I am a Nepali, and I don’t like your money

PANKAJ THAPA: The date was 25th April, 2015 – just before 12 p.m., I along with millions of others watched buildings shake – while concrete buildings crumbled, not a single Nepali soul broke (with the exception of those who mourned their loved ones). We hadn’t completed counting the dead when the pledges started pouring in – an overwhelming USD 4.4 billion by the time the second great aftershock struck. I was offended – I did not like the money.

The reason? Because if another earthquake of a similar magnitude is to occur tomorrow – the death toll will be similar. 8,964 people died owing to the April 2015 Earthquake in Nepal – if we are to observe there was a pattern in the deaths. Taking the emotional factor out, with the exception of the few unfortunate souls, most of the deaths occurred in homes that came from a relatively poor economic background – they couldn’t afford to build sturdier homes.

More than 4 years have passed since the unfortunate event, according to a 2018 report, after 3 years of the earthquake, only 16% of the pledged aid had been dispersed – many continue to live in temporary shelters, many have rebuilt their own homes, and should another earthquake of similar magnitude is to occur – the death toll will probably be the same. Not only the death toll, but the pattern will also be the same. Money and relief only offered temporary aid – the focus should have been on economic empowerment to be able to build sturdier shelters.

Earlier in 2014 too I was offended – Indian PM Modi, visiting Nepal pledged economic assistance to Nepal. India has done that several times in the past, every time I ply along the East-West highway, enjoying the scenic beauty of Nepal, an occasional board reminds me the highway was built by someone else. Sometimes, a signboard says 807 kilometers of the entire length of the highway was built by the Indian government, and sometimes 22 bridges – this not only offends me, it hurts me to an extent too, and I am not even that nationalistic.

India has given immensely to Nepal – highways, bridges, schools, hospitals, so much so, Nepal, which has the potential to export hydro-powered electricity, imports from India. This hurts me, not because India gives to advance its agenda in Nepal, but these projects are grim reminders to every Nepali that we are unable to realize our potential.

And it hurts me even more that we have arrived in 2019 – and we still cannot realize the same. Recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nepal; during the same, he pledged an RMB 3.5 billion assistance to ‘uplift the living standard of Nepali people’ – that hurt me deeply. My sentiments turned to offense as Nepali politicians and media celebrated the ‘assistance’ (divided between soft loans and grants). China said it would transform Nepal from a landlocked nation to a land-linked nation, the majestic rail connecting China and Nepal a part of the elaborate plan. Meanwhile, for me, as a Nepali, I would probably be offended by the sight of the rail for every time I saw the magnificent machine, it would remind me of my own incompetence to build a rail.

I am offended Nepal is accepting and celebrating ‘grants’ from China – simple enough, I don’t want tunnels, bridges, and highways which we as a nation are unable to build. I don’t want a foreign nation ‘uplifting the living standard of Nepali people’ – if we cannot do it ourselves, maybe we do not deserve it.

We may be poor as a nation; I don’t mind that as much. But I mind when Nepal is portrayed as a nation that needs to be assisted at every step and turn of life. It hurts my individual identity and Nepal’s sovereignty.

Looking at the larger implications of it, I am worried about the kind of generation we are raising – how we, as the future of the nation are to learn and execute lessons learned from the past towards a prouder and better Nepal? In the 1980s we received assistance when the earthquake struck, we received assistance, when we want to increase connectivity, we receive assistance – when is this pattern going to stop. How are we to teach our children the importance of self-reliance, when the highest body does the opposite? What kind of national pride are we to instill in our children?

Is saying the land of Sagarmatha and the birthplace of Lord Buddha going to be enough? Or are we going to be prouder when we develop and utilize infrastructure that was built with our own capable hands using our own funds?

( The author is the Editor of Aawaaj News, picture credit Isha Karki, a shorter version of this opinion was originally published in Aawaaj News portal)