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Community ActionMarch 25, 2001
With so much written in the newspapers every day about the crisis in Nepal you might be wondering about the value of reading any more about it. So many articles have been published and yet nothing seems to change. Whilst the political and business elite fight amongst themselves for more power and wealth the nation remains among the poorest in the world. A few citizens can afford to live well but most are left in severe poverty with little hope of any change in the future.
But whatever the outcome of the current political power struggle, there are a number of practical measures each of you may take to improve your circumstances. In the West it is often said that 'God helps those who help themselves'. And although such philosophy may differ from some traditional eastern teachings, it has certainly helped to make Western society the most successful on Earth. The phrase means that each of us must provide the soil of endeavour so that destiny may plant the seed of fortune. We cannot expect our politicians or our Gods to give us a better life if we do not make the effort to achieve that aim ourselves. In short, we can only expect to rise from the ground of poverty by standing up and changing the way we live and think.
Perhaps the most important change that all of us can achieve is the end of petty corruption. Although we have no control over the huge backhand payments made to politicians by big business and foreign powers, we can certainly end bribery on a local level by simply refusing to pay it whatever the circumstances. Some politicians have said that a few hundred rupees paid to local officials or policemen is not dangerous to society. I disagree. The crime of corruption is the same whether the sum involved is a million dollars or one rupee and both the giver and the receiver are equally responsible for the evil that it brings into our society.
There is only one proper way to deal with corruption. If any official expects baksheesh from you to carry out his duties then you must make a written report of the event and deliver it direct to the chief of local police and your member of parliament. That official must be removed from his job and, if the authorities fail to act on your report within a month, then you are entirely justified in passing the papers to your local Maoist organisation for their investigation and action. Such measures will certainly encourage the authorities to act themselves and bring an end to petty corruption. If you simply bribe a few hundred rupees for a quiet life and some temporary advantage then you cannot complain of the massive corruption around you. For large scale corruption can only exist in a society where petty corruption is tolerated.
But there is more that you can do to improve your own lives. As a society of separate individuals and separate families we are far weaker against the power of the wealthy elite than a collectivised society where the citizens work with unity and co-ordination. I wrote before about the essential need for poorer nations to work together in the struggle for equality with West and I write today about the same need for local communities to work together in the struggle for economic survival.
Most of us belong to families with several tiny plots of agricultural land spread across the hills. We cannot sell them and buy other land closer to our homes because of the taxes and fees involved. But we can exchange the use of our land with others. We can make a proper agreement with our neighbour to use his land in exchange for the use of ours over a period of several years. That will save us all needless cost and travelling time between our plots. We can even join the use of our land with others to make up single larger farm with lower costs and increased production. We can share our tools, our experience and our manpower to reduce the work done by each and increase the income earned by all. We can even exchange our crops and our services for those of our neighbours and so reduce the profit earned by middlemen and the power of the business elite.
In the cities we can do much the same. Why pay a neighbour essential cash when you might barter your goods or services? If your water is polluted or your drains are blocked then find others with the same problem and act as a single body.
It is all a question of how closely we can work with each other. If we distrust our neighbour and fight with him over petty arguments, then we are bound to remain in hardship. If we cheat him and cause him to distrust us, then we are fighting ourselves and not the enemy. But if only we can accept that we are all crewmembers of the same ship and that its very survival depends upon our unity, then we may look towards a better future.
Plainly our ship is in peril and our officers are thinking only of their own survival. That is the basis of common unity among the poor across the world. From Brazil to Bangladesh everyone outside the elite faces the same problems of internal corruption and international exploitation. Without global unity the developing nations can never loosen the power of the richer nations and without national unity a poorer nation can never unite with others. As I wrote before, unless human society mirrors the 'molecular' structure of the universe it will always be at war with itself. And exactly the same is true in your own communities.
Whether your neighbour is Newari or Gurung, whether he is Nepali or Indian, Hindu or Muslim, man or woman, married or unmarried; if he is struggling to survive like yourself then you are fellow atoms in the same molecule. You are brothers in your suffering. And all brothers should help each other for that is the basis of every philosophy.
With my best wishes to you all,