Saturday, January 12, 2013

In Memory of Bhim Bahadur Tamang

In Memory of Bhim Bahadur Tamang

Late Bhim Bahadur Tamang. Photo Credit:
 Like so many others, I was saddened to learn that Bhim Bahadur Tamang had passed away on December 1st, 2012, at the age of 78. He was truly a man of purity and altruism, often praised for his goodness, and long considered a saintly, Ghandi-like figure in Nepalese politics. As a leader of the Nepali Congress Party, he was never swayed by any of the temptations that all too often threaten political fairness. Many politicians become personally rich through politics, but not him.  And his humanitarian credentials were impeccable.

He was born in 1933 AD in the poor village of Jhule in the Dolkha district of Nepal. After his mother died while he was still a young child, his father took him to Darjeeling, India, where he got a good education. When he was grown, he returned to his village, sent by his father to reclaim their ancestral property. He was troubled by the widespread poverty he saw in Jhule, so he decided to remain there and do what he could to help make things better for the people. Education was top on his list of priorities, and he began tutoring the village children. In no time, he had earned popularity as ‘Master Bhim Bahadur’ in and around the village. He built two schools and traveled as far as Kalimpong, Darjeeling to procure textbooks for his students. 
Late Bhim Bahadur Tamang speaking at reception on his honor  held by Tamang Society of America. 

After first calling him Master, or Teacher, the people of his village started calling him Mantri when he became Minister of Law. And finally, in later years, he was called Thulo Manchhe, or “Big Man,” because of the immeasurable good he was able to do.

Late Bhim Bahadur Tamang at reception held by TSA.
His political career began in 1949, and as a politician he was jailed many times because of his efforts for democracy. After one jail sentence, he was released to find that his wife had run away to marry someone else. But rather than getting angry, he gave her his blessings. All throughout his many years in politics, he displayed a rare set of ethics that he never compromised. He never took bribes. He never gave in to requests for nepotism or other favors without merit. He was completely unselfish and cared very much for the wellbeing of all Nepalese people. He gave his entire life for his people and took nothing for himself. About fifteen years ago or so, for example, when all members of Parliament in Nepal were given a new jeep, he did not accept one. And according to popular legend, the day that he was relieved of his duty as Minister of Law, he did not even have enough  bus fare to get home.

Bhim Bahadur never bought a house of his own, but stayed at his  sister’s house whenever he was in Kathmandu. During the last fifteen years of his life, he lived in a small room given to him by the NC leader Radhe Shyam Adhikari in Thapa Gaun, where he owned nothing beyond the barest of necessities. Whenever he visited his native village, his sister-in-law Dhankumari cooked for him and gave him a place to sleep in her very humble house. This she did for forty years, and when she learned the news of his death, the 63-year-old Dhankumari was shocked beyond belief. 
Late Bhim Bahadur Tamang with me and my cousin Shanta Thokar

It is unusual for one person to be considered irreplaceable by so many others, but Bhim Bahadur was such a person. My cousins Shanta Babu and Bhoj Raj Thokar comes from a village close to Bhim Bahadur’s, and they always considered him truly a father figure in the best possible way. “There was nobody like him..”, my cousin said to me, “..and there never will be again.”

Late Bhim Bahadur Tamang at Reception held by TSA.

Four years ago, in 2008, I had the opportunity to meet Bhim Bahadur Tamang while I was president of Tamang Society of America. Something related to his work in government brought him to Washington DC and to New York, and our community hosted a reception for him during that visit. After the reception, I invited him to my home for dinner, and he accepted. I found him to be a very likable, very humble and frank man, and we passed a most enjoyable evening together that I will never forget. During his stay in New York, longtime Congress Party member and supporter as well as TSA's advisor Bansha Lal Moktan generously accommodated Late Bhim Bahadur Tamang. The outpouring of gratitude and reverence towards Bhim Bahadur Tamang from the many Congress Party members and admirers here in New York was very moving. The people who helped make it possible are simply too numerous to name here, but I'm sure they know who they are and I believe everyone can take some comfort in having been a part of making such a fine leader feel so warmly welcome in a city far from home. 

Late Bhim Bahadur Tamang with my family and cousin Shanta Thokar.
Our Tamang Society of America had a plaque made in his honor after his visit to New York and we sent it to him in Nepal. In the weeks since his passing, there have been numerous memorials for him in Nepalese communities all across the United States, including four in New York alone.

Late Bhim Bahadur Tamang with general members of TSA
What comes to mind immediately when I think about this unique, one-of-a-kind man is the legacy he’s left of having refused to succumb to greed or corruption. And considering that this year, the worldwide anti-corruption group Transparency International listed Nepal among the most corrupt countries in the world, Bhim Bahadur Tamang’s lessons of honesty and respectability are of infinite value. In one of the last interviews he gave before his death, he suggested that the Congress would be well served to leave behind their power mongering frame of mind. I can only hope that there are young would-be politicians in Nepal today who have heard his words and will do their best to follow in his footsteps.

Bhim Bahadur Tamang was given a national funeral service where honorable PM Baburam Bhattarai was present. Nepali congress party President Sushil Koirala honored him with a party flag. He had no home to call his own but every Nepalese citizen had him, as a leader and protector, and he will always be remembered. He is survived by one son and one daughter. 

May He Rest in Peace.

p.s. If you have any comments, please feel free to post it in the comment box below. 

-Indra Tamang