This is a selection of short impromptu video statements made by public and private research interlocutors across the Nepali capital. Interviewees were asked to describe their work and the main security challenges facing everyday life in Kathmandu (recordings fall 2017).
Kathmandu MetroPolice and KTM City Hall
N.M. Shrestha, KTM CCTV HQ RatnaPark Commander explains the city’s video-surveillance control room and police hotline call center. A look at the screens suggests a great number of installations to be defunct or misdirected.
Narendra Upreti, Deputy Chief of Kathmandu MetroPolice’s Criminal Investigation Unit, explains his service, which is domiciled in tents since the 2015 earthquake. After a post-insurgency period of widespread gun violence and kidnapping, the criminal police now mostly has to deal with robbery, murder and rape cases.
The Municipal Executive’s director, Hardi Badahur Kunwar, described how Kathmandu City Hall attempts to coordinate with local and national security agencies to handle the city’s uncontrolled growth. He sees much promise in CCTV systems, which are set up in some parts of town by public-private partnerships.
Bir Ghorka Academy for private guards
Lt. Col. Jhapat Bahadur Thapa Magar, director of Bir Ghorka Academy, tells the story of the company and private security industry. Demand for private security guards skyrocketed with the insurgency. Today, over 1’100 academies train guards, most of which are men, work more than 12h a day, and leave for the Gulf States for better pay.
Thamel and Bishal Bazar on New Road
Assistant Sub-Inspector Arun Tamang, currently deployed to the Thamel Police Station, mainly engages in community and tourist policing. There is not much infrastructure supporting his work, which became a bit more challenging as Thamel turns into an increasingly commercialized tourist hot-spot.
Rose Bahadur Tamang works as a private security guard in Thamel. He became careful of entering hotel rooms alone, for some tourists like to blame local Nepali of theft when losing valuables. Also, he complains that police never shows up in time in case of incident.
In Thamel, shopowner Ujwol Shrestha recently installed a first CCTV camera, as goods went missing. The device didn’t help much in clarifying subsequent thefts, though, and he’d still rather turn to friends and neighbors than the police for help.
Nirmala Manandhar, owner of a small Thamel tourist hotel, doesn’t see much use in high-tech security technology, let alone police patrols. Closing gates at 23:00 – and German shepherd dog Mars – is all she needs.
At nearby Bishal Bazar, Kathmandu’s oldest mall built in 1969 straight on New Road, tailor Balaju Raj Maharjan relies on the private security guards for whatever there might be – theft, late arrival of goods, or earthquake evacuation.
Radha Shrestha sells hot tea, cigarettes and music at Bishal Bazar. She takes her kids to work and struggles with the neighboring shop owner, who looks down on her small business and harasses her by pushing his trash over to her place.
On the corner of New Road and Durbar Square, the chief of Juddha Barun Yantra, Kathmandu’s sole fire station, shows the city’s fire-fighting infrastructure. The city of about 2.5 million inhabitants runs on a handful of donated vehicles, whose equipment isn’t compatible with each other, Badri Man Nagarkoti explains.
Old Bus Park
Old Bus Park is the city center’s ‘public’ transportation hub. Some of his problems come from drunk passengers, bus driver Hari Shankar Katiwada tells. Most are generated by the Valley’s dangerous and poor road conditions, however. The 130km drive to Bimeshwor, for instance, now takes 7-8 hours and thus double than what it used to be.
Driver Ram Badahur Thapa gets ready for another run with his micro-bus. The micro-bus companies, which are a political and economic force in town, are at the fore of gender-aware security thinking, he argues. By reserving first row seats for women, they help curb sexual harassment.
Traveller Rhada Dhakal agrees that the situation improved for women. She still prefers buses with CCTV cameras, however. Also, she avoids night-time travel and dislikes the station’s sanitary installations.
Traveller Dili Man Dangol is skeptical of the security situation in Kathmandu and its bus network. He knows that most CCTV installations are broken, that no police patrols the area, and that police testimonies can be bought easily.
Jhamak Prasad Dhakal is a so-called illegal street vendor at Old Bus Park. He hopes to sell all kids of small items to passengers, but also fears the municipal guards and police patrols in the few cases they show up. He has been robbed repeatedly and was forced to pay fines to authorities, yet has no other way of generating income.
The situation is not much different for the younger Senjeev Khatri, who minimizes his exposure by presenting his goods in the morning and evening hours only.
Gongabu Bus Station
Gongabu Bus Station north of Kathmandu city center is the central node for overland travel. Although many cameras are broken, Control Room Chief Narayan Karki believes that their installation helped bring down theft. He explains that bus drivers are often involved in such crime, and that this is caused by their low pay.
Jagdish Yadav, a veteran security expert who worked more than 14 years in the private security industry, is the station’s Security Chief. Together with his 34 or so guards, he is paid to provide security to cross-country travellers, and to look out for the hundreds of buses parked in the back of the station.
Traffic police maintains a small post behind the station and becomes active in case of an accident. Over Dashain – an important religious holiday -, it set up an information booth from which officer Lila Bhattarai assists travellers. The latter often miss connections or arrive late at night, given the country’s poor road conditions and unpredictable traffic situation.
Bhanu Bhakta Ghimire drives beyond the Valley. He is semi-happy with the security situation at Kathmandu’s main bus station. Some street boys charge foreigners too much money for carrying bags, he complains, and drug addicts should be turned away more consequently by security guards.
Another driver, Dikpal Guring, is associated with the mini-bus industry and complains about similar problems. Dusty roads impair street vision, traffic jams make travel unpredictable, and potholes, poor drivers and unfit vehicles create an incessant stream of often deadly accidents.
Some meters from the bus platforms, Bahadur Durga owns one the few small restaurants allowed on the premises. Standing in his kitchen, he tells how security improved considerably since private guards began to evict street vendors, and how everything became much cleaner and more hygienic.
With his taxi, Bahadur Dhan Bayalkuti also makes some Rupees around Gongabu. Drugs and alcohol are of concern to him, and he explains how streets deteriorated with the recent widening of city roads, for traffic lights no longer operate, utility poles now stand in the middle of roads, and building pits are open for years.
Tulashi Poudel and her family came to Kathmandu from the countryside. They haven’t experienced many problems themselves, though always travel as a group. Having lived in India for some years in the past, the also express how much safer Nepal is for women – a theme often heard in the Valley.
Gokarna Chowdhary travels home to Bardiya in the Southwest. He feels comfortable on overland bus travel, though also understands that bus stations are go-through spaces where strangers meet. One has to be cautious and not accept food or luggage from others, he says.
In Boudha, a residential neighborhood in the eastern part of town and home of stunning Bodnath Stupa, Dipendra Lama acts as Ward Chief. Only four of the 25 CCTV cameras installed around the religious site operate, he explains, and people are still hesitant to report incidents to the police, which they don’t trust.
Tsering Dorje Lama, a local Boudha politician currently campaigning, doesn’t flag problems on record but is concerned that if the Stupa loses is status as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, his community will lose most of its income.
Business continues as usual in the inner circle, where the Buddhist monasteries and souvenir shops are located. This shop owner here explains how interruptions became rare on the politically sensitive site. Other traders confirm, though also report of Western dropouts upsetting the sacred place when playing music for money.