With the exception of Mt. Everest, Nepal has very little that the mainstream media finds newsworthy. You cannot really blame the Western media though; this small land-locked country of South Asia does not get much coverage in regional Asian press either. Naturally, anything that is hidden from the eye tends to acquire a sense of enigma over a period of time, and the Nepalese nation has done just that.
Enigmatic or not, such seclusion comes at a price; most of the time, progress tends to slow down, and in this article, I shall attempt to analyze the state of Nepal and its current situation.
But before that, let me ask you: think of Nepal, and what comes to your mind first? Alright, probably Mt. Everest again! And? A small-ish country that has somehow managed to defy most of the colonial powers in the past? Apparently, this very small country, in spite of its brave history, seems to be heading towards a rather downward spiral.
So, what exactly is happening in Nepal?
Multiple things, to be honest. But since we live in a world that defines and assesses your worth on the basis of your wallet, I will begin with the economy.
The Nepalese economy has the potential to see its own share of high tides. However, one does not simply emerge as an economic power, especially when one is surrounded by ever evolving economies both in the north and south. Truth is, anything that Nepal seems to do in terms of economics, India and China have managed to do better.
In fact, the stagnant economy was one of the key aspects of the manifesto of the revolution that toppled the monarchy in Nepal and transformed the erstwhile Himalayan Kingdom into a Republic. Yet, the conditions have not changed. Or at least they have not changed for the better, sadly.
The primary flaw of the Nepalese economy has been the rampant corruption, which has crippled the entire homespun economic model. There can be multiple reasons for this: lack of capitalist and privatization model, excessive state interference in the growth model, little foreign trade, untapped natural resources, and so on. But at the end of the day, if you are seeking reasons for the major reasons behind the dismal state of Nepalese economy, you do not need to look so far.
Truth is, the monarchy has been replaced by a government that is not, by any means, stable. Political instability is the mother of economic fluctuation. Add to it the fact that a land-locked country in a mountainous region does not have the best opportunities in terms of infrastructure, and you have all the recipes for economic disasters. In spite of it all, the Nepalese economy has proven to be resilient enough; even during the last days of the monarchy, Nepal managed to retain the homespun characteristic of its economies.
Also, if anything, Nepalese economy is marred more by the disparity in income and poverty, as well as cultural issues.
Speaking of cultural issues, this brings me to my next point.
Culture and Society
In many parts of Nepal, menstruating women are not allowed to enter their own houses—orthodox Hinduism and regional beliefs consider menstruating women to be “impure”, and as such, they are required to spend the days outside their own house, eat from separate utensils, and so on. In rural and remote parts, women are often forced to sleep in the open, and there have been many cases of rape and abduction. (For more, read this.)
With a decent growth in population and education, Nepal is going through a transitionary phase. Yet, religious dogmas and godmen dominate the society even to this day. And by domination, I do not mean the Indian or Pakistani model, where the major cities have managed to develop a rational line of thought, and the dogmatic lifestyle is best witnessed in rural or semi-urban areas. In Nepal, even the capital city of Kathmandu is predominantly orthodox and often superstitious.
For a good number of years, Nepal was the world’s only Hindu kingdom. After the elimination of monarchy, a series of laws have been passed to uplift the status of women and the outcasts, especially during and after the year 2005. Doesn’t help; you do not outlaw centuries-old traditions within weeks, do you?
This is where Nepal seems to be staggering: with rapid modernization and urbanization becoming the norm all around the world, the Nepalese society is finding it extremely difficult to cope with the changing trends. The outcome is anyone’s guess: crime rate rises, poverty increases, gender disparity deepens, and discontentment sets in.
Politics and Diplomacy
Nepal is situated between two big regional powers, China and India (talk about strategic location, eh?). For many years, Nepal and India have acted as each other’s de facto allies, including treaties that allowed citizens of one country to travel to another sans a visa. As a matter of fact, back in the day, Hindu right-wingers in India always loved Nepal for being the world’s only Hindu kingdom.
However, after the elimination of the Nepalese monarch, things have started to change. Today, Nepal seems to be trying to balance its position vis-a-vis India and China. The current regime has visible left-wing tendencies, and it receives its share of sympathy and affection from China. Naturally, India does not like the Chinese advances towards its age-old friend. Add to this the fact that on the world map, Nepal is situated right below where Tibet used to be (and while we are at it, also slightly near to the Kashmir region), and I hate to sound so pessimistic, but you have another historical contentious issue in the making between India and China.
Plus, the current regime in Nepal has its own internal challenges to face. Hardline Communists have denounced the current leadership, by citing deviance from ideology as a reason. Establishing secularism in a country that has not really seen religious tolerance, fighting corruption, keeping the monarchy loyalists at bay (and executing them whenever the need arises, or mood be), improving the infrastructure, balancing judiciary, legislature and military powers—enough tasks for a lifetime!
Nepal currently ranks fourth on the list of countries (as per UN climate research statistics) that are vulnerable due to climate change. Sadly, the majority of the Nepalese people do not understand or grasp this fact; as a result, environment-damaging practices continue unaffected and unhindered.
But every cloud has a silver lining. Amidst all this, the efforts of the government to eliminate economic and religious problems may have been thwarted as of now, but a proper political setup has, at least, ensured that Nepal as a country realizes bigger issues such as climate change and the need for regional peace and prosperity.
Thus far, Nepal has done a good task of balancing its relations with India and China, and also made significant advances in terms of electricity management. The road so far has not been a joy ride for Nepal, and it looks even more disturbing in the next few decades. The outcome remains to be seen.