GUTHI AGITATION People's Power

Almost a week of protests led the government to pull out the Guthi Bill

July 1, 2019, 10:20 a.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL 12 No.21, June 28 –18 July, 2019 (Ashad 13, 2076) Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

The massive assembly of the people in Kathmandu last week in protest against the Guthi Bill has shown how even a government with a two-thirds majority has to bow down before the people, withdrawing the Bill, which the stakeholders claimed aimed to control religious and cultural rights of people.

Despite the efforts of some fringe groups to make it a demonstration by a small community, the organizers were able to show that Guthi Bill was a national issue not only related to Newars but a broader part of Nepal's identity. Disassociating from political parties and communal groups, the agitators distributed national flags.

"We did face a lot of pressure to make our agitation against Guthi linking to Newar Community only. Guthi is a heritage and culture of Newars, but it has national existence," said Ganpati Lal Shrestha, convener of National Identity Protection Joint Struggle Committee NIPJSC, who led the mass demonstration.

Although it was registered by Minister of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Padma Kumar Aryal on April 30 at National Assembly aiming to replace the old Guthi Act, it came to public notice through National Assembly member Radheshyam Adhikari.

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"It is very important when talking about guthis to be clear whether one is talking about the Guthi form of land tenure or the guthi institution. There is a historical connection, but the two things need to be kept distinct. Much of the outrage and incomprehension that has been generated by the proposed law arises because of confusion between the two. The form of land tenure is found all over Nepal. Any land, whether donated by a King or anyone else, that is dedicated to a religious purpose is held under guthi tenure, and therefore, under normal conditions, no tax is due to the state. Under abnormal conditions (when a war was on, for example), rulers did sometimes tax or even seize guthi lands," said Prof David Gellner.

Including some of the highly objectionable provisions, the Guthi Bill aimed to tighten the grips of the state to people's institutions through an authority. Basically, the aim of the bill was to give ownership right to the tenants particularly in areas like Dang, where Swargadwari Trust has almost 1200 Bighas of land.

MP Adhikary, a constitutional lawyer representing Nepali Congress, shared highly controversial clauses with his party colleagues and people working in the sector like Bharat Jungam.

Guthi Puch, which was led by former vice chancellor Kedar Bhakta Mathema,, called a meeting of different stakeholders for the discussion on the bill. With the initiative of a group of young conservationist, activists organized protests at Maitighar Mandala on 8 June.

General Secretary of Puch Bharat Jungam, Dipak Gyawali, academician of NAST and former minister, Ganpati Lal Shrestha addressed the gathering of small group of people. As the address was going on, Police entered with water baton to disperse the mob and some of activists were arrested on the charge of disrupting the public space.

Intervention of police was the point of beginning. Statements of Minister of Information, Communication and Technology against Guthi terming it as a remnant of feudal society fueled the agitation.

After police intervention, youth of Kathmandu summoned all 80 different Guthi stake holders and constituted National Identity Protection Joint Struggle Committee NIPJSC under the convener Ganapati Lal Shrestha.

"Irresponsible remarks by Ministers and NCP MPs further provoked the agitators. Our Guthi is not a remain of feudal system. Our Guthis are our pride and our heart,” said Shrestha.

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After formation of NIPJSC, the agitation against Guthi Bill intensified at Kathmandu Valley attracting a large crowd. Step by step, a small group meeting held at a hotel room and and protest organized in a mandala became the largest demonstration after the 2006/2007 movement.

Although it has subsided now following the withdrawal, the bill has revived the attachment of people towards Guthi. As a community, Ministers and majority of members in the government do have a nominal knowledge of Guthi and religion and people's sentimental attachments towards it.

Coming to power, harping on populist slogans like ending dual rights of land, land to tenants and cultures and religions are remains of feudalism, the government minister’s recent remarks have shaken the communist ideology badly.

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