Invisible Kathmandu in the Aftershocks

“For those of you fleeing Kathmandu, please don’t come back!” These are facebook updates that is among the few themed statuses that have congested my newsfeed recently. According to these status, fleeing  Kathmandu, when it needs you the most is outrageous, especially since you came and got so much from Kathmandu. Apart from people whose families are in the affected areas, for those who think Kathmandu is unsafe after the earthquake and flee, they just betrayed the city that offered them so much. Is it?

500 buses left from Kathmandu in the last 5 days – all transporting people. People going to the far West or the far East are the only ones being dropped fully to their destinations, the rest are being dropped off at Chitwan and other nearby places. Despite the cracks in Araniko Highway, people paid no heed, they just reserved the buses and left. Doctors in interviews are telling that there will be spread of disease most probably. Labors, and the poor people who do not have access to internet, and news, they are just leaving. Madhesi people from Tarai are just walking back on foot. Kathmandu does not seem as congested as before. It looks almost empty. This I heard as I skyped with somebody is never online.

On the other hand, facebook updates and anthropological articles articulate the need for the relief workers, volunteers and the government to go outside Kathmandu. Those places and villages affected but invisible in posts about Nepal earthquake must get relief. And indeed, Nepal quake is not just the ruined “World Heritage” sites whose photos float in the internet. But to analyse the situation as just the rural and the urban divide, as Kathmandu and non-Kathmandu, is just too plain to capture the complex place that Kathmandu is and the complex relief responses it required and requires. It seems to be much based on Kathmandu represented in the social media particularly after the earthquake.

Who represents Kathmandu in social media? Who has the resources to do so in times as earthquake, the labor worker or the elite? The facebook newsfeed is obsessed with the #GoHomeIndianMedia, or just rants (this blog post included). But who will represent the needs of these workers who have but to leave, to cope with what the earthquake and the response it has brought. Talk of spaces represented in the internet: Dharara, Basantapur, is all Kathmandu is, according to reactions in social media (look at the coverpage, profile pictures of groups formed). It took a week before a first glimpse of Gongabu,and New Buspark that was so hard hit, but these are places not many high-fis live. Where are the cries of help for those carpet workers in the basement of the building that sunk into the ground two floors in Gongabu? We had cries for villages where the anthropologists had deep connections with, for villages that some other person had a connection with, or for Langtang or for Everest from somebody or relatives of those trekking there.  But what about people who are so close to the center, Kathmandu and yet so far away from its attention? Aren’t these chatters about Kathmandu as the center as getting all the relief, reinforcing the idea  about people who have lived and worked in Kathmandu but told in a thousand different voices that they do not belong? Does it not refuse to see them?

Such an umbrage at the government for its lousy response to relief, such frustration. Of course, the relief is urgent and it is understandable, but the reactions of some on facebook and twitter seemed as if it was the first time they had come to face the reality of the government i.e. materially when tents and water, basic urgent necessity during earthquake, could not be provided by the government. Wake up! The state has always failed to provide the basic need even in Kathmandu. Let us take water and electricity. Some of us have been cushioned to experience the crisis in basic needs of the everyday. Thanks to our  ability to afford inverters, generators and private drinking water. Government not being able to provide tent, even when you live in the center, is not the end of the world for people who have had to face the lousy government every single day. They have spent hours in queues to fill a gallon of water from a nearby  stone tap; spent days being baked under the mid-day sun as they carried back the gallon on a doko; they are the ones who have had to face the “load shedding” without the private generators or inverters.

Nepal is a central state, plus Kathmandu is the place with an international airport. People have to come to Kathmandu for office work, for education, for jobs. If the “middle class”in Kathmandu goes to Java for a 200/- cup of coffee, the rikshaw pullers,  the street vendors, and the factory workers work all day to come close to earning that amount. Relief may land on the Tribhuvan International Airport, and there may be tents and supplies in Kathmandu, but these people have not received them. Worse is, their need is not known, they are not even counted among people whose situation is unknown. To everyone, but to them and a few others, they are not Kathmandu. From articles that float the idea of “rural areas” alone, Kathmandu is only the rich and the powerful; the rural and the needy do not live in Kathmandu. What good is it then, for those who equally need help, but who are refused to be seen just because they are “not Kathmandu” in Kathmandu. What would they do but to leave Kathmandu? And nobody sees them even as they do.

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