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Curse of the red spray paint

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- KAMAL RATNA TULADHAR

Sep 1, 2017-I gnored by the media, dismissed by the parties and unbeknownst to the public, homeowners in the Valley’s historical townships have been frantically trying to save their ancestral dwellings from being demolished by the juggernaut of the road-widening campaign. Planners have trained their sights on Lubhu, Sunaguthi, Harisiddhi and similar other settlements. They want to lay a highway through the centre of the town square by flattening everything in their path—temples, shrines, heritage structures and residences where people have been living for generations. 

The homeowners have been holding marches and sit-ins, but who notices them, or cares? Photos of wailing women and bulldozers clawing at homes with carved wooden windows have been posted on social media. That’s where the exposure ends. When there has been a rare news story, reporters have actually mocked locals for getting in the way of development, or even chided them for violating the building code. How Malla-era heritage sites have encroached upon the road is something we will never know.

Uprooting residents from their neighbourhoods without a resettlement plan or replacement land is not something that a government should do to its own people. A benevolent government would think it more urgent to provide a roof over the heads of earthquake survivors who are still languishing even two years after the disaster. More recently, there are the thousands of flood victims who have had all their possessions washed away. Instead, the government sends bulldozers running amok to swell the ranks of the homeless. What is the fault of these people that their homes should be destroyed? 

Documentary maker Alok Siddhi Tuladhar has encapsulated the innocence of a condemned township in a short film entitled Curse of the Red Spray Paint. The camera moves down Sunaguthi’s main street, past red brick houses, stone stupas, women doing their laundry, children skipping rope, an old man lounging at a roadside shelter and a young man decorating a ceremonial pole for a festival. Suddenly, the camera pans across a street scene and zooms in on a house bearing numbers made with red spray paint, then another and another. Death row. There is no sound in the film. “This is a silent film. If you happen to hear any sound, that is the heartbeat of the people of Sunaguthi,” the director says.

I have often been accused of living inside a well. Now I realise I’m not the only one. There is a whole other country beyond the Valley rim where school girls have to attend classes by clinging to a rope strung across raging rivers, and sick persons have to be carried piggyback for days to get to the nearest hospital. If the government were to pursue development elsewhere with the same vigour that it has shown in laying waste to one of the most artistic places in the world, this country would be a better place to live in. 

Published: 01-09-2017 08:16

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