Walking With Disaster – Reporting by Former ICI Staff Marina Kaneti


We are excited to share an excellent new post on Public Seminar written by one of our former ICI staff and recent New School for Social Research PhD graduate, Marina Kaneti. In her piece Kaneti reflects on a trip to Kathmandu, Nepal earlier this year and her interactions with noted Nepali performance artist Ashmina Ranjit. It is a fascinating read, and includes some nice visuals of the skeleton performance by Ranjit in Nepal and NYC and reflections on what Kaneti describes as “alternative democratic spaces” in theory and practice.

Ashmina Ranjit in Thamel, Nepal. (Image Credit: Marina Kaneti, Public Seminar).

Ashmina Ranjit in Thamel, Nepal. (Image Credit: Marina Kaneti, Public Seminar).

Here is an excerpt of Kaneti’s Walking With Disaster:

In a summer filled with news of the election in the United States, global terrorism, and Brexit, the swift resignation on July 24th of Nepal’s Prime Minister, Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, hardly made the headlines. The only two news sources reporting on the event outside of Asia — Al Jazeera and the New York Times — also produced somewhat dissimilar commentaries. The New York Times framed the resignation in the context of party politics, the challenges of running a multi-coalitional government, growing demands for federation, and geopolitical tensions with Nepal’s powerful neighbors, India and China. The Al Jazeera report also associated the resignation with demands for constitutional reforms and federalization, but the commentary largely focused on the numerous street protests that had been disrupting daily life in Kathmandu since Oli’s ascent to power in October 2015.

It is very probable that Oli’s resignation was triggered by multiple factors, and the two media commentaries are not mutually exclusive. Yet what is unique in Al Jazeera’s reporting is that it underscores the extent to which the streets of Kathmandu are seen as the space to congregate, express political opinions, and — in the words of activists themselves — to exercise democracy. Al Jazeera’s coverage of Nepal is also a reminder that in the case of people who are left voiceless or marginalized by constitutional clauses, political processes, or social stigma, democracy is only possible in alternative spaces — such as the streets — where new forms of political engagement emerge, claims for social justice can be made, and popular pressure can trigger reform.

During a March 2016 visit to Kathmandu with the India China Institute, I had the chance to observe such use of alternative democratic spaces in the “artivist” performances of Ashmina Ranjit, a leading artist and political activist in Nepal. Like many others, Ashmina has been a vociferous critic of the 2015 constitution, and specifically of its failure to uphold the rights and freedoms of women and children. According to the current legislation, the state does not grant citizenship rights to children born out of wedlock and to children born to men who are not Nepalese nationals. Somewhere in between the jus soli and jus sanguinis, the constitution essentially chartered a different version of citizenship rights: as mediated through marriage and the nationality of the male parent. “Jus matrimonium et masculum,” as this retrograde constitutional provision/citizenship law could be called, appears to completely disregard the legal, social and political status of the mother, making her all but a non-entity. Even worse, children born out of wedlock would appear to be non-existent, relegated to statelessness before they are even born.

You can read the whole piece online at Public Seminar here.


Thugs in a Temple!? WTF!?

Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Interesting experience. I met with a Brahmin priest upon my arrival who informed me of the rules: as a foreigner, I must pay an entrance fee and I am also not allowed in, since I am not Nepali nor am I Hindu. My friend, who is Nepali and Hindu, got in for free, that sucka. Haaha.

Here is a link: http://www.pashupatinathtemple.org/

I went down to the area for a prayer and a puja. I asked for the courage and bravery to continue being fearless and to remain consistently on my path—intellectually and spiritually. Funny, shortly thereafter, the priest bids us good-bye and we started walking towards the cremation area and we were assaulted/almost robbed by two tourists-scammers right in the temple area!? The audacity of these bitches! Because my friend is Nepali, as I previously mentioned, he has an awareness of the landscape and can spot out the good ones from the rotten ones. With intuition and strong-will, we exited with only a small altercation—who expects thugs in a temple?! Ugh, I guess human dignity has left the building. I would chalk it up as the divine just testing my ‘bravery, courage, and fearlessness’ since that was what I channelled during my puja—what do you think? This world keeps me on my toes! The complexity of being at a temple and having such an experience only highlights the absurdity of existence (Camus). What better way to celebrate the sacred and the profane—I think every ethnologists has encountered something of this nature, it is part of the territory I guess. Now back to the puja/prayer/mantra ceremony. It was quite an experience to be there, with this priest and my friend having this moment and being present. He (the Hindu priest) asked if I would like to extend this love and compassion to others like my family and I said yes, obviously. We took a few photos and exchanged e-mail addresses and he said that he will e-mail the photos to me since I am sans a mobile device and a camera (travelling like a gypsy, obvi).

On our way there and back, we stopped to watch a group of males playing cricket! I was so excited because I was my first encounter since being here—not even in India did I have the pleasure to see a full game in action. We return home and planned to hit the swimming pool because it is hot/humid today and we walked for an extended period of time. Instead, we used the water-hoes and had a splash pad/chase in the backyard/garden/side lawn area which was fun and a good form of exercise for the day. It was a nice way to end the day and take our minds of the two dweebs who attempted to ruin our day.

Yesterday, I attended the Darnal Award for Social Justice. I am a Research Associate with ICI and I worked on this event for the past year. Here is a link: http://www.darnalaward.org/event/2015-darnal-award-social-justice-special-event

This is just the beginning of great work to be done—an estimate of five schools will be built to help in the post-earthquake reconstruction. It is such an honour to be in the presence of such great and formative minds, people working passionately to better themselves and the communities they are exposed to/serve.

I am not sure what I will be doing for the rest of the day. I intend to edit my final reflection on Bhopal and have a post within the next few days….I will keep you posted.

Why are all the most beautiful things in nature the most dangerous at times?

Made it to Nepal! The view of the Himalayas flying into Nepal is what dreams of made of. I mean, pure beauty. I was in awe of its magnitude and utter divine beauty. The ice caps reaching beyond the clouds and the vision of whites, blues, greys from the distance is indescribable. You must see it for yourself, I fail to accurately describe it. Funny, I was reading a book and the author mentions one of his treks to the Himalayas (also, I found this book randomly on my last night in India!). As I am reading, I look up, and to my astonishment and serendipitous shock & awe, out my window, this monstrous beauty is staring right at me. I was stop dead in my tracks, well, the plane kept propelling forward but I was suspended in time & space for a second or two. This dangerous beauty causes one to become humble and prideful simultaneously—humble because of its sheer magnitude and prideful to be part of this universe, this cosmic composition we all share. It was a moment of pure magic and ephemeral divinity when I looking out my window—the ice caps, ah, the only word that comes to mind is beauty. The blues of the sky, the whites and greys of the clouds, the white ice caps, the greyness of the mountains, all meshed into one painting, whereby, the start and finish of either entity became embroiled into one being, it all felt like part of the same, no beginning and no end…endless delineations and contours—bliss! Why are all the most beautiful things in nature the most dangerous at times?

I look down and there are greens, browns, and rivers underneath, and to my left, the Himalayas, honestly, it felt like a dream. And there was a moment, when I questioned my sanity, asking myself: “Wait, is this really happening?” Haaha—basically, “IS THIS REAL LIFE?” (youtube video from a few years ago with the little boy David, high from laughing gas from his visit to the dentist). I found the video, priceless.

I made two friends — one Nepali and the other an American from Seattle (Buddhist practitioner). The American will be in the mountain at a village, re-visiting his friends there, locals we met during his extended stay a few years back.

Happy to be in Nepal. Warm greetings upon my arrival and happy to see my friend-soul sister, Sarita, and meet her loving and compassionate family.

Unlike Bhopal, there is no wake-up call of prayer horns, rather, the charming sound of roosters!!! I was instantly reminded of my time in the Caribbean and it brought me comfort and felicity. The food is also shared with the Caribbean and many vegetables, flowers, and spices used here, are also used in the Caribbean—to my pleasant surprise! For example, callaloo and corella bush! Nepal, has pleased me thus far and I am thankful to have this experience.

Gobinda Hari,


Day Fourteen: Philosophy as a Way of Life

I went to Old Market and shopped for fruits and veggies. It was raining so my trip was short. It is raining now as I write this post. I am having a cup of Tulsi tea and assorted fruit for breakfast.

Today, I meet with Dr. Pandey at Bhopal Memorial Hospital. I will get the chance to shadow him whilst he works. He treats cancer victims. I am interested in spaces of healing so it will be an honour to meet with these survivors, and sit compassionately with them and hear their stories.

 Still not fully recovered but on the way. I rubbed Vicks vapour rub on my feet and then I put on a pair of socks (thanks for the tip Alexis). 

On Saturday, I fly to Nepal. The project in Nepal will conclude with an event at a primary school which will be a fundraiser and all of the proceeds will go to earthquake relief and wellness of the victims.

Day Eleven and Day Twelve: ‘I Share Your Love’

IMG_3747 He was caught of guard — he was laughing and smiling right before this…I think we surprised him with the flash. Haaha (Peter, I know you’ll enjoy this one).

I am watching a clinic employee feed the fish in the pond downstairs as I type. Like I said, everything here is connected and holistic—parts all come together to make a whole, it is marvellous. Speaking of feeding, I have not ingest meat in 10 days, as I mentioned a few posts ago, I may return a vegetarian…one that eats seafood. Haaha.

I had a great meeting with the Directing Trustee yesterday and his advised me on an exciting idea for my final write-up. I am visiting a few local government hospitals meant for the treatment of survivors. Basically, I will be on the go all day, from one location to the other—I am doing six total. So I am thinking two per day for the next three days but we’ll see.

I will stop by the market and start collecting gifts seeing that my time in India is coming to a close. I fly off to Nepal next Saturday for another project.

I found out that Hitler imitated a Hindu religious symbol and turned it into his Aryan nation symbol?! Madness. I found that out this evening whilst shopping for gifts at a metal store. They all sorts of metal utensils in silver, copper, and brass. I also bought a few spices, tea, and raw mint that looks like ice crystals!

On our way back however, we saw a sad scene – a man on the side of the road bleeding with a crowd around him. It may have been from an accident or a fight or something else, either way, my heart ached upon viewing. Things can go from pleasant to unpleasant in a flash…guess it’s one of life’s mysteries that we may never understand.

I am coming down with a cold. I got wet in the rain a few days ago and now I have a sore throat, a slight runny nose, and I feel it coming on stronger. I am drinking a cup of tea at the moment and rubbed my chest/neck with Vick’s vapour rub, hopefully, by the morning, I’ll be feeling much better because there is lots to do.

Here are a few photos…I don’t have a camera so I get photos from others. I used to love 7Ups as a kid, hence my excitement at finding this one…”life is like lemons, squeeze the juice out”




ICI Senior Director Ashok Gurung on the Nepal Earthquake

In the aftermath of the earthquake and disaster in Nepal, ChinaFile asked three prominent figures working on India, China and Nepal to comment on the relationship between China and Nepal. ICI’s Senior Director Ashok Gurung was asked to share his thoughts on the politics between China and Nepal. Here’s an excerpt from his piece.

It seems that the primary motive of all countries offering aid after the earthquake is humanitarian. I always tell my friends that because of the complex history of the region, India will continue to play a significantly higher role in Nepal. But what amazes me is that if you look at Nepal with its population of about 30 million or so, the level of Chinese engagement with Nepal, at one of the most sensitive parts of its border, is actually quite small if you compare it with China’s engagement with a similarly sized country in Africa. In some ways, China is beginning to realize that perhaps they did not pay proper attention to their engagement with Nepal, which is important for their own interests in the geopolitical landscape.

You can read the rest of the article and interviews on China File right here.

Jeremy Berke on ‘How to Eat in Other Places’


ICI team and local guides preparing the goat.

We’re excited to share a new article written by one of our the researchers who went with ICI last fall as party of our Sacred Himalaya Initiative research trip to Nepal. In this piece, Jeremy Berke reflects on the experience of eating in a new place, and some of the ethical and political considerations about our food. The piece was just published on the Human Parts blog. Here’s an excerpt from his piece.

It wasn’t loud. Still, it’s pretty hard to watch

First, tie the legs. That way it doesn’t kick. If you’re around squeamish foreigners like myself, make sure the mouth is tied shut. Fear is a sensory experience; they say dogs can smell it. Rather than smell, I learned that fear has a clear and distinct sound — that of the horrible bleating of a goat on his deathbed. Growing up in Toronto, and now living in New York, empathizing with animals while receiving the majority of my protein from meat is not only considered normal, it’s encouraged. How cruel are mechanized slaughterhouses? my teachers would ask. Finish your plate, don’t let that meat go to waste, would follow shortly after.

So, tie the mouth shut. Cut off that sensory empathetic connection. Once you can’t hear, you are left to experience the goat’s fear through the other senses. Constantly suffering from hay fever, I can’t smell anything anyway. No need to worry about that. All that’s left is touch and sight. I’m not the one actually killing the poor creature (thank god), so, no touching. Now comes the hard part. Do I look away? Do I leave and come back when the living, writhing goat is reduced to a delicious cumin-scented curry?

Read the whole post here.

Prashant Jha Pens Op-ed on Nepal’s Constitutional Crisis

Prashant Jha is the author Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal and is the Nepal correspondent for The Hindu Times. In the recent article “Tale of two neighbours: Delhi’s dilemmas in a polarized Nepal” he writes about the the current feuding between Nepal’s political leadership and India’s approach, objective, dilemma and options.  Here is an excerpt:

With confrontation looming, India has to decide its strategic objective in Nepal, and what is the best way to achieve it. It now has three choices – it can stick to the consensus line articulated by Modi but refrain from using its leverage to push through that line; it can go a step further, invest political capital in creating pressure on the ruling alliance and opposition to come back to the table and work out a consensus; or it can retreat, allow the political process to play its own course, and let a majoritarian constitution emerge if that is the outcome. Each approach is fraught with possibilities and risks.

“Tale of two neighbours: Delhi’s dilemmas in a polarized Nepal” was published on Hindustantimes.com



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