‘After hours of grueling negotiations in the depths of the forest, I was able to save the life of an individual who was about to be persecuted on the baseless allegations.’ – Interview with Gobinda Bahadur Shahi, Executive Director of Karnali Integrated Rural Development And Research Centre (KIDARC), Nepal
16 August 2021 5:48 pm

This month, FORUM-ASIA talked with Gobinda Bahadur Shahi, Executive Director of Karnali Integrated Rural Development And Research Centre (KIRDARC), Nepal. In the interview, Gobinda talks about his own experienced growing up in a rural community in the mountains and how this motivates him to amplify the voices of left-behind communities in Nepal.

How did you become involved with human rights? And how did you become involved with FORUM-ASIA?

As an individual, I aspire to empower rural communities who have no access to even the most basic human needs. I, myself, come from a small community hidden in the mountains of Nepal that lacks the minimum facilities needed to live a dignified life.

I grew up in a place that had been severely affected by the 10 year-long people’s war in Nepal, which minimised the respect for human rights principles. Because on this experience, I was motivated to advocate and lead campaigns for the promotion and protection of human rights. Despite not having any formal human rights-related orientation or training, I started to speak out to amplify the voices of marginalised people from rural areas of Nepal. I worked to build alliances with bigger voices‒national and regional networks‒on behalf of these voiceless communities who are always left behind in all aspects.

Based on the experiences I gained from the ground, I became more involved with the human rights movement. I now have the platform to formalise my ground level 18-year experience as part of KIRDARC. Through this, I became involved with FORUM-ASIA as of active member from Nepal.

What motivated you to become involved? And has that motivation changed over the years?

The major motivational factor to become involved has been my own life experiences. I have experienced life in rural villages in Nepal where inhumane treatment by the State and conflicting parties was the norm. Furthermore, I am dedicated to playing a role in voicing out the pain experienced by rural communities in the mountains of Nepal and their lack of access to basic services due to geographical remoteness and negligence of the State and policymakers.

Through our human rights campaigns, there have been several visible changes initiated to address the needs of left-behind communities and areas. Being a member of civil society, raising the voices of people towards maintaining the minimum standard of human rights, and the achievement of rights on behalf of communities are my overall source of motivation over the years.

Please tell us one of the most inspiring moments for you in your work in the past?

There have been many uncountable moments but also bitter experiences in the struggle for human rights during 10 year-long people’s war in Nepal. Among these experiences, I will never forget the movement I was a part of, and my role in negotiating between the government and conflicting parties for the free movement of civil society organisations to monitor the human rights situation in our communities.

It was in 2002 that we navigated through deep forests on foot for at least 10 days in order to negotiate with the conflicting parties, and report back to government authorities about the status on the ground. After hours of grueling negotiations in the depths of the forest, I was able to save the life of an individual who was about to be persecuted on baseless allegations. This has been the most inspiring moment in my life and human rights career.

What do you experience as the main challenges as someone working on human rights? And how do you deal with such obstacles in your work?

Human rights are considered a sensitive area of work as it is directly connected with all people and their holistic development in maintaining minimum standards as realised by human societies across the globe. In the human rights work and campaigns I have been involved in, I have observed some limitations in authorities’ understanding of the issue. They treat the human rights sector as non-government actors who always compel them to implement things.

Secondly, I believe that there is more focus placed on political rights rather than economic and social rights in human rights mechanisms at all level. Some practical challenges during my work is linking human rights to very basic services such as quality education, improved health, the right to information and the right to livelihood. The authorities and even the communities do not realise these basic services are issues of human rights. Broader consultation and awareness raising among the right stakeholders and duty bearers are ways forward in making them realise the holistic aspects of human rights.

If you could give a message to the new generation of people working on human rights or development, what would it be?

Human rights are the realisation of dignified living from all aspects of human life. The realisation of human rights transcends geography, policies and the designed projects related to it. It is the functional mechanism that guides governments as well as civil society organisations to respect the human dignity, and reflect on their work places and management.