Today’s citizen protests outside the prime minister’s official residence in Baluwatar, and the state’s brutal response to it, don’t bode well for the health of a country fast sinking in the quagmire of a troubling pandemic. The hundreds who came out to protest on Tuesday, knowing full well they were putting their health on the line by congregating during a pandemic, had no desire to do so. But they could no more ignore the travesty of justice happening all around them. The state had badly botched its corona response; people were starting to die of hunger and racism; and tales of official corruption, including in Covid-19 response, were getting deafening.
The police tried to explain to the protestors they were violating the rule that no more than 25 people could gather during the lockdown and asked them to disperse. When they stayed put, the police opened water canons on the peaceful protestors. Why blame the police though? They were only going by the law. The incident taking place so close to the PM’s residence, they could not have acted on their own: the orders must have come from above. Strictly speaking, the protestors were indeed in violation of the lockdown rules. But had the government done its part during the lockdown, they would never have had to protest.
Such acts of public defiance of government-imposed restrictions will only intensify in the days ahead. The protests on Tuesday are a warning sign. If the government we elected refuses to act responsibly, it is our duty as citizens to speak up, to protest. Right around the world, millions of people have taken to the streets in support of #blacklivesmatter, defying the lockdown, putting their lives at risk. For these folks incensed by entrenched racism in their society, the virus is not nearly as dangerous as the risk of losing their right to live in a free and equal society.
It is no different in Nepal. The Oli government has been irresponsible in its handling of the pandemic, to put it mildly. While it imposed crippling lockdowns, it did precious little to widen the scope of reliable testing for Covid-19, which is the only credible method to limit its spread. The shocking lack of responsibility displayed by government ministers and bureaucrats at a time of a national crisis could not have gone ignored in a democratic society. The country is young, and it is vocal. We won’t be silenced.