I was walking home from work very late one day[1], having been tied on a project that had an approaching deadline. There was a ma pa sey checking going on in Baluwatar chowk and I was walking past it as I heard the guy from the car saying, “Mero bau ko ho chinyaa chas? Bholi jaagir baaki naholaa ni tero.” I looked at who the man in the driver’s seat- it was just a young kid with a fancy car, obviously very drunk, and refusing to give up his license and instead shouting insults at the police officer who was just doing his duty. Relatively unperturbed, I walked on and did not want to be a part of the scene.

The idea of being entitled to a higher privilege and not being governed by the laws of the State is something that is not new to us, in fact, it has become a part of our culture for a very long time. The Ruling Monarchs that governed the State for hundreds of years were “above the law” and most people thought that such practices were justified as well, proclaiming that the King and the Royal Family possess divine rights. I am an avid reader of Nepalese monarchial history, and have come across texts where people wholeheartedly thought that all your paap (bad deeds) will be forgiven when you see the King, simply because he is considered an avatar of Lord Vishnu, God himself. The Royal family and friends of the Royal Family as well as other elites have demanded and been granted certain privileges, sometimes excuses and often times been turned a blind eye on some mischief here and there. Obviously, I do not have proof of these incidents but slightly extrapolating from the anecdote I shared above, if he were indeed the son of a police chief, a minister or any other VIP of the state, he was probably excused for his misdemeanor and sent home after being said “sorry hajur”.

While the monarchy is history in Nepal now, and we are striving for a New Nepal with the promulgation of an inclusive constitution, Rule of Law is still seen quite absent in the State. While my anecdote depicts granting impunity to a small misdemeanor (albeit a dangerous affair), there are other more serious implications of not having the Law govern the country. Despite the end of the civil war, the major political parties have established armed wings – most notably the Young Communist League affiliated with the Maoist party and the Youth Force of the United Marxist-Leninist party (UML) – that use extortion and violence to protect their parties’ interests. Dozens of other armed groups are affiliated with various smaller parties, particularly in the Terai region, claiming to represent the political interests of particular ethnic groups.[2] Such extortion mechanisms, needless to say, hinders the safety of doing business and hence, deters economic growth. Having been granted impunity by the State[3], such criminals walk free while hardworking businessmen remain afraid, helpless and forced to comply with their demands. The very state that should protect its citizens from unlawful behavior has the ability to grant impunity to some other worthier citizens.

No one should be above the law, not the Kings of old, not the cabinet ministers and certainly not the hooligans who work for the parties. Plato once said, “Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state, in my view, is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the gods shower on a state.” The importance of the law governing everyone equally cannot be stressed enough, evidence from the advancement of human civilizations and innovation in Britain and the US should be example enough. It is indeed a prerequisite for development that will aid everyone to “gari khaana”. Of course, the hopeful promulgation of the new constitution is the first step to actually have a set of real laws in the state and make it govern the people of Nepal. Actually implementing the laws will shall be quite a task, but one that needs important attention.

Pratap J. Khadka is research intern at Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation

[1] Story from almost a year ago

[2] Nepal Rule of Law Assessment, US AID. Retrieved from: http://www.ncf.org.np/upload/files/318_en_usaid_nepal%20rule%20of%20law%20assessment-sep-2009.pdf

[3] The state is the Government and the government is made up of political parties