Nepal echoes Anna Hazare’s protest

August 19th, 2011 - 7:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 19 (IANS) Inspired by veteran Indian activist Anna Hazare’s protest against corruption in the Indian capital, women activists in Nepal and human rights workers championing women’s rights have begun a hungerstrike in capital city Kathmandu, seeking a new constitution within the Aug 31 deadline.

“We are proud that our protest resembles Anna Hazare’s,” said 53-year-old Som Prasad Bhandari, general secretary of Bhumi Adhikar Manch, an NGO that seeks to protect the rights of landless squatters. “We wish he would come to Nepal.”

Defying incessant rainfall and a transport strike, Bhandari and over a dozen others, mostly women, sat on a hungerstrike before Nepal’s parliament, asking the main political parties to stop squabbling for power, form a government on the basis of consensus and produce the first draft of the new constitution that has already been delayed by nearly 15 months.

“There is a parallel between Anna Hazare’s protest and ours though we are on a relay hungerstrike for 12 hours a day,” said Rita Thapa, a 60-year-old grandmother and veteran women’s rights activist who had been arrested by police in May for taking part in a similar protest by women near parliament.

“Big institutions like the World Bank and UN are disintegrating while community structures are rising. We have wonderful people like Anna Hazare in our districts. We hope they will all join us in our protest.”

The hungerstrike started from Thursday, making Nepal’s communist-led caretaker government prohibit meetings and demonstrations within a 50m radius of the house.

The protests have started under the aegis of Women’s Pressure March for Peace and Constitution that later this month will see its ranks swell with two more cohorts descending from Ilam in the east and Dadeldhura in the west to converge on the capital.

On Friday, there were two more hungerstrikers besides Bhandari and Thapa.

Sarita Subedi, a 30-year-old with Community Action Centre Nepal, an NGO working to raise HIV/AIDS awareness among sex workers, said she was taking part in the protest to ensure peace and stability in the Nepal as well as the rights of all women.

“Sex workers, especially those who are known to police, find it hard to even walk on the streets,” she said. “We want them to be allowed to live with dignity and have their rights protected by the new constitution.”

Hungerstriker Geeta Pradhan represented Women’s Rehabilitation Centre, a women’s rights defender.

“We saw peace after suffering a 10-year civil war,” the 42-year-old said. “However, there is fresh turmoil, which is obstructing development, peace and security. If we don’t protest against it today, tomorrow we may lapse into war again.”

While women were protesting before parliament, Nepal’s unrepentant parties however remained deadlocked in their old battle for power.

With just 48 hours left for the deadline given by President Ram Baran Yadav for the formation of a new, all-party government, agreement still eluded the two largest parties.

Both the Maoists and the Nepali Congress are demanding that they lead the new government, a tussle that saw Nepal witness an unprecedented 17 rounds of election in 2010-11 to elect a new prime minister.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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