Why Stars Fall (A Short Story for Children)

>> Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ajay Pradhan | July 29, 2015
Kori, the six-year-old first-grader, looked up into the sky from her bedroom window at night. She was mesmerized by the stars.
She wondered why some stars twinkled more than others. She wondered when she grew up and became taller if she could reach out to some and touch them with her hands. She wondered if she could pick the bright ones she particularly liked and put them on her bedside table. She wondered what it would be like to turn off the lights in her room and use the starlight to read the picture book that her Mommy bought for her today. She loved books. She loved stars. Maybe she could pin a nice one on her curly dark hair.
She had heard that some stars fall and she wondered why. She wondered what would happen to the fallen stars or where they would go. She didn’t like that some stars fall. She liked them all up in the sky, so that she could look at them at night and maybe someday pick some and keep for herself in her room. But she also took delight in the hope that maybe one of them would fall at her backyard so she could go and get it.
“Kori, sweetheart, you’re supposed to be in bed,” Mom, who had just peeked in from the door, said.
Kori turned her head to her Mom and then back at the stars in the sky. The sky looked so beautiful with those stars.
“Mommy,” Kori asked, “Why do stars fall?”
Mom said, “They don’t fall. They come down from the sky to visit their loved ones on the earth.”
Kori kept looking at the sky and said, “I get it. The sky is the heaven.”
“Yes, it is, darling,” Mom said.
Kori said, “The stars must be the people who leave the earth to go to heaven.”
“You are right, honey,” Mom said.
“You see the brightest one up there?” said Kori, almost in whispers, “I hope that one comes down from the heaven to see me. That must be daddy.”


Constitution is Not for Glorifying Killing and Bloodletting

>> Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ajay Pradhan | July 18, 2015

The Preamble of the preliminary draft Constitution of Nepal glorifies armed struggle. The Preamble apparently refers to the 10-year armed struggle from 1996 to 2006 between the government forces and the Maoist rebels. That armed struggle resulted in the killing of 15,000 Nepalis, many of them civilian non-combatants. Many citizens disappeared, are still unaccounted for, and are believed to be dead. There are cases of victims who were burned or buried alive and many were hacked to death. Victims’ surviving families are still living a life haunted by horror and terror. They are still grappling with the loss and trying to find some sense in the horrid outcome that some call collateral damage of the armed struggle.

And the Preamble of the draft Constitution unabashedly calls that horror and terror-filled armed struggle and in many cases barbaric killing and bloodletting a part of Nepal’s glorious history. Really? Glorious for whom? For the victims? For their families? The perpetrators should face the widows and mothers and children of the teachers, the farmers, the innocent citizens who were burned or buried alive, and ask them if they thought the armed struggle was glorious.

The glorification of armed struggle and the bloodletting is senseless and insensitive. We Nepalis accept it as part of our history, yes. But there is no need to glorify it. Those who are smitten with violence could wake up at night and gloat over it, if they wish. But, they should let the rest move forward, not drag them to the past. History is an important lesson. But history is not the pathway to the future; you must be courageous enough to chart the future course on the ideals on which to found your future.

If you tell me if armed struggle is not mentioned in the Constitution, then the Constitution is not worth the paper it is written on, I have an answer for you: You want to glorify the armed struggle and the killing and spilling of the blood? Go ahead and write a book to do that. Fill every single page with gory details. Go right ahead and gloat over the bloodletting, puff-up your chest.

But leave the Constitution alone, and with it let the rest of the people move ahead. Do not sully the Constitution with glorification of violence. Violence was part of the history, but must not be the foundation of the country’s future. The Constitution is about the country’s future and its preamble is about the founding principles for that future. The preamble of a Constitution is to declare the principles and values we resolve to found the country on. It is not a place to gloat over and glorify killing.

Learn from other countries. America’s founding fathers wrote their Constitution in 1789, within five years after the end of the American Revolutionary War against Britain in 1783 for America’s independence. More than 25,000 Americans lost their lives and about as many Americans were seriously wounded in that war, which had gone on for eight years from 1775 to 1783.

You know what the founding fathers did? They had the good heart, good wisdom, and, above all, good vision to not dwell on the past, not to harp about the grievances against Britain or military agents of the colonial rulers, not to expect anything from the colonial masters who ruled them for all their history. The founding fathers mentioned nothing in the Constitution, not one single word, about the war that brought them independence. They left all that for history books. Why did America’s founding fathers not glorify the war in the Constitution, that set them free from Britain? Why do you think? If you are too entrenched in the idea of glorifying wars, I doubt you’ll ever know; unless you’re told.

So, listen up: Because a Constitution is not about the past, it is about the future and it is about the values and ideals on which to found the new nation.

Instead of glorifying war and armed struggle that ended merely five years before, they chose to not give any space to the war but chose, instead, to focus on insuring domestic tranquility as a founding principle of America.

They did not mention war not because they forgot it; they did it because they wanted to found the country on the ideal of peace.

Instead of dwelling on the historical injustices, they chose to found the country on the ideals of establishing justice and general welfare.

Instead of expressing grievances of the colonial rule that denied true representation of the Americans in the colonial government, they chose to resolve to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and for posterity.

And they, the people of the United States, wrote the Constitution for themselves, they charted their own destiny. The rich Americans didn’t write it for the poor, nor the powerful for the oppressed, not the elites for the marginalized, nor men for women. No such distinction was needed to write the Constitution; they were all equal. Unlike Nepal’s draft Constitution which gives every hint that it is written by elites and the powerful to bestow on the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and, to borrow the words from the draft Constitution, the "helpless single women", America’s Constitution was written by the people for the people, each equal to every other, of the United States of America.

No wonder they were able to write a preamble that, with merely 52 words, is so succinct yet so vast, so accommodating, so visionary, so enduring, so forward-looking, and so full of hope for the future to create a more perfect Union that they didn’t have to split the hairs nor write with nuances, nor meaningless details.

With great brevity, instead of dwelling on the historical grievances, recounting all the historical wrongs, they chose to look forward and found the country on the ideals of liberty, justice and peace.

A Constitution is not a history book. It’s the soul of the future, yes, the future, of a new nation. If we want a new Nepal, we have to look to the future and lay our Constitutional foundation for that future with great courage and great vision. If we only want to dwell on the past, we might as well simply be writing history books.

This task of writing Constitution is not for those with small heart, smaller mind, and short vision. This is only for those with great courage, great mind and great vision.



>> Monday, July 13, 2015

A. S. Pradhan | July 13, 2015

The SkyTrain is
less of a transit mode
than a miniature world,
full of surprises. The daily
commute opens up a new
vista; rarely do I see
the same face. This
pretty woman, a stranger,
seated across the aisle,
keeps staring at me
through her 
stylish sunglasses,
with a disarming smile,
her face bright and smooth
as porcelain,
like a white rose 
in a thorny bush.
Feeling awkward, but
being the polite man that I am,
I smile back,
looking right into her eyes.
When the train approaches
the next stop, she gets up
from her seat,
still staring at me
with charming smile.
Wondering if we have
met before, if I know
her from somewhere,
I get up, too, without
realizing why I even got up.
She then gathers her bag
and, to my surprise, 
unfolds a cane.
Then I realize why she
is staring at me as I see
her guide dog, ready
to lead her out
safely into the world.
I sit back, feeling
blindingly stupid.


Nepali People Cannot Expect to Have A New Nepal and Leave Women Behind

>> Friday, July 3, 2015

Ajay Pradhan | July 3, 2015
In ancient Nepal and India, widows in some communities and princely aristocracies committed suicide by fire on the funeral pyre of dead husband, all before the approving eyes of the authoritative patriarchs and their docile women in the family, community and society. Widows who did not want to commit suicide were forced into it. Often, the wailing and petrified widows were dragged to the pyre, to be burned alive. Society determined that after the death of husbands, women had nothing to live for.
We’ve come a long way from there. In today’s liberal society, the mere mention of this odious, repulsive and abominable practice, called Sati, wrenches our gut and makes us cringe with revulsion. We cannot comprehend the true psychological impact of this practice on the society at large and women in particular.
Social practices die hard and slow on their own, unless a larger-than-life personality convinces the impressionable citizens of the society to discontinue them. Or, unless the State decrees an end to such practices through enactment of law.
Thankfully the repugnant practice has now long been consigned to the deep trenches of history, both because of gradual social change and the State’s proactive intervention through codified decrees.
This was an extreme form of socially-entrenched and socially-sanctioned deep-seated prejudice against women in a patriarchal society.
Things have gotten better. But not all better.
Still today, women are subjected to state-sanctioned discrimination of a different variety. How else can you explain the discriminatory citizenship codes in Part 2 of the Preliminary Draft Constitution of Nepal tabled in the Constituent Assembly on June 29, 2015? Despite the fact that the Draft Constitution has codified equal rights for men and women, the draft contains unequal citizenship codes for men and women, which clearly do not align with the equal rights code guaranteed by Part 3 of the Constitution. For details of the unequal citizenship rights coded in the Draft Constitution, read my separate commentary here.
Has Nepal really moved much ahead from the patriarchal society that existed in the times of Sati? The nature of discrimination may have changed, but the prejudice still remains. Men still call the shots. The Constitution drafted by chauvinistic men still see women as a lesser human being. Small wonder why female feticide still occurs in the society. Misogynistic policies compel girl child to grow up wondering why she was not born a boy, instead.
The discrepancy in the application of citizenship laws on men and women has raised the gender perspective at international forums.
The June 2003 issue of the Women2000 and Beyond, a report series published by the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women (UN DAW, 2003), added a much needed focus on women, nationality and citizenship. The series is published to promote the goals of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action for gender equality and the empowerment of women. (You can download a copy here http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/jun03e.pdf).
“Where parents have different nationalities, laws can bestow the nationality of the father upon a child, but deny the child her mother’s nationality,” the report states (UN DAW, 2003: 2). This is exactly what the Draft Constitution is about to do in Nepal.
To be fair, Nepal is not alone in this regard. The UN report states, “Although the laws of most States now entitle a woman to maintain her independent nationality upon marriage, many States retain laws that discriminate between women and men with respect to the nationality of their children, particularly in the area of acquisition of nationality by descent. Most legal regimes that provide for nationality by descent accord the nationality of the father on his children, irrespective of the nationality of his spouse. It is less usual for such regimes to devolve the nationality of a woman married to a foreigner on her children automatically. In many States, nationality through descent from the mother is conferred only where she is unmarried or the father is unknown or stateless” (UN DAW, 2003: 8). Which country do you think is about to do this? You guessed it: Nepal.
Can Nepali women expect to be accorded equal justice? Can they expect to live in dignity as equal partners to men? Can a wife have equal status in society as a husband? Can a girl child grow up, with equal protection and justice guaranteed by the Constitution?
As the cliché goes, where there is a will there is a way.
The UN DAW report (2003) lays out the “scenarios in which inequality in the bestowal and retention of nationality causes particular hardships for spouses of different nationalities. International human rights standards to redress these inequalities exist within the human rights treaties, article 9 in particular of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979 (CEDAW, 1979). Judicial decisions indicate how these standards can be used to challenge existing inequalities between men and women. However, there are many obstacles to the effective implementation of human rights standards” (UN DAW, 2003:19).
While international law recognizes the sovereign States’ discretionary power to enact laws and devise public policies with respect to conferral of citizenship upon individuals, the UN has made recommendations for actions at both international and nation levels (UNDAW, 2003: 19). At the national level, the UN recommends “legal and administrative reforms” in domestic law to ensure international standards that are based on the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979). So, in Nepal, which is on the cusp of getting a new Constitution, if we don't do that now, then when will we do it?
Nepal has to decide whether to stand on the right side of history and global community or on the wrong side. There is a choice to make. Does Nepal want to stand with the small community of discriminating States or with the larger global community that has fair citizenship laws based on gender equality?
The time to make that choice is now, when the Constitution-writing process is in the last lap. If not corrected now, it will be much harder later.
Nepali people cannot expect to have a New Nepal and leave women behind.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979 (CEDAW, 1979): http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvention.htm
The Women2000 and Beyond, June 2003, a report series published by the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women (UN DAW, 2003): http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/jun03e.pdf


Preliminary Draft Constitution Not Fair on Women and the Socially Marginalized - Part 2

>> Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ajay Pradhan | July 2, 2015
After I wrote my first opinion piece on the draft Constitution on June 30, I read the Constitution some more. Here are some additional observations. The Constitution is long (a total of 128 pages) and in Nepali. So, I’m focusing on the Preamble, Citizenship and Rights and Duties. I do intend to read the rest and post additional comments.
The Preamble cites armed struggle (sashastra sangharsha) as being part of Nepal’s glorious history. Really? 15,000 people dead, many of whom still unaccounted for, in Maoist insurgency and that’s glorious?
The Preamble commits to end untouchability (chhuwa.chhut). This is good, of course. But, the Preamble qualifies untouchability with a series of adjectives: class (vargiya), caste/ethnic (jaatiya), regional (chhetriya), linguistic (bhashik), religious (dhaarmik), gender (laingik), and all kinds of caste/ethnic untouchability. Very odd composition. Fluffy. And, likely untrue.

Untouchability is an abhorrent practice that has been unjustly applied on the basis of caste and ethnicity, but not on the basis of class, region, language, religion and gender. Untouchability and ethnic discrimination, exclusion, seclusion and marginalization is a big and an important social challenge for the nation and the country must put a sharp focus on this scourge like a laser beam. The current language of the Preamble waters this down. Clarity is needed. Each word must count. Constitution is not an instrument to use flowery language.
The Preamble declares establishing the foundation of socialism as a commitment. Socialism in and of itself is not, cannot be, should not be the goal. It can be a means to create a just society, but it cannot be an end in itself. Everybody should have the right to a just society, but they need not have a right to socialism. Socialism is only social-economic method that may work at a particular time in history. But its utility can change over time and the society may have to bring in a different system. Constitution needs to be visionary, not short sighted, which is what the current draft is. This is also repeated in Article 4 under Part 1.
Part 2: Citizenship
Part 2 is devoted to citizenship. As I identified in my previous opinion piece, the provisions in Part 2 are misogynistic and patriarchal. Those provisions must be corrected and gender-based discrimination and prejudice must be eliminated. If not corrected, the Part 2 citizenship provisions will directly contravene with the fundamental rights enshrined in Part 3. (For more details on how Part 2 citizenship provisions discriminate against women, read my other commentary on Citizenship here).
Part 3: Rights and Duties
Part 3 devotes on fundamental rights and duties. Article 23 under Part 3 provides for equal rights. Sub-article 1 of this article clearly states that all citizens will be equal before the law and no one will be deprived of equal protection and benefits flowing from the law. Sub-article 2 states that in the application of normal or regular (samanya) law, there shall be no discrimination based on, among others, gender. (It is not clear what is meant by normal or regular law and how it is distinguished from other types of laws.)
Despite this declaration of equal justice under law, Part 2 provisions on citizenship blatantly discriminates against women. The message of Part 2 citizenship provisions is basically this: In Nepal, it is better to be born a baby boy than a baby girl.
Every living, thinking, and breathing man and woman must oppose the misogynistic citizenship provisions under Part 2.
Sub-article 3 under Article 23 provides for equal rights for, among others, all castes and ethnicities. But, its “notwithstanding” clause provides for special privileges for social groups left behind socially and culturally. Oddly, enough, this provision includes the social grouping in Nepal that has been at the forefront of power structure politically, socially, culturally, linguistically, and in government administration—Khas Aarya, which includes Bahuns and Chhetris. Inclusion of this perpetually privileged group in the same category as the truly oppressed and marginalized defies logic.
This privileged group should not be lumped together with the truly marginalized and underprivileged social groups. Let me just give you one example. Let’s see who have been Nepal’s prime ministers since the fall of Rana Dynasty in 1951 (2007): Matrika Prasad Koirala, Tanka Prasad Acharya, K.I. Singh, Subarna Shumsher Rana, B.P. Koirala, Tulsi Giri, Surya Bahadur Thapa, Kirti Nidhi Bista, Nagendra Prasad Rijal, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, Marich Man Singh Shrestha, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Girija Prasad Koirala, Man Mohan Adhikari, Sher Bahadur Deuba, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Babu Ram Bhattarai, Khil Raj Regmi, and Sushil Koirala. Many of them became prime minister multiple times.

Tell me how many of them were or are non-Khas-Aarya?

One. Yes, just one.

All the rest, Khas-Aarya. Out of 21 prime ministers (just based on head count, not based on the multiple, non-consecutive tenures), all but one were Khas-Aarya. (Two, if you also count Giri.)

So, no need to treat this Khas-Aarya group as underprivileged. No affirmative action for the privileged.

Focus should be put where focus is due: the truly marginalized, the truly dispossessed, the truly underprivileged, the truly oppressed. Unless that is done, the Constitution will only be providing lip service to them.

(More coming)


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