Thursday, March 13, 2008

Politics versus Safety in Nepal

I was lucky enough to visit Nepal last November, and to begin with, I must say that I recommend it highly. I wouldn't have gone if I weren't playing elephant polo, and I can't say enough how glad I am that I did. We encountered no security or political problems (if you don't count a man on the street in Kathmandu trying to sell me marijuana in front of my mother, which I don't. I told him that I wasn't interested and he moved on), and everyone, in the city and the country, was really friendly.

There was one security risk that I did see, however, although it wasn't to me or any other tourists. Motorcycles are common in Kathmandu, and often they have passengers. In almost all cases only the driver worse a helmet, however. At first I thought that this might be due to financial issues - helmets are expensive so maybe a family only bough tone for the primary user of the motorcycle. My mother thought it might be due to lack of consideration for the wife and children (it is the husband who is the driver, and the sole helmet-wearer), while Felix thought maybe it was just that safety wasn't that big a deal.

Daniel knew the real reason however, which makes me think that despite the pleasant tourism environment there may indeed be security risks, if only to Nepal's rulers. By law, only one person per motorcycle may wear a helmet. This was due to drive-by assassinations carried out on motorcycles, with one man driving and one shooting. Lawmakers couldn't bad safety helmets altogether, so they made them illegal for the passengers.

Maybe they thought that people just wouldn't share motorcycles, but most families don't have cars and have no other way to get around, and for the nervous lawmakers, their own security against a few potential attacks is far more important than the safety of the millions of Nepalese motorcycle riders.