Democratic Voice and the Paradox of Nepal Bandhas
While protest in many ways epitomises the democratic principles of freedom of expression and association, it can simultaneously challenge other democratic ideals. This ability to both exemplify and undermine democracy results in a tension within the concept of ‘protest,’ which is tangible in the bandhas (shutdowns) favoured by protestors in Nepal. Ranging in scale from localised to nation-wide, the most effective and influential bandhas take the form of an involuntary, enforced general strike. Bandhas can be called by groups seeking a platform for their policies or grievances, but also by groups striving to boost their profile or support base within a political system perceived of as ineffective and weak. Despite allowing people a way to express their views on policy and other decisions, in circumventing processes of negotiation, curtailing the freedoms and choices of others, inflicting physical and emotional violence on the population and crippling fragile economies, bandhas can be seen to undermine the very essence of democracy. The article concludes with reflections on the reasons for the prevalence of bandhas, suggesting that the country’s reliance on this protest mechanism stems from the contextual particularities of twenty-first century Nepal as well as from the country’s problematic and incomplete transition to democracy.