Soon after Nepal was hit last Saturday by the earthquake the country’s government is officially calling the “mahavukamp”, the roar of Indian Air Force choppers and airplanes began to fill the Kathmandu skies. Soon Indian security personnel were walking down the streets. In the midst of anxiety about lost relatives and destroyed property, gratitude for the Indian government’s quick response to the enormous tragedy began to be overtaken by geopolitical fears emanating from the thunderous jets of Indian Air Force. Fuelling this paranoia, local newspapers reported that China had asked Nepal to limit India’s role in the aid process.

As the week passed, the trepidation grew. News reports accused foreign teams, including those from India, on focusing on rescuing only their own nationals. Wealthy westerners, especially those who were stuck in Mount Everest region, were shuttled out even as Nepali guides and villagers were still awaiting relief in the mountains.

But on the ground, away from the columns of the newspapers, some of those fears would see to be exaggerated. The people who were getting biscuits, rice, and water in the temporary camps set up for survivors were very thankful to the foreign assistance. “We are hopeful as radio has announced that foreigners have sent aid to help us in Nepal,” said one man in Kathmadu as he stood in a queue to collect food being distributed from an Armed Police Force van.

The absent state

The country’s anger, it’s evident, isn’t directed at foreign relief efforts but at its own government. Though the administration has consistently been organising press meets and is releasing press-statements, rescue operations and the distribution of assistance have been very inconsistent. The state is conspicuous by its absence in the affected areas.

So far, more than 400,000 people ‒ approximately half the city’s population ‒ are thought to have left Kathmandu for their homes in the districts. Many of them fear further destruction as aftershocks have continued to rattle the region since the quake. Others fear of the outbreak of epidemics. "There is no one to look up to here in Kathmandu,” said Anish Bhattarai, a medical student who was boarding on a bus to Jhapa. “No parents, no state. At least, I have my parents at home."

Hundreds of thousands of Kathmadu residents are living in the tents, but don’t have enough drinking water. As there are no mobile toilets, the open defecation near these camps has made conditions unbearable. In hospitals, there is an acute shortages of medicines. Many injured people have returned home with mere first aid treatment. Shops that sold tarpaulin and tents have closed down as they have run out of stock. The few which are open are selling these goods at exorbitant prices.

Small protests

However, the sluggish state became very active when a dozen people gathered in front of the Prime Ministers' Office earlier this week to protest against the inaction. These civil society activists, including sexagenarian writer Khagendra Sangraula, carried placards that said, “Where is the state?” They were forcibly whisked away by the police.

Already, the country’s army is chafing under its inability to act more effectively. On Thursday, the army asked the Home Ministry halt the entry of international rescue teams. "It is high time that government needed to send all international rescue workers back home as already more than 96 hours had passed since the earthquake shook the country and there was no chance to trace more survivors in the rubble," the army said in a letter. Within a few hours of the endorsement of the army’s letter by the Home Ministry, 15-year-old Pemba Tamang was rescued alive after five days from a collapsed guest house.

Contrary to the declaration of the government that there are no more survivors under the rubble, Sapana Shrestha, a resident of Sankhu, the outskirt of Kathmandu, still believes that her son will return alive from under the ruins of her collapsed house. Consoling her, a Chinese rescue team has started excavating the debris to find her nine-year-old-son, who was playing football in the narrow alleys when the earthquake struck. These Chinese are being helped, , ironically by Tibetan monks.