[email protected] and Nepal Army f!ghting

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world; most people have never used a telephone, never mind a computer, the staple diet for most of the country is ‘dhal batt’ – rice and/or lentils with maybe some veg – every day, for life. The terrain is a mix of three altitude zones; the Himalayan mountains – the so called ‘roof of the world’, their foothills and valleys, and the southern plains with some rainforest. The Kathmandu valley is the centre of administration, commerce and what industry there is. The country is a mix of 70% Hindu and 20% Buddhist religions (Buddha was born in Lumbini in the south), 4% Muslims who are clustered around the border with India, plus a few more obscure sects. In the Kathmandu valley a synthesis of Hinduism and Buddhism is practiced by the Newars, while in the eastern and western hills, the oldest religious form, Shamanism, still survives. 80% of the population work in agriculture, an estimated 40% live in extreme poverty. Gross national income per head stands at US $240, according to the World Bank. Illiteracy is very high, though diminishing gradually; 35% of men, 70% of women.(1) The industrial working class is clustered around the Kathmandu valley and a few other urban areas; the unions claim several hundred thousand members but the figures are questionable; membership fluctuates considerably due to casualised employment and changing political loyalties. Many workers are non-unionised(2). There is a rigid caste system, but religion doesn’t appear to be significant in party politics, apart from the class/caste aspect. Slavery was officially abolished in the early 1900’s, though a form of neo-slavery continued well into the 1990’s in some more remote rural areas; family debts were inherited by the children and could never realistically be worked off as more debt was added, so were passed on in turn to the next generation as a form of indentured servitude. This is now outlawed, but indentured villagers are still occasionally discovered and rescued from such slavery. Yet these local archaic feudal remnants co-exist alongside a tourist industry that provides internet cafes with global satellite connections.

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