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Civic Education for Strengthening Relations between People and Local Self Governance

Seminar organized 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 drafted.

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 dream.

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

FLOOR

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 so far.

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 strengthening loktantra.

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 education.

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 be fruitful.

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 on politicians.

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 Nepal's future.

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 governance mean?

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 healthy.

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 rights.

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 the villages.

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.

Chairman's remarks
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.

 
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