Cross cultural harmony among Nepalese during the Nepal quake 2015

The April 25th earthquake in Nepal proved devastating for the country. A 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck many districts and human lives in Nepal. Aftershocks, avalanches and landslides followed. News agencies report the death toll is now over more than 8,000 and still continues to rise. The calamitous earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 and followed by May 12 touched the nerves of many. As Aristotle had said ‘Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind’, we also tried to bear the pain of sufferings being empathetic, helpful, crossing the intercultural barriers for the sake of mankind.

Nepal is a multi cultural, multi lingual, multi religious and ethnic nation. Its cultural harmony, peace and integrity are widely known in the international arena. This is again proved in the disaster mentioned above. Oxford dictionary has defined the word ‘disaster’ as ‘a sudden accident or a natural catastrophe that causes great damage or loss of life. So, it can be simply said that disaster is the situation of distress, destruction and misfortune. Oxford more adds ‘It is an event or fact that has unfortunate consequences’.  Really, it is a very difficult and hard time which is welcomed with many unpredictable and unbearable results. This is the time when nature compelled us to live in fear and apathy. Though it is the time of difficulty and threat, we can’t ignore our daily life and activities in the name of disaster. But it is very hard to deal with and to regulate our daily routine in disaster. This is what most of the people probably all had felt during that. It has made our life so abnormal that still it is becoming very difficult to come out from. As a whole, it can be said that it has ruined our normal life in a sense.

Till one month the life was completely distorted I guess. People were compelled to live as fear and threats have really destroyed their daily life. Due to the fear of the shakes, people were not able even to enter in their own homes for a month.  It seemed as if their own home had become a curse for their life these days. All people were out of home and were spending their days and nights at open space either that is ground, field or road. Open areas have become the human habitation to many. Almost all of the colleges and offices were closed for long time. People did not have anything to do.

People transformed their life to tent life as if they had gone for a vacation but usually people enjoy in vacation but it was just vice versa during this leisure time. No work, no school, no college, outside from home but it was all paining, very horror type and stressing. Daily lives were limited to tent only. People were sharing their tent life together with their neighbors or community people in group. That group or community includes people of different castes, culture, religion, creeds, status, profession, class, ideology and so on. So, variety or diversity was found in the disaster camp as well. Though these sorts of varieties were seen but it was more surprising that people were enjoying that diversity. They did not mind on which caste, culture and class people were sharing their tent, food and that place. It is the best interesting togetherness that Nepalese showed in the time of disaster as well. People used to support, motivate and encourage each other at community and local level.

In regard with this, let me share some experiences of mine that I observed and experienced during those days of the Nepal quake of April 25. While I was also spending my time, my days and nights at tent in my community which was shared with many people for 3 days and nights, I did not felt that much difficulty and anxiety in sharing emotions, in spending time, food stuffs even with the people of other creed, religion, caste, culture and ideology. I felt a unique togetherness, social bond and harmony among everyone. During that days no one was questioning ‘why u are sharing with me?’, ‘Don come near to us’ and bla bla bla rather they were showing interest in helping each other in sharing tent, helping in making tent house, sharing food and water, medicine and so on.

After the earth shakes with the rector of 7.8 Magnitude, the aftershocks are continued till the date. Due to these continuous aftershocks, the fear and threat was at high level in people’s mind because of which they even did not have courage or guts to enter in their own home just after the quake. During that hard time, one of our neighbors who is from Brahmin community, she brought her cooking gas and utensils in the camp where we were staying as her house was nearby the area. And she allowed others to cook. Sometimes she was also sharing the food to the children and mother. That was really awesome example of cultural harmony and of humanity. Her husband was also a police officer. He was also helping the people in many aspects to the community people. She also helped by providing the bamboo stick to the people to make the tent house as she had many in her field. She did not show mean behavior in giving bamboos. Though she recognized or not she allowed taking it. People belonging Christian and Buddhist culture were also helping the Hindus and vice cersa.

In this regards, many local youths were also doing great job during that days. They did not care of caste, class, religion, status while doing help. They supported people making their tent houses, providing water, cleaning the surroundings by collecting the wastages, managing the toilets in that crowd and also setting the radio in a loud speaker so that people can be informed about the happenings. They were also awaking the people on making their surrounding clean as it may create serious illness or disease during the disaster. While they were collecting the wastages, they did not care the wastages belonged to high class or low class, high caste or low caste and so on. In addition, they also organized musical therapy means songs and dances in order to divert the mind of the people especially of children, women and old people from the fear and tremor of the quake. Some women were also encouraging and motivating children and old people to divert their mind and not to be worried. All were passing that hard time together sharing each other’s empathy. This was the picture of the tent lives after the earthquake of April 25 in Hiledol-1 Manamaiju of Kathmandu where I belong. This is the situation of town where mostly educated and aware people use to live.

Now, I would also like to share my observation of outside the valley. It is about Nuwakot district which also falls on the most affected district during the earthquake. Talking about it, almost all houses were destroyed. There is also mix-up community about which I am talking in my writing. I am portraying the situation of Bhainse which falls in Gerkhu VDC, ward no.4 of the respective district. People belonging to Brahmin, Chhetri, Newar, Rai, Tamang and Majhi caste are the habitants of it. According to the local, they all shared their living being the part of community during the quake. They helped each other, they counseled each other, motivated each other, shared the pain and happiness each other. According to the villagers, there was no problem while staying together until the temporary cottages were not built after the quake. But they felt discomfort in the relief program organized either by government organizations or non government. While quoting them, ‘Almost all the relief programs were done in coordination with the people who have good connection with the politicians and others. So, most of their comment was related with the relief stuff which were distributed only to those who have good relation with them or the people nearby them. There was not equal distribution of the stuff according to them in the beginning but later it was distributed in a managed way respecting all. Those disputes on relief somehow created misunderstandings among the people but they shut it in their own effort calmly. Simply it can be said that people were helping sharing foods to those whose stuff were not taken out from the destroyed house and who are not economically sound by the strong peoples, toilet of the one whose were not destroyed.

Nearby the village, there is Betrawati which is the most wonderful example for cultural harmony and community fraternity. There the community people were helping each other in many regards and the one who are in abroad belonging to that place also were helpings all the area and nearby without being bias to anyone. They equally helped everyone as all were affected. Health camp was also set there by various countries’ representatives. As it is the boarder of Nuwakot and Rasuwa, many people from the two districts of having various cultural identity got influenced from the camps. And the most important thing that I observed here is the locals were helping to the homeless people of rural Rasuwa who were brought their by Nepalese Army for temporary settlement as their villages were swept away by the giant landslide that occurred as soon as after the earthquake. Those people were from Langtang, Syangboche, Syabru, Thambuchet, etc. The local people greatly showed their hospitality to them. They gave their respect and affection to them and to their tragic story after the earthquake. They helped them to resettle again by providing settlement areas, helping them through health camps, psychological therapy and so on. There was high cultural harmony in them even though the people who are brought from the rural Rasuwa almost could not speak Nepali language. Most of them are Tamang and Bhotes. Although they tried their best to resettle them which seemed to be very challenging but they did it simply. That’s the great achievement of the people of that area in crossing the cultural barriers of language, caste, culture and so on. Likewise, according to 68 years old local, namely, Purna bahadur Nagarkoti of Majhigaun (Bidur municipality), they were mutually lived 12 families together including 10 Majhi family for 5 days. As they have tremendous destructions, they have shared their living together and dining together. In spite of having, variations in culture they understood each other’s sufferings and not only in sharing the daily lives but they also helped each other to build their temporary shelters. This is all because of cultural harmony and understanding.

In addition with the above evidences, I would also like to add my experience and better to say a field observation which I have collected at the time of the post earthquake relief program in which I had got opportunity to participate. The program was about ‘A journey for smile.’ This journey was destined to the places of Nuwakot and Dhading by Tanneri Chaso, a network of youth activist. It was objected with an attempt to bring smile on the faces of the children influenced by the earthquake at the time when schools were not opened. The journey was conducted for 4 days: 3 days at Nuwakot and one day at Dhading. It was a kind of psychological counseling for children. While visiting Bhainse of Gerkhu, Ratmate of Tupche, Majhigaun of Bidur municipality and Jiwanpur of Dhading, I felt the cultural harmony not only in adult persons but also among the children throughout the journey. A popular song during this Nepal quake ‘tyo pari dandama hera gham lagyo ghamailo…lagyo malai ramailo…timi ra ma ghumna jauna’ can be taken as the symbol of togetherness and the therapy for unity because in the tune of which children were dancing and singing mutually breaking the limitation of low caste -high caste, this religion that religion, poor-rich and many other cultural barriers. This had symbolized the collective voice of the children of almost every area from Nuwakot to Dhading. At the same time, the shelter given by Kami family, generally said as untouchable caste in our comunity at Tupche to our team (which contained Brahmin, Chhetri and Newar youths) at the time of big storm and rain while we were on the way to head towards Ratmate of Tupche was also really indebt able and beautiful example of cultural harmony and humanity that we have felt during the scary moments of this quake. Even they were in tent which was about to swept away by the big storm, they requested us to stay a while there until it got stopped.

From above evidences and personal experiences/observations, it is found that despite of having cultural differences and barriers in the society, people lived together, shared their hard moments and difficult time with each other. The first reason behind this is our cultural belief and faith that teaches us we should always help one another in the difficulties and being the member of the community, it is individual’s role as well. Beside this many other factors are responsible to maintain cross-cultural harmony among the people of variations. Talking about the key factors that might have invoked many to shunning their in-group cultural rigidity and accepting or taking easy of out-group culture is given below:

  1. Cultural norms and values
  2. Humanity
  3. Realizing ‘there are differences between you and me’ i.e., we have cultural diversity
  4. Being empathetic
  5. Discouraging the herd mentality
  6. Stop judging the people in terms of caste, class, ideology, creed, language, religion
  7. Feeling of the togetherness and social hood
  8. Valuing the need of the time
  9. Avoiding assumptions and stereotypes of cultural perceptions to make oneself out from the cultural rigidity

The above factors might be responsible for making one prepared to take other’s culture easily in the time of disaster too because the main reason behind this is our cultural norms and values which always aware us to help other in need and hard time. It is also said that you need not have to ask for religion, caste, class and so on when someone is in trouble. As we have such type of cultural flexibility, we do not have to be much worried about the cultural barriers and should not have to make it issue to serve. Apart from cultural belief, it is also our human relation that compelled us to join hands with others in the sufferings. In other words, it can be said that it is our human nature that enables us to move ahead when time is wanting us our company. Besides these, we Nepalese are also always aware with the feeling of cultural diversity which guides us to respect the value of other culture. Similarly, we can also sense or feel the others suffering. And empathy is one of the best characteristics of us Nepalese. And the most importantly, the feelings of togetherness, unity, together we can fraternity these all made us to challenge our cultural rigidity, cultural proudiness and motivated us to respect and treat equal understanding the value and need of time.

Culture is a framework for behavior. It consists of human made guidelines, written and unwritten. It is the central element of all relations among peoples because it relates to human creativity beyond the scope of politics. It is a social system of meaning and custom that is developed by a group of people to assure its adaptation and survival. Culture is characterized by a set of unspoken rules that shape values, beliefs, habits, patterns of thinking, behaviors and styles of communication. So at the time and situation, it is free to be changed. When culture and harmony are combined, then cultural harmony will literally mean the harmony between the people having different values, perceptions, faith and belief. This is very high from the feeling of ethnocentrism. There is a high charm of cultural harmony in the diverse society like ours. And its need become doubled at the time of suffering like this earthquake.

As already mentioned above, our society is fully diverse in terms of culture, caste, social class, creed, ideology and many others.  In this diversity also, our society is struggling. During that devastating earthquake also, Nepalese tried their best to maintain it. Through their greatness of mind, they struggled in the disaster as well. When the government became unable to take actions immediately after the disaster due to lack of their proper preparation in emergency, it was the local people who came out for help and rescue at the local level. Not only in the areas that I have mentioned above but apart from these also in many other places, local people contributed a lot in the earthquake phase without doing any cultural biases. From rescuing the lives to distributing food stuffs, water, medicine and attempting to take the children and people from the psychological fear of the quake, local people really had played a vital role. There is no doubt in it. They have become able to show the solidarity in the time of calamities because of which they have glorified by various countries. Disaster is very difficult time for everyone. The most important essence during this time is courage, motivation and help for each other. People should be the support for one another at local level at the beginning.

Thus, as there is a saying ‘Just like there is always a time for pain there is always time for healing’, one should have patience and guts to face the pain which is provided by the one’s faith, belief and eternal strength given by their cultures in an unknowing way.  Cultural respect and harmony is the best healer of many things as it is a matter of self respect. That’s why getting out from the ethnocentric beliefs can be the best tribute to their survival in the name of mankind. And if the cultural harmony as above mentioned continues in the following days, there is no doubt in saying that it will be the best healing for the wounds given by the nightmare of the April 25, 2015.

References:

Arizona State University. ‘Definitions of intercultural harmony’. Retrieved on June 20, 2015 from http://www.asu.edu/distinguishedprofessor/harmony/definitions/index.html

Oxford Dictionaries, 2015. Retrieved on June 20, 2015 from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/disaster

General conversation with the locals

Personal observation and experiences on the areas of different districts

 

 

 

 

 

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