young Leader’s Vision.” Through these programs we are getting a clear idea of what the youth want and expect. The youth have several priorities. For them, the New Nepal is a place where everybody has access to education, good opportunities for employment and basic services like health, transportation, etc.
But sometimes I fear-- and this may be a personal bias that has grown in me-- that a lot of young people’s aspirations are not original. In many instances, they talk about issues that they don’t understand. They present a very big vision that they’ve heard on the television screen or read in the newspapers’ headlines. Often they are carried away by popular issues, which on the surface seem wonderful and fantastic. But popular solutions are not always realistic.
The genuine issues—the ones that young people are sincerely concerned about are basic human needs and rights: equality, freedom of expression, security, an environment that encourages employment and entrepreneurship. These are the real issues. What I’m hearing from the youth is: “Let me pursue the occupation I want. Give me security. Protect my life, my freedom and my property.”
DUNHAM: Ram Kumari?
RAM KUMARI JHANKRI: It should be pointed out that the engagement of the youth didn’t only occur in the 2006 Movement. The youth have been politically engaged for a long time. But in 2006, the youth really were able to demonstrate their potential and power. The 2006 movement also broke down some of the barriers and some of the stereotypes of society: for example, hierarchal male-dominated society-- the selfishness of that-- and other similar values that have dominated for a long time. The old identity of the king as being an incarnation of a god, of Nepal as a Hindu state: these things were challenged.
Today, we envision a New Nepal where there is not one language, religion, caste, or economic strata that dominates. The dream now is to construct a New Nepal. It’s not about reestablishing past systems. It’s about devising completely new definitions and structures.
A decision made by a couple of important guys in a closed room is no longer the answer. We need to come up with an inclusive process whereby everybody is involved. Historically, those who are not involved in the decision-making process do not get the dividend or the benefit from the decision. Everybody-- whether it be people like me and Gagan, who are directly involved in party politics, or people like Robin, Rajendra, Deependra and Sudyumna, who are not involved with party politics but work in the caucuses-- all of us must participate meaningfully in the restructuring process.
MANISH JHA: I was often part of the demonstrations during the Jana Andolan. I shared the same expectations other young people experienced. We wanted to change things in a very short amount of time. The young people’s spirits were like mountains—very spirited. But of course, that kind of high-spiritedness could not be maintained over a long period of time.
Today, our agenda must be more realistic. At that time we were trying to change the leadership, the system, the era, everything. That was too simplistic. The old leaders have rights and they have authority. They enjoy their high positions. How can we expect them to just leave their positions on their own initiative? It will take time to replace them in their seats of power. The youth need patience.
SUDYUMNA DAHAL: A couple of months ago, I was with friends who were talking about the peace process. One of them said, “I think we have to put bombs all over the place and blow all the old people away.” It’s a sentiment that is widespread among the young people. They now sense that the old leaders are not going to really move ahead or do something positive or make significant change. So there is a kind of frustration taking hold of the youth, against the older generation—whether it entails their families or the state machinery.
Of course you can’t just dispense with an entire generation, but the youth of Nepal are different from any previous generation. Today’s youth are smarter and better educated. We’ve seen more of the world. We have a growing understanding of global and regional dynamics. We are the first generation who, in large numbers, have studied English and have learned to communicate with the outside world and become aware of international issues.
The world is moving so fast. Nepal’s leaders need to pick up the pace with the rest of the world and understand how things are moving on. The time has come for the best of the youth to join the political decision-making process, to share their knowledge of the outside world—especially when you consider the rapid growth of our neighbors, China and India. The foremost characteristic we need in young leaders is the ability to lead Nepal into the world arena.
GAGAN THAPA: For me, freedom should be the basis of society: freedom to express one’s consent and freedom to express one’s differences. I dream of a society in which my rights are protected-- a society in which I may differ with other ideas, individuals or institutions without consequences.
But again, you have to look at it from an historical perspective. If you assume that all individuals are equal-- equal opportunities for all, equal access to education and health-- if we assume that we have been treated on equal terms throughout history, that’s one thing. But Nepal is not only one of the poorest societies in the world; it is one of the most unequal societies in the world as well. If you look at human development indicators, Nepal is the lowest in South Asia. In terms of equality, Nepal has failed in history.
There is nothing to worry about when young people are emotional. It means that they are committed to something positive. You can deal with them. You can interact with them. You can talk to them about their interpretation of freedom.
But there must be a balance between the emotional and the pragmatic. It would have been wonderful if young people from all walks of life had come together in 2006 and forced out all senior leaders who have proven, time and again, that they are inept, corrupt, and incompetent. In reality, however, it’s not that easy.
Going back to your first comment, that for many young people in Nepal their priority is going abroad: In fact, among foreign countries that send their kids to American schools, Nepal ranks 13th. So for people like us, the young activists, the real challenge is to engage this group of young people who want to abandon Nepal-- to make them understand that just leaving the country and running away from the situation is not going to help them any more. There are plenty of opportunities for young people-- whether they are partisan or non-partisan-- to come together and to work together. Only this group of people can make a real change in Nepal. Otherwise these people with preoccupied concerns—no matter how you try to force them—will not change their thinking. It’s not possible.
So what’s the answer? At this point in time, we have to convey to young people that they should not give up hope. As long as there are people in Nepal who hold to their dreams, the country is going to survive. Young people: Don’t give up hope. There is still room for us to work together. We can still create a synergy that will force these old people out from the driver’s seats. We can still take over with new, fresh ideas and new commitments as well. We have to work hard to achieve this. We mustn’t let up. Remaining idle and expecting that something dramatic will happen-- that the day will just automatically come when everything will change-- that’s not going to happen. We have to make it happen. We have to take the initiative.
RAJENDRA MULMI: There is a growing level of pessimism. Looking back at the Jana Andolan, it’s clear that, in many cases, young people were exploited to fuel that conflict. And they were massively mobilized. Then, once the movement succeeded, the young people were discarded. After the goals of the Jana Andolan were achieved, the young people were suddenly nowhere in the picture. The old men resumed their seats of power and, once again, ignored the young people.
Ironically, many of the faces that you see in the current leadership are the very same people who, as youth, led the movement fifty years ago. If you look back at the movement against the Ranas, you will realize that the leaders of that movement—their faces are the same faces you see among the current leadership. Back then, they were young and they believed in the power of youth. They were in the forefront. So how can they now believe-- fifty, sixty years later -- that they are still the best ones to assume leadership?
I’m not advocating that we replace all the older faces with young faces. That’s not an ideal situation. Young people, by their nature, are impatient. They want change right now. Rushing into things is not always a good idea. In contrast, the older generation tend to take more time, to be more analytical, to look at the pros and cons, and to play it safe. But postponing everything indefinitely is also not a good idea. This is where the conflicts lie. The youth want to go at a fast pace. After the Jana Andolan, they wanted the elections to happen within a few months. They wanted a new leadership, a new constitution, a New Nepal immediately-- whereas the older generation dragged their feet.
What we should be advocating for is a collaborative partnership between the generations. The inter-generational gap needs to be transformed into a synergy wherein both age groups engage in a rich exchange of ideas and experience—a synergy in which the participation of young people is not merely ceremonial or symbolic.
And we should keep in mind that the peace process has been overwhelmingly politically motivated. Politics have sidelined the other issues-- whether it’s the issue of unemployment, of displaced persons, of poor education, of the rehabilitation of ex-combatants--issues that, sadly, by and large, involve young people. The unemployed, the displaced, the illiterate, and the ex-combatants-- these people’s needs must be addressed in a constructive manner. Otherwise, the same youth force could become very destructive in the future. There’s an alarm bell out there and we can’t afford to ignore it.
MORE ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS
Ram Kumari Jhakri: Popularly known as “the youth leader of the mass movements”, Ram Kumari Jhakri is an established icon in the Nepalese contemporary youth political scene. She was born and raised in Gulmi, a rural district of Nepal. She began her political activism while attending school in Gulmi, when she became a member of All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU), a sister ally of Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist Leninist). Later, she moved to Kathmandu to further her studies but continued to be at the forefront of activism, including the historic People's Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in 2006. Ram Kumari has retained several important positions in ANNFSU. She is currently the National Vice President of the organization.
Gagan Thapa: Gagan began his political career while in high school, during the first People’s Movement of 1990. In college, he quickly gained a reputation as a proactive leader. He became the president of Free Student Union, of Tri-Chandra College, on behalf of Nepal Students Union, the student wing of Nepali Congress Party. Since then, he has continued to play a very important activist role, including in the People's Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in 2006. He is General Secretary of Nepali Students Union and has received wide media attention, both domestically and internationally. He has been in various tours around the world as a speaker and has contributed various articles in contemporary Nepali politics. Currently, Gagan is the president of Nepali Congress, Kathmandu Constituency 04.
Deependra Chaulagain: For the past 6 years Deependra has been involved with Youth Initiative, a national youth run, and youth led organization working in youth development, civic and political affairs among young people. Deependra is also Team Leader of the Civic Leadership School. He has worked on projects associated with UNESCO, Student Partnership Worldwide (SPW), National Development Volunteer Service (NDVS), among others. Deependra has travelled extensively within and outside Nepal during his local and global assignments.
Sudyumna Dahal: Sudyumna has been involved with Youth Initiative for the last five years. He has also served as coordinator for the Civic Leadership School, as a member of the UN Millennium Campaign's "Youth Mapping Project: Asia and the Pacific”, and as advisor to the National Planning Commission Secretariat, Government of Nepal, for the 3-Year Interim Plan of Nepal. He is the General Secretary of Association of Youth Organisations Nepal (AYON) and Chair of UN Global Youth Leaders Network, South and West Asia. He will be continuing his further study in “Political Economy of State Building and State Effectiveness” as a Fulbright Scholar in US beginning in August 2008.
Robin Sitoula: Robin joined Youth Initiative as a co-founder of the organization. He is the founding president of Liberal Youth South Asia. He has conducted various democracy and youth participation programs in South Asian countries including Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. He was a visiting fellow at the Atlas Foundation, Virginia, USA. Robin is president of Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation, a public policy institute based in Kathmandu.
Rajendra Mulmi: Rajendra is currently Program Manager for Search for Common Ground, an international NGO working in the field of conflict transformation and peace building. He is also the President of Association of Youth Organizations Nepal (AYON), an umbrella network of youth-led organizations in Nepal. He has worked as an HIV/AIDS counselor and as a volunteer working in remote villages of Nepal, promoting environmental education, appropriate rural technologies and improving sanitation in the communities. In 2002, he was elected on the Board of Directors for the International Young Professionals Foundation (IYFP); a year later he was elected as Vice President. He has attended many national and international youth events; 4th UNESCO Youth Forum (2005); World Bank Youth Development and Peace Conference (2004); YES World Youth Leadership Jam (2003); 1st Youth Employment Summit (2002); Global Youth Meet (2000) to name a few.
Manish Jha: Manish is president of Hridaya Group, an NGO dedicated to helping deprived and needy children in Nepal. It’s doors opened in 2004 and is a youth-run organization. Manish also serves as coordinator for NepaliFootball.com and marketing manager for Organizer Consultancy Private Limited. He is currently studying for his Executive MBA in service marketing.
RECOMMENDED YOUTH-LED ORGANIZATIONS IN NEPAL:
Youth Initiative -- www.youthinitiative.org.np
Hridaya Group -- www.hridaya.org.np
Association of Youth Organizations Nepal --www.ayon.org