From The Kathmandu Post (26 September, 2014)
We may run but we cannot hide from the values that Nanda Prasad Adhikari was trying to teach us
Early afternoon on Monday, when visiting Nanda Prasad and Gangamaya Adhikari in the company of human rights activists , government officials and medical personnel involved in a last ditch effort to convince the couple to end their fast of 333 days, this writer found Nanda Prasad in a state unlike at any other time during the last year-and-half of acquaintance.
Gangamaya had been the consistently weaker of the two hunger strikers, while Nanda Prasad, even in his shrivelled skin-and-bone frame, had been forever alert and questioning. He would condemn the political leaders by name for their hypocrisy, recall the misdeeds of the Maoists under whose revolutionary diktat his 16-year-old son Krishna Prasad was tortured and killed in Chitwan in 2004, and upbraid us activists who tried to convince the couple to give up their fast-unto death.
There were many heated arguments with Nanda Prasad, even as he berated us for being naïve enough to believe that successive governments were serious about justice. As our many reassurances were overtaken by governmental apathy, he brought to bear his sharp memory to deride us with dates, names, and the words of promises un-kept.
The last time I entered the Bir Hospital’s ‘old ICU’ cabin was to help doctors place a feeding tube through the nasal cavity, a failed endeavour (and one too late) to provide nutrition directly to the food-pipe. Nanda Prasad was livid at our effort, and I had to keep away for fear of agitating him in his weakened state.
On Monday afternoon, Nanda Prasad was a man tragically transformed. His visage was passive, his eyes did not intently follow the visitor as in the past. When the attending nurse asked him whether he understood what the visitor had said, he faintly shook his head, either to say no or to reject the repeated suggestion of breaking fast. He seemed to stop blinking and a kind of film spread over his pupils. The doctors, nurses, helpers, and policemen who had so diligently served Nanda Prasad and kept him alive over the last year gathered around. He was gone by 5 pm.
Nanda Prasad watched as death came step by step in his direction. Given the nature of our present political regime, he seemed to have foreknowledge that there could be no other outcome. Till perhaps mid-day of Monday, he would have been conscious of what was happening and why.
But at no point during the 333 days of not eating did Nanda Prasad concede an inch on his demands. His was satyagraha, harming oneself but no one else for a cause. We did try to convince him that justice was to be fought for in life and not in death, and that the wheels of law would ultimately turn in favour of the steadfast, but he did not believe nor agree. He wanted the killers of Krishna Prasad punished, and did not care for convoluted assurances because he did not believe that the state had the willpower to follow through.
Together with Gangamaya, Nanda Prasad was battling for justice for Krishna Prasad, for all the victims of conflict on all sides, and for the citizenry as a whole—some day we will recognise him for the lode star that he is for a society lost in the quicksand of opportunism and appeasement.
Nanda Prasad’s fight was (and Gangamaya’s remains) to demand accountability from a supposedly democratic state, to make it respond to the requirements of rule of law and due process. The couple simply wanted the criminal justice system activated under the Interim Constitution. In their lonely fight for justice for eight long years before the media discovered them a year ago, they addressed the government and the courts, not taking recourse to human rights organisations, INGOs, the NHRC, the OHCHR or the embassies.
As the couple abandoned their property in Gorkha’s Phujel village under extreme threat, as their livestock died in the noose, as the state chased and manhandled them, Nanda Prasad and Gangamaya had only each other for solace—even when they were shoved into the mental hospital at Jawalakhel or deposited by the police van at the cracked, dirty and busy doorstep of Bir Hospital.
The Adhikaris never cared to understand that constitution-drafting had trapped their agenda for justice. The ‘democrats’ who won the November 2013 elections (the tired old horses and ‘young turks’ alike) decided that rather than dare the Maoist leadership with due process, they would take the path of least resistance, sacrificing the Adhikari couple in the process.
Amidst all this, rights activists fought a two-pronged battle, on the one hand to try to convince the terminally unwilling Gangamaya and Nanda Prasad to give up their fast on the assurance the couple would be not be abandoned till justice was done. (Once the accused killers, including one Rudra Acharya presently in Northern Ireland, were taken into custody, we sought to impress upon them, the conspirators from Phujel would be easily brought in.) On the other hand, we sought to cajole the political parties, police and government (including the Attorney General’s office) to activate criminal procedure.
Whatever the government did on the Krishna Prasad murder case, it did too late and utterly reluctantly, and that too only upon the insistence of activists, including the filing of the murder case at Chitwan District Court and the issuing of an Interpol ‘diffusion notice’ for the repatriation of Rudra Acharya. Once the Parliament adopted the flawed Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act and made it law, the government stopped even feigning its commitment to bringing the murderers of Krishna Prasad to book.
The diplomatic community as represented in Kathmandu during the years of transition had always instructed us that the observance of human rights was an international absolute, but ‘absolute relativism’ was apparent on the case of Nanda Prasad and Gangamaya. Each and every embassy and entity that has maintained a human rights presence here, including the United Nations Department of Political Affairs, will hopefully introspect and take lessons from their one year and more of resounding silence on the matter of a fasting couple in Nepal.
In a society that seems to have lost all perspective and comparative sensibility, we have yet to understand the enormity and meaning of Nanda Prasad’s departure. We are not alert to the scale of the event that has occurred, nor able to compare it with the death-by-fasting of Irish nationalist Bobby Sands in 1981 or Potti Sreeramulu in 1952, the latter fighting for a separate Andhra Pradesh. Both died fighting for identity-led governance, which is somewhat harder for any state to countenance than what the Adhikari couple were asking for—simply to find and punish the murderers of their son.
For his pains, Nanda Prasad was pilloried on social media and ignored by mainstream media, national, sub-continental as well as overseas. Many continue to castigate him in death, even as his body lies cold in the Teaching Hospital morgue. The highest level insensitivity towards the couple is found among those who claim that they were instigated on their fast by anti-Maoist opportunists.
One can be sure that Nanda Prasad’s satyagraha and passing will be recognised in Nepal’s and South Asia’s history, even if today each of us is so busy trying to find excuses and scapegoats to help explain why a couple chooses voluntary death.
Gangamaya, holding the same values and commitments as her husband, today continues her fast. She once told this writer, “Every time I think of Krishna Prasad, it feels like an iron nail to my heart. I think I will see justice delivered from above, only when I am gone.”
But let that not happen. Gangamaya must live to see justice on the murder of Krishna Prasad. If it is the Maoist blackmail on the constitution-writing that has everyone willing to sacrifice the couple to the after-world, we must do everything possible to keep Gangamaya alive till the constitution is written. This includes continuing give her ‘TPN’ protein feed intravenously while trying to convince her to take fluid through the mouth.
Nanda Prasad died just before the country closes down for the Dashain holidays, making it easier for many to stop thinking about him and his message. But the cause of justice will not be forgotten that easily. We may run, but we cannot hide.