Iih has been protesting on the streets against the government’s poor handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Last week, he was detained twice in four days, to get released after a while.
The 25-year-old man, who claims to have dropped out before reaching the 10th grade with an illusion of ‘turning the world upside down’, is currently leading the ‘Enough Is Enough’ movement. Thousands of youth in different cities have protested recently against the government; they say their protests are spontaneous and independent—it is just a Facebook group that Iih established has united them.
Till 2012, he supported the pro-royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal. He left the party realising this was not his way. Since then, he remained active in various social campaigns like ‘Occupy Baluwatar’, the campaign against the privatisation of Hanumandhoka, and ‘Ma Swadeshi’. He contributed to the organising of Bibeksheel Nepali but did not join the new party itself.
During the 2015 Madhes movement, he walked along the postal and east-west highways with the message of respect, brotherhood and we-feelings. He met various leaders including CK Raut to take initiatives for national unity and non-violence.
He was the same person who splashed red paints on the front wall of Singhadarbar in 2016. His demand at the time was the prime minister’s and the president’s apology for the state’s historic repression and violence and call for national reconciliation.
This man claims he walked from the east to the west of Nepal thrice in 2017/18. “The purpose of the trip was to quench my curiosity and find myself,” he says, recalling the 6,000-kilometre tour which he completed seeking for shelter in various human settlements.
Onlinekhabar recently caught up with the man, asking him to explain why he started the Enough Is Enough campaign now.
He explained to us the following way:
Who am I?
Before talking about the campaign, let me make everyone clear about my name ‘Iih’. I found that most languages of the world have a vowel sound resembling this word, and I just wanted to reflect universality. I have chosen this name to move forward in life in my own way, to create my own identity rising above the expectations of our society that imprison me, to form my own opinions/ideas and to rise above the various strata created by this society.
When I was young, my father went abroad—as we were in a difficult financial situation. Then, I stayed with my grandmother for a while. Shortly after that, my mother and grandmother were separated, and my grandfather raised me.
I am now 25; it has been 10 years since I left home. Then, I started staying with different friends belonging to different communities. With my name and my activities, I just wanted to liberate myself from narrow restrictions of society. I do not want to be known by any other name or adjective except ‘Iih’.
What is the Enough Is Enough campaign?
Now, let me tell you about the background of the ongoing ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign.
I am not involved in this campaign out of provocation, nor am I just following the crowd. I have created this group with my own conscience.
I have been constantly reading the news and articles in national and international media. When the coronavirus infection was taking the shape of an epidemic in the United States and Iran, no such case was seen in Nepal. When the epidemic’s size increased in those countries, people began referring to it as a ‘pandemic’.
Many analysts pointed out that this pandemic would determine the direction of this world. And I was constantly reading analyses that if the people are not responsible and do not seek accountability, the world will incline towards an autocracy.
Even after detecting the first coronavirus positive case in Nepal on January 23, the things like promoting Visit Nepal 2020, and declaring Nepal as a ‘coronavirus-free zone’ continued among the people of the policy-making level. Such activities vividly showed how ignorant we and our leaders were of the upcoming pandemic.
The government imposed the lockdown on the day the second active case was confirmed. The state should have used the lockdown to break the chain of transmission by expanding the range of PCR tests, identifying active cases and isolating them, and identifying their close contacts. But, there is an ‘open secret’ that the government has not been able to utilise the time.
We could do nothing, but pour our frustration on social media after reading the news of the plight of the stranded citizens on the no man’s land and the workers returning to their villages on foot from Kathmandu during the lockdown.
I also used to share such news on my Instagram page and my friends would react, “It’s happening wrong and now, we should do something.” Right at that time, public health experts started a petition on change.org to pressurise the government to expand the range of the PCR tests. We shared that petition with many friends. Around 12,000 people signed the petition and submitted it to the Ministry of Health and Population. But, the government did not hear us.
At that time, media were flooded with the news of the chaos in the test, quarantine and isolation procedures. Even when such reports kept coming, the government seemed impotent. All of these were making us suffocate. We kept saying and posting ‘stay safe, stay home’ sitting in our homes, but there were lower-class people who really needed the help of the government. Those who were trying to return to Nepal from other countries were really facing difficulties.
During that period, we were constantly texting Bishnu Rimal, the chief advisor to the prime minister, and Ishwor Pokharel, the coordinator of the High-Level Coordination Committee for the Prevention and Control of Covid-19, and even the prime minister. The purpose of the SMS campaign was to make better arrangements for returning workers.
But, the government did not seem serious and effectively responsive about the crisis despite pressure from the citizens, experts and mainstream and social media. Then, I was personally convinced that we had no choice, but to resort to the streets.
Then, since 25 days ago from the protest, I constantly started saying on social media, “This is way beyond our tolerance, so, now, it is the time to come to the streets.”
In response, many questioned, “Is the street protest the only way? Is it practical? Will it work?” I saw people protesting on the streets every day regarding Nepal’s map and the MCC. But, no one took to the streets about Covid-19, which is clearly a life-and-death affair.
I felt that people should come to the streets and show that they are not happy with the government’s work to control Covid-19 because it was almost proven that nothing will happen just by shouting on social media and media.
Then, I posted a story on Instagram, asking, “If anyone wants to come to the street, send me your Facebook ID, I will make a Facebook group and add you.”
About 400 youth sent their IDs saying that they are ready to come to the streets. Most of them were from middle and upper-middle-class families, educated at private schools. This was a good sign that this generation is ready to take to the streets. Those who did not use to care about politics and consider it a dirty game were ready to take to the streets to question the politicians.
So, before I did anything, those 400 started inviting other friends to the group called ‘Enough is Enough’.
Then, they prepared the slogans during the group discussion. On the first day of our protest in Baluwatar, only I and a few other friends were active. We thought that around people would come, and we would return after drawing the attention of the government while maintaining distance while protesting. However, something unexpected happened there.
Though we were protesting peacefully following the safety measures like wearing masks and maintaining proper physical distance, police used water cannons and batons to disperse us. The government was seen shaken at the very first day by this movement. I do not blame the police personnel for this though; they were just following the orders from the higher authorities.
This act of the government sparked the outrage among many others staying home as well. Many were not satisfied with the work of the government. They just could not raise their voices. As far as I am concerned, we have just raised our voice first.
I never thought that it would turn out this big and people would spontaneously come to the streets across the country. In the last four days, people have spontaneously come to the streets in 10 places across the country. I was present in only three places.
Why are these protests?
The seriousness of the problem is evident in assessments made by public health experts. According to them, we are going to face an appalling situation in about a month from now due to the government’s incompetence to combat this pandemic.
As the lockdown has been eased, the mobility of the people is increasing. The next few weeks will be critical. But, the state is still not serious. Now, the infection will spread like wildfire.
Those who do not understand these things have made various allegations against us. Those who understand these things are trying to make the government aware. By this, I do not mean that everyone should join this protest. However, everyone should warn or ask the government on their own. This is all I want.
We have said nothing, but what the government should do. The government should conduct testing and make quarantine systematic. We have to look at the dignity and safety of health workers. We have only asked that relief should be given to the workers affected by the lockdown.
I have received mixed reactions about me on social media right now. However, I have played a leadership role in the first day’s protest only. After that, I am also just an ordinary protestor.
I keep on telling my friends that we get the leaders we deserve. But, democracy and freedom do not come for free. One has to fight for it. Without any struggle and critical thinking from the grassroots level, this will not last.
I believe those who are against this campaign now will eventually protest against the government’s inability if the situation worsens as we have not reached the stage to face that. So, one has to be visionary rather than reactive. We are expecting proactive action from our leadership. The government had to take these independent demonstrations as a question, a request.
When will these protests stop?
This independent demonstration will not stop even if I ask them to stop now as all the participants here have come together using their own conscience and critical thinking. I keep telling them that they all are the leaders and this is their initiative. We are just facilitating it.
Time had given our prime minister an opportunity to become a hero. He could have said, “We will add PCR machine sin 10 days; all frontline health workers will have PPEs within 10 days.” Even if the government makes a commitment that it will try to add equipment as per the necessity, the government will be applauded overnight. However, it seems to be very casual in such matters. We are hearing statements like “Covid-19 will not affect anyone; it can be cured by with garlic and turmeric,” from the prime minister. Public health experts are stating repeatedly that such statement from him is unscientific, arrogant and can lead our country towards a catastrophe.
Was the timing right?
While we were protesting, questions were raised against the timing of the protest, connecting it to the constitutional recognition of the new Nepal map. Many suspected whether this is guided by somewhere.
As far as the map issue is concerned, I have to say two things about it. First, the House of Representatives has unanimously passed the bill to redraw the political map. No one is opposed to this.
Second, if the government cannot work effectively on the issue of life and death, how can we hope it will bring back the land?
Migrant workers have to walk home from the border. Our own citizens are stranded on the border. Is the country just geography? Is the country not about the people?
Even now, if someone thinks that this movement is operated by me or some other person, and if one thinks that the movement can be stopped by arresting me, they can arrest me.
We have held this movement realising the seriousness of the disease. If the government does not act seriously and effectively in controlling Covid-19 now, we will get infected by this disease sooner or later. Hence, the youth have taken the risk of coming to the streets. Hoping that the government would listen to and address our voices, we are doing this.
The movement could end if the number of infected people increased and people started dying. I do not know what will happen next. If the situation will worsen later, the government will have to bear the consequences. At present, 60 per cent of the workers are unemployed. People’s saving has been over. However, our government could not do even 10 per cent of the preparation, even by imposing the lockdown longer than in Wuhan. The government misused the lockdown.
If the government really wants to act effectively, then National Covid-19 Relief Fund has 1.3 billion dollars. This has been stated by Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada himself. Of that, 470 million dollars was collected from local sources. The rest is from other countries. There is so much money. But, why is the government not utilising that?
We have the capacity to have a PCR machine in each district. Due to the scarcity of VTM, tests have been stopped. During one flu season, 60 million VTMs are consumed worldwide. If the report comes 10 days after taking the swab samples, what will happen to the person staying in the chaotic quarantine?
Why is it said to do PCR tests only if an RDT is positive? Everyone knows that an RDT only shows inactive infections. The PCR is the only way to show an active infection that can be transmitted to others. If you break that chain of transmission and isolate the coronavirus positive persons, the infection will not spread.
Knowing all of these, the government is silent and irresponsive adding to the disappointments and fear of people.
However, after this movement, indirectly or directly, the government officials have been talking to our friends revealing that the government is terrified. They have never thought the youth will understand this issue this better and spontaneously protest against the government. They could not understand the power of the youth.
If the problem is not addressed now assuming this campaign is guided from somewhere, its impacts may be felt later as well.
Here, I believe that not only the Oli government or the prime minister has failed, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has also failed entirely. All leaders including Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal have failed. Also, the opposition leaders and parties have failed as all of them failed to understand the gravity of this pandemic, voice and act accordingly in the policymaking level.
Only after the people come to the streets, there has been a discussion about it in Parliament. Earlier, I had only seen Gagan Thapa and a few other MPs raising these issues. However, the government did not listen to their voices as well.
All the parties should jointly raise their voices on what should be done in Nepal by listening to public health experts and observing international experiences. But, they have not been able to do so and seeing that I have made two conclusions. First, either this leadership class itself has become very outdated. Second, we deserve only such people’s representatives as it is the people who make their people’s representatives accountable.
While being active in the campaign with such demands of the people, many have been accusing me of paving the way for politics. But, my point is clear. I do not want to be tied and trapped anywhere. My clear idea is that I will travel around the world for 30 years. I go to new places, meet new people, learn new things and gather experiences.
I have only raised my voices against the chaos in this pandemic as a genuine citizen of this country. If there was no such chaos in such a pandemic, I would not have needed to speak.