Sun, 22 Sep, 2019

Blocking the Roads: A Shivaratri Tradition That Needs Rethinking

By Shrijak Shrestha

As the festival of Shivaratri dawns in Kathmandu, thousands of sadhus and devout Hindus come to the valley to worship the statue of Lord Shiva in the Pashupatinath temple. During this day children use ropes and strings to stop the people walking or driving on the streets to get some money. This practice is highly prevalent in Kathmandu and every year thousands of little kids storm into the streets trying to stop everything they can, from bikes to buses. From a distance, this tradition seems fine. It’s fun looking at the little kids block total strangers every meter and to seeing the way they react. Some people use brute force to cross the ropes, some try to reason with the kids, some try to scare the kids and the rest just cave in giving money to the kids. The kids get to earn some money and the people on the terrace have their show. But for most people who use the roads on Shivaratri, this tradition is a total nuisance. Getting stopped by little kids at every point when you have to be somewhere important is really embarrassing. And it’s hard to reason the little kids as well who want nothing but the money from your pocket. It’s hard to drive and you constantly fear that some naïve kid is going to jump in front of your vehicle. Also, the highways are filled with groups of youngsters demanding donations. Originally, this tradition is believed to have started when devout Hindus performing rituals stopped passers by asking for either firewood or money to buy the firewood as it was very cold in the Kathmandu valley. Now it has become just a way to extort money from strangers. For kids, it’s just a phase. They see the other kids in their locality doing it and they join in. And they grow out of it as they get older. But these young little kids have no idea how dangerous it is. Their minds are too young to process it logically. It’s sometimes scary to see these little kids trying to stop big buses and trucks moving at speed without any caution. And their parents have no idea about the situation or, let’s say, they are being ignorant. Many children have died in the past while trying to uphold this tradition. A few years back, a little boy got rammed by a truck while he was trying to stop it, tying a rope to himself and an electricity pole. The driver had confessed that he hadn’t seen the boy. But the people burned down his truck in anger. If only any one of those people had stopped this naïve kid, he would have been alive right now, so, would have been the driver’s truck. I think it’s time for this tradition of blocking the roads to be banned by the government or some action to be taken against it. It’s too dangerous for the little kids. It’s a burden on the commuters. It’s only a source of easy money for wannabe-gangsters, nothing more.