No sooner did the Sochi Winter Games end than Russia bade farewell to the Olympic spirit by invading and occupying a foreign country. With its aggression against Ukraine, the Kremlin has breached the United Nations Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, and other international agreements, including the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances and the Black Sea basing agreement, which spelled out Russia’s relations with Ukraine.
Crimea has been turned into a military zone, and its inhabitants might soon find themselves trapped in the firing line if the crisis continues to escalate. Russians now face international diplomatic and economic isolation, thus exacerbating their country’s economic woes. And Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reckless gamble risks dragging the world into a wider conflict.
In one of the stories of the Arabian Nights, an exiled prince, who later becomes a kalandar, is asked by his employer what his skills are. The prince replies that he is a poet and man of letters. “That skill is useless here. Take the ax and collect wood,” enjoins the employer. This anecdote reflects the current situation of humanities studies in Nepal and in other countries.
The studies of humanities suffer as students opt to join other streams. That is why many colleges in Nepal are phasing out humanities. Similar trend exists in universities worldwide. It seems the focus has shifted to business and vocational studies, which is understandable.
Last week I saw a TV advertisement of a college around where I live. I had not even heard its name till then. It makes me think of how many plus two colleges we have just in the Kathmandu Valley. With the amount of colleges that we have, we expect that students are better prepared for the job market and more college-educated youths are being employed right away at various companies and government offices. The reality however is different.
Student life is filled with a lot of responsibilities to manage. With plus two or college classes, work, family life and other commitments, there is no question that the work is cut out for the students. In addition to 12 hours of daily load-shedding, transportation hassles, frequent strikes, bandas and other distractions, students definitely have to manage their time and schedule well. Having said this, at the end of the day, students have to be responsible and prepared for their career. Students themselves have to manage their careers the best because the schools and their future employers will not cut them any slack for facing the above problems.
As we celebrate the 103rd International Women’s Day, there are two ways to evaluate the current status of Nepali women. The more sobering analysis could be that despite decades of advocacy and institution of many new legal provisions to level the playing field, precious little has been achieved. The top echelons of all sectors—government, bureaucracy, private sector, I/NGOs—continue to be male-dominated. The women-friendly legal measures are also far from straightforward. For instance, although daughters are now entitled to an equal access to ancestral property as sons, the patriarchal socio-cultural order, lack of education among adult women and legal loopholes work against women’s easy access to what is rightfully theirs. In many parts of Nepal, menstruating women are still confined to unhygienic outhouses. Dalit women have to face double the amount of discrimination, as they are effectively paying the price of being born, first, as women, and second, into an ‘untouchable’ class. As their access to legal instruments is weak, these completely disempowered women are often victims of vicious physical assaults and rapes. Therefore, in this view, Nepal still has a long-long way to go to get the gender balance right. Yet that would be an incomplete and in many ways completely wrong interpretation.