About Utpal Parashar

While others have kept rolling, Utpal Parashar, the Nepal Correspondent of Hindustan Times, is gathering moss in the same organization since 1997. Starting as a trainee reporter in New Delhi, he has worked in Guwahati and Dehradun before shifting to Kathmandu in October 2009.

One of Nepal’s celebrated cricketers, Sharad Vesawkar, managed to get a citizenship certificate in September last year after a 10-year-long struggle. The reason for the delay was his parentage—although his mother is a Nepali, Sharad’s father was an Indian. [Read more]

Five court verdicts, two in US and one each in Nepal, India and South Africa have grabbed eyeballs and headlines in this part of the world and elsewhere in the past few days. The contexts of these cases are different but they all deal with murders and deaths due to police interventions.

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Nepal is known as an economy heavily dependent on remittances sent by hundreds of thousands of its citizens working as unskilled labourers in foreign countries. Latest government figures show they contribute over 29% to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

That figure accounts for only those who have sent money home through verifiable channels from countries other than India. It could be much higher as there are no records of how many Nepalis are living and working in India and sending money back home.

Migration started from Nepal nearly 300 years ago when people fled to neighbouring countries to escape oppressive regimes and unbearable taxation. It became official two centuries ago when the British army started recruiting Gorkha soldiers with help from the powers in Nepal.

The trend continued over the next two centuries with nearly 1500 Nepalis leaving their country daily these days to find employment abroad. Surprisingly it was only in September this year that the first national report on labour migration for employment was released.

The figures available in the report prepared by the ministry of labour and employment, which records the period between 2008/09 to 2013/14, give some interesting insight and details into an ‘industry’ what has now become Nepal’s boon as well as bane.

It might seem unbelievable now but in 1993/94 only 3,605 Nepalis left for foreign employment mainly to Gulf and Middle East countries. The figure for 2013/14 is 521,878.

There has been a 137% rise in the numbers in the past six years. During that time over 2.2 million labour permits were issued by the government, which represent nearly 8% of Nepal’s total population.

Nearly 95 of those who go out in search of jobs are men. But the number of women venturing abroad has also shown sharp increase. Only 161 women migrated for jobs between 1985 and 2001. But between 2008 and 2014, the figure rose from 8,594 to 29,152—a bigger jump than figures for men.

The figure could be much bigger as many young Nepali women go abroad via India through illegal channels to circumvent a ban imposed by the Nepali government in 2012 preventing women younger than 30 from going to countries in Middle East for domestic work.

The government allows Nepalis to seek foreign employment in 109 countries but in past six years they worked in as many as 131 countries. Malaysia is the most preferred among those destinations with nearly 41% migrants (both male and female) seeking employment there.

Saudi Arabia (23%), Qatar (20%), United Arab Emirates (11%) and Kuwait (2%) come next on the list of preferred destinations.

But the picture isn’t rosy for all who venture out. There have been frequent complaints of exploitation, work-related accidents, trafficking and work conditions similar to forced labour. In 2013/14, the government received 1,406 complaints from migrant workers.

Some have even paid with their lives. In the past six years 3,272 Nepalis including 79 women have died in foreign countries. Most deaths have taken place in the preferred destinations, especially Malaysia, with heart failure (847) being the major cause.

Over 300 Nepalis working abroad have committed suicide during that period and over 250 getting killed by work-place related accidents. Traffic accidents have claimed nearly 450 of them. Two or three coffins filled with workers arriving daily are a common sight at Kathmandu’s international airport.

That is the price Nepalis pay to buy land, build a house, repay a debt, get their children educated, take care of health problems in the family and keep the country’s economy afloat with the money they send home from abroad.

The report says poverty in Nepal would jump from 19% to 35% if remittances stopped flowing.

Had everything gone as planned, on Tuesday Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have fulfilled his desire to visit Janaki Temple, a temple dedicated to Sita at Janakpur, a town in Nepal located close to the Indian border and believed to be the birthplace of the Hindu deity.

But that didn’t happen and he will now take part only in the events related to the 18th Saarc summit in Kathmandu and bilateral and multilateral talks with Nepali leaders and heads of other member nations of the regional body.

Citing ‘domestic commitments’ Modi also cancelled his proposed trips to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, and Muktinath Temple, a popular religious site for Hindus and Buddhists located in Mustang.

During his first trip to Nepal after assuming office Modi had visited Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, the most popular Shiva shrine in the country and had expressed a desire to visit Janakpur, Lumbini and Muktinath when he visits the next time.

Hectic foreign trips to Myanmar, Australia and Fiji this month, the ongoing winter session of parliament and assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand are enough reasons for the Prime Minister to curtail his proposed four-day trip to Nepal to just two days.

Despite the constraints Modi might have gone ahead with the religious tours in Nepal had the situation in the ground in Nepal been conducive.

Differences within the ruling coalition, posturing by opposition parties and inability to ensure safe and smooth visit to Janakpur are grounds that finally resulted in cancellation of the trips beyond Kathmandu.

New Delhi had been reminding Kathmandu that Modi’s trip to Janakpur might not happen if there was differences within the parties about the visit or if security measures were not adequate to prevent possible protests.

Instead of heeding those signals the government went ahead with preparations with the hope the trip would happen as scheduled. It was only after ministry of external affairs issued a statement in New Delhi that the trip would remain focused only on Saarc, realization dawned in Kathmandu.

Modi’s visit to Janakpur, Lumbini and Muktinath could have fueled religious tourism to these places. His trip to Pashupatinath in August has already resulted in a significant increase in number of Indian pilgrims to the temple.

Janakpur already hosts a sizeable number of Indian tourists from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. But the number could have zoomed after Modi’s visit bringing in revenue and boost infrastructure and economy of the region.

But Nepal failed to seize the opportunity. Modi has expressed commitment to visit the three places at the earliest, but it seems unlikely he would return to Nepal anytime soon—and that too only for religious tours.

There is an attempt to put the blame on New Delhi for cancellation of visits to the three religious places. But the powers in Kathmandu need to look within and set their houses in order if they want to make the most of a similar opportunity in future.

Use of Nepal as a transit point on their way to India by Tibetans fleeing their homeland is a big concern for China. Beijing is also worried about the so called anti-China activities of thousands of Tibetans who have made Nepal their home in the past decades. [Read more]