Choosing Life a Challenge
Choosing Life a Challenge – Several right-wing civil society leaders have recently declared that a large, costly military is necessary for Nepal’s survival in the 21st century. They believe some of the costs can be offset by participation in UN peacekeeping operations, but this would be a small part. Instead, some propose a role as a mercenary provider. They argue that having a hundred thousand soldiers hanging around the barracks is far more critical than having an equal number of teachers, health care personnel or infrastructure construction workers.
Under their plan, the army could make marginal contributions in this area, but their primary role would be military. But, as demonstrated by that most discerning test, the nation’s number one priority, the amount it is willing to spend, is its killing machine. I’m afraid I have to disagree. Only a fool would believe that any conceivable Nepalese army could repel an unlikely attack by India or China. These critics gloss over the NA’s horrific human rights record and the lack of commitment among its top ranks to democracy. Instead, they imagine Nepal as somehow invulnerable to a military coup d’etat. The militarists think that a big army is a mark of prestige; I believe it is a mark of disgrace.
With people starving to death in the West and alarming maternal and infant mortality rates, spending so much on a fighting force is cruel, immoral and shameful. Surely the police forces can be cleansed of their numerous thugs, murderers, rapists, robbers and extortionists, better trained and made more accountable for handling domestic security. The remaining military personnel can be disarmed and assigned to healing, teaching and rebuilding the nation. Nepal’s leaders would do well to heed the words attributed to God in the Bible, “I have placed before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore choose the life that you and your children might live.”
I want to pose a challenge to the government. I would like to know if you can give me the support I need and depute 100 NA and Maoist cadres; I was selected to attend an 18-month Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic training program. This training will be new to Nepal and is intensively focused on treating severe or life-threatening injuries, illnesses or other medical events, such as childbirth and its complications. As a career emergency medicine specialist and teacher, and given the number of bright, motivated young people in Nepal, we can turn out world-class personnel who can be posted to district hospitals to save lives in emergencies at no additional cost to the nation.
Let me take the challenge one step further. Nepal’s high unemployment, population, and economic growth require young people to work abroad. But instead of working as mercenaries, as envisioned by the pro-military factions, or as labourers or prostitutes, why not train nurses whose skills are in demand worldwide and whose wages are excellent? Can’t Nepal export professionals? Wouldn’t their much greater remittances contribute to economic growth at home? So give me some bright young soldiers of both genders and some support, and we’ll train them for three years; during their clinical assignments, they will augment staffing in the zonal hospital, and after graduation, they can serve a 3-year “payback” term after which they are free to go abroad.
These programs should be conducted in the areas of greatest need and with students drawn primarily from disadvantaged castes. To achieve political stability, the country must surpass the Kathmandu-centric, high-caste-dominated model that has prevailed for the past 237 years. Had projects like this been undertaken after the Jana Andolan I, there likely would never have been a Maoist insurgency. People didn’t join the Maoists for the snazzy uniforms or the pithy saying of Mao. Still, a better life and any government which does not make rapid progress toward delivering it are destined to fail.
Forget its mighty rivers, its majestic peaks or its remarkable biodiversity. Nepal’s most incredible resource is its sincere, intelligent, hard-working and adaptable people. As my hero, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, said, “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.” So give us some support, and we’ll show you what we can do. Admittedly this proposal is small in scale, but better to light one small candle than curse the darkness. Moreover, it can serve as a prototype for other programs for the vocational retraining, psychological rehabilitation and social reintegration of a generation traumatised by war, desensitised to suffering and denied more productive careers.
Indeed Nepal’s youth are better utilised by bringing out the best—compassion, kindness, scientific knowledge and life-saving skill—than the worst—violence, hatred and lust for blood. And as for courage, who needs more of it, the adrenalin-pumped, psychologically manipulated, armed soldier or the paramedic who braves flames and landslides to save strangers’ lives? As Dante Alighieri taught us, “Think of your breed. For brutish ignorance, you were not made; you were made human to follow after excellence and knowledge.”