Nepal: The land of unreasonable doubt
When the Nepali police recently decided to give their batons a rest, and took up scissors instead - to start their own enterprise in hairdressing - youngsters were angered, and rightly so. The bewildering decision to convict youths with long hair and give them a haircut invited fury for one obvious reason: there was no logic behind the act. The length of a person's hair, or the diameter of his ear-studs, aren't indicators of how violent he is. But, of course, the authorities here aren't driven by logic and reason; their philosophies transcend such mundane ideas.This farcical hairdressing scheme, unfortunately isn't the first instance of fantastical lawmaking in Nepal. I've been a victim of another. And this is my bitter story.
I had planned on studying medicine in the UK, having been admitted to a university following arduous admission processes. When it was finally time to depart, I'd gone to the state-run Nepal Medical Council (NMC) to get an "eligibility letter" stating I was qualified to pursue medical studies. But I was denied the letter.
Apparently, a rule had been established stating that only those students who had passed an entrance test administered by one of the Nepali medical colleges could be given the eligibility certificate. To my dismay, these exams had already been held, or were scheduled after my course was set to begin in the UK. I presented my case, showed that my A-level results were outstanding, that I'd passed a difficult entrance test to get admitted, that I was qualified.
But the NMC was unrelenting; exceptions couldn't be made, they told me. Their website reads that it is "crystal clear" to them that it is doctors who have trained in foreign countries who have performed most poorly in their licensing exam. "Among the multiple failing candidates (up to 19 times), the majority are from abroad." And so, by introducing the rule, our medical council was to be assured of an exceptional standard of doctors coming in from overseas. By their definition, if candidates pass the Nepali medical entrance test, they are most definitely "qualified" to study medicine; if not, they can consider their medical careers doomed.
A month later, I took one of these exams, administered by the Institute of Medicine. The content of the test was as ludicrous as the provision to take the test itself. Answering questions like, "In which segment of an earthworm is its male genital aperture found?" and "Who coined the famous saying 'Ontogeny repeats phylogeny'?" I managed to pass. But I wondered how scoring well on such questions would mean I was better qualified to become a doctor. In the ethereal realm that is Nepal's medical council, however, it did.
When I dug deeper, it was made clear to me that these measures were taken after many students had left for China to study medicine and come back under-qualified. They'd failed to pass the licensing exam even after several tries, which meant they couldn't practice in Nepal. That is understandable, but why put everyone in the same bracket? How is it fair to indiscriminately bar all candidates going to study medicine abroad and dump this meaningless test upon them? The administrators at NMC had some sympathy for me but no answers.
Four months on, I'm now on a gap year that was forced on me. I had to defer my university entry to next year. And to add insult to injury, this preposterous rule has now been revoked. Some health assistants looking to study medicine abroad thought it unfair they should be made to take the exam alongside younger candidates fresh out of high school. They petitioned against the regulation in court, won, and had it suspended.
I've been compelled to take a year off, and to memorise the nomenclature of rabbit bones. Obviously, I was enraged, but it also got me wondering - and this is where the haircut crusade jigsaws in - what is it that prompts authorities to make these rules, to believe them anywhere close to effective? Do they seriously think a haircut could be a panacea for crime? Or that people who get 50 per cent in a ridiculous medical test will automatically make great doctors? I suppose part of the reason such rash measures are taken is because there are no comprehensive laws in this country to deal with such issues, and broad, unfair generalisations are consequently resorted to.
With their own hands tied by lack of proper overarching mechanisms, authorities here seem to want to be seen as doing something - or maybe they just don't know any better - and so emerge these reason-defying regulations, stupefying the public, the very ones for whose benefit these services exist in the first place. Either way, we lose. But hey, at least the crime rate is going down, and medical standards are rising, right? No? Well.