I received a text from a dear friend, a day in advance of the scheduled Peace rally. Like the SMS asked me to, I dutifully forwarded it to two like-minded people; I never was going to show up though!
Turns out I did go rallying, tagging along with me a few other like-minded friends. The influx of people on the road, donning whites and carrying the Nepalese flag, was incentive enough to join. A short discussion with fellow compadres, and I found myself matching steps with other peace rallyists, on my way to Basantapur. And thus I rallied for peace; which incidentally was/is a very first for me.
A recollection follows:
As we tread on the bitumen coated road, sans vehicular traffic (being constantly reminded to grace the middle and not the sides by my good friend Basant), we are guesstimating the turnout of people. Maiti Devi has an impressive show of people in white. Sushil dai updates that someone (I forgot exactly who) had requested people to join the peace rally wearing white clothes and to carry the national flag on an early morning radio programme. Putali Sadak is equally impressive as more and more people converge.
We are already wondering if it will equal the May Day rally they showed on TV. Through Bag Bazaar to Ratna Park and then to Basantapur suggests Aseem.
The democracy wall near Ratna Park, police had cordoned off the area as Maoists protestors were on the other side, wielding bamboo canes above their heads and some waving the very familiar hammer and sickle in red. People on this side are confused and stray undecided on which road to take.
Our group of four takes a detour – a shortcut through houses that opens up behind the old bus park. I egg Sujit to come join us as we pass his house. As we emerge, we run into a dozen or so young individuals wearing red bandanas and carrying rocks, canes and iron rods.
One voices to the other, “Seto luga lagaira chan; Chandra surya jhanda bokya chan”. [They] are wearing white clothes and carrying the national flag! They scurry past us, all the while eyeing us. It sends a shiver down my spine!
Onto the road on Pradharsani Marga, we find Maoist protestors have taken a lion’s share of the bitumen road. We meekly stick to the sides and edge towards Basantapur. A fully fledged procession greets us round the bend replete with people with red bandanas, Maoist flags, bamboo canes, iron rods, knap sacks and water bottles. The procession is long and disciplined; some on it are young while some are old. But they clearly are not Kathmanduites.
I overhear a group ahead mention that the Maoist protestors stopped peace rallyists in Kupondole; makes me doubt the numbers that would meet us in Basantapur. We joke that we aren’t wearing whites and could just as easily yell “Prachandapath jindabad” if ever confronted by protestors and get by. We still walk on.
Come New Road, a sea of people in white meets us. People are jubilant, cheering the ones joining in. I hear Maha Jodi on the loud speakers commending the people who have shown up. Each sentence is followed by loud applause and a wave of hands. There’s hardly any space to move near the square, hence we mingle into the crowd keeping tabs on the persons in front and behind. I meet quite a number of friends, colleagues and acquaintances who have come to show support. It turns out the rally has been cancelled fearing a confrontation. I meet more friends including Rajendra, Batta, Dali, Rimesh,Supreet, Paribesh and Shailee, Suman, Erina, Niroj dai and many more as the event progresses.
The organizers – FNCCI, PAPAD and others, serve an ultimatum to the political leaders to come to a consensus within two days and call a close on the assemblage stressing that there will not be a rally.
As people disperse, we wait on the sides for the crowd to thin. But, it never does and so we move in feeding a rally that had been cancelled.
There are jubilant cheers, hoots and whistles as the rally moves forward. Some brandish the national flag while some carry the peace rally’s banner. YCL cadres and bystanders watch patiently as the rally makes way along Bir Hospital.
We divert from the rally near Ratna Park, where it funnels through a dual cordon created by Maoists protestors. Suddenly, people run and so do I, while still on the phone with Biju who had just called. A hasty goodbye and promise to call back later follows. On reaching a good distance from the cordon, I ask why we ran. None of us knew! Apparently, there was a scuffle.
The journey back is uneventful save a detachment of YCL cadres who cheer “Youth force kata cha, YCL yahan chan.” (Where is Youth Force, YCL is here) as they jog past us. Near Dilli Bazaar, a juice vendor recollects that YCL cadres had severely beaten up two people wearing whites and had just been rushed to the hospital.
It was definitely better than trying to watch the event unfold on TV at the mercy of NEA and my cable operator. I was also hoping my headcount would provide momentum to a movement that said we have had enough of the bantering, the political impasse and the indefinite strike. During the strike period, the two hour reprieve was definitely welcome and very becoming of the protestors. But the six day strike had taken a toll on the population and so people all over the country braved the the streets. The national dailies touted tens of thousands showed up. I am happy I was one of them.
Click on images to enlarge! All images © Shailendra Manandhar and are used with permission.
There are quite a few more images of the bandh and the peace rally available on Demotix.com and the die Nepal Bandh die group on Facebook.
Media coverage of the skirmishes between Peace rallyists and Maoist protestors.
- Nepali times, Thousands rally for peace
- Al Jazeera, Maoist strike sparks Nepal anger
- The Kathmandu Post, Maoists attack participants of peace rally
- Republica, Peace rally to go on despite Maoist threat
- Himal South Asian, Revolution and Peace
- The Kathmandu Post, Professionals, enterpreneurs organise peace rally