Does Nepal’s Stability Matter For India Or China?

Among the perceived flashpoints of Asia, Nepal is one of them. Nepal’s sandwiched location between India and China puts it on top notch foreign policy priorities for the US, India and China. In current times, when the world is beginning to segregate in two opposing camps: Indo-Pacific camps (US, India, Japan) led by the US and the western international order camps led by China. This $27 billion economy is struggling hard for its independent survival. This survival depends on its inclination with either India or China.

Unfortunately, this nation falls in a trap to incline with both countries – as these two giants are ideological and socially asymmetrical. These lopsided effects have put this nation in a trade deficit of $11.63 billion in 2017, accounting for the total export counts of $818.7 million and imports counts of $11.3 billion in 2017. This is due to landlocked geography of Nepal, limited industrial base and access to seaports. By countering the decade-long influence of India on Nepal’s trade and transits, Nepal signed a ‘Trade & Transits Protocol’ with China to get access to the Chinese ports. Followed by the agreement, Nepal can now use seaports like Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang and also land ports Lanzhou, Lhasa and Xigatse.

However, Indian media had commented harshly on this development and argued that it is due to inefficient policies of the central government in India that China has sorted influence in Nepal. In this realm, either aligning to India or China will hurt both these giants individually. If Nepal is left independently, it’s perceived by India or China that this impoverished land will be ‘used up’ strategically by the western powers to counter India and China. In 2015, when Nepal promulgated new constitution despite India’s dissatisfaction where the Indian government put some reservation on the content of the constitution; narrated by Nepali as the interventionist policies by India on Nepal on their internal matters. Nepal rejected the reformation provisions made by India and promulgated the constitution its own way. This has ended India’s long historical hegemony over Nepal, and many Nepalis are indeed happy with this development.

But, India’s departure from Nepal has put western powers in the frontline of the political game. This also had alarmed China, because of the ever-increasing role of the west from constitution making as well as encroachment of several agendas in Nepali constitution such as federalism, secularism and inclusivity. After three years of constitution promulgation in Nepal, still, the minorities are not satisfied with the constitution of Nepal – making it similar to the Weimar Republic of Germany. Like Weimar, Nepal is now on the path of inflation, political extremism from left to right, and some sorts of separatist movement. It is often wise to say it is now becoming ‘Remittance Republic’ (like the banana republics) as remittance makes 32% of Nepal’s GDP in 2017.

Nepal-India share an open border, and it’s a perceived harbour for several human trafficking issues, and terrorism as reports by the US suggest. After several years of political instability, Nepal has now two-third majority government led by Nepal Community Party (NCP), but this party seems very ineffective when it comes to managing Nepali affairs. Right from local rape cases to nationwide agenda of welfare health policies, this government is forced to concentrate on areas which are not the role and responsibilities of the federal government. It should have been managed by the local bodies. This fragmented state machinery is halting the expanding democratic space in Nepal.

Geopolitics And Geo-Economics Issues

Recently planned BIMSTEC militarily drills by India were cancelled by Nepal at the last moment. When it was cancelled, Nepali army representative was already there in Pune, India to prepare for the drills. This shows a communication gap between Nepal’s civilian governments and military, which of course is not a good sign. Nepali political circle commented about these drills as this was a military pact. As Nepal follows non-aligned foreign policy, this drill is against our policy. Interestingly, after rejecting BIMSTEC military drills, Nepal conducted military drills with China known as ‘Sagarmatha Friendship-2’ in Chengdu. This complete saturation within NCP and government reflects Nepal’s childish posture on diplomacy.

It’s hard to say whether Nepal’s continuous series of fragmenting state machinery is pre-planned or it’s the product of our inefficient management. But one thing is for sure – that in diplomacy to promote foreign countries strategic interest the receipt countries political environment must be weak. As we are living in the Indo-pacific strategy age, where every action is oriented to block China’s intention to achieve its BRI objectives, the internal situation in Nepal is moulded in such a way that it is forced to align with China resulting in seeking Chinese aid and loan on a concessional basis. When Nepal starts operating the infrastructure constructed by China, Nepal’s internal managerial capacity creates problem for its efficient management of the infrastructure (Example is Trolley Bus in Kathmandu developed by China is now in tatters due to Nepal’s poor management), and forcefully handovers to China resulting into debt-trap diplomacy as narrated by the west.

Examples include several developing countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka etc. The current national debate on bringing Chinese rail to Kathmandu whether on aid or loan is a heated issue among policy wonks, academics and political actors in Nepal. Secondly, India is also planning to bring rail connectivity to Kathmandu. These two initiatives by India and China to connect Kathmandu seem more strategic rather than economic. The questions are on the table, whether these two giants are preparing for the next ‘Great Game’ in Asia in which unfortunately Nepal will become the ‘playground’.

Nepal’s pegged currency with Indian currency is another chapter of Nepal’s sorrowful story. When geo-economics disrupts in the Middle East, it is directly affecting countries like Turkey and India. When Indian currency performs badly against US$, this impoverished country suffers a lot. This aid rentier state falls in the double-sided effects of increasing value of foreign loans as well as rising import prices. This has made degrading foreign reserves and high levels of inflation in Nepal. Underlining this factor, Nepali mainstream media lacks conventional wisdom and critical thinking and its affiliation with certain political parties in Nepal is creating a ‘party based’ variety of news which is feeding its own masters and landlords. Nepal’s two cash crops are hydropower and tourism. Hydropower is already under ‘Media Coup’. Most of the pledged and working projects are by India or China because of their strategic interest and location in which west feel reluctant to invest on hydropower as they can’t connect electricity switch on their lights in Brussels and Washington in economic cost.

Nepali media nowadays portrays projects taken by India as a loss for nationalists, and projects taken up by China as a win-win for nationalists in Nepal. Additionally, Nepali left government now seems more align to provide hydropower projects to China and democrats government to India. This friction of aligning in current Budhi Gandaki hydropower project with India or China shows that Nepali democrats are wearing a ‘New Delhi’ hat and the communists are wearing a ‘Beijing’ hat. The previous Deuba government said that this project would be constructed by the Government of Nepal itself based on the expert report. But, this NCP government is internally giving this project to Chinese company Gezhouba. Nepali media seems very critical in signing hydropower projects with India. But, the reality is every river in Nepal flows to India and India is the main stakeholder in managing Nepal’s waters for prosperity. And, Nepal’s prosperity lies in hydropower projects in both runoffs – river and dam-based projects. Prosperity in Nepal won’t come without investment and letting river as it is. We are still in the hangover of nationalism (Nationalism in Nepal defined as countering India’s influence).

 The question arises, does Nepal’s stability matters for India, China or for the west. In this volatile times of the 21st century where every country is promoting their own national interest, no one thinks about any other country’s interests. This traditional international relations rule puts countries like Nepal in a trap. We are neither capable of countering all these nuclear-powered giants nor can see ‘things happening’ as they are. Is this the reality or Karmic curse of being sandwiched between the two giants; who are writing a new history in the 21st century and regaining their influence as per the pre-renaissance order. And the traditional western powers want to stop their influence via Nepal. Is there an international diplomatic passage for Nepal? Let us brainstorm!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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