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The process of change

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The need for radical social change in Nepal can no longer be ignored. That is the fundamental message of this civil war. That is the reason why so many people are dying every day across the nation. Over the past twelve years we have adopted modern democracy and now our society must develop to match this political revolution. Like a river flowing relentlessly towards the sea, change is an inevitable process that we are powerless to prevent. It is the necessary release of social pressure that every nation needs to remain stable. And, because we are living at a time of great global change, Nepal faces imminent transformation like any other nation. The next generation will therefore witness a tremendous social revolution and the process has already started.

Women today enjoy far greater rights and freedoms than their mothers ever had. Daughters are given less pressure to marry against their wishes. Our children are receiving more education and satellite television is making more citizens aware of the outside world. But there are still many other social changes necessary for stability in Nepal. The immense divisions between different castes must be lessened for a balanced community. Women must be given full equality in law. The nation must adopt a bill of human rights that affords every citizen the same freedoms that exist in Europe. And the tradition of nepotism that allows individuals to use their family wealth rather than personal talent to gain public office must also be terminated.

Although we need to face many changes over the coming years, one particular change in our outlook might accelerate all the evolution necessary in our society. For thousands of years Hindu culture has been built upon the association of wisdom with age. Older people are respected because we assume they have acquired more knowledge and experience than their younger colleagues and neighbours. It is a central philosophy of many Asian countries and for centuries it has benefited the region. We cannot imagine a President or a Prime Minister who is not a grey and faded. And we find it difficult to accept the authority of a younger man however qualified he might be.

But this philosophy has become outdated and is no longer true in modern society. Wisdom does not automatically come with age, and neither does experience. Perhaps such ideas were relevant in the past when change was slow and life did not alter with every generation. But the sheer pace of technological change today makes it extremely difficult for older people to keep up with the pulse of society around them. Our energy to learn new ideas and techniques naturally lessens as we grow older and the younger generation can acquire more relevant experience in many important fields such as computer science, economics and even general business. In today's world we simply cannot rely upon the older generation to always know what is best and make the right decisions. And so we must change our attitudes about age.

Our political administration is almost entirely dominated by people who developed their ideology before the onset of democracy. Elderly men whose own education took place in a totally bygone age control our universities. The oldest members of our families are invariably the most influential and the power of religious elders remains considerable. In short Nepal is almost entirely controlled by a group of men whose average age must be over 70.

This situation is bound to create serious problems for our society. Older people are naturally resistant to change. They will invariably favour the status quo in any dispute about future direction. Indeed our traditional reverence for age may well be responsible for the extraordinarily slow pace of development across the whole of South Asia. It is possible that millions of people across the sub continent are starving today simply because we maintain an ancient system that always favours control by the elderly and is therefore always resistant to change.

It is because our system never changes that younger people are now rebelling against the traditions and values of their elders. And it is not only amongst the young cadres of the Maoist army that this revolt is developing. The modern ranks of students and young businessmen in Kathmandu also have a very different social outlook than their fathers and predecessors. Satellite television has dramatically reduced traditional Hindu social influence on them and they have been quick to adopt Western customs and living styles. Under their influence many parts of our capital city are gradually becoming transformed into Western style communities. Western products have become extremely popular and the whole flavour of Kathmandu is changing.

The main danger of a rigid society is therefore the likelihood of an unstructured abreaction against it. If the Government accepts the need and principle of radical social change, the pace of it may be controlled and measures may be introduced to satisfy the popular demand for it. But if an administration appears resistant to any change, those social forces will become revolutionary and the direct cause of further instability. This is effectively what is happening in Nepal. The Government appears to be rigidly against the prospect of any serious social and political change. It apparently supports a Constitution that was put together by a group of ancient leaders who had very little idea of modern political reality. And any demand for Constitutional reform is almost considered to be treason.

Such political rigidity is a major cause of our social divisions and even the civil war itself. It is the reason why Nepal cannot make economic or social progress. We need more young people of vision to help lead and administer the nation. Ordinary citizens must be given a greater say in their local affairs and women must be given assistance to enter politics. You can help these changes take place. You can encourage and assist young political candidates. You can support those political parties that field younger candidates. And above all you can vote for them. Remember that change is inevitable. It is the like the passage of water to the sea. It is only a matter of time.

With my best wishes to you all,