Rajeshwor Devkota is one of the few individuals to have witnessed major political upheavals in Nepal over the last 60 years. Born in Gorkha, Devkota grew up to become an active participant of democratic movement of 2007 B.S. He went underground, traveling around Lumbini to raise awareness and funds for the agitation. The 107-year old Rana regime toppled and Nepal entered an age of political and social transformation, which is still continuing.
The circumstances that led Devkota to enter the political foray are noteworthy. Devkota came to Kathmandu at the age of 13 to appear in a Sanskrit exam. Around the same time, many Nepali Second World War veterans started returning and brought news from around the world, including that of liberation of countries from clutches tyranny. It was also an era when a closed Nepali society was slowly opening up to the international trend in politics and ethics developing in favour of equality.
The opposition to the autocratic Rana rule gathered momentum.
In 1946 AD, Devkota went to Varanashi to appear in Madhyama (SLC) exam in Sanskrit. The Indian Independence Movement was at a full swing. There, he met many Nepalis living in exile. He attended protest campaigns and learnt to write slogans and organize rallies.
Devkota and his friends returned home after planning to start a protest under the guise of educational reform. They used religion to attract the general public. But their real goal was regime change.
Nepal today is very different from what it was 60 years ago. In those days, it was possible to travel for a week with a budget of less than five rupees! There were many inequalities too. Different laws applied for different people -- Newars, Chhetris, and Gurungs. Brahmins were eligible for state sponsored Sanskrit education. There was one institution, Trichandra College, where one could study Geography or History. But only the wealthy and elites could afford to study there. Only 3% of the total population could read and write and less than 1% of women were literate. The rulers were doing nothing but building mansions for themselves.
The self-righteous government would not tolerate the slightest of dissent. Even its hint could result in banishment of people. Collecting public donation was a criminal offence. In one of the daily rituals that exemplified the smugness of the regime, the students before eating their meals at Tindhara Pakshala, had to recite a thank you grace in the name of the rulers.
Besides his political contribution, Devkota has also penned down several books. As a student, he had a privilege to rub shoulders with giants of Nepali literature like Laxmi Prasad Devkota and Bal Krishna Sama. The literary horizon, back then, was teeming with new ideas and perspectives, which had an obvious influence on him. Although he loves all his work, he mentions the book, Dwanda ko Awasan, which is taught in colleges, as the most popular one.
Devkota has retreated from active politics. He is writing a book on Nepal's history.Excerpts of an interview with Devkota
1. Who are your role models and sources of inspiration?
My father was a priest but he was very open to changes. He was a poet and probably the only individual subscriber of Gorkhapatra in Gorkha.
I also admire Raja Mahendra for his development work. The modern development that we see was initiated by him. He was also a staunch nationalist.
Indian Freedom Movement was an inspiration for me to agitate against the Ranas to bring freedom to Nepali society and honor to the country.
2. What are your hopes for the future?
I am an optimist. We cannot afford to be negative. I think Nepal's recent troubles are the result of a society growing pessimistic. Social harmony decreases with people being increasingly gloomy.
3. What message do you have for the youth?
It is up to them to develop a national character because right now that is what we are lacking. Instead of the group or ethnicity that they belong in, the youth need to concentrate on the country. I would also like to remind them to read history because the future is always built on past.
Although Nepalese history reads more like a genealogy of Kings and Queens, it is fairly accurate when it comes to major historical episodes.