privacy – not so third world problem?

Yes, developing nation like Nepal first needs food, shelter and clothing first. Then comes the health, education, and better society. Somewhere in the middle, what we need to balance are the three Ps  – privacy, piracy and plagiarism. I will write about “privacy” today. Remaining two will take some more time.

Privacy International 2007 privacy ranking map. Orange – Extensive surveillance societies. Red –  Endemic surveillance societies. Green – Consistently upholds human rights standards


what is privacy in Nepal?

Before anything, I would strongly suggest reader to know the variation in definition of privacy in Eastern vs. Western society.  Nepali culture as like many South Asian, has fair share of situations which might get misinterpreted as breach in privacy. We have pretty thin line in few too many situations where privacy in not so big a deal. However, there are limits, and we do have bigger issues, when privacy does get messed up. The lines of privacy when compared, are drawn in different places.

example – one usually does not own a private room in most of Nepal. the notion of your private space is probably at best only in bathrooms and toilets. Not many understand the luxury of  this a private space.

how private is Nepal?

Sure, In Article 22 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990, the right to privacy was addressed as a fundamental right for the first time in the constitutional history of Nepal. The right to information was also included in this Constitution. The right to privacy was retained in the 2007 Interim Constitution, which remains in force today. Article 28 provides:

Except in circumstances as provided by law, the privacy of the person, residence, property, document, statistics, correspondence, and character of anyone is inviolable

However, individual privacy is something else. Privacy has rock bottomed for majority Nepali, part in due to the cultural dogma.  Although there is constitutional protection for the right to privacy, no law or acts have been made to protect this fragile right. However, the right to privacy is addressed by some laws, such as the following:

  • Postal Act, 1962 (Section 47 and 58)
  • Telecommunication Act, 1962 (Section 23 (a), 24 and 27 (b))
  • The Chapter on Court Procedure (Section 172) of Muluki Ain

In September 2012 right to information activists launched a public interest litigation seeking a court order that the government promulgate an Act specifically protecting the right to privacy as guaranteed in the Interim Constitution. The writ petition referenced measures taken by police to access individuals’ text messages while investigating the murder of Supreme Court Justice Rana Bahadur Bam. The petitioners requested the Supreme Court direct the government to promulgate the Right to Secrecy Act to protect the private communications of individuals from government interference.1

There is no government authority to receive complaints regarding violations of privacy rights, although people may submit applications and reports concerning violations of their privacy rights to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). However, to date, not a single application/report/case has been brought to the NHRC regarding privacy rights violations.2

my (personal) privacy related problems

  • Public Transportations – These have the worse privacy records for me. I usually travel through the battery powered three wheeler (aka. Vikram Tempo) in Kathmandu. Whenever there come a time to send in a SMS, or call someone, there are at least two pairs of eyes watching me dial/type in my mobile device. Somehow, they think its there to watch. I try to avoid bus and micro bus rides for this same reason.
  • Sod Casting –  next to my worse list on breach of privacy. Not to be  prejudice here, but there certainly is that demography of Nepali population cohort here, who could really learn something more about privacy. I do not want to hear Bollywood songs, especially those from 90s, and English Pop culture – from Justin B, and gangs. I regret that very few listen to Kings of Leon – Queen – Daft Punk – Bob Dylan genres that I am comfortable with. For the record, Indian remixes of PSY – Gangnam style is abomination to creativity.
  • Walking a busy street – One is sure to get hit by too many hands and shoulders. For women, it gets worse. This is more a problem of not having personal space, but all purpose intended, I consider this to be a privacy breach as well. Privacy of walking safely, and not banging to every other person. I strongly believe that, one can walk in a huge crowd of hundreds or even thousands, with least possible number collisions.
  • The telephone call conundrum – Growing up adolescent life meant one landline per household in Nepal. A friend’s call to a landline in the late 90s and early 2000s was a double edge sword. You could never leave with that short cord, and the cordless phone were usually listened to.

“Who is? TA or T?”

  • If there was a call for me, the first question my mom would put – “Who is? TA or T?” Literally “Ta” meant short for K-ta, which is basically “a boy” and “T” meant short for K’T, meaning “a girl”. I kept things at minimum, usually didn’t pick up any call at all.

what is privacy?

Privacy can simply be defined as the right to be left alone. ‘It is a comprehensive right and it is the right most valued by a free people. It is a fundamental human right.  A society in which there was a total lack of privacy would be intolerable; but then again a society in which there was a total privacy would be no society at all’ (the is a balance needed).

Privacy is the right of people to make personal decisions regarding their own intimate matters, it is the right of people to lead their lives in a manner that is reasonably secluded from public scrutiny, and it is the right of people to be free from such things as unwarranted drug testing or electronic surveillance (from

‘Privacy’ is a broad, abstract and ambiguous concept

UN Declaration of Human Rights.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights defined Privacy as this:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone had the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

what if there were no Privacy?

Without privacy life would be hell. It would mean that you would be highly vulnerable to the control of others, you would lose your freedom which may lead to inhibition and tentativeness and you may be less spontaneous and you would be more likely to be manipulated. Given below are four aspects of privacy that I think are important, in Nepal.

privacy I: the internet

Yes, because I am a tech enthusiast, I made sure this was written in the beginning. The Internet threatens privacy in a number of ways, partly because it is possible to record everything that you do on line (IP addresses remember?).The governments of developed nations and few developing countries regularly monitor electronic communication as do commercial companies such as Google, and Microsoft. Nepal Government may not have so much a control over its netizens, but since India has already initiated a tighter control; I won’t be surprised if Nepal did the same thing. In any manner, If there is communist government in Nepal, internet will be watched even more so ever, including this post (“read as a political satire, please don’t arrest me”)

Info Graph by – 1984 in 2013: Privacy and The Internet via HostGator

privacy II: medical?

Since August 2009, when the USA government regulated that any breach affecting more than 500 patients be publicly disclosed.3 Nothing sort of it is in Nepal, as far as my understanding goes. Medical privacy breach is rising in the world, and we in Nepal, have very little or no clue about this. As a student we are taught not to speak of our patient, and there is a tremendous effort put into making a Case Report (or any other Medical Journal article/s) anonymous.

My personal experience has given me the glimpse of complete lack of data privacy in most of the Nepali Health Setting. There is privacy screened from the public eye, but within the medical fraternity, be it a doctor, nurse or a paramedic; or within a hospital/clinic/health post setting there aren’t even rules or contingency plan in case of privacy breach.

Legally, Nepal has prominently recognized the confidentiality of medical records. But there are some major systemic loop holes.

privacy III:  for women?

Legally speaking, men and women in Nepal are equal. But there still remains a deep rooted caste and cultural divide. The existing hierarchies that does not let these two gender have equal footing. This is true for every aspect including the privacy related to the following three things.

Ask your self, if we need privacy for

  1. family planning,
  2. violence against women, and
  3. women empowerment.

The former two require privacy to be neglected for the benefit of a woman, while in latter case may require a stronger support. In any case, I definitely would love to read more before writing anything else. From what I think, I have already written absurdly in the last few sentences, better keep mum till I know more. In the mean time, I would like to share here a wonderful passage from Martha C. Nussbaum. (web link). A very intriguing article where the author talks about privacy being bad in few cases – which are elaborated in detail.

Despite its commitment to sex equality, Indian constitutional law increasingly relies on the concept of privacy in matters of sex and family. This concept, traditionally conservative and associated with “family values,” has long been criticized by feminists as a bad way of gaining rights for women. Feminists typically make four criticisms of the privacy right: the concept of privacy is unworkably murky; the privacy right protects male bad behavior; protecting important liberties under the rubric of privacy unfairly discriminates against those who perform the same acts in a space denominated “public”; and privacy is simply irrelevant to a number of important liberty interests that need explicit protection.

privacy IV: Organizations

Here are some of my suggestions on what should be guiding principals on privacy in Nepal. I do not know, if its already written somewhere in Nepali, but most here are compiled (and no original ideas). I am listing some that is in my mind.

  • Only collect personal information that is necessary for performance of functions.
  • Use and disclose of personal information only for the primary purpose. Use for other secondary purposes should have the consent of the person.
  • Organizations (or anything similar) must be open about how they handle personal information.
  • Individuals have a right to seek access to their personal information and have it corrected if it is inaccurate, incomplete or out-of-date.
  • Individual option of not identifying themselves when entering transactions with organizations (if its would be lawful and feasible) should be present.
  • Sensitive information must require consent when collected and higher levels of protection should be afforded. These includes information of – caste, ethnical group, political views, religious views, criminal record, professional association, etc.


I read a a total of seven web articles and three papers, but this was not enough. I could write more about the Internet privacy breach and its threat, and probably could lay out some ground work on how to stay secure on one of my next post. I definitely  need to read more with privacy concerning the social aspect (focusing on women).  I am not, at the moment, interested on the medical privacy breach (despite being a doctor). May be some day.


  1. Newspaper Article – Secrecy right Act sought. web link.
  2. Web Article – Privacy International Report – on Nepal. web link.
  3. Journal Article – Roger Collier. Medical privacy breaches rising.  CMAJ. 2012 March 6; 184(4): E215–E216. doi:  10.1503/cmaj.109-4116. –  web link.
  4. Website – Privacy International

more reading (highly recommended)

  1. Web Article – by Seema Dhami – Balancing Individual Privacy with Press Freedom. Nepal Monitors. 2008. web link.
  2. Web Article – by Martha C. Nussbaum – Is privacy bad for Women? – Boston Review. 2000. web link.
  3. Book Read – by Martha C. Nussbaum –  Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (The Seeley Lectures). haven’t read it myself but would love to if someone gave  it as a gift.

Tune in Next Wednesday for –

where did the cotton go? Bangladesh, China and Nepal

a wristwatch, a radio, and a cycle

evolution of dowry in Nepal – part I (of II)

The (not-so-evil) dowry culture of 70s and 80s in Nepal.

I say 70s and 80s to be – not-so-evil, because this is somewhat simpler, when compared to the present dowry culture in Nepal. Read my next post for the bad omen dowry system. For now, read below.

Railroad watch
Railroad watch (Photo credit: mpclemens)

Mr Sukhiraam (name changed) stood up and ran towards the paddy field. This happened when he was getting married (arranged marriage) to a girl from next village, five kilometers south-east from his own.

why did Sukhiraam ran?
There was a specific wristwatch he demanded as his dowry. This was Seiko Day-n-Date wrist watch, the one with the “second”-hand and leather strap, which had dates shown. The one which was considered as the highest class of gift, at that time, in that region. This was an era when there were no Television in Nepal, and Radio had just made it inroads. The watch was one of the most useful technological advancement for Sukhiraam, and he’d hope it be on time for all his work and duties from hence forth. His work duties related to grazing and then milking his cows and buffaloes, working at rice field, bringing about drinking water from a fifteen minute walk, helping his landlord with various household chores and agriculture related work and mostly being on time for the morning cup of tea at the village tea shop. The shop, where he had boasted a day earlier that he’d be getting a watch, not just just any watch, but a “Seiko Day-n-Date Watch”. His reputation and family honor were on line.

what were his dowry options?
The three most prevalent dowry gift in those days (for this region) were – a wristwatch, a cycle and a radio, Second after the aforementioned wristwatch was a cycle. The cycle from “Hero” company, which had no gears, or front or tail lights, was the heaviest thing around, and quite uncomfortable by today’s standard. But in those days, Hero cycle was the speed demon, and a status symbol. Sadly, Sukhiraaam had one of these, and this was the very reason, why he was to married.

Paarvati’s father had searched for three months when he got the news of a handsome Sukhiraam who had a Hero cycle. Paarvati would be very happy, if she’d marry to this richness, which was only three hours walk from her fathers home, Paarvati, the eldest, was of age, and her father had two more daughters to marry off in the next three years time. Paarvati was lucky that Sukhiraam liked her on first visit, and since he already had the cycle, there was only wristwatch which was demanded.

how long before a wristwatch?
Paarvati’s father had to ask his elder brother’s son – Lakhan, who’d be going to the nearest market (Manhari Market) to sell his land lord’s agricultural goods in about three weeks time. Lakhan, would take extra money with him, and provided there were no Dacoits and Loot on the way, he’d be going to the nearest city, in India, to get this watch.

Gorakhpur city was roughly 200km south, and it would take a train ride of six hours to reach there. If you weren’t careful, you had a very likely chances of getting robbed or pick pocketed. Plus, you would not go there alone, and usually took someone with you. There was only one train every day, so, Lakhan had to spend one day in Gorakhpur, with a paid travel allowance by Paarvati’s dad. All in about – seven weeks time. The wedding was scheduled on the eighth week.

who became greedy?

you tell me.


The protocol of giving (invited?)

Gift Box
Gift Box (Photo credit: Maeflower72)

Last few weeks have been busy. Three days of marriage was just a beginning of meeting long lost cousins over and over again. There are now new bunch of cousins I proudly (while it lasts) call the in-laws. Suddenly my family size exceeds my expectation. Presumption being this new family formed of one husband and one wife. I fumbled upon a whole new class of relative (literally) disorder.

I’d expect this same with my better half, with variable expression. I have ordeals remembering names, faces and now the relations (family tree) of this huge conglomerate. For a selectively expressive introvert, I have difficulties keeping up with words and happy expressions. Alas, the world does not (or with difficulties) comprehend this irony – of the existence of the lesser speaking cults (or what-so-ever).

gift for bride’s and groom’s wedding reception?
Coming back to the post title, what I’d found is interesting. I did know the standard protocols of a wedding reception. If it was bride’s reception, it be NRs. 250 (or 500) in a wonderful envelope. If it were from grooms’ side, it be a bouquet of flowers (usually NRs. 250). Better trend here is the designed envelope with family seal and some pretty words. For additional cheesy bits (or emotional understandings) there is a huge wedding card given with lofty words of expression. I got few of these wedding Cards (Hallmark??) on my own wedding, and I must say, they are wonderful delights. These days, lots of wedding reception are combined. In that case, i’d suggest one envelope with some money and one bouquet. Talking about hard cash (inside this envelope); is usually given as a gesture of appreciation for the invitation and a congratulatory note to the newly weds, giving them some help to start their new life.

when visiting a patient in hospital?
Standard protocol if you visit a patient in hospital – friends or family was Horlick’s Jar of (yucky !! ) powder. I remember of a visit to my friend who’d been admitted for his appendectomy procedure ten years ago. Fresh out of high school, a bunch of us, took Horlicks (spelling ??) and some fruit. This is the unofficial standard protocol in Nepal. I also have stories from my father, who’d visit his mother (my grandmother) with the same Fruits + Horlicks combination. Added bonus here are biscuits and pomegranate. Digestive biscuits, somehow are favorite in hospitals, every patient has at least one of them (be it foreign exotic package or local Nepali one). The fruit pomegranate is another patient-visit-protocol-friendly food. Somehow, this fruit is is though to be holy grail among patient parties. Most of the ideas presented in this paragraph have been from my personal experience, working as an intern and medical officer in hospitals in Nepal.

when called for dinner?
Dinner protocol is new (shuffled) to me and my family. We are now directly following the western culture of getting a bottle of wine. Before it was usually fruits (not fruit-basket but, fruits in polythene plastic bags) or sometimes home made food. With good wines coming in affordable prices, we switched this protocol. Its relatively easy to buy one, one bottle of 750ml is not so heavy, and somehow looks exotic (or may be its a new fad). Plus, you get to drink the wine your self. This new protocol is ineffective for the vegans and non-alcoholics, thus a rollback protocol to fruits is always there. Also true for any household with joint family and family with grand-mother and grand-father around. Gotta respect the generations.

when visiting the in-laws?
New protocol, I’d learn this February. So what is it that says that I am a good in-law? First I’d have to omit the alcohol, simply because this being Nepal. There are elders who might not appreciate this. So there will not be any wine. Fruits are viable options, but as I found out that it took several days and several family visit to know the in-laws and introduce the new bride. So buying fruits every day would be hassle. Next stop was the Indian sub-continental favorite – the sweets. But this would too, become stale over days. We needed something that we could put a stock unit of and take part of it every day to a new household. The most brilliant idea we (not mine) could come up with, and frankly the best till now, was buying a packet of Son-pappadi. The sweat that lasts longer (expiry date of three months). They even sell a special made for diabetics patient.

I am not a keen fan of sweets, and specifically don’t like Sonpappadi (spelling??) but everyone I know loves it, and its easily available.

visiting a birthday party? “pasni” or “bratabanda” ?
lastly, something I have been rarely invited in these past ten years. Mainly because I outgrew the age, and my close kins are all grown up, and we all are waiting for the next generations.

Birthdays are the hardest, if its your friend, you give them something they like, If its your family cousins, you give them something you like. If its young adult, add a birthday card. If its adult adult, a tie for the gentleman would be my protocol. Finally if its a lady, then I am out of luck. I have no clue on what-so-ever on what girls like (except well for what my wife likes). I am clue less on my sisters and my mothers birthday. Yes, shame on me. 😦 . This is the reason why I have a smart wife, who helps me with my shortcomings.

pasni is the hindu ritual for a six month child, for coming of age (or something like that). This is easy, the traditional protocol being looking at this child, smiling, putting an envelope (with some money, obviously) in his/her hand. Looking at the parents, and telling them that the child looks very much like them, and is beautiful. Bam !! thats it. You get a free lunch or dinner.

bratabanda or brataman is another Hindu custom, this one specifically for boys usually at their early or late teen years. An envelope (with some money) is a great fall back plan. However, the saying which related “boys with toys” has a great meaning for me as well. And so I usually know what toy is appreciable, and is within my budget.

So there it is, my protocol of giving with few suggestions and shortcomings. Feels great to be writing again. Have lots of non-sensical stuffs to write about, some complains, and some purely medicine related. I also have a great whimsical plan to write fictions, and improve on my writing skills with it.

Next Post – Friday, March 8, 2013, 8:30pm – NST