| Civic Education
for Strengthening Relations between People and Local Self Governance
Seminar organized by Nepal Foundation for
Advanced Studies (NEFAS)
30 September 2010, Bhimfedi
Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies chose,
as venue for its latest seminar, the historic hamlet of Bhimfedi,
which lies on the ancient salt route and was until about 50 years
ago considered the gateway to Kathmandu. The small valley is once
again regaining its 'transit' status with an alternative road
linking the capital with the central plains. The NEFAS seminar
titled "Civic Education for Strengthening Relations between
People and Local Self Governance" was organized in the halls
of an old school that had taken over the building of an ancient
public rest house. It was held on 30 September with cooperation
of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Ramji Yadav, headmaster of the school,
chaired the function. Most of the participants were teachers and
many had traveled quite a distance from villages in the surrounding
hills to attend the function.
Welcoming the participants NEFAS Executive
Director Prof. Ananda Srestha said that his organization was
not an NGO in the conventional sense, but that a voluntary organization
dedicated to holding academic discussions on public issues in
different parts of the country. The outcome of the discussions
are later published and made available for the wider public,
the professor said. He called on the participants to be very
active during the floor discussion.
The FES representative, C.D. Bhatta, introduced
his organization to the people of this once bustling place.
He said that the organization visualized by the first German
president was currently working in 80 countries promoting ideals
of freedom, equality, justice, solidarity and peace. The civic
education seminar was part of that campaign, he said. Bhatta
said that people need civic education if only to be aware of
their surroundings and voice their legitimate concerns for the
government to address them. The nation is drafting a constitution
and civic awareness can help the people have their concerns
included in the document, he said.
Shivaraj Dahal made his presentation saying
that the absence of civic awareness was stark in every sphere
of Nepalese public life. There is a need for civic education
to transform an ignorant 'people' into aware 'citizens', he
said. He attributed the political instability, economic chaos
and deviant behaviours of people in the public sphere to an
absence of a sense of duty that has resulted from a lack of
civic awareness. Dahal recommended civic education to be catered
not only through schools, but beginning from the home of the
child, his or her acquaintances and through other means like
the media. Only then will the nation achieve political stability
and economic progress, he said.
Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal's presentation on a
FES publication titled "Handbook of Democracy" sought
to explain to the participants the fundamentals of democracy.
The book, a reference material for those seeking information
regarding democracy, contains explanations of terminologies,
the kind of government in a democracy, the kind of regulations
governing democratic processes, ways governments are formed
and changed, the importance of the rule of law etc. Prof. Dahal
also explained the differences in the differences between various
forms of democracy- particularly, social democracy and liberal
Bedraj Acharya said that the political problems
in Nepal were related with the hand-to-mouth problems a large
portion of the populace. Unless we solve their problems, political
instability will always haunt us, no matter how many political
movements we conduct, he said. He said the policy needs to be
oriented towards poverty alleviation and optimum use of national
resources. Acharya talked about civic education to instill values
like respect for manual labour. He said people were ready to
work for less in foreign countries than at home because they
feared that if they are seen doing manual work at home, their
social status will go down.
The Bhimfedi seminar was a lively affair with
a two-way question-answer session taking place during the time
that was reserved for the participants to comment. But the floor
session was more concentrated on political issues that civic
education related. There were participants who did not agree
to the need for the independence of the judiciary and said that
they should be accountable to the executive. This was in contrast
with the Handbook of Democracy calling for the independence
of judiciary. Since the comment did reflect the agenda of one
of the major political parties drafting the constitution, such
issues could easily taint NEFAS' image as an independent organization.
Another issue that put the organizers at odds was the seminar
paper written by Shivaraj Dahal. The paper calls for an acceptance
of pluralism and multipartyism in the constitution while majpor
political parties do not accept pluralism even though they do
want multipartyism in the new constitution. The Bhimfedi debate
not only was lively but also exposed some of the lacunas in
the series of seminars being organized by NEFAS just ahead of
the drafting of the constitution. The function came to a close
after Chairman Yadav thanked the participants and the organizers
for their successful participation.
Excerpt of the seminar
Chair: Ramji Yadav
Ananda Srestha's welcome address
Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies was established in 1990.
It is not a run-of-the-mill NGO, but a purely academic organization.
The periodical discussions that we organise are of public concern.
The outcome of those discussions are published for the benefit
of the academic sector and those who are interested.
We have held discussions on civic education
in different parts of the country. The paper being presented
by Shivaraj Dahal today is not a complete paper. The presentation
he will make will prompt you to comment on it. Your reaction
will help make the paper more complete and publishworthy.
Our objective is to hold these discussions
away from the hustle bustle of Kathmandu thus giving us the
benefit of original feedback.
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a German organization,
has been assisting us in this series of discussions from the
C.D. Bhatta: Friedrich Ebert was the
first German president. FES was set up in 1925 to educate the
children of the poor. The foundation was set up from the gifts
he was given by the people when he was sick. Initially, the
organization it only worked to educate the children of then
poor. Later it expanded its sphere of activities. Today, it
is working in 80 countries.
Achievement of social justice, freedom, equality
and solidarity and peace were the initial objectives of the
organization. We are debating on these issues in Nepal at the
moment as we are going to draft a new constitution. The problem
is that the strong want freedom while the weak and the poor
seek social justice. Our task is to close the gap.
You need not weaken the strong to close the
gap. Instead, we can easily enable the weak by making him stronger.
In Nepal, this is a huge task. Social justice has to be an acceptable
ideal for the Nepalese. The poor must be brought to the national
political mainstream. If this is not done, political instability
There is the need to end the existing state
of impunity to enable the weak to be strong. Usually, we see
that the law applies only to the weak as the strong escape any
jurisdiction of law with impunity.
We have seen popular movements aimed at change.
But the people, who were used as tools for the movement's political
objectives, are quickly forgotten by their leaders once they
are catapulted to the seat of government.
Participation is as important as representation. Representation
alone is not enough to empower the people.
Local governments link people at the grassroots with the state.
If people's issues are addressed then the relations with the
local government becomes strong. But at the moment, we do not
have local government.
There is a need for a national identity to
be rebuilt by forging the multiple identities that are being
People have their rights in a democracy, and
responsibilities too. Talking about rights alone will not be
feasible if the responsibilities are forgotten. The state is
weakened if people do not fulfill their responsibilities. Weak
states cannot enforce the rights of its citizens. National identity
is a must for people to be loyal to the nation.
Shivaraj Dahal's presentation
Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal's presentation
Dr. Bedraj Acharya's presentation
Bal Kumar Srestha: We talk of an independent
judiciary, but what about delayed justice. How do we reform
the judiciary to avoid that?
Narhari Karki: I feel that today's
independent judiciary is not quite independent. How would the
judiciary have its efficiency reduced if it were to be dependent
on the executive or the legislative? We know that there is already
political interference in the judiciary, e.g. in General Rukmangad
Katwal's case. I do not think it would be effective ieven if
the judiciary to be made independent. The ancien regime had
that perspective and it failed.
We see that educated people criticize the
education system that they were raised by. I do not think it
will be effective that way. I think it would be better if the
media were involved in civic education rather than just schools.
Tirtha Ghising: Prajatantra connotes
an ever oppressed people or the praja. Do we rename it janatantra
or loktantra or nagarik tantra?
Amrit Lama: Will our queries be addressed
by the concerned authorities? To strengthen local government,
how accountable should the district development committees be?
Devraj Devkota: You talk of ultra-nationalists
and like terminologies.
We know that political scientists and sociologists
are involved in their own subjects only. It might be better
if they too took themselves as citizens and took up civic education.
What about the differences between pluralism
Shivaraj Dahal's reply
I agree that civic education should not be
limited to books. It should begin from the home. We need to
educate our children and choose the right school for their education.
Their acquaintances and friends too should be checked. The state
should initiate a civic education programme to educate the citizens
to make them aware of the issues surrounding them. We know that
the people can contribute a lot, for example in keeping the
environment clean. The government alone cannot do much through
Delayed justice is injustice indeed. We should
have a system whereby the local governments resolve most disputes,
before even taking them to the courts. That would reduce the
number of cases in the courts and make justice quicker and effective.
There is no civic sense in most of us. We
do not even heed to the legality of our activities. All this
is due to absence of civic education.
The moral education of the past has been taken
over by civic education today. The latter talks about ourselves
being responsible for our fate.
Regarding the terminologies on democracy,
the same English word has been translated into many Nepali words.
The terminologies show political differences among the political
parties. The people are the focus in a democracy and names mean
nothing if the fruits of democracy are delivered. There is rule
of law in a democracy.
Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal's reply
Regarding the state of the judiciary in the
new constitution, and the difference between independent judiciary
and one dependent on the legislative, there are those who advocate
a system whereby the state organs are separated from each other.
This is called separation of power. The other talks about the
injustices resulting from the independence of judiciary. This
viewpoint says that such injustices should be addressed by making
it dependent on the legislature.
Delayed justice is not only due to systematic
weaknesses, but also due to various other reasons like personal
reasons involving the judges and bureaucratic hassles.
The current constitution envisages a judiciary
that is dependent on the legislature. This is not bad in itself,
but militates against the basic elements of the western style
of democracy that sees separation of powers as a must to maintain
the balance of power among state organs.
Regarding transparency and the role of the
DDCs [District Development Committee], we see that the VDCs
[Village Development Committee] are dependent on the DDC. If
this system remain in place, the role of the DDC will be vital
in the VDC's transparency. But today we are talking of local
autonomous governance under a federal system.
CD Bhatta: Demos means people cratie means rule. Where
people rule, we have democracy. But there is no guarantee that
there is democracy in a republic. If you work for the people
then you are democratic. But instead of 'by' the people you
have 'buy' the people then you cannot have a democracy.
Shivaraj Dahal: Multipartyism is an
offshoot of pluralism. Pluralism accepts into the system different
groups and sects that are not only differentiated by political
ideology. One can have religious or even ethnic pluralism.There
is confusion regarding party policies on pluralism versus multipartyism.
Some accept multipartyism and not pluralism.
C.D. Bhatta: If we believe in a democracy,
we must respect pluralism, freedom of press and the like. If
we do not have those elements, we may not be able to accept
it as a democracy.
Amrit Lama: Will our issues reach those
Ananda Srestha; Look, we are talking
about developing a course book. If the policymaker reads the
book it is fine, if they do not we cannot pursue it as it is
not our responsibility.
Amrit Lama: We want our views to have
meaning. Such talks can be held even in a tgea shop or a bhatti.
Shivaraj Dahal: We want to see civic
education in the school curriculum. If you come with the proper
idea, it does not matter where you hold the discussion. It does
not matter whether you do so in a tea shop or a bar or a bhatti.
Tirtha Lal Thing: Why do our public
corporations go into loss and private ones make profit?
Bedraj Acharya: This is because of
the rise of corruption and state inaction. This began when the
government adopted privatization as state policy and politicians
began making money out of the deals. It benefited them to show
the PEs in loss as they could then be easily sold in the name
of reducing financial burden on the government. Additional political
interference helped to keep the PEs in the red.
Tirtha Lal Thing: What about an academic
answer to the current political problems like the inability
to elect a PM.
Sarswoti Lama: In your address to the audience as 'sirs',
you were male-oriented. You were only addressing 'sirs' and
The biggest disaster happening today is the
brain drain. I know it is also beneficial because of the remittances.
The economy benefits and also the worker's personal income.
The rise of the living standards is a direct gain. What would
have happened if we had brain drain 20 years ago. Obviously,
a better living standard.
You talked of deaths of Nepalese workers in
their foreign workplace. I know of cases of disasters taking
place in the Nepalese workplace as well. We make news only if
Nepalese die abroad and not when they die in their own country.
There are risky jobs even in Nepal. Vehicle drivers are driving
in risky roads. Please do not highlight only deaths abroad.
I think if the brain drain continues for another 20 years Nepal
will develop and if not we may go further down in economic terms.
Dayaram Kandel: Talking about better
income from remittances, we should also think about relative
income of the country where our workers go.
Bedraj Acharya: There is a difference
between going abroad through frustration and pressure at home
and through a well-thought out plan to get foreign employment.
There is also another thing. You may see that the income that
comes in from foreign employment is a good thing, but usually
the workers spend more to go abroad than they earn. The land
they sell to go abroad may never be reclaimed by the money the
Amrit Lama: Indian flags are flown
on Nepalese territory at the Koshi Barrage. The Khurdalotan
dam was built by the Indians inundating Nepalese land even encroaching
Nepalese land. What about Chandani Dodhara?
Prabha Baniya: It is unfortunate that
our resources are being exported. We have our own drinks but
trade them cheap for coca cola. We are increasing our dependence
I had to send my brother abroad to save him
from bad company. This was not done because I wanted to. But
I was forced to. This gave him respect for his own work, for
his family and even his country.
We see parents finding it difficult to buy
stationery for their children for schooling but did not hesitate
to spend the money to get drunk.
I think the programme should have been made
Manju Puri: There is too much public
discussion today about rights. Duty too should be taken up.
Prabha Baniya: I think you should lecture
the Constituent Assembly members on civic sense.
Mangala Shrestha: Are those going abroad
for work through India also considered out own citizens?
Amrit Lama: I have an official position
in this public school, but ironically I am sending my children
to study in s private school in Hetauda. This is because of
the difference in the way they teach. Those appearing in the
SLC exams from private schools do better. The public shool graduate
cannot compete in anything. There is discrimination in education
Sano Thapa Magar: I think am still
one of the 'people' and not a 'citizen'. So are many people
in Nepal. On the other hand, the politicians' activities are
not encourging. Will the constitution ever be drafted? If it
will be drafted what kind of constitution will it be?
Rule of law was envisaged even by the 1990
constitution. What difference would we see in the new constitution?
What should be our policy regarding India?
Shouldn't the parties be united in having a common policy?
Would you also educate the politicians?
Devraj Devkota: Would direct election
or indirect election be proper in a loktantra?
The politicians are swamped in corruption.
Have you included the consumers right in the
Sarswoti Lama: You talk of a new leadership
for a new Nepal. Ho do we contribute to that? For a new Nepal,
new leaders should be brought up. But we see the same old faces.
We even see elderly people fighting for the highest post. When
will the new leadership ever make it to the top?
Shivaraj Dahal: You need qualification
even for a peon but not for those seeking public office. I think
you even should impose age limitations for those wishing to
join the political leadership.
Regarding nationalism, I agree with Amrit
Lama. We are suffering from a fragmented nationalism. We should
realize that this is not helpful.
We do not see debates taking place regarding
the right to self-determination. We see border encroachments
in construction works carried out unilaterally by India.
The Indians have been using the dams to harm
Nepal in both the dry and wet seasons.
We see Indians robbing us of our natural resources, even sand
If we are united then no one can harm us.
There are people in Susta with Nepalese land
ownership papers but the land has already been taken over by
the Indians. We need to be aware that the government has not
been doing much. Instead, our politicians are seeking the blessings
of Indians to get to powerful positions.
Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal: Regarding a
model for state restructuring, the Americans have an executive
president, the British parliamentary system has a ceremonial
head with an executive prime minister and the third one is the
mixed French system where you have both an executive president
and a prim minister. Another system is the Chinese system. If
you look at our party manifestos, they adopt one or the other
or a mix of these systems.
We should be working to end the discrimination
existing in the society in many forms, not just in schooling.
Regarding the rule of law and social justice,
if these are not strengthened loktantra cannot survive.
The fundamental rights should include the
right to education.
Our nationalism is in danger because of our
politicians and not us. The weaknesses lie in our own politicians.
We still face the problem of our leaders not hearing our recommendations.
Shivaraj Dahal: We have given a similar
lecture to the 601 constituent assembly members as you have
Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal: Regarding the
election system, there is a simple majority system and a proportional
representation system. It is because of the latter system that
we have not been able to have a majority party in parliament.
Thos has however given representation to many. Our political
parties should develop toleration among their political rivals.
A mixed election system is the best for us.
Regarding the elderly leaders that we have,
I do not think we can do anything about that. If we have a minimum
education qualification, many of the MPs would be excluded.
And, political parties will never agree to that.
Regarding illiterate elected officials, the
government has been known to give them literacy classes in the
case of South India. The problem in Nepal is that the Constituent
Assembly is a special case, but, still, we can organize classes
Please do not blame India for working for
their national interest. Our politicians sign away whatever
documents they lay in front of them and then blame India. This
is not right. If the government works for political consensus
on basic issues then there will be no problem. But we are unable
to do so because those in power are steeped in corruption and
dependent on Indian largess.
Gopal Sharma: Can we have civic education
in our schools by integrating the subject in the curriculum?
Shivaraj Dahal: The government has
pledged to include it in higher secondary schools. We had developed
a publication on civic education and it turned out to become
a part of school curriculum. Most of the subject matter was
based on the discussions we had held in the past. Today, the
subject has not been made compulsory, rather optional for Class
12. We have to wait for an elected government for a proper policy
We must be hopeful that the constitution will
be drafted. That is not the main issue. Whether we have a constitution
or not, we must have security and our rights.
Ramji Yadav: Will the PM be elected
Amrit Lama: Why did you not call journalists
here in the discussions?
Shivaraj Dahal: We have done that in
the past. Two years ago in Hetauda and called many journalists.
We had given interviews. Yesterday's function in Simara was
aired by a radio.
I hope you take the message to the rural villages.
We are going through a difficult time in our country. Nepalese
are turning into refugees in heir own homeland. Politics should
be resolving deadlocks, not creating them.
We can bring back loktantra if it goes away,
but if we lose the country it will be gone forever.
We need a policy to stop the brain drain and
a sudden ban on foreign employment will not be practical.
The state should monopolize punishment and
Chairman Ramji Yadav's remarks: Your
participation in the discussions has encouraged me. Had there
been more time allotted for the discussion, it would have been
more lively. The discussion should have been spread over a period
of at least four or five days.
We have not been able to elect a prime minister
even though we have such a beautiful country and a great people.
The politicians do not indulge in any self-criticism.
Once they are in office, they only see positive developments
everywhere, but if they are in opposition, they are very critical
of everything. I am scared that the republic will go away because
of politicians' blunders. Thank you all for the lively participation.