While tensions between India and Nepal are at an all-time high due to a dramatic diplomatic turnaround over the last couple of months, the Indian youth may have a thing or two to learn from our neighbours.
Frustrated with the Nepal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, poor medical facilities, lack of transparency of funds and overall mismanagement by the government, many among the youth have been taking to social media and ground-level agitations to register their protest. This has not been the case in India.
While maintaining physical distance, people in Kathmandu are out on the streets to peacefully protest and ask Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli questions in creative ways: from sit-ins to sleeping on the footpath, colouring themselves red, enacting street plays and reading books, many forms of protest have been employed.
Since June 26, ई (iih), a youth activist, along with his friends Subani and Sudan Gurung, has been on an indefinite hunger strike at the historic Patan Durbar Square in Nepal, asking for “a better COVID-19 response from the government”. As part of the protest, the activist has invited everyone to silently read books with him.
On the very first day, Iih was joined by a lot of people who sat around him to read in silence. By evening, he and his friends were arrested and detained by the police, but they were released the next day because of public pressure. Firm in their resolve, they went back to the site to continue the hunger strike.
As of now, Subani and Sudan are in the hospital and continue their strike from there. Iih, on the other hand, is still at the protest site, entering day seven of his hunger strike. In solidarity, a lot of people have also started practicing limited-time hunger strikes at their own localities.
Iih, who has dropped both his name and surname in his quest to find his own identity, is one of the main forces behind the protests. Having a large social media following, he uses it to spread important messages and motivate people to come out on the streets against injustice.
At the same time, he also gives space to others to take the lead if they want.
“We’re all leaders. Step forward before it’s too late to intervene. Please take the lead,” he says in one of his public posts.
He was in the news in 2016 when he was arrested for throwing red paint on the white walls of a government building, which he did in response to the injustices meted out to the Madhesis, a minority community in Nepal.
When he was released, he threw red paint on the prime minister’s residence as well.
When I met him for the first time in 2016 at a friend’s wedding reception in Dhulikhel, Nepal, he was sitting in a corner reading War and Peace while everyone was celebrating. I invited him to our base house in Patan for a chai and thereafter the place became a hub for him to crash on the couch occasionally and bring in friends he met on the street for tea.
The regular meet-ups, however, happened only till the time our earthquake reconstruction project was on and then we came back to India. At the time, he was preparing for his big walk across Nepal, and crowdsourcing funds to buy himself a phone to take photos and to survive his minimalistic journey across the country.
Since then, he has walked 4.5 times across Nepal, from its vast plains to the mighty Himalayas, all in rubber flip flops, a traditional Nepali dress, and a shawl. Last year, he spent most of his time just reading books in cafes and public places in Kathmandu.
Last time we talked in person, he told me how he wanted to walk in other countries like India, Bangladesh and Australia. However, the cases against him can hamper his chances of getting a visa.
Even though it is his dream to walk untrodden roads around the world, he has decided to take on the government over its poor handling of the pandemic – thinning his chances to fulfil his dream.
Meanwhile, the movement is slowly spreading across the country.
Nipun Prabhakar is an independent photographer and architect based in Kutch and Delhi. He works on long term photo-documentary projects. Besides that, he designs, researches and documents the intersections of built environments and communities. He was the Cornell South Asian Fellow 2019 for his project on the doors of Kathmandu.
Featured image credit: Arya Mainali