lady protesting with a signboard for enough is enough movement in nepal

Nonviolent Youth Protests in 2020 against the Nepal Government’s Handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic



The first case of Covid-19 in Nepal was confirmed on the 23rd of January 2020. A 31 year-old student returning to Kathmandu from Wuhan, China on 9th January 2020 was found to be infected with the novel virus (Ranish, Sunil, Pratik & Bhuvan, 2020). This was also the first recorded case of Covid-19 in the entirety of South Asia.

As of 8th March 2022, the Nepal Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) had confirmed a total of 977,641 cases, 959,817 recoveries, and 11,949 deaths in the country attributed to the novel Coronavirus. 

As a consequence of the rising numbers of cases and deaths, the first round of country-wide lockdowns came into effect on 24th Match 2020 and ended officially on 21st July 2020. (Gill & Sapkota, 2020). This lockdown period was characterized by largescale nonviolent protests, which began on June 9th 2020 in the capital city of Kathmandu before spreading to other urban centers including Pokhara, Biratnagar, Chitwan, Hetauda, and Burgunj. The series of demonstrations were organized to demand better conditions in the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Notable features of the non-violent protests

The nonviolent youth protests in Nepal across the aforementioned cities during the Covid-19 lockdowns were claimed to have been demonstrating demands for bringing improvements in the government’s perceived mishandling of the ongoing pandemic. Dinesh Prasain, a sociologist at the Tribhuvan University in justifying the uniqueness of this protest noted that the government mishandled the COVID-19 situation in many countries and observed that it was but normal for the Nepali youth to assemble together for a peaceful protest to point out the wrong doings and demand for them to be corrected (Associate Press, September 11, 2020).

The protests were based on the following demand inputs, each of which were directed towards the administrative government of former Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli: First, that the government imposed nationwide lockdown on the 24th of March 2020 send tens of thousands of migrant workers hungry and cashless to rural areas; Second, that thousands of Nepalese who streamed back across the Indian border were frustrated due to lack of assistance from their home government to help them (ibid); Third, top officials of the government were accused of corruption over the purchase of medical equipment and supplies from abroad. A notable example included the transparency demand in the accounts for the Rs. 10 billion that the government was reported to have spent in the fight against the pandemic.

Fourth, the participating protestors attacked the government for not supporting local businesses who had suffered badly and were reeling under the impact of the COVID-19. They also joined hands with various small and medium business owners to demand the provision of legally-binding protection against stigma and discrimination in suspected or positive COVID-19 cases (Chaudhury, 2020). Furthermore, quarantine centers and isolation facilities were very limited; added to this, that the government failed to expand the country’s hospital bed counts; still,  that the working conditions of front line health workers were not the best; and that the authorities relied more on cheaper and less accurate tests in determining the spread of the pandemic. With the context of each of these ongoing issues, the protestors called on the government to improve quarantine conditions, make wider use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests against COVID, and to make the COVID-19 expenditure report public (ibid; Shuvam Dhungana, 2020).

Despite all these demands, it should be underlined here that the main difference between this series of nonviolent protest and previously observed such examples rested on the fact that, the protesters in most situations respected the COVID-19 restrictive measures of social distancing and the wearing of facemasks against the spread of the COVID-19 (Associate Press, Op Cit).

Nepales Youths engaged in non-violent protests while putting on their Facemasks against COVID-19
Nepales Youths engaged in non-violent protests while putting on their Facemasks against COVID-19
Source: Dhungana (2020).

Nonviolent Approaches Adopted by Nepalese Youths

Throughout the course of these protests, Nepalese youths adopted a diverse array of approaches for their demands to be heard and acknowledged. These strategies included:  a wave of online protests initiated by the youths in Kathmandu via a Facebook group named: “COVID-19 Nepal: Enough is Enough”, which amassed a following of 200, 000 members in a week. This was closely followed by sit-in demonstration outside the former Prime Minister’s residence on 9th June 2020, and later to street demonstrations with placards in the major cities of Kathmandu, Pokhara, Biratnagar, Chitwan, Hetauda and Birgunj (Monitor Trace Civic case, not dated)

Outcome of the Nonviolent Protests

The litany of diverse nonviolent protest strategies adopted by the Nepalese youth eventually succeeded in paying off to a substantial degree. Firstly, the government abandoned the use of rapid diagnostic tests for coronavirus and adopted the gold-standard PCR tests. Secondly, it agreed to provide better personal protective equipment to front-line health workers treating COVID-19 patients and to adopt regular consultations with health experts. And finally, it officially promised better access of medications to reach all the hospitals and was committed to ensure the free treatment of COVID-19 patients (Dhungana, Op Cit). Furthermore, the government also promised to protect COVID-19 patients and their families from harassment by their stigmatizing nervous, paranoid neighbors and to make public the spending on anti-coronavirus measures and expenses (ibid).

The government’s first reactions to these peace full protests were widely perceived to be repressive. The use of water cannons, batons and tear gas were observed to disperse thousands of protesters. On the 13th of June 2020, ten demonstrators who gathered near the former Prime Minister’s office were arrested. However, over time, the outcomes of the series of nonviolent protests shifted the tide towards a more successful narrative, as more and more citizens joined the cause both online as well as in physical demonstrations.

The main lesson that can be drawn from this event is that adopting nonviolent strategies to demand certain things from public authorities remains very significant. While governments may attempt to be repressive as a response, nonviolent strategic approach are free from all forms of destructions which accompany violent protests, such as wanton destruction of properties, torture, and loss of human life. Thus, they remain an effective means to voice civic frustrations, demands, and needs at scale, as exemplified in the Nepali example recounted above.

The graphics, views and opinions expressed in the piece above are solely those of the original author(s) and contributor(s). They do not necessarily represent the views of Centre for Social Change.

Image of Mengnjo Tardzenyuy Thomas

Dr. Mengnjo is a Lecturer and Researcher in Public Administration and Policy in the Faculty of Law and Political Science of the University of Bamenda, Cameroon-Africa. His research interest focuses on: Mobility Policies in Africa, Decentralization and development, Identity Crisis/Conflict, Online Political Communication and Humanitarian Policies. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Dschang, Cameroon. He is one of the contributors of the Center for Social Change.

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