Protest is a testament to what has gone wrong, but also a promise that reforms are possible

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Kathmandu, Nepal – This week, we saw the start of the uprising in many cities, with thousands of people taking to the streets protesting against the government’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 9, thousands of people took to the streets demanding better testing and quarantine facilities. Police in riot gear used water cannons to disperse scores of people who were out in the streets protesting against the government’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic.

Protesters who had organized themselves under the campaign –‘Down with Government’s Incompetence: Wake up and Save Lives,’ chanted many slogans. The placards they hold read slogans – ‘Enough is enough. The government should be transparent. Where did our money go?’, ‘Hello-Hello! Government not hearing’, ‘Stop insecure quarantine’, among many others.

The government has been criticized for its lackluster response to this health crisis.  It is the increased threat from COVID-19 and the government’s mishandling of this pandemic, which has driven people to the streets. People are living through heightened anxiety as they have spent more than two months hiding from this deadly virus. The government’s mishandling of this virus is swelling up their anxiety, anger, and desperation. Although the government implemented lockdown since March 24, the caseloads and number of deaths are surging. Many people are in cramped quarantine facilities, which are becoming hotspots for this virus.

As the government enforced nation-wide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, the poor are the worst affected. The economic shock and the lockdown are the tough blow for those workers who work on daily wages. The government has been criticized for not addressing the problems of the poor and the marginalized groups. One of my neighbors, who is a taxi driver said “The government didn’t provide any relief packages. If lockdown continues, I will die of hunger, instead of coronavirus.”

The surging uproar is the reaction to the anger, desperation, and frustration of the government’s unwillingness to bring changes and reforms that need to happen. The Nepal government has been relying more on RDT (Rapid Diagnostic Tests), which is unreliable. The protesters demanded the government to scrap the use of RDT, and increase the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, which is supposed to be more reliable as compared to RDT.

The proximate cause of the protest is the government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are also angry and frustrated with the government as injustice, lack of rule of law, and corruption is rising. The justice for powerless and poor is very rare. There is a rise of the prevailing culture of total impunity which allows perpetrators of poor people to flaunt their crimes, knowing they can get away with anything. The powerful people continue to strut around their crime scenes protected by leaders and those in government.

The government is using lockdown as the only weapon to fight this pandemic. The economic cessation due to lockdown is a hard blow for the Nepali economy, which seemed on the cusp of a modest revival after the 2015 earthquake and subsequent Indian blockade. Many industries are shutting down and they tend to have a little financial cushion.

So, many businessmen are demanding the government to ease the lockdown and come with a better strategy. But the government is turning a deaf ear and extending the lockdown.

If this lockdown continues without better alternatives, more people will die of hunger and coronavirus, instead of COVID-19.

The surging protest is a testament to what has gone wrong, but also a promise that reforms are possible. Though protestors are using masks and sanitizers, there is a danger that the mass will spread the illness. The government should listen to the protesters.  Reforms are possible. If the virus and the rising uproar explodes, the cataclysm will engulf everyone.

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