Only the perpetrators of the horrendous TIA rape and robbery are perhaps not enraged with the ugly abuse of powers against a young returnee immigrant who owned forged travel documents, the news of which transpired into peak tolerance for many. Similar cases could have happened before and there are definitely many untold, unreported and unfiled cases of violence against women (VAW) in Nepal. Given the context, how do voters across the divided society unite and fight for law, order and justice without having to take shelter under donors, I/NGOs and political parties, non-profits or even religious outfits?
This piece doesn’t intend to show a roadmap to the question just asked and nor exerts the resignation of authorities on moral grounds because in a moral society, resignation would’ve come voluntarily.
But isn’t our political climate too obvious? What follows is strictly a close observation of what was initially a drop-in petition to the Caretaker Prime Minister (CPM) to take immediate action against the accused of the TIA rape case and how it evolved to the yet evolving ‘organic and leaderless’ movement that is now OccupyBaluwatar.
It all started with The Kathmandu Post report on the #TIA rape that created a ripple in social media, especially Twitter. Outrage, as much as it could fit in 140 characters, were tweeted and retweeted. Back and forth, the tweets eventually settled into silence with tweets questioning the tiny corridor of social media conversation and ‘clicktivism.’ There was silence among the ‘keyboard warriors.’ The owl-hours tweet then dropped with the mercury as the cold winter night seeped in. By then, #TIArape, a Twitter tag
As Kathmandu woke up to yet another day of bitter realities, the #TIArape outrage had transformed into a string of Gmail conversations calling for what could be done. A letter petitioning the CPM to take immediate action against the TIA rape accused had been drafted. It had then been posted online and via social media, called anyone for support. People were asked to download the letter, sign it and mail it electronically to the CPM’s official e-mail address or show-up in Baluwatar to drop it off physically. People were also asked to call Hello Sarkar, the CPM’s hotline number, for complaints and suggestions.
At the same time, a tweet had flooded the timeline informing about an NGO-led Singha Durbar sit-in protest the next day. The drafters of the original letter decided to attend the protest in solidarity with the #VAW cause. By then, the #TIArape outrage had gradually transformed into an online wave of call for action through a drop-in petition at Baluwatar the next morning.
As a group of young people showed up in front of the CPM’s quarters with placards and the letter in hand, they were greeted by a scene in which the CPM motorcade zoomed off for the airport using an alternative gate. By then, the Singha Durbar sit-in protestors of the previous day had joined in too. There was minor hustling and pushing by the police and citing ‘restricted zone,’ the police eventually managed to move the two different groups to an area opposite Nepal Rastra Bank. By this time, however, about 100 letters had also been submitted to the CPM’s staff.
On the spur of the moment then, the group of young petitioners and the Singha Durbar sit-in protestors mutually agreed for a Baluwatar sit-in protest. There and then! A tweet informing about the protest then surfaced on Twitter and the tag #OccupyBaluwatar was born, which flooded the social media timeline to an extent that it attracted major media attention and support from people from mixed backgrounds and associations. By midday, families and friends of a disappearance case had also joined the protest. The day climaxed with a set of demands drafted on the streets and submitted to the CPM.
The press and the electronic media have meticulously reported on #OccupyBaluwatar and #TIArape since then, and the ‘nonviolent’ sit-in protest saw major solidarity for the demands to take action and ensure justice for #TIArape victim from general citizens, star athletes, senior editors and journalists, famous cartoonists and writers, local stars, rights activists and so on. As the sit-in protest ‘organically’ grew in strength and in headcount, the CPM probably felt the pressure to address the issue. He publicly apologized on the state radio and television in his monthly call-in show and publicly committed himself to the cause and promised speedy investigations and stern actions and introduced new directives.
A fast track probe committee comprising senior government representatives, leading advocates and rights activists has been formed and put to work since then. There have been some positive developments, like the arrests of the murder accused of a controversial ‘suicide’ case and the corruption charges against senior TIA officials which were followed by their suspension.
But much needs to be done in a manner that is fair and at a pace that respects the sentiments of #OccupyBaluwatar which at its core presses for law, order and justice. As this is filed, the cabinet meeting has been postponed twice and the nonviolent unrest is seeing growing participation from mixed groups – donors, I/NGOs, political parties, non-profits and even religious outfits.
Volunteers and self-professed messiahs, rights activists and more young people have stepped up since #OccupyBaluwatar witnessed its biggest display of strength earlier this week. A theater group showed up and performed an impromptu theater on the street for the cause. Cartoonists sketched cartoons and a group of young artists mimicked the crime scene investigation on the street by sketching layers of outlined bodies. A group of volunteer designers and programmers has even been discussing and developing a wireframe for a blog to track the issue. Another set of volunteers has even started documenting the case. These volunteers who come from mixed backgrounds have been hosting meetings and they have already had two briefings from the fast track probe committee.
But there are also issues in the ‘organic’ movement, and the discussions are now swinging from whether this should be a nonviolent movement to chanting of slogans asking the CPM to step down. Volunteers are already requesting angered individuals to refrain from the idea of blockades and political sloganeering, which has resulted in minor verbal exchanges. And the ripple effect of #OccupyBaluwater is now growing.
There have been rallies and protests by various groups in other parts of Kathmandu, one of which turned violent and injured some. Republica reported that some 29 groups are currently championing the cause. A taxi bearing saffron flags was also parading the town blaring messages in solidarity with the cause. Criticisms that fashionable youth sporting tight jeans and converse and slinging gadgets are surfacing yet once again while the sit-in protest has also been labeled ‘dollar khetipati’ and that its volunteers are trying to hijack the ‘organic’ movement. Some even ridiculed the Twitter handle and Facebook page setup by #OccupyBaluwatar volunteers, and as this piece is filed, the #VAW cause has even ignited a discussion on religious values in social media.
Surely, #OccupyBaluwatar has ‘sparked nerves’ in Kathmandu. But will it click? Will the new stakeholders, actors and opportunists who are now taking charge deliver? Will the new faces of the ‘organic’ movement make sure that the government takes strong measures to commit to its words, takes actions and ensures justice?
The writer is former editor of The Week and supports the demand of justice championed by #OccupyBaluwatar. Follow on Twitter @arpan_shrestha.