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Raj B Thakuri

HIKE

The Right to Work

I had never heard of “The Community Consortium for the Right to Work” before. Neither am I aware of the constituents of this consortium. No doubt, after reading the advertisement below that appeared in “The Himalayan Times” on Tuesday, 04/04/06, many will immediately jump to brand this as a yet another ‘royalist’ lobby. I have no extra information to either endorse or dispute these claims. But as a working professional, with no personal political agenda, holding a job in Nepal and entrusted with a responsibility in these uncertain times, for myself and many others, I could not agree more to the word and spirit of this appeal.

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(Open Advertisement in The Himalayan Times – 04/04/06)

Work and industry are the fundamental basis of any organization’s economy – be it a home, an enterprise or a nation. As it is Nepal has never exactly been enterprise-friendly – miles of red tape, an apathetic bureaucracy, obsolete laws, a protectionist culture, poor infrastructure, corruption and nepotism – we all know the story. Only the boldest or the most foolhardy have ventured into any form of free enterprise in our country. And it is to these entrepreneurs and the salaried men and women that credit for any small progress we have made in the recent years is due. And yet they are dogged at every step – by corruption, by extortion, by unfair practices. It is indeed a tribute to the resiliency and eternal resourcefulness of us Nepalese people that despite these hindrances, we not only survive but continue to hold our own in a global context. Continue to build the nation on the basis of small successes and private victories. Continue to chart our own course to self-sufficiency.
While our so-called leaders continue to bicker to the brink.

And in return, all we ask for is the right to work. The right to go about our businesses without the threat of impending violence. The right to be able to plan ahead without a sword hanging over every project. The right to work without having to contend with enforced bandhs and reciprocal curfews.

It seems that even this is too much to expect. As we are aware, the great leaders of democracy, in their unfathomable wisdom, have called a general strike for four days from April 6 to 9. No doubt the present government will respond by cutting off telecommunication soon and declaring a curfew too.

Again – a few thousand arrivals in the tourism sector will be cancelled; a few more contracts will fall through; a few hundred truckloads of vegetables will rot in pits; a few tons of milk will be thrown to the rivers; a few unfortunates will have their vehicles burnt to ashes; a few expectant women will face an untimely demise due to lack of ambulances to clinics; a few self-respecting people will end their lives at the end of a rope because they could not bear to hear their starving children crying. Again, a few sons and husbands will be lost forever to narrow-minded politics and vested interests larger than themselves.

To the contenders, a bandh may be a form of symbolic resistance against the prevailing authority, but the costs are, alas, all too real in human terms.

It is a fact that 80% of the businesses in the hospitality sector have been forced to close shop in the last three years. It is a fact that thousands of farmers are unable to deliver their farm and diary produce to markets and are forced to dispose off the fruits of their backbreaking labor. It is a fact that maternity and infant-mortality rates spike during transport strikes. It is a fact that suicide rates, which have been at an all time high these last few years, goes further north during extended periods of forced closure. It is a fact that the economy – already in tatters with double-digit inflation rates – is stressed ever closer to the breaking point with each day that is lost to productivity.

The concept of a “Bandh” is founded on the principle of ‘Cooperating to NOT cooperate’. It is a participatory thing – not to be enforced at the end of a baton or a barrel of a gun. Organizers of programs that disrupt public life – past and future – should understand that they cannot go on demanding sacrifices while giving nothing else in return. We will not cooperate anymore.

But I do not have time for politics. I am too busy trying to earn an honest living during these times of upheaval, too busy trying to ensure the livelihoods of a hundred others who depend on the micro-economies around our enterprises. There can be no progress without work. There can be no revolution without work. And in this, without knowing what or who, I express my solidarity to the appeal made by the Consortium for the Right to Work, and through all its myriad aspects and interpretations, demand only one thing – LET US WORK.