It had been a long 10-hour ride on our beloved dusty bus when we pulled up in front of large gates on a busy street in another unfamiliar city on our journey through Nepal. The gates were guarded by a few police officers including a young woman proudly wearing her blue uniform. It was after sunset and already fairly dark as we were lead into a courtyard that had a few outlying buildings and a larger main building to the rear. A high ranked official, who apologized for the darkness, greeted us he explained that the power was out again. Power outages are common and something we became accustomed to since our arrival the previous week.
The superintendent went on to share a story about three men that were recently arrested for orchestrating the running of drugs across the Indian border. After a long, drawn out investigation that not only involved both the local police and Indian authorities, three men from a top criminal organization were arrested and detained. It was not long after the arrest that an order came down the channel from a top political official, possibly in the parliament, to release the men. As the superintendent told this story I could hear the frustration in his voice; but he just waved it off, as it was not a big deal since it happens so often. Another police official, who was also present during the meeting, stated that when events like this occur the officers feel that their hands are tied and they cannot properly perform their jobs as well as they would like to.
The recruitment of youth by political parties provides many challenges to Nepal’s police force due to the sheer number of youth used by the parties for their biding. One of the reasons the youth are so susceptible to political recruitment is due to lack of financial opportunity. Each year approximately 300,000-400,000 Nepali youth leave the country in order to find work. Political parties and criminal organizations provide not only economic opportunities for the youth but also the sense of power and belonging to a cause greater than themselves. The superintendent informed us that the police force previously had a cadet program for boys in which the cadets could learn about the ins and outs of police work while earning a small income for their families. However, this program was disbanded when child labor laws were implemented in Nepal due to the small stipend given to the cadets. The superintendent went on to inform us that recently a new school liaison program had been implemented to help educate children about police work and the justice process. The program spreads awareness about social issues such as drug and criminal activity. Programs like these, he explained, are necessary because education is “the number one problem in Nepal.”
Nepal’s police are prone to external political interference as well as internal pressure brought on by political meddling. The average police salary is quite low which leaves officers susceptible to bribery from outsiders with an agenda. Political parties not only capitalize on the officers’ low salaries but also on police department’s minimal budgets. While in Nepal I read about a police station that was literally crumbling to the ground and could not secure funds to do repairs. Another news article reports a rural station that did not even have a telephone. Lack of funding and infrastructure puts police stations in jeopardy since political parties have the ability to grant or deny project budgets as they see fit.
Internal corruption appears to cripple police departments across the country. Since our first day in Nepal the topic of corruption, particularly in the security sector, was brought up numerous times in a wide variety of organizations. The superintendent did not dispute these observations. He explained that there had been an extensive effort in the past year to eliminate corruption within his department. He went on to say that the outcome of these efforts brought about positive changes and moral boosts. One of the positive changes was the department’s ability to focus more on external problems affecting the community.
When we met with a human trafficking organization a few days later one of the activists explained that many of their successes are due in part to close collaborations with local police departments. However, in another meeting, a woman told us that even though the police provide a sense of security they are ineffective due to political party intervention and corruption.
So how does Nepal’s police force overcome these political obstacles? The superintendent’s answer was simple, their government needs to scrap the monarchial ideology of the people working for the government and move into a functional democracy of the government working for the people. Until this happens political parties will continue to thwart progress not only for Nepal’s police but also for the country itself.
Jasmine Wolf was in Nepal for a two-week field course titled “Challenges to Peacebuilding in Nepal” led by Dr. Pushpa Iyer of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Jasmine’s blog is part of a series of reflections by Dr. Iyer and her students on the challenges to building peace in this country after a decade long war. -Ed.
About the author: Jasmine Wolf is a graduate student at the Monterey Institute for International Studies pursuing a degree in International Policy Studies: Human Security and Development. She received her Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice and American Indian Studies from San Francisco State University.