Print Edition - 2015-04-05  |  Free the Words

Power of satyagraha

  • Dr Govinda KC’s hunger strike and the widespread support it gathered shows that all is not lost
- Abhi Subedi
Power of satyagraha

Apr 4, 2015-

Meeting Dr Govinda KC, probably the country’s most renowned humanist and by far the strongest advocate of Gandhian practical satyagraha in modern Nepal, on the twelfth day of his fast-unto-death at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital on April 2, I felt buffeted by a mixed hurricane of many issues and unanswered questions of history.

A young doctor and his colleagues, while taking me to see Dr KC, narrated a whole gamut of grievances and the doctor’s key demands. It was easy to understand that they had made those issues their own and I could see that Govinda KC was making history by creating successors. Agitating medical doctors and others were making it clear that the issues needed to be addressed at that very juncture, for there was no time to lose considering Dr KC’s deteriorating condition. They were using the expression ‘medical mafia’ against which Govinda KC was fighting, for which people from medical fields and beyond were giving him overwhelming support.

The mafia and satyagraha

Descriptions from these young medicos and media reports all agree that the medical field has attracted investors and fast buck makers, all at the cost of public health. In a country where all medical practices are confined to the Nepal Mandala metropolis, where there are no hospitals even between tens of thousands of people elsewhere, where women and children die for lack of basic first aid treatment, it is a shocking revelation that billions of rupees are invested to produce ‘doctors’ who lack necessary skills.

Significantly, all this is happening against the background of the Nepali political parties missing a simple yet important opportunity to write a constitution for the land. The irony is that people have begun to suspect that political groups do not fail to create small fiefdoms, charmed circles, and power groups, all of whom who vie to get access to resources and power, even if they have differences in constitution writing. For that purpose, they have not left any field, including education, untouched. But so far, most shockingly, the field that some people have chosen, and have become successful in getting political endorsements for, is public health. Papers are citing figures to show how in other countries only a few privately-run medical colleges are allowed to operate, and how the reverse is true for Nepal. One very responsible journalist told me, what we see in Nepal today is only the tip of the iceberg. The most challenging moment will come when tacit agreements are made among different groups and power centres when it comes to making money.

Most of what happens here goes unnoticed. Govinda KC has seen that in the medical filed, especially in the practice of affiliations granted to colleges that do not fulfil necessary requirements. The difference between KC and other actors is that KC believes in a philosophy of action. His weapon is Gandhian satyagraha, which he has effectively used on previous occasions also. Gandhi was neither a sociologist nor an architect of any theory; he was a pragmatist philosopher, not interested in developing abstract theories. He believed that when power players resort to abstract principles, ideologies, and actions plans, when they valorise the human propensity for violence, they lose the clear direction to lead society. The best way to fight the power that loses human face is non-violent agitation, of which satyagraha is the best choice. Govinda KC has established through his practical philosophy that such a method can compel people of all orders to think and talk. He repeated that process this time because he felt that the government had betrayed him and the people by not abiding by the agreements they had made with him on previous occasions.

The power of simplicity

I was taken inside to see Dr KC from a distance and write some words in a book put on a desk. Dr KC indicated that I sit near him. I suddenly felt speechless; I was overwhelmed to see the strength, resolution, and light in KC’s face, though his condition was getting critical. I had never seen so closely the strength of a person who fasts for the sake of the larger masses and for the correction of the evils prevailing in the society. I said a few words about the power of his satyagraha and the phenomenon of the overwhelming support his cause had received.

He replied, “I am a simple person.”

I said, “The power of simplicity is great, and when it wins it will be for all. Everybody will win in your victory. The country appears to be losing its chance for a meaningful, compelling, and inspiring agitation. I am heartened by the good presence of political leaders, the media and, other people outside in your support.”

All is not lost

I emerged from the chamber with sublime feelings and tears. A big crowd of people was waiting for the answer from a government that is known for not answering. Young doctors were complaining about brazen political statements made by some political leaders on their premises about the cause for which Dr KC and the entire medical field was fighting. Looking at the crowd I felt Dr KC’s satyagraha was raking up people of different walks of life, all of whom share the grievances, political ire and fire. Satyagraha brings intense moments and issues in one place. History can wake suddenly with good results. Doctors had conducted great peaceful agitations in the movement for democracy in 1990 on these very premises.

In the afternoon I received a call from a young sociology teacher who was crying when she informed me from the Teaching Hospital that Dr KC was breaking his fast after an acceptable agreement was signed between him and the government. The news spread far and wide. What a day, I thought! My short conversation with Dr Govinda echoed like a new voice that said ‘all is not lost’, and working models are inexhaustible inasmuch as they are practised with honesty and feeling for the people and their happiness and welfare.

Published: 05-04-2015 09:02

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