Remarks by Minister for Foreign Affairs Hon. Mr. Pradeep Kumar Gyawali at the
Launch Ceremony of ‘Global Citizen from Gulmi’, a Book Written
by Mr. Kulchandra Gautam, 7 August 2018, Kathmandu
It was a delight for me to skim through the pages of ‘Global Citizen from Gulmi: My Journey from the Hills of Nepal to the Halls of United Nations’. I heartily congratulate Mr. Kul Chandra Gautam for this interesting, inspiring and thought-provoking book.
Not only for this book, Mr. Gautam deserves our felicitation for his meaningful and inspirational life dedicated to the service of humanity.
Mr. Gautam’s journey from a remote village of Gulmi, which had no adequate facilities for basic human needs, to the United Nations leadership may sound like a fairy tale to some readers. But this is a realistic account made possible by his commitment, hard-work, struggle and dedication. Of course, some coincidences in his life seem to have played their part.
Kunjarmani (which was Kul Chandra Jee’s childhood name) was a dear grandson of a man who himself had to fight a stigma of being ‘sonless’ before Kul Chandra Jee’s father was born. Kunjarmani’s childhood narrative is like a flashback common to most of us who are around or over 50 years of age. Learning ‘ka’ ‘kha’ in slate board (sheelpati), learning by heart the Sanskrit verses and being punished by teachers on failing to do so, and moving to Banaras after attending Gurukul lessions in Nepal are some incidents that resemble our own childhood experiences and even make us nostalgic.
Kul Chandra Jee’s commitment to pursue his studies in Banaras even when he completely ran out of budget is truly inspiring. He continued his studies even by eating stolen green peas from the fields across the Bhagirathi River and by aiding bhajan teams at a temple for handful of pudding (khichadi).
His days as a student in Kathmandu Shanti Bidhya Griha and Janata Ma Vi in Tansen after Banaras and his acquaintance with Peace Corps volunteers in Tansen seem to be the turning points in Kul Chandra Jee’s life.
His struggles and hardships for obtaining a passport reflect the bitter realities of the then Nepali bureaucracy, which was hardly accessible for common people. I wonder whether this nature of bureaucracy has changed for the better today.
Higher education in Dartmouth and Princeton after this, his association with learned professors and well equipped libraries and participation in student movements including on anti-Vietnam War have contributed tremendously to building his personality.
These struggles and hardships Mr. Gautam had to go through for his study compel us to ponder on the plight of the thousands of children who are still deprived of having education. However, Nepal has progressed a lot in the field of education; the school enrollment rate has gone over 95 percent; literacy rate is over 70 percent; we have schools and roads in villages; over 70 percent of the households have access to electricity and health posts have also been set up in our villages. This year, we enrolled additional two hundred thousand children in schools.
But, still sixty thousand school-going-age children are out of schools. It has remained a big challenge to retain those children who are enrolled at the school, to ensure quality education to them as well as to improve the overall quality of education and to link education to the people’s life and to narrow down the gap between private and public education systems.
Let’s come back to the book again. When Kulchandra Jee was in his final years of study, he encountered a big dilemma of life. The dilemma was about choosing World Bank’s job or joining UNICEF and take personal risk for future of the hundreds of thousands of children. He chose the second one. His new identity got established right from there- best service among all services- as a role model for shaping the future generation. Had he chosen the first option, he could have enjoyed the best of material comforts; he should not have dragged himself and his newly married bride into the bombarded territory of Cambodia.
At this point of the narrative, we find Kul Chandra Jee as a youth at his 25-30 fighting for the sake of the children in scourge of war of Marshal Lon Nol, Khmer Rouge and America in Cambodia; we find him sometimes as a young UNICEF Officer arguing with the Haitian authoritarian rulers for the betterment of children and sometimes as a person arguing with his own bosses for the benefit of the children of Africa and Latin America. While going through these pages, we see a true human rights activist in Kulchandra Jee instead of a mere UN employee. Who else will take such risk just to keep serving as an employee!
We feel proud to learn that Kulchandra Jee was one of the Architects of the first ever World Summit organized for the children in 1990. He had worked together with his boss Jim Grant to convene this unbelievable yet the most successful Summit. The struggle he had to go through to organize the Summit, its outcomes and the respect and satisfaction he earned brought new turning points in his life. The outcomes of this conference were the bedrocks for formulation of United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There has been a very important role of Kulchandra Jee to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the UNICEF and to develop it as the reliable partner of children of the poor and deprived communities and nations.
Even after the retirement, his passion for this has not faded out. This is why he has been still active for the future of children from Nepal and around the globe through various organizations, trusts and funds.
At a time when it seems that the multilateralism is in crisis, his ideas to make UN, UNICEF and their structures more effective, pro-people and to make them more favorable and vocal for the benefit of the developing countries are even more relevant.
The third aspect of the book demonstrates Kul Chandra Jee dedication to human rights, democracy, openness, plurality, social justice and inclusive development. Naturally, Nepal is in the locus of his interest. He seems to have deeply internalized the dream of ‘Beautiful, Peaceful and Great’ Nepal. When Nepal was mired under decade long-armed conflict, he used to think about transforming the conflict into peace. He has contributed his part for the establishment of peace in Nepal. He never justified violence while contemplating on the establishment of peace.
For him, violence and murder can never be justified, be it under the rubric of peace or revolution. Hence, his incessant faith was on peace with social justice, accountability and democracy instead of ‘dead peace’. His unwavering faith on peace, democracy and social justice was visible in his objection to the US attack in Vietnam, to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, to the autocratic regimes in South America and Africa.
The concerns expressed by Kulchandra Jee are becoming more relevant in today’s Nepal when the country has entered into the phase of political stability after long transition.
I would now like to refer to ‘Gobal Citizen’ part as the fourth aspect of the book. The title of the book ‘Global Citizen from Gulmi: From the Hills of Nepal to the Halls of United Nations’ is very rhythmic. Within these musical words, we find a journey that helps us understand the real values of humanity.
Who is a human being? What is the essence that marks one’s identity? The caste? The colour? Interest? And Profession? His name and fame? His religion, culture or his language? These questions have pervaded Nepali society significantly over the past decade. The society had been divided psychologically for no real reasons. Neighbors living harmoniously had turned against each other developing distrust and hatred to each other.
A child’s birth is a miracle among thousands of coincidences in the world. The child has no role in choosing a house, geography or caste. However, the issues of caste, gender, geography and community had been defined in Nepal as the main identity markers to engender social disharmony and to antagonize people against another caste, geography and community. This can never be sensible. But unfortunately we were debating such issues for past few years.
Amartya Sen discusses the issue of ‘multiple identities’ in his book ‘Identity and Violence’. He states that single identity leads to social polarization, hence to conflict. His statement can be justified with the conflict within different groups of the same religion, culture and community.
A witness to various extreme conflicts and crises in the world, Kulchandra Jee knows very well that no community identity was more important than a small shelter for the citizens of Saigon whose houses were bombed, that no identity is more important than the safety of her child’s life to the Haitian mother living under the tyrannical rule. The same applies to millions of children in Africa and Latin America. Safe childhood, nutritious food, affordable schools and quality education are more important in their lives than the religious, linguistic or political narratives developed by the leaders.
Therefore, I believe that Kulchandra Jee is absolutely right when he says, ‘While the human quest for prosperity is eternal and universal, peoples’ identity changes over the time, and depends often on the eyes of the beholder’.
Our ancestors have made very important statements in Vashudhaiva Kutumbakam (The whole world is a family) and Charaiwati, Charaiwati (keep moving on). These expressions carry very much deep meanings.
Kulchandra Jee has truly risen above Gulmi to become a ‘global citizen’ primarily because of his humanitarian contributions, and not merely because he was an official at the UN. I feel proud of him and his achievement both as a Nepali national and a resident of Gulmi.
Many congratulations, Kul Chandra Jee! I wish you all the best in your future endeavors as well.