Dev Raj Dahal
An ancient Nepali adage goes, “Selfless service to the needy is supreme duty of human beings.” Givers in society command greater esteem, build connectivity, and trust and inspire others to do charitable action thus harnessing good amount of social capital necessary for social cohesion, justice and peace. The social nature of human beings and their connection to others, offer of time, energy and resource for their welfare what is called “nurturing” shape their lives of goodness and forms a bridge to humanity.
Virtuous citizens of Nepal bear personal cost in helping others to mitigate their existential tragedies and share sentiment of weal and woe beyond the concept of reciprocity where the cost of support is mutually shared. The concept of dan (donation) to helpless, beggars and needy in Nepal assumes highest worth. It assumes ethical character mostly nourished by spiritual feeling of “good of all,” imbibing uplifting higher value than utilitarian doctrine of greatest happiness of greatest number.
The Nepali community of various scales and landscapes evolved into a national society in the process of struggle against natural selection. It provided them a sense of belonging to a nation facing the world of competition, desperation and depersonalised political culture where every individual aspire for recognition, dignity and glitter of scientific and material wonder. Nepalis of goodwill have built many houses for the helpless senior citizens, disabled, widows and orphans since old times. The positive spirit of solidarity and self-sacrifice gave Nepali knowledge, culture, language and nation an enduring resilience. The diverse community of Nepalis coexisted together helping each other in time of need and sharing common norms, values and virtues of reciprocity.
Spiritual discourses are regularly organised in Nepal to elicit charitable donations from virtuous citizens. They helped construct educational institutions, hospitals, inns, libraries, ponds, temples and monasteries, roads, drinking water scheme and public building for community meetings while corporate philanthrophy contributed to some relief measures essential for the maximisation of survival advantage of the wretched. The money of Pashupatinath temple in the past was utilised for the liberation of slavery in Nepal. In times of crises, perpetual pursuit of personal profits through the manipulation of invisible hand against laws, culture, language and socialisation desynchronise demand and supply causing the scarcity of public goods and stoking risk of political chaos.
In this sense, giving becomes a social insurance, risk management and a drive to change in the lives of the poor and underclasses of Nepali society often buffeted by natural calamities like Koshi and Bagmati floods, famines, forest fires, landslides, earthquakes, civil conflict or current coronavirus pandemic. The last one has exposed the fragility of modern life exalted more by the networks and connectivity of greed, envy and jealously than positive spirit of cooperation. It has imposed unfair burden on Nepalis having unequal access to means of securing themselves and those vulnerable facing uncertainty of their lives spurred by lockdown of all productive activities.
Many men and women of goodwill in Nepal, hearing the call of their souls and emotional intelligence, have utilised their surplus wealth to the welfare of the poor, exempted room rents for some time, provided food, clothes, masks, and medicines and alleviate their plight. It was a relief to the broken hearts inflected by ill-conceived development process based on either linear extractive system of patronage or institutional deficiencies. The tradition of paropakar (giving others) helped to moderate the sphere of selfish human nature and evolved a shared culture to alleviate the suffering of the weak by means of distributive justice, human rights, participation and inclusion.
Long-term policies require a culture of care to the nature, mindfulness and compassion in formulating right public policies for life-saving, life-enhancing and improving the quality of life characteristic of social welfare state envisaged by Nepali constitution. Shared and self-rule in Nepal presumes that leaders at various layers of governance have to work beyond coercive means of lockdown to creative efforts to mobilise public-spirited sentiments of citizens in feeding the hungry, easing their access to critical resources, communication, health, education and sustainable livelihood based on social solidarity.
Nepal is a spiritual powerhouse of Hinduism, Buddhism and over 154 religious cults. The notion of dharma encourages citizens of all walks of life to serve those in trouble and support the institutions of truth and enlightenment. Those who selflessly serve outside family, relatives and larger circle of friends and followers earn punya (virtuous deed). Nepali culture enabled faith-based citizens to connect to the multitude of collectives of society, the state and the world order affirming genetic heritage, language and tradition of being social and harness the wisdom of giving to others. It is a kind of common good that connects all citizens into Nepal Mandala, the same nation and the same constitution.
The communitarian and social nature of bulk of Nepalis enhance their feeling and emotion to engage in volunteerism and shape their lives of goodness of action, choice and experience. A sense of altruism provided them the motive to empathise with others and sedate the jolt of cross pressures sucking into the life of those without ample survival means. The system of Guthi created by communities to help each other and sustain cultural consciousness since the time of Lichchhavis keeps its continuity until now. Nepalis are spiritually and emotionally attached to their religious and cultural organisations like this and appear ready to protect them at any costs. The recent public protest against its regulation by the regime signifies.
The social contract, the constitution of Nepal, peddles right to life, liberty, property and equality which requires bridging the prosperity gap in terms of income, capability and life prospect among citizens and universal compassion for improving human condition and health so that they do not lose their patience out of feeling of existential stress. In times of scarcity of essential public good, compassion to others in distress holds greater value than the cold expression of ideology, rhetoric or scientific reason for it provides durability of human spirit and keeps the flame of hope of hopeless citizens to survive and struggle alive. Pious Nepalis of many communities are now lending support to jobless, street children, beggars, orphans and those stranded by the lockdown.
Local authorities and generous persons have provided vehicle facilities to those quarantined and unable to reach their homes. Selfish egoism fails to live up to democratic virtues of tolerating the diversity and the autonomy of knowledge against the vices of power devoid of public welfare contents and accountability to the public. The notion of punya remains the best defence of justice outside the realm of constitution, laws and public policies affirming the sanctity of human life and natural environment.
The classical Nepali treatises offer karamic chakra, the cyclical view of life, not linear, which enforces intergenerational accountability and justice. They preach the oneness of humanity by the projection of a common universal, immaterial soul and, therefore, their organic unity rests on each individual becoming relevant to other and developing a culture of worthy human potential to perform pure action. Socialisation of Nepalis on cosmic web of life enabled them to uphold civic virtues and support the needy as they have higher conception of dharma, above self-interest or legal and constitutional obligations.
By contrast, the blind impulse of the intoxication of power politics has utilitarian turn as it spurs an instinct for social division, control and direction, not freedom and unity of citizens. Helplessness and poverty enslaves the conscience and freedom of citizens, deprives them of dignity and a life of bliss. Value-driven progress demands the culture of giving beyond the paradigm of the government and the market to provide citizens and leaders ideals fit for nation building. Regular discourses in Nepal have shifted the level of citizens’ consciousness from their locality to universality providing hope for common cause to give those in distress.
Still, its main challenge is to revive the trust of citizens on leaders in non-profit, voluntary and self-help organisations of media, education, health and cultural associations that continue to show the sign of decay in the nation in the face of globalisation, paternalism and the spiral of institutional corrosion.
When the walls of national sovereignty cannot deter climate change, floods, fire and the spread of pandemic virus, regional and international solidarity is essential to link to the collective and build solidarity for positive collective action. The meaning of national sovereignty lies in setting politics, laws and public policies based on national self-determination without the undesirable interference in national needs, priorities and interests from outside. Nepali leaders are responsible for the choices of policies and action they make in coping with the problems and prudent allocation of resources as they have taken oath of office to serve the public.
In crisis time, transparency, accountability and equity are essential to keep the faith of citizens and civil society in their works. It is a time when citizens’ positive emotion, feeling and compassion well up inside prompting themselves into volunteerism. It gives the altruistic person personal satisfaction while the vulnerable a great relief. There is an irony of giving little but grabbing great media attention and earn cheap popularity in a model of rational choice that limits the motive of altruism.
Generating trust in a world of individualism, efficiency, competition, defection, free riding and exalting of greed as a driving force of progress is painful. Support from visible hands is more important than the invisible ones especially in matters of public good. The global response to the spread of pandemic is an example. Therefore, how to give, when and whom hold great merit. An overwhelming environmental and economic problems Nepal is facing now cannot be solved by the state and the business alone without the support of citizens, civic society, regional neighbours and international community. The values if life lies on giving than taking for it has healing effect on those tormented by the miseries of life.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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