Tank Man and Us

While searching for discussions on the relevance and necessity of protest during a pandemic, I came across a symbol of defiance. That symbol is known as Tank Man. His heroic display of courage and fed-upness took place on 5th June 1989, just one day after the massacre of more than ten thousand unarmed civilians by China’s Communist Party in Tiananmen Square and other parts of Beijing. A man with two shopping bags appeared out of nowhere and stopped a convoy of military tanks headed to the Square loaded ammunitions. Tank Man had had enough.

That massacre was one of the worst things that any government did to its citizens in recent times. Weeks before the massacre, the army had tried to penetrate Tiananmen Square but failed because the Chinese from all backgrounds came out on the road, some even with infants in their arms, and convinced the military to return. The establishment took this as a tight slap on their cheeks as their attempt to thwart the protests asking for basic press freedom and swift action against corruption in the Chinese authority failed. As it turned out they would take revenge for the slap with thousands of lives.

A sort of agreement happened after the massacre. The Communist Party opened China’s doors to the West and its elite and rising middle population reaped the benefits. And that is the reason that I came across my China-made phone first and on the same phone, I watched the massacre later. The growth that China saw in the years after 1989 to now was due to its new and more open approach to let the free-market economy grow in its designated economic zones.

If you are wondering why am I bringing this topic all of a sudden? What is the relevance? After all, we are a democratic republic! But ask yourself if the slogans carried by protesters at the Tiananmen Square doesn’t resonate with our voice right now. If it doesn’t then you are part of the problem.

The pandemic has set its foothold in Nepal and it is set to get worse. The epidemic of corruption in Nepal has made sure of it. And there is no wrong time to voice against corruption. It is not only about the billions that the PM is escaping the accountability from but the very nature of Nepali political and bureaucratic system runs on. It has created a parasite that has a wide body and feeds off the gold that belongs to the citizens.

Thousands of people were returning to their home country after they ran out or resources to survive in India. They were denied entry and on one such occasion, a migrant worker died in my village with police stations within a few hundred metres from the place he died. Even when they were taken in, the facilities waiting for them in quarantine facilities were worse than the farmers treat their cattle. They were not tested for weeks during which they suffered and some died as well and were tested only afterwards to be found positive.

The patients suffering from other serious diseases suffered the most as the hospitals refused to take them in and in other cases were harassed by the authority, like comedian Adarsh Mishra and his dad were, when they were on their way to the hospitals. Maternal mortality rate increased by a staggering 200% during the lockdown. Almost a thousand committed suicide. Surely their faith in the government was too little for them to give them hope to fight out this pandemic and the cruelty it brought. All of these happened while the news of government buying faulty instruments and Nepal Army buying masks at triple the usual rate made the headlines.

Recently, the horrific caste-based killings of four Dalit youths in Rukum by so-called upper-caste mob rocked the nation. But the outrage that the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in the US induced in Nepal overshadowed the Rukum killings. I am not comparing two incidents here, both are representative incidents of historical oppression of marginalised group whose life’s worth is considered to be less than their own by the oppressors. What I am comparing is the reactions to those incidents.

The government is trying the hardest it can to escape prosecuting the culprits and shove the entire thing under the carpet as it did with the rape cases of Nirmala and a Tharu woman in 2018. This is a metaphorical carpet but it is beneficial to the government, and people it depends on to remain in power, in the same way the carpet of presidential residence is.

The country got a new constitution a few years ago. One with many flaws that failed to address the historic oppression and second-class citizen status of women, Madhesi, Dalits, etc. The constitution was accepted by every group other than those it failed to address. It was very natural. Madhesh was standing alone in front of the police and the army the state had deployed just like the Tank Man. But now we see water tanks with cannons shooting at protestors in the capital and a sort of realization has seeped in even among once voracious supporters of the establishment.

I hope the growing dissatisfaction among the Nepali population that backed the current prime minister a couple of years ago forces them to introspect and find out the nature of the current regime. Whether the regime has suddenly become incompetent or were the voters themselves just blinded by pseudo-nationalism that runs on hate of a large section of country’s marginalised population.

I believe if you are against one kind of discrimination it is your obligation to be supportive of the voices against all kinds of oppression around the world. The failure to do so makes the person nothing but a hypocrite. There is no pick and choose. If the establishment pushes the agenda that bring in or continue the existing inequality or corruption we must stand in front of those weapons taking inspiration from the Tank Man.

The identity of the Tank Man and what happened to him later is still unknown. But the changes that came because of him is known to the world. He inspired people protesting against the Soviet Union which soon collapsed in 1991. And he will always be relevant because there will be governments that suppress voices against malpractices and corruption. Therefore there must be people, like Tank Man, who speak with their dissatisfaction on pages, social media and streets.

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