Since the pandemic began last year, those most at risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus have been frontline health workers. Security personnel who have been at the forefront of enforcing frequent lockdown orders are also at risk.
In thanks for their efforts to control the spread of the pandemic, Dujang Sherpa, a social activist and artist, decided to pay tribute to them by painting a mural on the wall of the Ratnapark zebra crossing.
“The board had to appreciate the work of those on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic – doctors, nurses and security personnel – as well as those who have died from Covid-19,” Sherpa told the Post.
But on Wednesday, half a dozen police officers in the metropolitan city of Kathmandu whitewashed the mural.
This despite the fact that Sherpa approached the office in Ward 28 of the Metropolitan City of Kathmandu to obtain permission for the artwork.
“Before we started our work, we got permission from Ward 28,” Sherpa said.
Appreciating the efforts of Sherpa and four other artists to commemorate the work of the frontliners, Bhai Ram Khadgi, the president of Ward 28, gave the green light.
“The artists came up with a good cause and I gave them permission,” Khadgi told The Post.
Sangey Thinley Lama, Kipa Sherpa, Sumina Shrestha and Bishal Maharjan started working on the mural on June 7 and took seven days to complete it.
Sherpa, who came up with the concept, spent 100,000 rupees out of his own pocket for the expenses.
As a result of the aggressiveness and insensitivity of the metropolitan city of Kathmandu in painting white on the mural, there was an outcry against the movement.
What the City did was wrong, according to Khadgi.
“If it was a bad decision, they could have called me and told me to stop painting,” Khadgi said.
According to Sherpa, on the first day of painting Rajeshwor Gyawali, general manager of the metropolitan city of Kathmandu had visited the site.
“But he didn’t say anything,” Sherpa said. “If it was problematic, he should have stopped us.”
The artists who painted the mural said they received a lot of positive responses from the general public.
“After painting the mural, the doctors, nurses and many others praised our work for appreciating their real work,” said Sumnima Shrestha, one of the four mural painters. “It was positive support for our work, but when I heard the authorities delete our work, it undermined not only our worth but also the work of health workers during the pandemic.”
This is not the first time that the mayor of Kathmandu, Bidya Sundar Shakya, and his administration have been ridiculed.
Since Shakya was elected mayor of the metropolitan city of Kathmandu in May 2017, he has not done any meaningful work for the citizens who voted for him, observers said.
“If you assess his past four years, he has lost all of his priorities,” said Kishore Thapa, town planner and former government secretary. “There hasn’t been a single innovation, but he has devoted his time to many inappropriate tasks while other mayors in the Valley are doing a relatively good job.”
Shakya’s electoral slogan was to make Kathmandu a “cultural, clean and livable city” and he pledged that he would better rebuild and restore the historic structures destroyed by the earthquake.
He made big promises such as completing 101 tasks in the first 100 days, but instead he continued to work against the values of the city.
He built a concrete wall around the historic Rani Pokhari and planned to convert it into a swimming pool with cafes. After much criticism, he backtracked.
He couldn’t make public toilets but kept talking about smart public toilets in the name of making Kathmandu a “smart city”. He was unable to accomplish his plan to make it a “cycling” city. Garbage in the streets, stray dogs, bumpy interior roads, leaky pipes, tangled wires on poles are the eternal problems its citizens have been used to living with.
In October 2019, activists, which included townspeople, environmentalists and heritage activists, launched ‘Occupy Tundikhel’, a campaign to reclaim public spaces that have been encroached, painted flowers on the abandoned podium. of Khula Manch, but Shakya sent a police force to remove the works of art. After his act was criticized, the city police returned the artwork.
In April of this year, the City installed a 500 kg 10ft iron map of Nepal spending Rs 1million in Maitighar Mandala, but it drew widespread ridicule for spending money unnecessarily. Town planners called the decision insane.
“The mayor didn’t do anything sane. Kathmandu has narrowing open spaces. Open spaces should stay open instead of installing iron maps, ”said city planner Suman Meher Shrestha. “Greenery could have thrived in the area instead. “
During the pandemic, its lack of efforts to control its spread was criticized despite Kathmandu becoming a Covid-19 hotspot twice – last year and this year as well. But Mayor Shakya said that rather than prevention, he would work on treatment.
In contrast, the neighboring metropolitan city of Lalitpur and the municipality of Bhaktapur were better prepared.
Last September, when he was infected, Shakya remained in quarantine at a five-star hotel, for which he was widely criticized, but he has yet to establish a single quarantine or isolation center despite promises. to build an integrated quarantine center with 5,000 beds.
As of Wednesday, 67,883 people were infected with the virus and 491 lost their lives, according to the City data.
But he doesn’t seem to want the front lines battling the pandemic to be appreciated for their work.
“It saddened me. It was a good work of art on an empty space. If there had been political slogans, their suppression might have been justified. But the theme of the painting was very honorable and attractive, ”said Thapa, the former government secretary.
For the doctors, the mural meant that their work was appreciated, but the action of the metropolitan city of Kathmandu was an insult.
“This work of art has given value to our work,” said Dr Rajib Ojha, neurologist at Tribhuvan University Hospital. “But when I heard that the authorities erased it, it showed that they had undermined our worth and the contribution of health workers during the pandemic.”
Khadgi, the president of Ward 28, said he, Deputy Mayor Hari Prabha Khadgi and other neighborhood officials would visit the mayor’s office on Friday.
“I even inquired with the city’s environment division about the removal of the mural, they said they were not aware and that it was orders of a higher level” , Khadgi said.
The city’s director general defended the decision on Wednesday.
“… In a few days, the city’s cultural department will be painting a cultural art in the same place. Please understand our problem, ”he said in his tweet.
But this response drew more criticism from the general public.
“How would a city accustomed to stinky toilets understand the value of art?” On top of that, the city didn’t receive any taxes or commissions for letting them paint, so why wouldn’t they erase? ” Shishir Vaidhya tweeted.
“They might have bid to do this and only took a good commission. Maybe they paid crore to do that, ”tweeted Dreamer.
For artist Shrestha, the response on social media is revealing.
“It shows how much the general public knows about the value of art when our authorities don’t know it,” said Shrestha.
The Nepalese Congress also rushed to criticize the decision to remove the mural and said the act had disrespectful frontline workers, during the pandemic.
“Garbage piled up in different corners of the city did not interfere with the beautification of the city, but the painting did,” reads a statement signed by Nepalese Congress spokesman Bishwa Prakash Sharma .
For Sherpa, the mural was the least they could do to appreciate the work of the front lines and commemorate the lives the pandemic has taken.
“It was impossible to pay for the loss caused by the pandemic and we had nothing to give for these real heroes, so it was just a tribute through art,” Sherpa said. “The City did not understand this. ”
Its significance has not been lost on Khadgi, the president of the parish who authorized the artwork.
“The painting was very meaningful during this difficult time,” Khadgi said.