'Naya Nepal' has witnessed the dawn of many unseemly customs. One of these is ransom in the name of deusi/bhailo.
As Tihar approaches, offices and individual citizens receive notes or phone calls from political and non-political organisations, both known and unknown, informing them of their intention to visit their premises for deusi/bhailo. Essentially, what all these ransom notes are saying is, "You may or may not know who we are, but we have decided to come and visit you to perform deusi/bhailo. Wait for us and don't forget to keep some cash handy. Otherwise?"
The notes in question bear not the grace of the pen but the force of the sword. The going rate to pay off these troupes is not less than a thousand rupees, and certainly more is expected. Offices and public figures have to endure a whole rash of these notes. Those who haven't made their fortunes by illegal means face quite significant extra festive expenses. The earnings of these individuals are held to ransom by these notices. Their time off is held to ransom as they wait for said troupes to turn up. Their privacy is held to ransom, their happiness is held to ransom.
I remember how we used to enjoy deusi/bhailo when I was a child. People would visit their relatives, their neighbours and their friends. Both hosts and guests would look forward to the occasion, in which they participated as a community bound by love. Whatever was offered to the deusi/bhailo performers, mostly food, was accepted in the same spirit. There were no ulterior motives, no threats.
This may still be the case in some parts of Kathmandu, but the custom is dwindling fast. More than ever, deusi/bhailo is characterised from the first day of Tihar by visits from gangs of unknown louts high on drink who enter practically by force and keep the neighbourhood awake all night with their carousing. Having coopted cultural traditions as a business, they demand to be paid and leave behind bottles, cigarette butts and the stench of urine.
Does individual freedom and privacy count for nothing in Naya Nepal? Are the cultural traditions of Tihar meant for our happiness or suffering?
Can the 601 CA members swear that they are not involved in this ransom-culture? If they are not, then working to criminalise this kind of culture will go some way towards relieving the problems they have caused the Nepali people.
Kantipur, 21 October