Young (and some not so young) men with long hair, piercings and aviator sunglasses (although admittedly many more where in typical South-Asian garb: shirts tucked into pants with side-parted hair) and young women wearing make-up, jewelry and salwar-jeans, playing with their cellphones and calling their friends to sit with them. However, unlike any North American campus I have been on, it was 8am, 500-600 students were assembled, at a public meeting called at Trichandra College to commemorate Student Unity Day by the All-Nepal National Independent Student Union (Revolutionary). Student Unity Day is called every year to commemorate the 1968 Nepal student uprising. The ANNISU(R) currently has a membership anywhere from 500,000-1 million members across the country, with 200,000 students in Kathmandu Valley alone. Nepal has 6 million students and 28 other competing student.
On May 15, 1968, the student uprising against the single-party panchayat system originated here, at Trichandra College. They fought for the formation of the Free Student Unions, and the right to vote for their own leadership. Students paid for this right with their lives, and a minute of silence for the martyrs was called for by the moderator of the program. This was a fact not lost on the speakers or the students in attendence. Lekhanath Neupane, head of the ANNISU(R), a fiery speaker, called for students to remember this history and to fight for a bright future for Nepal. However, he was clear that if the politicians, whether they be from Nepali Congress, the CPN(UML) or the Maoists themselves, did not fulfill their promises that the students had a right to revolt. He also called for unity with other student unions to fight for peace and a new constitution.
He was followed by Hari Roka, a member of the Constituent Assembly, and currently a PhD student although in his 50’s. He talked about his life story and how he was a naive young man when he came to college from his village, and slowly got politicized due to repeated beatings and arrests at student rallies. He reminded students that they needed to do 3 things: 1) work for their union; 2) do their studies and; 3) be financially-responsible for their own tuition and living costs. He also reminded them that many brilliant students were having to leave colleges and universities due to a shortage of funds. He then called on them to “be heroes or to remain zeroes.”
Roka was followed by a Nepali Congress ex-student leader. His message was night to Neupane and Roka’s day. He told students that they should not be involved in revolution, but should focus on education, and said that he regretted becoming involved in student politics. He also playfully addressed Roka, who he has known for many years, saying that the politicians had become the heroes and the people had remained zeroes. He spoke glowingly of Sonia Gandhi, who he felt had shown a new kind of politican as despite being the leader of the majority party, she had chosen not to become the Prime Minister of India. (Of course, the irony was lost that Sonia Gandhi ran the prime ministership from the back scenes and was engaged in dynastic politics, just like the Indian government’s back scene involvement in Nepali politics and their endorsement of the dynastic politics first of the monarchy and now the Nepali Congress). He also spoke about the frustrations that many within his own organization were experiencing at the current state of the political process, an admission that many did not expect.
Unfortunately for the fourth speaker, tea was served and he lost much of his audience to tea and biscuits and the political discussion that inevitably followed. A central committee member of the ANNISU(R) when asked about his opinion about the path to revolution, said “The path to revolution is never straight, and has many bends and starts and stops”. So far the ANNISU(R) has no plans to stop the revolutionary legacy of May 15, 1968. Hopefully, we in North America will admit Nepali students and their revolt to our Euro-American pantheon of student revolts that marked that revolutionary year.