Young people changing Nepal

Living in Australia, it's not easy to imagine that young people have the potential to make major social change.

We are constantly belittled in the media as interested in nothing more than "sex, drugs, and rock and roll", and young people are excluded from any formal positions of power. The few places where youth do have a voice, such as in university student unions, have been systematically attacked by governments (such as through the introduction of "voluntary student unionism") to further marginalise us.

We are led to believe that there is no power in youth, and that it's only after young people give up our "idealistic" beliefs and become cogs in the mainstream machine that we can ever "be something".

But this doesn't have to be the case. In the tiny and impoverished nation of Nepal, young people are taking their lives and futures into their own hands.

Nepal is in the midst of a radical transformation, a revolutionary wave that is being led by young people. The Young Communist League (YCL), the youth organisation of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) now governing Nepal, has up to 500,000 members and is organising for change across the country.

Nepal is an incredibly underdeveloped nation and options for young Nepalese have been historically very limited. Eighty per cent of Nepal's population is employed in agriculture, and education has never been readily available.

For young men, the only other employment options have been either in the Middle East, working in dangerous construction jobs for almost slave wages, or to sign up for the "Gorkha Battalions" in the British and Indian militaries, where they fight and die for foreign nations, receiving for pay and rights that are often less than non-Nepalese soldiers receive.

For women, the options have been even bleaker. The only work available for young women is sex work, mostly in India. Many young women and girls are either tricked into prostitution and sex slavery with the promise of better work in other countries, or abducted and sold — sometimes as young as eight years old — to brothels. Most of the approximately 250,000 prostitutes in Mumbai, India, are said to be Nepalese.

Alternatively, according to the Hindu traditions that dominate Nepal, young women have been forced into arranged marriages. Overall, they have never had a say in their future.

This is beginning to change in the "New Nepal". During the 10-year people's war and the April 2006 people's movement uprising, young people discovered their voice. They led the struggle against the monarchy and its oppressive state forces, which collapsed under the pressure of a massive people's movement.

While a new Nepal may be rising from the ashes of the old regime, it is still riddled with many of the same problems. Corruption among police and local officials is still common, unemployment is still widespread, and most communities are still without necessities like running water and garbage collection.

The YCL has not stopped at toppling the old regime; it is actively involved in trying to alleviate the problems of the past and create a better, pro-people Nepal. For example, it has organised massive neighbourhood clean-up projects, particularly in Kathmandu, to deal with the absence of a waste disposal system, and is active in development programs to alleviate youth unemployment. It is also setting up communal agriculture projects on idle land across Nepal to alleviate hunger and unemployment.

The YCL is also campaigning against corruption and in many communities has been more effective in fighting crime than the easily bribed police.

In some cases, YCL activists have had to make arrests themselves and, to ensure that action is taken against the criminals (such as poachers), present them and the evidence to the media before handing them over to the police.

Despite what our society tells us, young people — when we are organised and active in our schools, universities, workplaces and communities — are a force that can radically change our society for the better. Resistance organises young people to this end and has impacts on Australian politics and society.

For example, the Resistance-organised student Walkout Against Bush, when the US president visited Sydney last year, gave voice to the strong public opposition to the war on Iraq.

Resistance's constant activities around the climate change crisis are helping to build a truly mass movement that can force real action to stop global warming.

In Nepal, young people have made massive gains in a society crippled by poverty and decades of internal conflict. In Australia, with all the resources at our disposal, a politically active and organised youth could shake the rotten foundations of this capitalist society, and play a crucial role in the creation of a new, better world.