Kathmandu, April 15, 2016: The director general of Department of Archeology (DOA), Bhesh Narayan Dahal, can’t understand the concerns regarding the reconstruction of Dharahara. “You should be covering other stories,” he says, assuring that the plan is moving ahead without a glitch. According to him, the DOA and the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) are scheduled to sit for a meeting in the first week of Baikash, the first month of the Nepali Calendar, where they shall share the reports on the cost estimate, project duration, labor required, designs, so on and so forth. Dahal also confirms that he stands by the motive of the campaign reiterating that the tower shall be ‘a symbol of our unity and strength’.
That phrase presented with precisely that logic was what worried Miroj Thapa, 27, back in February when the adverts requesting for public contributions for the Dharahara project had started appearing on various newspapers. Now, overtime as the Prime Minister and some government officials have publicly donated their salaries and as more phrases such as ‘symbol of pride,’ ‘tribute to the victims’ have been thrown around, Thapa says his concerns have morphed into frustration.
“The significance of recognizing the difference between the important, the urgent and the unnecessary, or in other words, prioritizing is something we are all taught from a young age. So, it’s astounding how our government keeps missing the point. I read that they plan to inscribe the names of the victims of the earthquake on the Dharahara as well. They are calling it a tribute but I’m sure the victims would rather have their displaced family members taken care of with that money. How is this not obvious to our government?” questions Thapa.
It’s a query that is being raised by many people. Not that people doubt the iconic status of Dharahara. Nobody would argue that witnessing it resurrected would be a wonderful moment either. But in a climate where the nation is reeling under an incredibly long list of economic, political and day to day problems, the idea seems misplaced. At a time when people haven’t fully recovered from the consequences of the earthquakes, surely the government would be better off putting their time, effort, and money elsewhere.
Sunidha Basnet, a social worker, for instance, tries to make sense of the situation. Currently, she has been helping earthquake victims from different parts of the country with her organization, Nepal Healthcare Equipment Development Foundation. They are sponsoring around 16 people, some as young as eight, who have lost both their limbs, suffered head traumas or severe fractures. Since there are no other government or private initiatives taking care of such gravely injured earthquake victims yet, Basnet says it has been a challenge.
“While facilitating our patients’ fooding, lodging and medical care, we easily spend around four to five lakhs every month. We have been managing to scrap these funds by the grace of some well wishers. It’s been a struggle, so to think double, triple orÂ quadruple the amount has been sitting in the government’s bank to build a monument is disheartening. The fact that they are willing to put such effort to ask for contributions from the public and their employees for Dharahara but not for victims like those in our care is just tragic. There is a need to question their priorities at the moment,” says Basnet.
Still NRA’s acting secretary, Madhusudhan Adhikari, cites his defense saying that the reconstruction campaign has been running under, “I will construct Dharahara.”
Adhikari states, “Our national identity and sentiment is tied up with this monument. We are moving forward with our own desires to rebuild Dharahara. It’s the reasons people are contributing. We are not using funds allocated for other purposes. Besides, we shall carry the other reconstruction programs side by side so there won’t be a problem.”
Again it circles back to prerogatives and what one ranks as the priority. Writer Khagendra Sangroula has been very vocal about the disparity between his stance and the government’s on this matter. “Our historical monuments, palaces, and temples were constructed during a time when Kathmandu was incredibly rich. During this golden period, citizens’ basic needs were being comfortably fulfilled so they moved on to these costly and lavish constructions. Clearly, such isn’t the present state of our capital or our country. I believe we should set a goal for ourselves to complete Dharahara in a certain number of decades but, not now. This isn’t the time. There are people who don’t even have a room to call home at the moment,” reasons Sangroula.
He suggests it is the apathy of the state that has led them to their decision to put an innate object before lives. Since they have been insensitive towards the common person’s plight for a good while now, the government officials can’t see the moral flaw of their plan. As for the public that the government claims is behind them on this, Sangroula asks to check what percentage of the public they actually make up.
“Those who have roofs over their heads with no financial strain and thus feel secure can definitely afford to contribute. They might want the Dharahara up and standing right away, but what about the affected and distressed citizens? We cannot afford to forget that they form a significant part of our population as well,” says Sangroula. The only way he sees right being done by them is if the public let their collective voices be heard. Perhaps, they could even start their own campaign to address this issue.
It’s a genuine thought, but would the Nepalis who didn’t even raise their voices as the black market shamelessly extorted them, as their kitchens ran out of cooking gas and their homes of light that too for months on end, bother to campaign for Dharahara? If they didn’t hold the docile and irresponsibleÂ government accountable then, will they now?
Binod Kumar Jaiswal firmly shakes his head to say no. He is dejected and now truly believes people don’t hold that sort of power here. Jaiswal runs a store behind the now fallen Dharahara. He was present as Prime Minister KP Oli promised his month’s salary to the citizen’s fund and spoke with much gusto of re-erecting the monument to show Nepal’s resilience. He admits, at the moment, he thought of his friends’ families in Bhotebahal who still can’t afford to fix their houses and are forced live separately in squatter-esque places. But then again, he decided he couldn’t do anything about it. At most, he could refuse to join in on the applause.
The director general of the DOA, along with the government, may fail to see the importance of paying attention to these concerns but actually as we stand, we risk damaging the reputation of Dharahara. If the historic monument rises again, as currently planned, what was once the pride of the nation might just also become a symbol of all the bad decisions made on part of the state as well as people’s failure to make them see any sense.