City And Security Concerns : Prem Khatry

A quick flashback to the very early history is in order here to overview the genesis of the growth of the city and civilizations, and the way they have impacted the life of the city dwellers and the creators of civilisation. The main source, of course, is the writer's book published nearly two decades ago (Utpatti: Universe, Earth, and Man, Agriculture, Religious Faiths, Script, City and Civilisation, and the State, 1998, CNAS, TU).  This is not to advertise the book; this is only to throw light on the topic which seems relevant even today.

After the invention of the permanent farming system that developed from an incipient system, the city developed as an outcome of surplus, felt need of various capacities to grow further and live an industrious, productive and comfortable life. The cities, take, for example, Babylonia, Ur, Rome, Indus Valley and many others in both the old and the New World, have many things in common – the city dwellers work day and night to produce things they need; they give the desired shape to their surroundings; add more aesthetic elements to them; and compete with the cities far from their own in terms of size, function, production and wealth. Now people have left the earlier vocations such as animal husbandry and farming, and embarked on industrial production.

One major concern of the city fathers, who ran the city government, was its security. Tall and big security walls, rings of settlements, a wide moat with inaccessible quantity of water to stop the aggression of enemies, 24-hour security alert with armed guards, watch towers with lamps, among others, were in put in place. City dwellers could thus sleep and remain assured that they were safe.

City growth in Nepal

Nepal has a long history of urban planning and growth, although it was limited to a few places. By the time of the Buddha, Nepal had several medium size cities in Mithila and Devadaha-Kapilvastu Janapada regions. Kathmandu grew more urban from the beginning of the Christian era, the time of the Verma and Lichchhavi rulers. The rulers had their Kautilya type security system in place in order to save the king and the people living in the capital and other cities.

Cities grew further in early medieval Nepal, and the leading city was called Mahanagara, a city very big in terms of its size, function, beauty, among other features. The security of the city and the people was the main concern. There were invasions of Kathmandu, the capital city, by the western Mallas, the Muslims and other local chiefs when it was politically disorganised and weak. Military and police organisations were created in the Maurya or Kautilya fashion.

Modern times after the unification of Nepal under the Gorkha king saw rapid development of the urban centres as administration and business hubs. To cut the long story short, Kathmandu became a migration hub in post democracy (1950) days. This was mainly because the major administration centres, judiciary centres, colleges and university (TU) were located in Kathmandu, the capital.  There were more opportunities for job and education aspirants here in Kathmandu. And entry into the Kathmandu in most cases meant stay or hang around here.

When a city like Kathmandu possesses many 'pull' factors, there is no going back, there is only coming in. The wave of migrants gave Kathmandu a new and heavy jerk, especially during and after the People's War waged against the State by the CPN-Maoist. Now that there is some kind of 'peace' here to see if not to enjoy, no migrant wants to go back to the original address as the government is not fast and farsighted enough to send development packages which are free of corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and political favouritism. The result of the unmanageable population in the mega city is obvious: the ever growing flow of migrants, more vulnerability in terms of crimes and insecurity.

Security concerns in Kathmandu

Can crime be controlled in Kathmandu? Can peace be guaranteed for the city residents? It is not easy to answer. In earlier times crimes were born mostly from the unemployment scenario. Today, there is the underground world challenging the law of the land and giving a hard time for the city dwellers of all denominations: from a panpasal (betel nut shops) to the hair cutter to the junk collector to teashops to big businesses. There is a rate to be strictly followed and days of the week to be ready for payment and the dons' chain is speculated to be complex and large here in Kathmandu. 

The most challenging part of this underworld legal system is that the government is forced to look at it and feel like not seeing it. The reason is: major political parties and their big names are said to associate with this world. Whether it is selling of the red passport, abducting your enemy's kids or squeezing 'donations' for quake relief, the party protected dons are in the forefront. Genuine contractors are tired of experiencing the bullying; private schools cannot come forward and complain; shops and other businesses have no courage to speak out. So the Pashupati nandis could do what they wanted in terms of creating terror in the city and amass wealth that has no book, no record, no tax, nothing.

Until recently, that is. Some police officers in Kathmandu have started to collect courage and bang on the underground world. They say they have every reason to nab such noted dons and cut their roots that go to some political parties on the one hand and the mass of indecently employed school dropper youths. The unfortunate fact is that some police officers involved in eliminating the anti-peace and pro-crime gangs have met with not only failure but humiliation.

Finally, early this week an encounter took place where one such person with the worst gang history fell to a police shootout in Kathmandu. Some political figures not only lamented for the 'unjust' and indiscreet killing of the person, their voice echoed also in the parliament of the country. The people, who had suffered much in their hands felt relieved by the incident, were surprised to learn how the city dons manage their upward movement in society, stay safe and sprinkle milk over their dark history through such high profile connections. The growing concern now is: If the underground world is taken to task, the city will be safe to live in, and people will do their business without suffering threats and having to pay the amount the dons and their agent 'boys' have in their mouth. Unfortunate, isn't it?

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