Civic Education for the Young Generation
Organised by Nepal Foundation for Advanced
2 August 2008, Pharping
The first in the series of seminars on
"Civic Education for the Young Generation" in 2008 was
organized by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies, in cooperation
with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, in Pharping, a quiet hamlet just
outside Kathmandu Valley on 2 August, 2008. The venue for the
one-day seminar was one of the oldest boarding high schools in
the country and attended by youths from the cross-section of Pharping
society, teachers, political workers and different prominent personalities
of the tiny town.
The quiet setting in the midst of the monsoon
season did not just provoke comments from participants, but
the Q&A session turned into an interesting debate between
the audience and the presenters on several occasions. In more
urban settings, the general trend is that the floor session
turns into a dull moment with commentators making their comments
and the presenter coming up with their replies at the end. In
Pharping, the interesting part was that questioners would get
up, ask the question, seek the answer and then re-pose questions
after questions until all doubts were cleared. It was a lively
The Pharping seminar departed from its earlier
versions elsewhere in other ways too. Here, the cooperation
of a local social organization was sought in not only choosing
the venue but also composing the mix of participants to be invited
to join the discussions. Also, bearing in mind the fluid political
situation in the country and an anxious atmosphere regarding
the constitution drafting process, Nepal Foundation for Advanced
Studies had to seek a presenter who could explain the various
aspects of a democracy at a time when there is the absence of
a constitution, political parties are trumpeting tall promises,
sky-rocketing popular aspirations and an insecure environment
which sees the fabric of society being pulled from every direction
that the Nepalese did not even know existed.
Well-noted constitutional expert Kashi Raj
Dahal was invited to make his presentation on democracy and
the rule of law in the country after Shivaraj Dahal read out
his paper on the importance of civic education to the younger
generation. Usually, in similar discussions, it is the political
scientist who explains the issue of political awareness, about
one's rights and responsibilities, in making a democracy vibrant
or an economist who supplements the views through the economic
perspective and lays bare the economic foundations of a sustainable
democracy. But in Pharping, it was the legal expert's role on
describing the constitutional roots of a democracy.
The seminar kicked off with NEFAS Executive
Director Ananda Srestha introducing his organization and its
activities to the audience and the way the function was going
to be structured. This was followed by Shiva Raj Dahal's presentation
on civic education to the youth. Kashiraj Dahal's presentation
wound up the function on the presenter's side, or so it was
thought. When the floor session turned into a Q&A session
with questions being shot at the presenter seeking immediate
answers, the formalities of the floor and the dais disappeared
and a symphony of sorts emerged when the two sides began debating
the relevant issues one-on-one. The presenter himself capitalized
the event with his easy-to-understand style and providing true
legal case stories as analogies to drive his point through.
The audience loved it.
The function came to its conclusion with Maharjan
of Green Tara Trust thanked the participants and others.
Ananda Srestha: NEFAS has been organizing
discussions on contemporary topics ever since its inception.
Civic education has been a theme for these discussions for the
past decade or so. We hope that the discussions will generate
some feedback that will be useful in updating a book on civic
education that we have published. In that sense, the paper that
will shortly be presented by providing relevant comments so
that the contents get enriched.
About two dozen books have been published
by NEFAS since its inception on contemporary topics that are
aimed at contributing towards the strengtheninbg of democracy
in the country. The current paper includes feedback from different
parts of the country. Your comments will no doubt enrich it
We do not subscribe to the view that students
should not indulge in politics. Not that they should be going
around carrying party flags, but that they must remain alert
about political goings-on. The younger generation is the nation's
future and they must remain alert. It is necessary that students
are made aware about civic education from their school days.
Only then can the future of the nation can find proper guidance.
I want to thank FES for their continued cooperation
and Green Tara Trust in their contribution to the organize this
Shiva Raj Dahal's presentation.
Kashi Raj Dahal: One might wonder why
both the presenters are Dahals. My relation with the earlier
Dahal is not an issue that brought me here. And, although we
may belong to the same clan somewhere in the lineage, I hail
from a different part of the country than he does. It is just
a coincidence that two Dahals are making their presentation
Let me tell you several interesting stories. I was an engineer
by profession, but a friend told me that literature and law
were more interesting. Today I am involved in law. But law is
a complex subject and hard to understand. I do not want to make
a written presentation as it would be difficult to understand.
So I want to explain these complicated issues with simple stories.
When the United States found out that about
40 per cent voters were disinterested in politics during elections,
it raised concern. They have found that the larger portion of
that mass is from the younger generation. They appear more interested
in rock music and so on. So, the US government began working
to attract them to politics through civic education. This campaign
sought ways to include the youth in democracy by explaining
them the history and their forefather's contribution to democracy
and nation building. In the following elections they saw that
55 per cent voters voted. The increase was attributed to that
campaign. In western countries, we see that even private houses
put up national flags on their premises. In Nepal, we rather
see party flags donning the homes. And, there are cases where
people have even burnt national flags.
In every country, we see patriotic people.
I have seen that even in tropical countries people wearing warm
clothes if only to express their national sentiments through
national attire. It would naturally have been more comfortable
to wear jeans and T-shirts. But they stick to their traditions.
In Nepal, the scene is different. We are not talking about the
nation, but regions or ethnic groups. If there is no nation,
how can there be regions, classes or even ethnic groups?
It is people who should be the watchdogs who
should be monitoring the representatives and their activities.
People have begun to say that we have a one-day democracy in
Nepal, which gets activated only on the election day. But we
should be aware all the 365 days to upkeep democracy. The youth
have a very important role here.
A mother was charged with killing a child.
When I asked why she did so, she said that a tantrik
had told her that if the first born is ugly, it should be thrown
into the fire. Only then can a beautiful child would be born
to her. Not that she did not love that child, but that she did
so because of ignorance. There are also cases where a mother
and child jump into the Trishuli River to kill themselves. The
mother later finds out that she survives and the child drowns.
This happens because of ignorance or fear.
We are drafting the constitution, at the moment.
And, we should own it, just like a mother owns a child, and
does not abandon it just because someone else does it. We should
understand what a constitution is, what democracy is.
Constitution is the fundamental law of the
land. There are 195 countries that have drafted constitutions
and not all of them have been democratic and according to popular
aspiration. The countries are just a laboratories for constitution-making.
We should stop ourselves from being a lab. We should stop being
roused up in revolution for a constitution. We should be made
aware through civic education so that we are capable of that.
Ever since, 2007, we have been fighting for
terms. Yesterday, it was prajatantra, today loktantra.
The Panchayat was here since the Lichhibi period. But when the
Panchayat System went down we began wiping out the word from
existence, we did not allow it to exist even in the dictionary.
After 1990, they wanted to rename the village panchayats,
so we opted for municipalities and village development
committees. This has resulted in misunderstandings. For
example, in another country, there was a case where the official
examining the birth certificate thought that all Nepalese had
to go to a committee to be born. And it had to be explained
to him that a committee was an administrative area in the villages.
Similarly, we are fed up with the word prajantra and
have opted for loktantra. I wanted to find the difference.
Some said that praja denotes a king's subjects. Others said
that prajatantra had geographic limitations while a lok
does not have such limits. Now, we are trying to explain
everything once again saying that loktantra is grassroots
democracy. We have not run out of options, we still have
janatantra and the like for future dates. This is not wise.
The younger generation should not be entangled in terms and
phrases, but the meaning behind them.
All the positive aspects of democracy have
made it popular among different countries in the world. The
content of the constitution must be scanned to see if they contain
democratic elements. The elements are:
human rights protection. There are
people who want to protect not just human rights but even animal
rights. There are various aspects of human rights- the rights
of women, children and the like. But if the state does not have
the capacity to enforce it and preserve it, there is no use
of talking about human rights. For example, we find that helpless
women are to be given allowance in accordance with law. That
is the provision. But the hitch is that there is no law that
provides for the allowance. The law will never be drafted because
the state does not have the capacity.
I had visited a Korean jail once. The inmates
were on a strike to demand a larger television screen for the
World Cup football. The authorities had to give in to uphold
human rights there. In a similar tour of a Nepalese jail, I
saw that the jail was called Bhadragol and which was stretched
to overcapacity. It was supposed to hold 600 inmates, and I
saw 1800 living there. I asked them how they were managing space.
The inmate I asked said that he would take up the space of someone
else when he or she went to the toilet.
Since no one has had the capability to reform
jails, they just form a commission to look into the matter and
calm any likely protests. But this is also a way to see that
the task is never completed. Every government forms its own
commission and never completes the task. This is because the
commitment is beyond the state's capacity to fulfill.
A woman near Kathmandu had a bottle of water
with her. I asked her why she had it with her. She said that
that water was the water that came from washing her husband's
feet. She had kept it as a sign of respect to him until he returned
from his errand in Kathmandu.
There are women who are sent to animal sheds
to give birth to children. Such a woman died because a fire
was not put down by men saying that they would not put it down
as it was against the tradition to go near a woman at birth.
Where is that woman's rights? How does the law protect such
women. The law should make provisions to do so, but does the
government have the capacity to enforce it? This story is from
a case that we saw in the courts.
I know a case where the husband refused to
collect his wife's clothes from the clothesline for fear of
what the neighbours might say. This man was a learned person
and well-read and understood the difference between tradition
and superstition. This is the kind of society we live in.
There are many remote areas in the country
where we see mobile phones, beer and other spirits easily available.
They have reached the most difficult and rural areas. But they
do not have any medical drugs to treat their sick.
Our fight should be for human rights as it
is the main component of democracy.
Here is a puzzle for you. Please think over
it and you can tell me later who won the case. There was a case
in the Terai plains where a person stopped a dyke from being
built along the river as it would wash his house away if the
dyke was allowed to be built. But if the dyke was not built,
a whole village was going to be washed away. Who won the case?
Will the audience tell me?
rule of law. In the past in the United
States, schools and other public places were segregated between
whites and blacks. The government justified the system saying
that the treatment of both kinds of schools is the same and
that one was not favoured over the other. The courts said that
it was not discrimination, only segregation. A hundred years
later, the verdict was changed. Segregation too was defined
as discrimination. In Nepal, we see girls' schools and boys'
schools. In Nepal, we justify the separation saying that we
have done so to bring them to equality and once they achieve
that status, they will not be segregated.
New contexts are coming up to challenge rule
of law and human rights protection. The old values are changing.
There is the third sex, gay marriage, and separation of marriage
and sex life, rape of wives etc. The courts are facing these
challenges at the moment.
protection of the marginalized and minorities.
Rights of all groups, the elderly, the youth, the children and
everyone else need protection. Our education should teach these.
There is huge discrimination in law between
men and women.
separation of powers: This particular
point is not coming up with a loud voice at the moment to make
its presence felt. We are talking about federalism, but there
are questions about how seriously we have thought about it.
There is a distinction between federalism and separatism.
There must be a balance of power among the
executive, legislative and the judiciary, otherwise there will
be dictatorship. Checks and balances must be maintained while
devising laws. The interim constitution suffers from this lacuna
and our new constitution must not be so weak so that dictatorship
is allowed to born. Regarding federalism, there are benefits
but also a lot of costs and complexities involved. There are
technicalities and expertise involved from various sectors that
need to be included in devising a federation.
transparency and accountability. There
are cases where the Nepalese legislators do not know what they
are passing while endorsing bills and laws. Right to information
laws take care of a lot of accountability issues. This will
ensure that everyone works with honest intentions.
While framing a constitution, one must look
into the contents that usher in democracy rather than what pledges
are made by politicians.
Ram Bahadur Basnet: Shivaraj Dahal
talks about unholy alliances resulting in differences among
the larger parties. Please tell me what unholy means.
Bikas [one name]: What are the rights
Kashiraj Dahal: A colony can decide
to free itself through the right to self determination. Secondly,
a region can have several special rights for the development
of the communities. But right to secession cannot have legal
legitimacy. This is what international law says. Right to self
determination cannot be defined as a right to secede.
Sristi Maharjan: Costs and benefits
Kashiraj Dahal: If the separation of
power is vertical among provinces and the centre, then it is
federalism. The benefits are: increased popular participation,
proximity of all government offices within every federal unit
and emotional ownership by local people. Identity of the community
and region is also enhanced.
The costs: Dislocation and disintegration.
In federalism, the currency, military and
foreign policy are the preserves of the centre while other powers
will be enjoyed by the federal units.
Anita [one name]: Will the nation disintegrate
after provinces are given the right to self determination?
Kashiraj Dahal: The law does not provide
the right to secede, but there are nations where disintegration
has taken place, nonetheless. The principle in itself does not
[Unnamed questioner]: What about human
Kashi Raj Dahal: We must begin by providing
the fundamental rights; and additional rights must be included
along with the development of state capacity. All international
conventions may not be implementable for Nepal. There are declarations
made by governments, but they are just ornamental in purpose,
only conventions and commitments need to be implemented.
Kumar Balami: Please give the verdict
of the puzzle-cases that you cited earlier. Secondly, you discourage
party politics among youths. Please tell us the kind of politics
we should be involved in.
Kashiraj Dahal: I did not say that
youths should not be involved in party politics. That is the
fundamental right of the youth. What I mean to say is that all
politics is not necessarily party-based. In developed countries,
I have found people who are very well versed in sports personalities
and movie stars, but not politicians. In Nepal, even school
children know the names of the parties and politicians, but
not those in other sectors like the judiciary or other constitutional
heads. Hence, I want to urge all to become more aware of their
rights and responsibilities, and, for this, you do not need
to be involved with one or the other party. We see that people
are more interested about political news and views but not their
political rights and responsibilities.
Ram Bahadur Basnet: You talk of sweet
theories and principles, but who will teach us to practice them?
Kashiraj Dahal: Here are five conditions
for a new nation. They are, a complete overhaul of the economy
to make it production oriented. Secondly, education reform for
quality and skills. Development of technology. Fourth, physical
infrastructure and organizational structure of the government
and institutions. Fifth, political sector reform to enable all
this to happen. Political leadership must be strong to be able
to carry it out.
Sanjeev Shrestha: Who ratifies the
constitution, the people or the Constituent Assembly?
Kashiraj Dahal: Only a two-thirds majority
in the House is enough to pass the constitution and popular
ratification is not needed.
Finally, the verdict on the puzzle-cases I
mentioned earlier. The right of one house is the same as the
rights of the owners of the 500 houses, as everyone has equal
rights. Therefore, the person who wanted to save his house by
stopping the construction of the dyke has the same rights as
those trying to construct it to save his. If one were to judge
in favour of the 500 houses, it would not be compatible with
[Unnamed participant]: There were four
members who wanted monarchy in the Constituent Assembly. Does
it have any meaning?
Kashi Raj Dahal: The constitution talks
about majority voices. Obviously, the views of the four have
been recorded. If we are ready to think, and act, responsibly
and to work diligently, we can build a new Nepal.
Shivaraj Dahal: If the objective is
negative, things will not work out well. My focus was on the
Madhesi parties that aim to secede from the nation. Such parties
have been given recognition by the state; and I think mistakenly.
Even while border encroachments were taking place and Indian
policemen were assaulting Nepalese citizens in Nepalese territory,
the Madhesi parties never spoke a word. The vice president took
his oath in Hindi. This are not good tidings.
Ram Bahadur Basnet: When you talk of
unholy alliance, I wanted to know whether you were talking of
the procedural issues or parties.
Shivaraj Dahal: I am trying to make
the younger generation aware of the issues involved and the
way they are behaving. There is no doubt that it is the political
sector that should resolve the problems they have created.
Mr. Maharjan's vote of thanks: I want
to thank both the presenters, the NEFAS representatives, the
school Headmaster Ram Bahadur Basnet and all the participants
and the students present here. The whole function was short
and I want to thank you for making it smooth through your participation.
Indeed, there is lack of youth participation
in social issues in the past 15 years or so. The masses of the
younger generation are disenchanted by political and social
activities these days. But when a programme dedicated to this
issue came here, we have been grateful.
We should develop our responsibility and accountability
to the nation. The related issues must be discussed. We must
be made aware of all activities, global and local, technological
and otherwise. Kashiraj Sir made the presentation in a manner
that was very encouraging to the younger generation. I want
to thank NEFAS for doing so much for our youth. If we could
make the function more participatory and more representative,
it would be always welcome. Please remember us, social workers,
while organizing such functions. This has informed our friends
and made them more aware. And, this is how we can change the
mindset of the people. Not just here in Pharping, but throughout