Kathmandu, Nepal, was rocked on January 24 when a man named Prem Prasad Acharya (also known as Santosh) set himself on fire in front of the federal parliament building. He did this to bring attention to his business and mental health struggles in light of economic pressures and died the next day from his injuries.
His death highlights two major crises: the government's inability to protect young entrepreneurs and the need for better understanding and support for mental health issues in Nepal. His sacrifice sparked a heated debate on mainstream and social media over the challenges small business owners face and the government's failure to help them.
Acharya, a 37-year-old small business owner from Illam, had an agro-farm that supplied authentic Nepali food products to big retailers in Nepal. However, he faced financial struggles and saw his business collapse, leading to frustrations that prompted him to take his own life.
In a Facebook post (in Nepali) published on January 24, 2023, he detailed the financial challenges he faced and their causes.
आज छत्तिसौ वसन्त पार गरि सक्दा पनि गरिएका कर्मबाट केही उपलब्धी हासिल गर्न नसकेको तितो सत्यलाइ ओकल्दै मैले यो देशमा पढ्दा, जागिर खादा, ब्यपार गर्दा, बैदेसिक रोजगारमा जादा एबम उद्योग चलाउदा भोग्नु परेका समस्या र ती समस्याहरुबाट पाएको शून्य उपलब्धी आज सरसरती यो सामाजिक सन्जालमा लेख्ने अनुमती चाहान्छु। यो एक आत्मबृतान्त पनि हो र मेरो असफलताको कथा पनि हो।
Speaking about the bitter truth that I have not been able to achieve anything even though I have passed 36 years of my life, I want to have permission to write on this social network about the challenges I have faced while studying, working, doing business, migrating to a foreign country for employment and starting a business in this country with zero achievements. I faced many challenges. This is my confession and also the story of my failure.
Acharya also wrote about his past business failures and how he went to Qatar for foreign employment in 2014 to make up for his economic losses. He returned to Nepal in 2017 and started an agro-food business, but the challenges continued. In his post, he mentions what made him take this step, he shared that neither any private or government organizations nor his other family members supported him in his struggles.
He also made strong recommendations and observations to the Nepal government regarding the country's taxes, land leasing policy, big business houses and their transparency, foreign employment policy, the education system, corruption, policy related to import and export, and more. He hoped that his sacrifice would draw the government's attention and bring change to the country.
Acharya's Facebook post and recommendations for the betterment of Nepal show that he cared deeply about the country and wanted to do something to make a difference. Despite his efforts, he felt that the system and people pushed him toward this tragic decision.
Challenges in Nepal's private sector
Despite some progress, the private sector in Nepal, especially for small business owners, lacks a favourable environment. According to a report by The Kathmandu Post, small firms and entrepreneurs continue to face challenges such as limited investment, market access, and corruption.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought additional challenges to Nepal's private sector. Small and midsize businesses were the hardest hit during the pandemic, and the government had no plan for their recovery. Interest rates on loans from private banks increased, putting a strain on young entrepreneurs. Another entrepreneur, Mohan Neupane, committed suicide because of an accumulated debt burden just a few days after Acharya. Corruption in the private sector puts those who invest in businesses at a greater risk.
Prem Prasad Acharya's self-immolation has not only sparked debates, but has also prompted tributes and calls for justice from a diverse group of individuals, including politicians, celebrities, social influencers, and journalists.
Gagan Thapa, a member of the House of Representatives and general secretary of the Nepali Congress, also expressed his support on Twitter.
फेरी सोच्छु-यो कुनै व्यक्तिको असफलता मात्रै होइन यो त हाम्रो राज्य संयन्त्र र समग्र सिष्टमको असफलता हो।म,हामी सिष्टम चलाउनेको असफलता हो।कुनै एउटा पक्षको सामान्य मर्मतले मात्र हाम्रो सिष्टम ठिक हुँदैन।गरिखाने मान्छेले न्यायोचित व्यवहार पाउन यो सिष्टम पूरै मर्मतगर्ने अठोट चाहिएको छ
— Gagan Thapa (@thapagk) January 25, 2023
I think this is not only the failure of a person, but it is also the failure of the state mechanism and the overall system. It is the failure of us who run the system. Our system will not be fixed with only the general maintenance of one aspect. For people to get fair treatment, we need the determination to repair the system as a whole.
Editor-in-chief of Kantipur TV, Dil Bhusan Pathak, tweeted:
र फेरि पनि यो दुःखद घटनालाई सामान्यरूपमा मात्र बुझ्ने काम भयो र समाजमा विद्यमान तमाम विकृति र कुशासनलाई ढाकछोप गर्ने काम भयो भने यो समाजका लागि अति घातक मात्र होइन लोकतन्त्र कै अवमुल्यन हुनेछ ।
जागौं ! सचेत बनौं !
न्यायका लागि आवाज उठाऔं ।
हार्दिक श्रद्धाञ्जली 💐 pic.twitter.com/VomNKKJBlx
— Dil Bhusan Pathak (@DilBhusanPathak) January 25, 2023
And again, if this tragic event is only understood in general terms and all the distortions and misrule existing in the society are covered up, it will not only be extremely dangerous for the society but it will also devalue democracy. Let's wake up! Let's be careful! Let's raise our voices for justice. Heartfelt condolences!
There are a growing number of calls from the general public for a thorough investigation into Prem Prasad Acharya's case and for his loans to be waived. Many individuals have also rallied together to support his family, with some offering financial assistance through a GoFundMe campaign established in his name.
Nepal's ignored mental health crisis
The tragic death of Prem Prasad Acharya has not only lifted the curtain on the corruption in Nepal's big business and the government's negligence but also on the nation's mental health crisis. Despite the severity of mental health issues, there is still a lack of understanding and a strong social stigma. People still make jokes and take mental health issues lightly.
In his Facebook post, he spoke of his struggles with depression and the impact it had on his life:
सयौं पटक आत्महत्या गर्ने प्रयास गरे सकिन। आफैले चलाएको गाडी दुर्घटना गराउने प्रयास गरे भएन। श्रीमती छोराछोरी को माया र कर्तब्य ले मर्न सकिन। फोन कल यति सामना गरेकि phonophobia नै भयो। कहिलेकाही फोन नेट्वोर्क नआउने ठाउँमा पुग्दा मन आनन्दित हुने। २-३ बर्ष देखि नै depression मा थिए कसैले बुझेन। म depression मा छु भन्दा उल्टै गाली खाइयो। लड्दै पड्दै बाचियो।
I tried to commit suicide hundreds of times. I did try to cause an accident in the car I was driving, but could not for the love and duty of my wife and children. There were so many work-related calls that I started to have a phobia of phones and wanted to go to a place with no phone network. No one understood that I was depressed for the past few years. I shared with people that I have depression, but I was insulted.
His post highlights that if he had received proper support for his mental health, he might have been able to find a different solution to his problems.
Mental health issues have long been prevalent in Nepal, and the pandemic has only made it worse, particularly among children and young people. It's important to recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health and should be integrated into the healthcare system so that it is easily accessible to everyone in Nepal.