#MeToo Movement Gaining Momentum in Nepal, More Revelations Likely!

Dr. Prakash Banjade

Interview by Sai Nikesh D

A struggling land is often home to many inspiring people as struggle teaches what life is and gives the world the motivators!

Nepal is one such land that emerged out of an intense struggle in almost every form. Overcoming hurdles, the country is finally today on the track of socio-economic-political development to give its citizens and especially the youth, a bright future.

Given this tough & struggling background, every Nepali naturally carries an emotion in his/her speech. In one of its recent attempts, Nepali Sansar Bureau (NSB) got in touch with one such inspiring young personality from Nepal – Dr. Prakash Banjade,  Medical Doctor, Social Activist, UN Youth Representative & Motivational Speaker.

Intense love for homeland and burning wish for development define Mr. Prakash in a better way, majorly for his rich emotion when he mentions about his nation and its development.

Following are some excerpts of NSB’s interview with Mr. Prakash:

1. NSB: Glad to meet a multi-faceted personality like you. Besides openly-available information, we take this pleasure of knowing about you in your own words in brief?

Prakash Banjade : When I grew up, Arghakhanchi, Kimdanda village had no proper basic infrastructure and it remains the same even today. I was actively engaged in Nepal’s democracy movement sometimes referred to as “Jana Andolan-II” (People’s Movement-II) in 2006, the political agitations against the direct and undemocratic rule of King Gyanendra of Nepal.

I experienced rural life before I had any clear dream about my future. All I wanted to do is to reduce poverty level, ensure quality & peaceful education, human rights, democracy and health care facilities, and still continue to do.

I was an active and enthusiastic youth serving the society since the age of 10 years via Nepal Red cross society, Child Rights clubs and youth clubs, etc. I also served in Amnesty international Nepal and Kathmandu Medical College social club, where I realized that I live in a highly unfair and unsafe nation with growing inequalities, violence of democracy, human rights and rule of law.

At that time, Nepali youth were facing each day in pursuit of right education, child rights, democracy, peace, education, security and human rights; life has taught me never to give up. So, we went in search of active young people getting involved in their local communities and democracy at all levels, as a nationwide activity. These active campaigns were as small as a campaign to clean up our streets or as big as educating young people about democratic values, skills and participation.

Further, I put utmost interest in serving the deprived and marginalized population. Apart from job, I am actively involved in promoting access to human rights and democracy education services to the rural community.

2. NSB: Coming to your diverse activities from past to present, how has been your journey from being a student to holding key positions as a student representative across globally-reputed organizations?

Prakash Banjade : I had the privilege of being part of UN Youth Nepal for 7-8 years. I first got involved in it as a medical student. I enjoyed the youth participation in decision-making process at UN events in Kathmandu so much that I also got involved in the national youth conference and also in the peace process. I really enjoyed learning about how cultural, economic, political, geographic and social factors shaped a nation’s foreign policy.

UN Youth gave me a global perspective. My desire to pursue an international career as an adult was largely inspired by the exposure to international relations through the United Nations. Serving as an officeholder in UN Youth was also a formative experience. I began my involvement as an officeholder in the capacity of a medical student representative in Kathmandu. I also served as a medical student national coordinator. I later served as the national executive for two years, including one term as national president 2014-2018.

It was a challenging, but exhilarating, experience to oversee a large volunteer organization. Every day, I was heartened by the enormous amount of work our volunteers put into running events for students all across Nepal. Working with UN Youth volunteers showed me that young people indeed have the power to make a difference.

3. NSB: As a medicine student, we would like to listen from you about the development and status of medical education in Nepal?

Prakash Banjade : The first institution for training health workers started 75 years ago. Further development of teaching/learning institutions, mainly governmental, started from the middle of the 20th Century. The last fifteen years have seen a tremendous growth in the number of medical schools in the country.

At the beginning of August 2010, there were eighteen medical schools and all except four were in the private sector. Among government-run schools, the National Academy of Medical Sciences (NAMS) is a postgraduate training institution attached to Bir Hospital, the oldest hospital in Nepal.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) was the first medical school started in the late 1970s. IOM admits students from other countries who pay privately to the undergraduate medical (MBBS) course. The other two schools, BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences (BPKIHS) and Patan Academy of Health Sciences (PAHS) admit students paying partial and full tuition to the MBBS course.

Colleges in Nepal also admit students from India, Sri Lanka, and from developed nations who pay higher tuition fees than Nepalese students. Sri Lanka has only one private medical school and many Sri Lankan self-financing students are enrolled in Nepalese schools.

Considering the high tuition and other fees, working in the government health sector or in rural Nepal does not give an adequate return on investment. The faculty in Nepali medical schools mainly come from Nepal and India, with a few faculty members coming from other countries.

Many faculties are not familiar with the sociocultural milieu of Nepal and with healthcare delivery in rural areas. The duration of the MBBS course is four and half years followed by a year of rotating internship which foreign students can do in their home countries.

Medical education and medical schools especially in South Asia have long espoused the principle that one ‘size’ or ‘style’ of medical education fits all. With the rapid advancements occurring in medical knowledge, it might be the time to recognize that no medical student can learn all ‘necessary’ facts and skills.

The knowledge and skills to be taught and learnt may be determined by students’ career plans after graduation and where he or she plans to work. In Nepal and in many other countries, self-financing students are supported by their families or educational loans and their primary motive may be to recover the high investment as quickly as possible after graduation.

Many self-financing students have their goals set firmly on examinations like the United States Medical Licensing Examination and postgraduate entrance examinations and/or establishing an urban practice.

Teachers suffer from an inadequate knowledge of conditions in rural Nepal and of the government healthcare system. Many have not spent adequate time in rural areas. A similar situation may exist in medical schools in other South Asian countries and other developing nations. Privatization of medical education and admission of scholarship students to these schools has created a student body with diverse educational needs and outlooks.

4. NSB: What do you say about the country’s renowned medical professional and a social activist Dr KC’s continuous struggle for reforms in medical education? How has been the government’s stance towards this?

Prakash Banjade :Health is a Human Right“. So, it’s important to provide high quality care to poor and marginalized people and inspire others. I urge the government to immediately implement the past agreements, and address ‘Dr KC’s justifiable demands.

5. NSB: As a country prone to natural disasters, healthcare services would definitely be a high priority for Nepal. How do you see the status of such services in the country from past to present?

Prakash Banjade : Medical schools do not prepare medical students for their services in rural Nepal. Though students spend time in communities, the training is not adequate for them to work independently in rural areas, handle administrative responsibilities, interact with rural communities and live in rural Nepal.

At present, Nepal is facing the problems of population growth and environmental pollution. Health facilities are inadequate for the growing population. Majority of the people are suffering from poverty and illiteracy, and have poor idea about health and sanitation. There is high infant, child and maternal death rate due to harmful diseases like tuberculosis, polio, encephalitis, etc., and many deaths due to the lack of maternal care. Private hospitals in urban areas are too expensive for common public. Government hospitals are not well-equipped and service-oriented. There are not many hospitals outside Kathmandu, no health posts and health centers specially in the remote areas.

6. NSB: Coming to a social worker in you, what level of responsibility has your growth as an active youth worker over the years added on to your shoulders?

Prakash Banjade : Nepal is going through various highs and lows – be it in political, democracy, human right or social issues. Every comfort, discomfort, approval, disapproval or breach of law, either by a governmental or non-governmental sector, is being challenged through severe street protests. The protests are largely participated or led by youngsters and show the major concern of the nation with regard to state affairs. It clearly reflects their anger against the Oldies? Police? and exhibits their role, and ability to judge between right and wrong.

We are planning to conduct a new campaign, role of youth in public decision-making to uphold our responsibility to get democracy guided by human rights principles based on rule of law and democratic values and process.

7. NSB: Any significant changes that you observed in Nepal’s civil rights scenario in your journey with different local and global-level human rights organizations?

Prakash Banjade : It is well known that Nepal is in the phase. It makes me really feel bad about the present political and socioeconomic condition of my country. There is still a big margin between people in the name of caste, sex and other social blind faith. Most of the youth are very pessimistic about the country. Leaders are also visionless. Most youth are frustrated due to unemployment, corruption, social insecurity and political instability. So, they feel to move abroad for better life.

I read the history of Europe, America, Singapore and other developed country. They all have faced the transition phase. I am very much optimistic about my country. We are very rich in natural resources and it could be among the richest countries, but what we lack is good vision and management.

8. NSB: How do you see the country’s human rights scenario in view of the ongoing turmoil surrounding violence against women and girl child reported in the recent times? Driven by the growing number of women violence cases, #MeToo movement seems to have taken its form in Nepal. What do you say about #MeTooNepal?

Prakash Banjade : In social media, mainly in Facebook and Twitter, there are several posts related to sexual harassment and supporting the #MeToo Movement in Nepal. My doctor-friends have also told me about their #MeToo moments of sexual harassment they faced from their male doctor colleagues. These women have to work long and difficult hours too. Social activists are encouraging more women to share their stories and more revelations are likely in the future as the campaign gains momentum.

Still, a large section of Nepali women who cannot access social media and English-language media do not know about this global movement. Nepal has high rates of violence against women and several government agencies and NGO-led campaigns have been implemented to curb such violence.

Of late, Nepal has taken some statutory and legal steps in order to curb the violence against women. Article 38 of the constitution promulgated in 2015 says, “No woman shall be subjected to physical, mental, sexual, psychological or other form of violence or exploitation on grounds of religion, social, cultural tradition, practice or on any other grounds. Such act shall be punishable by law, and the victim shall have the right to obtain compensation in accordance with law.

Also, in 2015, Nepal introduced the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Prevention Act, which imposed strict provisions against sexual harassment. Article 12 of Act stipulates that “any person who has committed sexual harassment under the Act may be punished with imprisonment of up to 6 months and/or fine of up to 50,000 Nepali rupees [roughly USD 430].

If the state, political and civil society movement do not become sensitive to the increasing violence against women, the dam could burst anytime. If it bursts, only time will tell how the personality and power of some people will be destroyed.

9. NSB: How successful and determined has Nepal been in meeting UN-set development goals over the period? Any significant developments under the new governance?

Prakash Banjade : Nepal is an active member of the global initiative for sustainable development and has been closely observing the negotiations concerning the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It looks forward to the further crystallization of the global goals and for national adaptation to implement them for the inclusive long-term development of the country.

Nepal is a least developed country characterized by slow economic growth, socioeconomic underdevelopment and a low level of human development. It is emerging from a politically and socially fragile post-conflict situation, structurally-generated poverty & inequality and deeply-entrenched forms of social exclusion.

Ending absolute poverty in Nepal by 2030 is an ambitious target, particularly with the reversals caused by the recent earthquakes. Eradicating poverty requires the two-pronged strategy of expediting economic growth and the more equitable distribution of incomes through policy interventions in the labor and financial markets, along with expanding social protection measures. The international community needs to work closely with government stakeholders to implement the country strategy.

10. NSB: Coming to federal governance functioning, how do you look at its potential in laying a new progressive path for the country, all across from urban to rural and developed to remote parts of the country? How do you find the government-level contribution to the local development, in terms of public policy making, constitutional amendments, introduction of development schemes, etc.?

Prakash Banjade : If we look at the real success stories of countries that have made rapid socio-economic progress in the last century, we will note that no particular “ism” or ideology delivers success. 

Instead, the most successful countries are those that follow a broadly-democratic system with respect for human rights and pragmatic economic policies with a judicious fusion of well-regulated markets offering incentives for private enterprise, innovation and excellence. In such system, the state ensures provision of basic social services for all citizens, a level playing field and equal opportunity (but not necessarily equal outcomes) for all, and special protection & security for all vulnerable groups.

It is the duty of a progressive state to ensure that nobody falls below a minimum threshold of human well-being and the society as a whole life within the boundaries of environmental sustainability. Some call this welfare capitalism and others democratic socialism.

11. NSB: Local employment is one major aspect that the current government is focusing more on in its announcements. How do you look at this scenario in the country with large migrant population?

Prakash Banjade : On the heels of a massive increase in labor migration abroad, remittances flew into Nepal as a GDP rate of 32.1 per cent in 2017/18. Close to 50 per cent of Nepalis rely on financial help from relatives abroad, among the highest rates in the region.

The top-five destinations for Nepali migrant workers are Malaysia (40.9 per cent), Saudi Arabia (22.9 per cent), Qatar (20.3 per cent), United Arab Emirates (11.2 per cent) and Kuwait (2.1 per cent).

The factors behind low investment include chronic political instability, bad governance and decline in the manufacturing sector. Lack of adequate employment opportunities at home and chronic political instability have led young men and women of the most productive age groups to look for economic opportunities abroad.

Migration has been an important component of population redistribution in Nepal. People have been migrating from rural-to-rural and rural-to-urban areas in search of employment and educational opportunities. Occasional natural calamities like floods and landslides have also forced people to flee from their birth place to other potential areas for their livelihood. Internally-displaced persons have remained in vulnerable situations expecting urgent rescue and help. Important causes of internal migration in Nepal have been poverty, inequitable distribution of income, unemployment, difficult livelihood and food insecurity.

12. NSB: As a youth representative and a motivational speaker, would you like to leave some message to the country and its youth?

Prakash Banjade : You need good connections with powerful people in the government or among influential businessmen to succeed in Nepal. Nepal is not yet a meritocratic society. If you don’t have friends and family members in influential positions, you need to do a lot of chakari and bhan-sun and use a lot of source-force to succeed in life. Life can be extremely challenging for those of us who are unwilling or unable to resort to such demeaning, unprofessional practices. 

In my own case, I came from a rather humble background from a fairly remote village in Arghakhanchi district. I had no friends and family members in any important government positions. I never asked people to do me any special favor and I detest the practice of doing chakari and bhan-sun. 

If you are students of doctors, engineers, management, science or an art cultural, study hard. Give it your best. I assume you might have read some books about self-improvement and perhaps you have received some tips for success from your professors and career counselors. 

There are many books, and these days, Google and other search engines on the internet from which you can get lots of advice on how to succeed in life. Some of the famous classic books include, Guru Saran Das The Difficulty of Being Good, Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly-Successful People and many others.

Good luck is, of course, beyond your control. Hard work is something that most of us are prepared to do. When hard work and good luck are combined with some strategic decisions, that can lead you to a path of success. A common concern I hear from many young people from ordinary families in Nepal is that good education alone is not enough to get a good job and willingness to work hard is not enough to succeed in one’s career.

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