Staff members Dee Aker and Daniel Orth were in Nepal in January to work with local partners of the IPJ’s Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative. Since the promulgation of a new constitution in August 2015, Nepal has been gripped by unrest in the southern plains region known as the Terai and home to the Madhesi people. Citing problems with the new constitution and historical grievances about political and economic marginalization, large segments of the Madhesi population, mobilized by political parties, have taken to the streets in protest and created a blockade on the southern border with India through which a majority of the country’s imports arrive. The state has responded harshly to the protestors and security forces have been implicated in the deaths of protestors and civilians, while police officers also have been attacked and killed.
Through conversations with a wide range of actors including police, political leaders, protestors, civil society, media, youth, women and violence-affected families, the IPJ team offered a platform for individuals to share their experiences and to feel heard, and in the process gained a deeper understanding of the current context for the IPJ’s future work.
With the help of local partners, Aker and Orth brought together more than 110 individuals at six roundtable discussions and one full-day workshop. From Armed Police Force officers sitting with protest leaders, to women from opposite sides — one who lost a child and one who lost her livelihood — these events offered the opportunity for individuals to hear from “the other,” reducing misunderstanding and beginning to rebuild trust.
The IPJ team also had the chance to speak with more than 40 individuals during several one-on-one interviews and small group meetings. They sat down with influential elites that included Nepal’s current Prime Minister, K.P. Oli, and two former prime ministers; U.S. Ambassador to Nepal Alaina Teplitz; more than a dozen members of Parliament; high-ranking police officials; and Madhesi protest leaders.
The risk of continued conflict remains high and ultimately the solutions will need to come from within the country; however the IPJ remains committed to creating opportunities for the people of Nepal to engage in more productive conversations to achieve a just and peaceful country for all citizens.