Over the weekend, a story at Kane County Chronicle surprised me. Honestly, it is not my local paper or a publication I read regularly, as it is Kane County, Illinois’ local paper and I am firmly planted in Morris Country, New Jersey. A friend at Twitter shared the story, which lead to me sending letter to the editor,6 AM on Sunday morning.
Nepali singer Bhagwan Bhandari is profiled in that story. Reportedly he is seeking asylum here in US, because of “Maoist persecution”back home. He alleges that the Maoists are after him because of his success as a singer which brought him financial security too.
Bhandari says that after fall of
Monarchy in 2007 and subsequent elections and Maoists winning most of the seats, he received threatening letters from them and one day he was kidnapped, beaten and found lying on he streets by the Police. He then fled to the US, and expects wife and kids to join him here as soon as their visas are approved.
Bhagwan Bhandari is a renowned folk singer. To hear this beloved artist targeted and harassed is a shame for all Nepalis and Nepal. But is it prudent to accept his story in it’s face value? Skepticism is mean,though it is known to be great instrument of truth.
I am not going to judge specific allegations made by Bhandari against the Maoists because frankly I do’t know them. Let the judge on his asylum hearing decide that. I would like to share my thoughts on broad generalizations on Nepal and made by the reporter, and also the public parts of Bhandari’s story.
# the story unfairly paints Nepal as a lawless land where the Maoists are free to target individuals-extortion, violence; and the state is allowing that to happen. Nepal is not a paradise and it is not perfect, law and order situation is bad and the government is helpless. But, no matter how weak it may be, there is society trying very hard to fix this situation and make things better. It is unfair to portray Nepal as lacking in the universal values of justice and peace just because the country is in a turmoil.
#Bhagwan Bhandari claims to be targeted by the Maoists after the 2007 fall of monarchy( by then the Maoists had signed peace agreement and the 10 year long conflict had ended). During the conflict, the Maoists carried out some gruesome acts of violence to intimidate the public and the state. A teacher was murdered in front of his students, defiant activists violently killed and state infrastructure damaged to keep people from national civil society.
Maoists were brutal. After 2007, although their violence subsided significantly, it is still lingering around as a reminder of what they are capable of. But it is unusual for Maoists to target public figure(violently) especially artist, after 2007. They understand that artists, loved by the people, are not legitimate targets for their campaign because it will divide people against them. To go after a folk artist is even more unusual because the audience-mostly rural, are the Maoist support base. Why irritate your base?
#Bhandari also claims to have received a letter before being beaten up by the Maoists. I suspect, the letter was an extortion attempt. Maoists have in the past, and in some areas still do send out letters asking for money. The target is usually someone they believe to be “loaded”.
Extortion is illegal and Nepal has laws against it. Did Bhandari report this to the police? I doubt it because he must have feared retribution. That is understandable. He claims to have been kidnapped, beaten up by the Maoists 10 after receiving letter, and was later found by police lying on the streets.
The incident was never reported in the media-national or local.Which is quite unusual because of Bhagwan Bhandari public stature. Did he ask the media to ignore the story? This is also a suspect because the media, always on the look out for the next big story would agree to ignore this. So, unless there is another side to this, the fact that Bhagwan Bhandari’s abduction and beating did not come out to the public is difficult to understand.
Finally,artists like Bhagwan Bhandari are Nepal’s pride-like any other law abiding citizen. If they feel unsafe at home and are forced to flee, it is a national shame and should not repeat. I would like to ask Mr. Bhandari to share more about his ordeal with the media-including Nepali media, so that the public is informed and the concerned authorities take appropriate action.