On witnessing power-games during the crisis
The first positive case of coronavirus (COVID-19) was officially found on 13th January 2020 in Kathmandu, Nepal. Before the identification of the case, Nepal was neither prepared enough to handle the pandemic crisis, nor did the government even consider it seriously. When the second case was diagnosed on March 17, 2020, the government haphazardly initiated implementing necessary measures to control the COVID-19 spread.
Although forecasting the full severity of this pandemic would have been difficult at best in this given context, I feel the Government of Nepal and its mechanisms were unable to gain the trust of its citizens to a large extent due to the latters’ unassertive, delayed and unprepared actions. For instance, while addressing the federal parliament after a few months of the spread, the Prime Minister, head of government, still did not take seriously the possible effects of the crisis. He, in fact, undermined the role of scientific facts, which was against the emotions of the common people at the time. As a result, it was observed that the emergency service delivery was not able to fulfill the contingency plans, even though the citizens could understand the limitations of a government of an underdeveloped country like Nepal.
Subsequently, I felt that people gradually started to raise their voices voluntarily against the governments’ initiatives, inefficient service delivery mechanisms, inappropriate coordination, politicization in community relief distribution, and demotivated bureaucracy. Amidst the crisis, rampant corruption cases were reported regularly in newspapers and social media regarding emergency materials’ procurements at both central and local levels but neither formal investigations were made nor were any allegations raised against the culprits. Ad-hoc mechanisms were formulated bypassing the existing government systems to tackle the pandemic crisis that proved ineffective. I found no alignment between the words and actions of government representatives.
Despite these shortfalls, I saw that citizens fully supported the governmental plans i.e. lockdown. But they had fewer chances to realize the best preparations for the worst situation – instead they observed the intra-party political tussles within the ruling party during the crisis. Despite this, the security forces and health-workers performed their respective duties in professional ways amidst the political chaos even with very limited resources and health safety measures. I felt proud seeing their commitment to serving people in the crisis while forgetting their personal and family priorities and limitations. This is a key cultural trait of the Nepali community that follows the ethics of Sanatan Dharma (religion).
Despite the government’s very limited performance, I observed a few hopes from self-help initiatives (both at individual and group levels) who acted determinedly to bring happiness to the faces of small groups of people during these difficult times, compassionately, in different parts of the country. To give some examples, some local government units from Udaypur, Rupandehi, and Parsa districts – once known as highly affected areas – brought increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases under control with community-based, coordinated and companionate actions. I feel these initiatives worked to save the lives of many people. Likewise, self-help individuals, groups, and organizations managed to supply free-food services and water to needy and helpless people in open-spaces and highways, keeping their lives from risk in Kathmandu and other parts of the country. During the crisis, receiving food with love and care once again showed the value of humanity in communities. Likewise, some groups supported managing and distributing health-safety materials and equipment management services in the hospitals that supported the health workers’ vital professional work. Some people also provided free vehicle services to needy people during the crisis especially to the COVID-19 patients as an emergency response – as ambulance services were severely limited. These initiatives can be considered important outcomes of an active and compassionate citizenship. The grassroots forms of self-help support were highly commendable. Respecting equal dignity of individual members of vulnerable minorities promotes a sense of good society.
Amidst the political tussles, growing frustration and chaos in communities after the COVID-19 pandemic, I remained professionally engaged, virtually. This engagement included through research, online-trainings, coordination of virtual theatre performances and other online meetings/courses. These activities supported me in connecting with diverse people during the pandemic. We shared our experiences empathically. However, I found, particularly, the situation of women with disabilities to be painful. The common people i.e. marginalized communities, had to face additional livelihood related problems due to the impacts of pandemic. The situation was not optimistic.
Meanwhile, an email that I received on behalf of the Trustees of The Rotary Foundation during the first week of November 2020 was a key precedent for me to free myself from the effects of the months-long COVID-19 enforced homestay. Although it could not help me cope with the contemporary situation, it showed me hope for a better future during this difficult time.
Crises such as these are mostly unpredictable. The power-holders – i.e. governments, political parties etc., – actions need to be reflected in tackling the challenges ahead. They should: be ‘honest’ to themselves and towards other people; be ‘compassionate’ with people and the world; show ‘respect’ for themselves and others while being mindful of people’s opinions; be responsible for one’s actions; and, be morally courageous. All of which contributes to the fundamentals of a peaceful society. Beneath it all, in this case, the government should have been far more compassionate to its citizens. Power-holders should empathize with the victims themselves as they are their responsible guardians. Indeed, this is a long-term and continuous process that can only be achieved through active and companionate citizenship curricula and education. I hope to gain some of these qualities during this peace fellowship!
Nar Bahadur Saud – Nepal
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30