Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Uma Singh

We're back in Kathmandu. Since we've been gone in late December, the general state of things in Nepal has inched toward, well, a failed state. Power cuts have increased to 16 hours a day (that's worse than Baghhdad). The metropolitan authority has stopped collecting garbage. Bird flu has blossomed on the southern border with India. And most heinously, Uma Singh a young woman journalist was hacked to death at her home in the Terai area in the south, where a violent brew of familial, ethnic, and political disputes have been boiling over in recent months.

Uma Singh's story captures some of the tragedy and lawlessness that are playing out here right now. Her brother and father were abducted and murdered by maoist insurgents during the war. She said she became a journalist in part to bring justice to her family, and she wrote critically about the maoists. Since then, the maoist party has been elected to lead the government in what by some measures is a remarkably peaceful transition from monarchy to democracy. But in another sign that the transition may not be so peaceful after all, a maoist party member has now been arrested and accused of her murder.

And while no one serious is accusing maoist party leadership in Kathmandu of direct involvement, the general problem for an insurgent group which came to power after a brutal ten year war is clear: its hard to control the violent elements of your movement even once you've taken power peacefully. In fact there's a whole group of thugs who are affiliated with the maoist party, but aren't fully within its control. It's called the Youth Communist League, or YCL, and it's been responsible for all manner of beatings, theft, and other mischief in recent months. It's also part of the reason that giant trash heaps are piling up all over Kathmandu right now (I'll post a picture in a minute).

Update: Uma Singh's in-laws have been arrested in connection with the murder. Police now say it was over a land inheritance dispute.