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Civic Education for Strengthening Relations between People and Local Self Governance

Seminar organized by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

9 September 2010, Kakarbhitta

A one-day seminar on civic education was organized by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung on the border town of Kakarbhitta on 9 September, 2010. The venue was a public school and the participants included teachers, local officials, students and the leaders of the society of this new yet small town. Participation initially faced hiccups because most of the invitees had to attend a funeral following the death of a prominent social worker in the area. The seminar went ahead as the event had been planned in advance.

In his opening address NEFAS Executive Director Ananda Srestha welcomed the participants saying that NEFAS had been holding such public discussions on public issues ever since its establishment in 1990. He informed the audience that the outcomes of those discussions had been published and helped students, policymakers and those interested in the respective subjects with a reference material. Today's discussion on civic education and local government will also help in the production of a book that will be part of the school curriculum, he said. Srestha asked everyone to contribute with their comments.

Chandra Dev Bhatta, the FES representative, took over to introduce to the participants his organization. He said that the foundation named after the first German president has been working in 80 different countries to promote the values of social justice, equality, freedom, solidarity and peace. He asked the participants to take note of the fact that the country was writing a new constitution and raise issues that need to be included in the national document.

The seminar saw three presentations made by Shivaraj Dahal, Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal and Bedraj Acharya. Dahal's paper was on civic education while Prof. Dahal made his presentation on the FES Handbook on Democracy. Acharya talked about contemporary economic issues. In his presentation, Shivaraj Dahal talked about the need for people to be aware of their rights and responsibilities because if the people did not exercise their rights the whole nation would continue to deviate from its chosen path. He pointed to the political chaos, loss of social harmony and the economic decline as p[roof of the absence of civic sense not only among the politicians but also the people in general. The people must be aware of their rights and regard themselves as 'citizens' and not just 'people' he said.

Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal explained to the audience the fundamentals of a democracy as presented in the FES handbook. He talked about the different kinds of democracy, kinds of elections, branches of government and separation of powers, the political parties, transparency, rule of law, free press and the like. The professor also used examples from various western democracies to drive home his point.

Bedraj Acharya talked about poverty in the country and said that the task of the policymakers was to meet the basic needs of the populace. If the people do not have their hand-to-mouth needs met, then there will never be political stability, he said. There were other aspects of basic needs like health, education, housing and the like, Acharya said, and added that the state must work to fulfill these needs for the people to truly enjoy democracy and prosperity.

The presentations was followed by the floor discussions where participants not only raised simple queries seeking explanations of the terms and terminologies used in the papers but also suggested ideas and opinions that could be included in the paper. If some of them wanted to know what their own part would be in reforming the society, others thought that the political leadership and even the civil society for not responding to national crises in time.

The seminar ended with Chairman Niroula thanking all the participants for the lively participation in spite of the tragedy [death of an eminent person] that occurred in the town that robbed the seminar of some of the participants.

Excerpt of the seminar

Ananda Srestha's welcome address: Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies has been organizing discussions on national issues since 1990, the year NEFAS came into being. These discussions are mostly held outside the capital. It is in this context that we are here in Kakarbhitta. The discussions do not go to waste as they are later published in book form. Shivaraj Dahal and Ram Kumar Dahal will be making presentations and we solicit your comments so that they can be incorporated in the publication that will be produced from the outcome of the seminar.

Chandra Dev Bhatta: Friedrich Ebert was the first president of Germany. FES or the foundation that I work for is involved in promoting freedom equality, solidarity and social justice. All these are issues that we in Nepal have been facing problems with today. Nepal is working to develop a new social contract. We are trying to see that these values are included in the new contract, or the constitution that is being drafted. The weak must be included in the political process If the weak are not included the political system will not be stable.

We need to understand what the state is, what democracy is and how the economy is running. We need to understand how all voices are included in the mainstream. And, since 2007 B.S, people have not been able to enjoy the fruits of democracy. That is why we have periodic movements and agitations.

We need civic education to understand all this.

At the moment, we have different competing identities in a fragmented state and this needs to be amalgamated into a national identity where we have a common consensus on issues that concerns all of us. These fragmented and scattered identities must be forged into one so that all can feel included. This same problem exists in the United States as well because they need to grapple with the problems of bringing people from all around the world to their country- forging many national identities into an American identity.

Over 90 per cent of the Nepalese are poor and we must be able to empower them. Their problems need to be brought to the mainstream if they are to be solved. And, for that we need civic education. We are targeting the youth as most of the voters are between 18 and 35 years of age, a section of the populace that is not included in the decision making circle. With not much room inside the country, they are increasingly finding themselves being pushed outside the country in search of jobs.

Prof. Ram Kumar Dahal's presentation

Shivaraj Dahal's presentation

Bedraj Acharya's presentation


Khagendra Dhungana: What do you expect from us regarding civic education?

You talked of love for the country. What should we do to show that?

How do we demand our rights from the politicians who do not respect us and our needs?

Condoms were advertised because of AIDS spread. People talked of ethnic issues and people rose to demand ethnic identity.

Why do people not think of promoting patriotic songs or music and why not promote such ideas?

You talked of Nepalese education. We are unemployed and we do not see our education helping us by becoming useful in our day to day lives.

Mohan Poudel: We talked of politics. What is there for us youth to know yet? We have already seen our incapability to elect a prime minister even for a record 7th time? Is it that things will work if we have a young prime minister? I feel that we also need experience. How do we provide new leadership? Has our leadership failed or do we need a new system?

Civil society is indeed a sack of rotten potatoes like Baburam Bhattarai said.

Why was the civil society not needed before 2062 B.S. They only appear for short intervals to benefit one or the other political group. Where do they go for the rest of the time?

People should rise to the occasion to develop a real civil society. Is loktantra failing because people are not aware?

Suman Karki: What does popular revolt mean?

Kul Prasad Ghimire: We talked of democratic rights. Who should provide us these rights? I feel education should be compulsory at least until high school. Without education people won't know their rights and duties. How can so many poor people be able to afford education? Free education, therefore, is needed. Education must be vocational and applicable in income generating activities so that employment can be generated.

Commercial education must be prohibited, as the poor people cannot afford it after a certain number of years. There is corruption also in private schools where teachers are exploited. Even shopkeepers are corrupt because of extortionary prices. Even money changers are corrupt as they are overcharging while changing Indian currency.

NEFAS should make clear which political system gives citizen's their rights and duties.

Shivaraj Dahal reply

To Khagendra Dhungana, it is civic education that provides knowledge about civic rights and duties. Today, we find ourselves demanding rights without seeking to fulfill our civic responsibilities.

We talk of loktantra but do not possess loktantric culture. Loktantra is a perpetually changing system and we must gear ourselves for that.

Our young generation is leaving the country while our local industry is disappearing. If this generation takes the initiative in national politics then we could give birth to statesmen of tomorrow.

Regarding patriotism, we have a diverse people, in ethnic and linguistic terms. We need to create employment here. We are more proud of flying party flags in our homes than national flags.

Regarding education policy, we are engaged in regimented education. Buddha did not seek education from elsewhere, he spread his own knowledge. And, everyone else in the world follows Buddhist religion, except apparently the Nepalese. We are mired in conflict and wars instead.

Education must be made practical and vocational.

Bikas Upreti: Why you discourage party politics among youths. Please tell us the kind of politics we should be involved in.

Shivaraj Dahal: Youth is backbone of the society and capable resource in the country that can provide us with the dynamic transformation that we need. I did not say that youths should not be involved in party politics. That is the constitutional-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.

Kalpana shrestha (collage student) : I would like to thank Mr. Shivaraj Dahal for presenting his complete paper. I was happy to listen to your lecture. And, this should continue so that it keeps enlightening people like us.

He has been successful to some extent in giving an overview of civic education. New Nepal is not possible without the participation of the youth. It cannot be conceptualized without a youth movement. The energy of the youth has to be utilized for New Nepal. But in reality the youth are divided on issues of nationality, ethnicity and regionalism. Youths are falling prey to distorted thinking. Different groups are using the youth for their own purposes. This is unfortunate.

Ram Kumar Dahal: Popular revolt as a term can be looked at from different perspectives. In our context, the Maoists launched their revolt against the then political system claiming to be working on behalf of the people. Other groups too can launch similar political movements.

Regarding which political system is the best, whatever the political system, if it benefits the most number of people, it will be considered the best. Terminologies like loktantra are hollow if they do not work. The system should represent the most number of people and the most marginalized.

Regarding whether it is systemic failure, we all know that the politics of Nepal is being remotely controlled by foreign forces. The only question is whether it was our weakness that invited their presence or was it their coming that made us weak. But the fact is that they are prevalent.

Regarding the youth, we do not see political patties, all of them, including more youth in decision making.

Bedraj Acharya : Thank you all for taking part in the discussion.

Chairperson Tulasi prasad Niroula: The 80 invitees could not attend this function because of various reasons.

We sow a lot of seeds and only 75 per cent germinate. Of them about 35 per cent may grow properly. When they actually give fruit, about 10 per cent are successful. If only 10 per cent of the knowledge imparted today remains with us we will be able to create novel stuff in the future.

An Indian politician sent his son to study in England after the Indian independence. He was not able to get admitted to any school and found himself neglected by all. This inspired him to become patriotic. You see that the Indians today are very patriotic. Ram Dev is an example who is even challenging the medical science.

We are grateful for NEFAS' decision to stop at Kakarbhitta after such a long innings in the country spreading such patriotic messages. Thank you all.

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