Nepalese abroad can bring good practices in different areas: Krishna Upadhyaya

Krishna UpadhayayaKrishna Upadhyaya is a human rights, labour rights and development professional and researcher. He holds MA in Human Rights from Mahidol and Phd from University of London. He has worked in many national and international organizations in senior positions. In 2014, he was arrested by Qatari authorities while conducting research about poor living conditions of Nepalese migrant workers. Currently he is busy in institutionalizing the International Solidarity for Nepal (INSON), an organization aimed to support Nepal and connecting Nepalese people and non-residential Nepalese. Nepalekhabar talked about need for forming INSON and current situation of Nepal. Here are excerpts:

Why you are forming the International Solidarity for Nepal and could you shed light on what the organization is planning to do?

International Solidarity for Nepal (INSON) is a non-partisan informal advocacy group that aims at bringing voices from Diaspora Nepalis and non-Nepalis who care for Nepal. Human rights in Nepal is our core concern.

We will advocate for the implementation of principles of non-discrimination and good governance. When we say non-discrimination, we speak about human rights principles and also the practice. As a principle, we would like to see the Nepali state adopting policies based on it and implementing them. As a right, we would like to see individuals and communities not discriminated against. Therefore, we will raise concern on discriminations based on gender, caste, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.

Another aspect we would advocate for is good governance. This includes mainly the issues revolving round the rule of law, corruption, accountability to people, and people’s participation in the issues affecting their lives including development. These look rather broad but while carrying out activities, we will be rather specific in core issues, and deal on a case by case basis.

We adopted these core agenda of ours in the Greenwich Declaration on 13th of March in a conference to establish the INSON’s First UK Conference Preparatory Committee.

The NRNA has been active in many countries, so, rather than working with NRNs why is the organization planning to form country chapters? Are you planning to form a shadow organization of NRN?

I myself was part of NRN and was the first Joint Coordinator of UK and subsequently became the Coordinator of UK National Coordination Committee and Advisor in the past. I am not involved with it at present in any capacity but I rather like what the NRN is doing especially after the earthquake and I see its great potential in raising the issues that are important to Nepal. However, it does not specifically raise human rights issues of concern nor is it its agenda and mandate. Therefore, creating INSON is complementing the work of NRN and diaspora organisations. There is another organization, Global Policy Forum, led by Professor Surya Subedi, which also encompasses the membership from different countries. The organization works mostly on important issues and being composed of academics, it carries out policy analysis. But we are an activist group, composed of a mixture of professionals and academics committed to the core agenda of human rights. So none of these organisations trespass each other’s mandate and agenda, rather complement each other’s work.

INSON does not raise voices or carry out activities without proper evidences. This means we would look for research carried out by others or we would like to investigate issues ourselves if it has not been covered by others. So for me, NRNA and Global Policy Forum are very important for our own activities; we can draw from their works, basically from Global Policy Forum, on policy analysis which come from empirical evidences. Inversely, they can see us as a platform to bring specific issues of concern, which relates to human rights.

Another important aspect is we are non-partisan, remaining so as is the dharma of human rights defenders, and we would like to draw membership from young Nepalis and non-Nepalis, develop their leadership and eventually would like to handover the leadership to next generation. I am not saying this because it sounds very ideal, I am saying this because the Nepali diaspora of next generation would not be attracted by political issues of Nepal, will not be part of the overseas arms of Nepal’s political parties or will not be so much involved for business in Nepal (if there are opportunities for business elsewhere). The children who are educated here in the developed world and who continue to live here will be touched by issues of exploitation and discrimination anywhere in the world, including Nepal. I see it is an important area for their concern. They have not been discriminated in the schools, they have not been discriminated when they had their monthly periods, which they cannot even imagine, they have not seen workers being forced to work against their will nor they have not felt the effect of rampant corruption affecting people’s life. Such things will attract their attention as issues of global concern, Nepal included. Therefore I believe INSON will be their platform. INSON will carefully develop young persons’ leadership and make them join the group.

You have recently organized program about Federalism and Human Rights in Nepal: Challenges and Opportunities, what is the outcome of the program?

That was our first public programme in the UK. We incorporated the issues for discussions which will be issues that we will deal in the future. The issues we wanted to discuss vis-à-vis federalism in Nepal, were health, education, citizenship, labour migration, gender, water right, and non-discrimination. The workshop grabbed the media attention both in Nepal and UK.

We cannot claim about the impact itself now. But the workshop was the non-partisan academic voice for starting new debates and discussions about the implementation of federalism in Nepal. It also discussed confusions among the political actors about federalism itself at a time when partisan stand is helping to form rigid opinion about its implementation. What the workshop highlighted was that there is the brighter side of federalism and it fulfils the human rights aspirations of different communities and contributes to develop a prosperous Nepal and equality based Nepali society.

In the context of federalism, the workshop also discussed, outside any political influence, important issues like health and its management, which would be suitable for Nepal. Look at the proposals made on how health systems should be developed for all people to access. This is coming against the current trend of commercialization of the health services which makes life of people harder. The workshop also inculcates the concept that water is a basic right.

Then, it also dealt how in the changing state structure, citizenship, education, labour migration, monitoring and evaluation of government’s development interventions are being addressed. Many would say these are new, which I agree. But INSON would differentiate between ‘objects’ and ‘rights’. For example, ‘education’ is an object for service available or object for sale, but we are talking about ‘right to education’ which people should be able to claim. Claiming an object is right over that object. So is water. I am not talking about free water but is it not the duty of the state to create facilities to access water with reasonable contribution, like in the case of education? New generation of human rights activists and defenders should be working to transform object of developments into rights. This is what the workshop tried to emphasize, transpire and start new debates and discussions.

So to be specific to your question, we cannot claim impact yet, but we formed the content of fresh debates on rights, not only civil and political aspects, which media like you should help further.

What are the major challenges and opportunities for federal Nepal? Do you think the current federal states are formed on a scientific basis?

At the outset, let me say, federalism is a reality now and Nepal has to live with it. Let me talk about this from the human rights perspectives.

Many people talk about the resource constraints about implementing the rights in the new federal structure as implementation of federal structures requires many new infrastructures. Definitely it is going to be more expensive. Human rights principles and legislations have already created an international provision to tackle human rights related structures, programmes and activities. Just look at the International Convention of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1967. There you see an important provision. States cannot halt any development work on the pretexts of lack of resources. Rather it should seek international cooperation. When you start development vis-à-vis rights attached to it, the states can seek international cooperation. So, though it is arduous work, the development of structure of the provinces, and new facilities (health, education, and non-discrimination such as creating Commissions like Dalit Commissions in state level and operating them) for people to enjoy, their rights are doable, as an efficient government can seek international cooperation. Remember it is not begging, it is international provision. So, yes there are challenges but these bring greater good in terms of human rights. It provides access to people to seek redress, to claim rights, and enjoy their rights, as under federal structures there will be more decentralization and institutions are more readily available than the centralized one. Going beyond legal provision, I personally also think that if Nepal can go for expensive infrastructures like railway and roads through the craggy mountains, it can also create structures and sustain them.

As for the question, whether formation of the federal states is scientific, it depends on one’s viewpoints. I do not see what could be scientific for Nepal. Some argue from the point of economic viability, some look at from the historical point and others look at from the current demographic composition of the areas. Are not all arguments ‘scientific’, as they come from scientific reasoning? These ‘scientific’ arguments camouflage the particular stand points and interests of different political actors. Delineation based on any basis will not be perfect. So it is very tricky. But the other ‘scientific’ arrangement could be political agreement among all major political players. So rather than starting discussion whether or not they are scientific, it is important to work now on how people in provinces have better structures for rights and development.

In the recently tabled budget the general expenditure of the country is more than the total revenue target. In this context, will it be viable for national economy to bear the additional costs associated with federal states?

Economics is not my area. But as I said earlier, it is upon the government on how it can mobilize the resources efficiently. Some of the aspects of the federal structures relates to rights, and an efficient government can seek international cooperation for these. I think costs associated with infrastructure to implement rights related to non-discrimination such as Women Commission, Dalit Commission, and Janjati Commission and child education will be available if the government implements it properly. Similarly, I do not see problems related to creation of court systems and training of police forces. I re-emphasize again, an efficient government can do it. They need political will. I see Nepal developing more national confidence and some sort of political will, though at times, petty-interests of political players hurt it.

Despite people’s expectation that the new constitution will bring peace and stability in the country, the new constitution brought a lot of challenges. How do you view it and what could be done for having ownership of the new constitution by all groups and effective implementation of it?

This relates to how we see the situation. Who are the people we are talking about, by the way? Is it silent masses of the rural majority, busy hardworking for their own livelihoods? Are they women, Dalits, disadvantaged/marginalized from Tarai-Madhesh and the hills, across the country? Or is it political communities and commentators, who claim to represent the interest of these groups. This is a tricky question. The ‘people’ do not come forward to give their opinion, only those who claim to be part of them and claim to be representing them are mobilized and are mobilizing to make their points heard. So different opinions about the New Constitution ‘represent’ their ‘people’. So different opinions about the Constitution also imply that there are ‘peoples’ (not only ‘people’) in Nepal. Therefore it is necessary to incorporate all ‘peoples’, which is hard to do in practical terms. But it should be achieved through their political representatives, meaning parties.

Historical mistakes, though unintended, should not be repeated. It is important to look back to history of political formation processes. Definitely there was internal reasons for why Sadbhawana and Mangol National Parties were formed and their leaders felt that they and their aspirations were not accommodated in the existing political parties. How and why were other regional parties and the hill-based ethno-political groups formed? What were their demands and how were they formed and masses mobilized? Who and what are they talking about? Let’s cross-examine if they are talking about or against the ideals and principles of the present constitution of Nepal. This could be a point of departure towards stability and an important political trajectory to address the issues. I see there are though contentions of methods of mobilizations but not about the contents. Also territorial claims and counter claims by provinces are very tough issues but not abnormal in state building or re-structuring process.

The other question, does addressing these issues hurt the rights of others? Does giving to one amounts to the losing by others? If not, they are workable solutions to the demands coming from all corners. These solutions will definitely stabilize Nepal and enrich the Constitution.

So challenges lie in creating amicable situation for frank discussions and dialogue, respecting all communities’ rights, creating respect for each other, and each side committing to effective implementation of the constitution. At this point, it is important all sides are pressurized to sit for dialogue. Once agreement is reached, full implementation of constitution will be ensured.

You have expertise in human rights and labour rights. While looking at the Nepalese context, more than three million productive youths are working abroad and every year more than 500,000 youths are leaving the country in search of employment opportunities. How do you analyze the situation?

I have visited many places where Nepalis work. Though majority of them are unskilled workers, many also work in the skilled and professional arena. As far as I remember, there is not much scarcity of skilled and professional workers in the labour market in Nepal. So their temporary migration for work abroad does not hurt the Nepali economy, instead these skilled workers and professionals enormously contribute through remittance to the country without creating any shortage of human resources in Nepal’s industry or agriculture. The skilled workers would not work in agriculture anyway.

Let’s look at the unskilled or semi-skilled labour force which has migrated for work abroad. I have also read some research and media reports that there are not much young people left in the rural villages. This is very true. The reason is not only economic, it is more political. We see the surge of youths going for foreign employment increased after 2006/2007, though big numbers moved out of the country from early 2000s. Security and fear during the conflict pushed youths, who did not want to join the Maoists, for foreign employment and villages became empty. The Maoists combatants who induced fear in the villages also did not return to the villages. Many workers I met in Qatar, UAE and Bahrain were former combatants. Many of them were encouraged to emigrate, as a way of ‘reward’. This has definitely created shortage of labour in the villages, though they would be involved only in subsistence farming. However, we should be weighing the benefits. I have interviewed many more in Nepal and observed their families. We see the upper mobility of families of these workers in terms of housing, land acquisition, access to health and child education. In my opinion, these workers also bring important work culture to Nepal.

Most of the Nepalese youths are unskilled and working in very poor condition and this sector may collapse any time, so, what should the country do for the sustainability of this sector and to benefit from it?

Still for some time, Nepal needs to support workers for their foreign employment, unless more jobs can be created. However, the migration should be safe. Government of Nepal should negotiate with host countries for the rights of the workers, their health and safety. The negotiation should also encompass the joint monitoring of the workers situation in the host countries. The safe migration connotes to employment with adequate health and safety measures, legal protections, social security, and choices to change employment. Without these, workers will be in forced labour, and that is what happening to thousands of Nepali workers outside the country.

There will be always be the need for some unskilled workers in foreseeable future, but for greater interest of Nepal and the workers, workers intending to for foreign employment should be trained. The training programs should include skills which are in shortage in host countries.

As Nepal currently needs expertize for economic revolution, in this context, what role can experts like you, who are scattered across the globe, play for the development of the country?

For me again, economic development is very important. Human rights experts and scholars hold that overall economic growth has some positive bearing on human rights situation, though it is not the only condition. As for how Nepalis and people of Nepali origin can contribute to Nepal’s development, including economic development, it has to be looked into from a non-traditional angle. Nepalis living in developed countries will not contribute as much as migrant workers in bringing resources to the country as they are settle there permanently and spend more on their families there.

However, they can contribute by mobilize opinions for Nepal’s development, economic development included. There is a good bunch of experts in Nepal who should also partner with their Nepali compatriots abroad. Nepalis abroad can also bring good practices in different areas which can be effectively replicated in Nepal’s ground reality. Instead of wasting thousands of dollars for international experts, institutions and government can also get volunteers for Nepal from among the Nepalis outside who have international expertise.

Do you have any message to the readers?

I really like the high level of political consciousness in Nepal which is not seen in many developing countries. This political consciousness has emboldened to criticize and put forward one’s points clearer. It may also exceed the limit at some point and criticize without any evidences, facts and figures. It is always good to complement the good works done by any individuals, organizations, and even government. Nothing or no one can be all bad or good. Therefore, issue based criticism and praise is helpful.

(Editor’s Note: How do you find this interview? Please send your comment at editor@nepalekhabar.com or editor.nepalekhabar@gmail.com)

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