Nepal strike called May 13

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Demanding that the government ensure the rights of ethnic communities and get cracking on the new constitution, a cluster of 19 ethnic organisations has announced a nationwide general strike May 13.

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The shutdown – known as bandh in the local parlance – has dismayed hotels, tour operators and trekking agencies who fear the disruption will scare away tourists at a time the government is trying to kickstart the economy by bringing in one million air-borne tourists this year.

The National Federation of Indigenous Nationalities Monday said it was apprehensive that the state would fail to keep its commitment to keep Nepal a secular, federal republic.

“We are demanding that the government hasten the restructuring of the country into autonomous states formed on the basis of ethnicity,” said Ang Kaji Sherpa, general secretary of the federation.

“We also feel that the state and the major political parties are not serious about drafting a new constitution by May 28. Though they were given three years, they frittered away the time, including a one-year extension, fighting for power.”

At least 68 of Nepal’s 75 districts, including Kathmandu valley, will obey the call for a shutdown Friday, Sherpa said.

The protest was condemned by Nepal’s nodal tourism agencies but Sherpa was unmoved.

“It’s a farce to have declared 2011 as tourism year,” he said. “Tourism will flourish only when there is peace and there will be peace only after an end to all discrimination. But religious, cultural and political discriminations continue to plague Nepal.”

On Thursday, an ethnic community, the Tharus, have called a general strike in the southern Terai plains, making similar demands.

The shutdown is likely to affect at least 14 districts lying across the Indian border.

On Monday, the Chhetris, a non-indigenous community and former elite class, also called a shutdown in western Nepal, saying their rights were being ignored by the state under pressure from the ethnic groups.