Drop Guthi Bill
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Initial voices of murmur against the Guthi Bill have now spilled over into the streets, with protesters ready for a showdown with the government should it refuse to withdraw the bill that has been tabled in the Parliament. On Monday, riot police resorted to the use of batons and water cannons to disperse protesters at the Maitighar Mandala, injuring about a dozen demonstrators. With the announcement of more protests, including a Valley shut down, until the government withdraws the bill, things could turn pretty nasty in the days ahead. What prompted the government to table the bill, which strives to bring all guthis under a Guthi Authority, in the National Assembly is hard to say, but it has kicked up a storm, with the people, especially the Newar community of Kathmandu, demanding a revision or total withdrawal. The people especially smell a rat in the provision that allows the Authority to acquire, use and sell both movable and immovable guthi property. The Guthi Sansthan, the state-owned umbrella guthi organisation, owns about 1.45 million ropanis of public guthi land across the country, and it generates revenue by leasing out land to individuals and institutions.
A guthi is a social organisation, or a trust, that manages the cultural, social and religious activities through the income of its land holdings. It is a unique identity of the country that has withstood the test of time spanning not decades but centuries. For hundreds of years, the guthis have been carrying out daily worship and rituals at the temples without a break, besides managing their upkeep and associated festivals. A guthi is also a philanthropic body helping to maintain public shelters, stone water spouts and irrigation canals, to name a few, while carrying out different services to humanity. People fear the Guthi Authority will wipe out the cultural and religious heritage as it will become no more than a recruitment ground for party cadres who have little or no attachment to the local culture. Also when no government entity has functioned well, how do you expect the Authority to do any better?
The bill would not have generated controversy had the government consulted the stakeholders at the time of drafting it. Instead it seems intent on bulldozing it through the Parliament on the strength of its two-thirds majority. It might have brought the bill with good intentions, in the wake of dwindling income from guthi land and growing expenses incurred in carrying out rituals and festivals. But the chances of destroying the guthi system are higher than actually strengthening it. And when you destroy the very cultural and religious institutions that fund your traditions, culture, religion and jatras, it becomes easy for outsiders to impose their religion and values. In view of the people’s sentiments, it is best the government drop the bill. Instead, it could begin a study on the status of guthis across the country and then sit down with the stakeholders to see how they could be modernised and better managed in the changing social, political and economic context. The guthi is part of our cultural diversity. We can’t let it die on a government whim.
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