Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Commuting in Kathmandu is difficult, at best. Taxis are extortionately priced, buses are overcrowded, and the city is big enough that walking is often impractical. Increasingly, people are turning to bicycles as a remedy. Proponents are now emphasising the positive effects of cycling in terms of ecology, Nepali independence and improving safety on the streets. It is a dangerous, yet remarkably political mode of transport.
Unlike campaign groups that focus on the macrocosm of global climate change, Kathmandu Cycle City 2020 focuses on the city itself. Member Shail Shrestha describes Kathmandu’s air as ‘unimaginably polluted’, but adds that this pollution is caused by those who can afford private transport, while those who can’t are affected most – witness for example the many Nepalis who live in shacks on the ring road, a highway that leaves passers-by coughing from the fumes of cars, buses and motorbikes.
Kathmandu Cycle City 2020 sees its campaign as rallying against social inequality. As another member, Rajan Kathet, says: ‘The “have nots” have always been victimised by the “haves”.’ Shrestha believes that Nepal can set an example for other countries to follow: ‘If a developing country does this [promotes cycling], it could be an example for countries that pollute.’
Nepal is currently in the midst of a fuel shortage. Schools, small businesses and organisations are struggling to get fuel for their vehicles. There are mile-long queues at every petrol station. Nepali independence activists claim that fuel dependency on neighbouring India is inhibiting progress in Nepal. The fuel shortage is caused, they claim, by deficit and corruption within the Nepal Oil Corporation, which is entirely dependent on the Indian Oil Corporation—to which it is in debt. In order to eradicate this debt, the Nepali Oil Corporation last week announced they would add 10 Rupees (approximately 9 pence) to every litre of fuel sold. Even in UK terms, this is no small amount. It would make fuel unaffordable for many Nepalis. Fortunately the decision was reversed following a Kathmandu-wide strike at the end of January, led by 13 of the city’s Students’ Unions.
Many social organisations in Nepal talk about ‘improving the country’ in terms of making it fuel-independent. The strike action only implies a general consensus that greater sovereignty would be beneficial. Kathmandu Cycle City 2020 is instead keen to ‘do action’. It deems cycling to be the best way to move away from fuel dependence. Indeed, in the context of a fuel shortage, cycling is being increasingly recognised as a cheap, accessible and non-polluting way to keep the city operating. Cycling in Kathmandu has become synonymous with freedom.
Yet safety remains a major concern. Just a few months ago, the revered wildlife conservationist, Dr Pralad Yonzon, was killed whilst cycling on the road in Kathmandu. Refusing to be scared off by the number of accidents, Kathmandu Cycle City 2020 held a rally to promote better visibility and to encourage more people to use bicycles instead of motorbikes.
Although bicycles are in fact generally safer than motorbikes in Kathmandu, they are seen as less fashionable among younger Nepalis. Shrestha explains that, ‘there is an idea that people who cycle are those who can’t afford [motor]bikes’. By highlighting the number of deaths on motorbikes compared to those on bicycles, the group are hoping to challenge this belief.
Promoting cycling on such dangerous streets is the first hurdle that the group have to overcome. On January 11, the group gained one of their first wins. Following extensive lobbying by activists, the government announced that they intend to build cycle lanes on all roads over 22 metres wide. Meanwhile the number of cyclists in Kathmandu has risen since the start of the campaign.
The group’s main aim is that Kathmandu becomes a bicycle-friendly city by 2020. Along the way, they are making a real difference to regular people’s lives and to Nepal as a whole. With advocates like Kathet and Shrestha, it won’t be long before more Kathmanduites will, as the group’s motto says, ‘ride with pride’.
Find out more on Kathmandu Cycle City 2020’s website.
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency