| Civic Education
for Strengthening Relations between People and Local Self Governance
by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)
10 September 2010, Belbari
Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies organized
a seminar titled "Civic Education for Strengthening Relations
between People and Local Self Governance" in Belbari, Morang
on 10 September, 2010 in cooperation with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.
Teachers, political workers, health workers, police, students
and various eminent persons of this small highway town, on the
Mahendra Highway, took part in the function that was chaired by
Gyanendra Subedi. Participants arrived at the venue in spite of
the mid-summer heat and actively engaged themselves in the discussion.
Welcoming the participants to the seminar,
NEFAS Executive Director Prof. Ananda Srestha hoped that active
participation in the seminar as the outcome of the discussion
would be published in book form. He said that the topic of discussion
was a political one aimed at creating political awareness but
that NEFAS itself had no political objectives as it was merely
an academic organization.
C.D. Bhatta, representative of Friedrich Ebert
Stiftung, introduced his organization to the participants saying
that its objective was to promote the ideals of social justice
in different parts of the world. He said that the discussion
would be useful because the issues involved were vital to the
nation and could be included in the constitution that was being
After these introductory remarks, Shivaraj
Dahal presented his paper. The paper forms the backbone of the
seminar which discusses the need for the people to exercise
their rights and fulfill their public duty. It talks about the
general absence of civic sense among the populace and, more
importantly, those holding public office. Dahal also talked
about the deviations in political activities, decline of economic
activities and even deviant social behaviour. His conclusion
was that unless civic education is part and parcel not just
for public figures, but even for the general people, the nation
will always be in a transition and political stability a distant
Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal made his presentation
on the "Handbook of Democracy" published by FES and
distributed to the seminar participants. The book talks about
the fundamentals of a democracy- the branches of government
and separation of powers, forms of governments, local autonomy,
democratic rights, press freedom and the role of political parties.
Bedraj Acharya talked about the problems facing
the Nepalese economy. Poverty levels, he said, are high and
there is a need for the government to remain focused on people's
basic needs. Acharya also talked about the brain drain taking
place in the country. He said that the national resources could
be utilized at home with the right policy. Even if the manpower
were to be exported, a well thought-out policy would see that
it was exported only after imparting the relevant skills. This
would bring in more remittances, he said.
The floor comments that followed initially
saw some of the political players in the area expressing their
suspicions as to the motives of holding the seminar in Belbari.
This is usually the case when NEFAS chooses a new venue to organize
discussion. But the initial doubts were allayed after the organizers
explained the intent of the discussions once again. The comments
from participants with a political party affiliation also expressed
their differences over the viewpoint expressed by the presenters-
a difference that is also visible across party-lines in today's
national politics. Otherwise, most of the comments that came
from the participants had either to do with their own experiences
regarding the lack of civic sense among the people or their
own viewpoints regarding how civic education needs to be conducted.
The seminar ended with Chiarman Gyanendra
Subedi thanking the participants for organizing the seminar
in such a small town as Belbari and hoped that the recommendations
made by the papers and the participants will be addressed by
Nepal's national politics.
Excerpt of the seminar
Chair: Gyanendra Subedi
Ananda Srestha's welcome address: NEFAS is
not affiliated with any political party and it was established
some 20 years ago. We have been holding academic discussions
outside the Kathmandu Valley for a long time and it is in that
context that we are here today.
Our main objective is to hold discussions
on issues concerning Nepal so that the outcome of those discussions
can be published in book form. These books have been useful
for many and are even used as part of the university curriculum
in Nepal and elsewhere.
The topic of discussion today is: Civic Education
for Strengthening Relations between People and Local Self-Governance.
The discussions today will generate ideas that will be included
in our discussions to be held in the future. The youth has not
been able to play its part in nation-building. And our focus
is to make these youths aware of their responsibilities.
We have been receiving support from Friedrich
Ebert Stiftung in our programmes ever since the inception of
NEFAS. We are grateful for that.
C.D. Bhatta: Friedrich Ebert was the
first German president and he was a labour leader. FES was established
in 1925. Freedom, equality, solidarity, social justice and peace
have been the later additions in FES objectives. And these are
the areas that FES is involved in promoting. It does not have
other political agenda. FES also promotes social democracy.
The rich want freedom but the poor want social
justice. How do we bring about the balance between equality
and justice? We do not want a system where the poor pay their
taxes for the benefit of the rich as this would bring about
perpetual instability. Are political parties working to increase
the loyalty of the poor and marginalised groups towards the
state? It is ideas like these that bring about political stability
and we need to educate ourselves.
It is said that democracy promotes an inclusive
system and helps bring about an egalitarian society. But the
citizens must understand their rights and duties for that to
happen. There has been education by political parties to their
cadres and also different political systems devise education
to protect the interests of the political system concerned.
This education to make citizens aware is called civic education
and we need to use civic education to bring about harmony and
solidarity in the society.
Our ancient traditions are breaking down and
the social fabrics giving way to imported ideas and systems.
Divorce rates are increasing and social problems are on the
rise. There was hardly any new idea we needed before as the
society found itself in a sort of an equilibrium. But today
we are having to build old age homes, because the family that
took care of the elderly are forgetting their traditional duties
with the onslaught of modernism. How do we make our system self-reliant
and people-oriented? We need strong local governance for that
so that direct engagement can be established with the people
at the grassroots.
Shivaraj Dahal's presentation
Ram Kumar Dahal'a presentation
Bedraj Acharya's lecture
Narendra Baral: The paper did not live
up to our expectations and was too overbearing and boring. The
victims of conflict in Belbari have not been able to receive
any relief packages. No targeted groups have been able to receive
relief. The conflict is still simmering and has not been managed
The discussion we are holding here should
have reached the masses. There is no relevance of seminars being
held in three-star hotels. But this seminar appears to be aimed
at publishing books. Although that is a good thing, it should
rather have been aimed at the people victimized by conflict.
I think the general masses should understand that democracy
has come for them.
Because of the lack of representatives in
local governments, people have been left without the necessary
services being delivered. I think the problems of local self-rule
should get more prominence.
Today, we stand at the crossroads seeking
to redefine the kind of people included in a civil society.
Ananda Srestha's clarification: NEFAS
is purely an academic organization without any political mandate.
We have limited power to provide political pressure. We can
impress upon the government and others only through our publications.
D.P.Rai: [UML] I am unclear about a
few things. You say that NEFAS is involved in academic activities.
But the paper was presented to many political workers here.
You have defined and explained democracy, but at the same time
you have created confusion by saying things like- one needs
to keep the civil society in the uppermost echelons of the public
sphere, and not political parties. But in a loktantra, once
you undermine the political parties the loktantra will have
no meaning. You could talk about partylessness or military rule
and the like with equal ease. Most of the things you conveyed
to us, as I understood, today was aimed at undermining loktantra.
You should have talked about the role of the civil society in
Most of the issues raised by civil society
and the like cover the rights-based aspects. One should not
taint the others while promoting rights. But without the duties
that should accompany, loktantra may not be sustainable. It
is the duty of the society to teach everyone the role of civic
You seem to distinguish between political
party members and Nepali citizenship. That is a wrong dichotomy.
One is a political worker because he is a Nepali citizen.
Why were only the Mongols selected for recruitment
in the British Gurkhas? These are the society's cream. Today,
we see a situation where other sectors in foreign countries
too attract Nepali youths.
Who created this situation? It was the feudal
landlordism. I do not know who created such a situation. It
is the NGOs and INGOs who get highly paid and teach us what
patriotism is. Please bear this in mind.
Chandra Kumar Subba [Rastriya Janamukti
Party member]: Your choice of Belbari as a seminar venue appears
to be a good idea as it came away from bigger towns like Biratnagar.
I think more focus should have been centered on political parties.
If we do not understand the inherent sensitivities
then loktantra could go away just as it came. Shivarj Dahal's
paper gives the idea that federalism promotes secessionism.
Puja Gautam UML: The issues appear
to be contextual. The presentations appear to be focusing on
local governments but we do not see the VDC being represented
here. Many issues have been picked up by the paper and it would
not be possible to comment on all of them. Had the paper been
given to us one day earlier, it would have given us time to
study them better.
We do not have citizens today. They are only
people. They are unaware of their rights. The 1990 movement
and the 2006 agitation were described but the resolution of
the conflict has not been adequately treated.
You lambasted political workers. I did not
like it as I am also one. You should have provided alternatives
to foreign employment when you decided to criticize it.
Parsuram Subedi (Maoist): The country
is in a political mess right now. We are moving from conflict
to peace. The Peoples' War is related with most of the issues
that you raised here. The paper did not see it fit to remember
any of the so many teachers martyred during the course of the
conflict. They died while raising these issues. Please remember
them while making your presentation.
You said that parties are engaged in fighting
for power rather that writing the constitution. But actually
this is a struggle of the classes, and not merely a struggle
for power. The constitution is something you write only once
and should be taken seriously. Therefore, I do not wholly agree
with your contention.
Regarding the kind of constitution we should
make, I understand that there are three points that we must
focus on. The American constitution is 240 years old while the
Nepalese have written four constitutions in 60 years. The American
one guarantees freedom that is why it is a lasting document.
The Soviet constitution focused on equality but failed in about
70 years. In Nepal, the King's constitution talked about security
to preserve his own rule, not the people.
The new constitution should include all these
three points- freedom, equality and security of the people.
Regarding conflict management, it should be
tackled by conflict specialists with a perspective that is not
driven by a particular ideology. If that happens, the conflict
will be managed.
I do not agree that there are two armies.
The Maoist People's Army and the then royal army were locked
in a fight. The former wanted to restore the rights of the people
while one was trying to retain the powers of Kathmandu. Many
people were killed. One fought for rights and the latter wanted
to prevent that, although the latter too appears to be moving
towards more rights-orientation. They did not fight for our
security. But even then they could not provide security to their
supreme commander, the king. Please do not treat the Maoist
army as a second class fighting force.
The integration is a serious issue and do
not treat it as lightly. Our party will not agree to any efforts
at curtailing of the ambitions of capable Maoist fighters.
Rudra Kattel Teacher: I hope the paper
will provide guidance to the leaders of the society. I am grateful
to the organisers for initiating the discussions here, in Belbari.
Regarding the issues and roles of the political
parties in strengthening democracy, I hope the presenters will
redo their papers. The criticisms today should provide them
as a feedback.
The increase in the number of homes for the
elderly appears to be criticized by the paper. But I feel that
it is a good thing if you are talking about social welfare.
The economy today is 80 per cent dependent
on remittance and I feel this awareness you are creating should
Individuals must be moral. I agree.
Regarding patriotism, you provide figures
about people working against the country and also give facts
like leaking of cabinet decisions to foreign embassies. Please
elaborate this. This is a serious issue.
Many people are laving the country everyday
and those responsible are people in the political sector. The
700 to 800 youths that leave the country everyday must have
their things to say to the political leadership.
I hope you are not against federalism. But
indeed federalism does have its limitations. The Nepali language
has provided many people a means of communication but other
languages too should be treated equally. Similarly, you need
to learn foreign languages if only to be able to communicate
to the outside world or when you go abroad.
Bedraj Acharya said that if one earned a dollar
a day or less one would fall below the poverty line. The threshold
is 50 rupees in Nepal's case, 94 per cent of which are borderline
cases without any means of making a living. There is widespread
unemployment, disguised employment and very few of them are
fully employed. Income generation activities should be promoted.
Regarding the dispute about poverty data,
between the government and the Oxford University, not much needs
to be said as the government has disputed its own data as well.
Regarding the citizenship issue, if indeed
Indians are taking Nepalese citizenship, this is a serious issue.
We should raise awareness about the issue by creating pressure
I think the paper should differentiate the
youth so that they can be provided with different kinds of skills.
J.B. Gurung Teacher: The paper reeks
of politics in spite of the attempts by organizers to say that
they do not have a political agenda. I think the issues are
related with topics studied by school children in Classes 8-12.
I think civic education is needed for slightly
illiterate people and efforts are needed to make them understand
their rights. But this paper is not geared towards that. I think
that the paper focuses too much on politics.
Illiterate people should be made aware about
their rights and state facilities that they are entitled to
receive. But these people are treated badly even when they seek
health services that are supposed to be free. You should focus
your education more on the illiterate classes.
Robin Gurung: Shivaraj Dahal's paper
talks of territorial integrity. He raises issues of foreigners
settling in Nepal. None of our politicians have been discussing
these issues so far. It is not bombs that will displace us but
refugees from other countries. The paper should have provided
ideas to resolve these issues.
We need to provide our passports even while
we visit places like Sikkim. We should also introduce the passport
system for Indian visitors. If we hold a referendum after 15
or 20 years then it will be Indian settlers who will decide
We lambast our leaders like Madhav Nepal and
Prachanda. But these people were chosen by us. This is what
civic education teaches us.
We see the media houses like Kantipur providing
negative stuff. It should be involved in positive messages as
well, not just violence and terror.
Nirmal Rai: What is self-governance?
The paper appears to ignore this aspect.
The opinions regarding federalism in the paper
appear to undermine the loktantra that you defined earlier.
You even talk about banning discussions in the parliament on
certain issues. Prohibition is a word that undermines loktantra.
Rita Lama: We have only exposed the
problems in our society without talking of solutions. At a time
of globalization we are talking of territorial integrity of
a meager 0.3 per cent landmass of the world.
Poverty, hunger, ignorance and corruption
ail us. We are not raising awareness on such issues. We are
an educated lot but we appear to be ignorant of many issues.
We import political ideas and systems but we criticize foreign
forces. We should be more forward looking. Politics is nothing
but a domination of the weak by the strong. What does autonomous
Sita Rai: You seem to be saying that
Assistant Health Workers are not qualified for their job. This
is spreading misinformation. Whether it is the AHWs or other
professionals, they are all qualified as they are bound by their
own mandates. AHWs are more engaged in raising awareness, consultations
and other preventative measures. They are also involved in delivery
of babies. We have health issues like malaria, kala azar and
the like. We need to spread the message about ways to remain
If you criticize AHWS for not being able to
diagnose diseases, then that is a misplaced criticism as they
are not supposed to be diagnosing diseases. There are huge health
facilities that have not been able to diagnosis diseases, how
can AFWs diagnose diseases?
Indeed, there are fraudulent cases involving quacks but that
should not be a problem of the AHWs.
Bedraj Acharya: I was not trying to
hurt anyone's sensitivities. I was only talking of free education
for even university students. The issue I was talking of does
not involve Belbari where one hour's drive will take you to
Dharan and other medical facilities. AHWs alone will not solve
the problems of rural parts. Specialists are also needed.
Robin Gurung: I like the idea about
making people aware of their loktantrik rights and duties. Political
workers of every party are not all hunky and dory and the wrongs
must be exposed. Only then can loktantrik values can be promoted.
We should make people aware of their fundamental
Shivaraj Dahal's reply
Buddha was not a Harvard graduate. He learnt from the society.
Buddha's teachings are being taught in world universities today.
We are not tasked with taking the paper to
the grassroots. We would be happy if you take the message to
Civic education is political education. The
political field represents the power of the people. And, what
it tries to do is remain aware about what you do politically.
Blind voting will not strengthen democracy. The aim of civic
education is to crate a critical mass and group that is responsible
towards the family, society, nation and ultimately helps in
the humanization of society.
We have already decided to go for federalism.
The state is at present divided. But while doing so we should
be able to coordinate between diverse languages and ethnic groups,
regions, multiple identities and nationalism.
We honour the People's War, as a lot of awareness
has reached the villages that would not have reached there otherwise.
We do not see the Nepalese honouring even the thousands upon
thousands of lives lost in the Second World War.
Nepalese citizens should not be housed in
cantonments but their energies used for more productive tasks.
We do not look at political parties in a negative
light. They are the ones to provide leadership for any initiative.
On Nirmalji's question about self-governance,
if people can develop and create working environment, delegate
authority, mobilizing resources, adopting democratic process,
decisions on local affairs will be considered self-governance.
Maoist People's Courts provided immediate
justice as they were executed by local people.
Life is insecure in Nepal at the moment. Politicization
is not party-ization. There is politics everywhere. We are not
opposed to parties, only their negative activities. They have
shown that they can arrive at consensus for issues even at midnight,
but what have they done for the people?
Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal
It is the political parties that run the nation and they should
not be undermined. Regarding NGOs, they have been involved in
nefarious activities but, still, their role must not be margianlized
as they can contribute to strengthening loktantra.
What I understand from the topic is that a citizen must be aware
about his responsibilities and rights. I thank the organizers
for choosing Belbari to spread the awareness message.
The national politics is deadlocked at the
moment. I hope these issues will be pursued by the political
sector once the deadlock is resolved.