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Maintaining peace and harmony

Maintaining peace and harmony

In recent months, some malicious actors have been plotting to unravel the very fabric of our society, sowing discord and unsettling the social harmony we hold dear.

This dastardly act first reared its head in Dharan in eastern Nepal, only to be thwarted by the efforts of local administration and security forces. The vigilant watch of political parties and civil society also played a pivotal role in quelling the potential flames of communal tension that threatened to spread to other parts of the country. 

Next, a similar dark event emerged in Malangwa, the district headquarters of Siraha, in Madhes province. A protracted curfew was imposed to suppress the brewing unrest. But the situation remains precarious in both Dharan and Siraha.

Now, a fresh wave of unrest has surged in Nepalgunj, a mid-western city, and there are fears that this discord may spread to other corners of the country. The catalyst for this upheaval was a social media post by a young Hindu man, which ignited protests by the Muslim community. They gathered at the District Administration Office and burned tires in the streets. In response to the protest, a local Hindu group took out a rally on Tuesday, which spiraled into a violent clash between the two groups. At least 22 individuals, including five security personnel, were injured. Nepalgunj is still under a curfew.

In the digital realm, the situation mirrors the turmoil in the streets. Social media has become a breeding ground for hate speech and incendiary rhetoric, posing a grave threat to social harmony. Individuals from one community are posting contents intended to vilify another, with even responsible local leaders guilty of propagating such harmful materials. Unfortunately, Nepal lacks a legal and institutional framework to monitor, regulate, and remove such toxic content.

The Press Council Nepal, the regulatory body for the media sector, has asked social media users to refrain from posting materials that could disrupt peace and harmony in our society.

In Nepal, social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok serve as the battlegrounds for this digital discord. The Nepal Army was deployed in Nepalgunj to restore order, but some individuals continue to disseminate fake videos and photos, further stoking the fires of hatred. The government must take swift measures to address this issue without infringing upon the freedom of speech and expression.

For the first time in recent memory, signs of distress are surfacing in multiple locations simultaneously. If political parties, government agencies, and civil society fail to respond judiciously, the embers of communal violence may burst into a raging inferno at any moment. The government, which has pledged to uphold peace and harmony, cannot afford to remain indifferent to these developments. Yet, the government has been conspicuously absent. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was on a foreign trip for more than two weeks as the nation was grappling with communal tensions.

While minor cases of communal violence were once sporadic and localized, recent events suggest a more sinister motive at play. It seems that systematic efforts are underway to stoke religious tensions, potentially leading to the dismantling of the 2015 constitution, with shadowy forces lurking behind the scenes. The gravity of the situation cannot be overstated, and it is disconcerting that both the government and political parties seem to underestimate it.

Parliamentarians on Tuesday raised their voices in protest, compelling the government to finally acknowledge the systematic attempts to foment ethnic, religious, and regional tensions. At present, no prominent political party seeks to amend the constitution in any significant way, making it even more challenging to pinpoint the forces behind this campaign to ignite social and religious turmoil.

A senior security official suspects that some religious groups are behind these incidents, and that they are using some influential community and political leaders to push their agenda.

These unsettling developments are unfolding against the backdrop of a deepening economic crisis and a rising cost of living, which could further jeopardize our fragile economy. As the Dashain festival approaches, extended curfews in major cities threaten to cripple local businesses and, in turn, the local economy.

Frustration with the government and major political parties is reaching a boiling point, and opportunistic elements may exploit this discontent. 

Lawmakers, dissatisfied with the government’s response, have demanded more decisive action. Ishwari Devi Neupane, a Nepali Congress lawmaker, has warned against undermining Nepal’s “unity in diversity” and called for serious government intervention. Dhawal SJB Rana, a lawmaker from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, has underscored the role of social media in sowing discord and urged the government to combat crimes committed through these platforms.

Chairman of CPN (Unified Socialist), Madhav Kumar Nepal, has also warned against attempts to disrupt social harmony, emphasizing Nepal’s history of peaceful coexistence among diverse religious and ethnic groups.

All security agencies, including the Nepal Army, are on high alert, closely monitoring the potential eruption of tensions in other parts of the country. Identity-based federalism and potential communal strife have emerged as significant security challenges. The Ministry of Home Affairs has also said that it is closely watching those actively fomenting trouble, with some arrests already made.

The Koshi province remains particularly vulnerable, with simmering tensions erupting in the name of the province, according to the observation of security agencies. Social harmony and peace have also been disrupted in the Madhes and Lumbini provinces. Reports suggest that fundamentalist elements are active in other parts of the country, adding to the complexity of the situation.

Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha has been in dialogue with representatives of various religious organizations, seeking to uncover the forces behind these attempts to destabilize society.

While unrest in Nepalgunj and other regions is not entirely unprecedented, the current situation differs in its reach and intensity. Security experts say that a long-term solution is essential to address these issues. 

Tikaram Pokhrel, spokesperson for the National Human Rights Commission, has urged all stakeholders to preserve social harmony and unity.