Friday, December 12, 2014

Linguistic and Cultural Activism of Inap: A Search for Cultural Identity and Recognition


This article is a case study of Newar activism for ethnic movement via a popular weekly newspaper Inap in the 1980s. Inap was one of the main forums for debate and discussion on different issues of Newars and others. During the Panchayat period, ethnic activists used media such as books, newspapers, and magazines to push their causes for social justice. Some of them who were actively involved in the movement also edited or published newspapers like Inap.

Though many scholars have studied about activists (especially Karki 2006, Gellner and Karki 2007) and ethnic activism (Minami 2007, Tamang 2009) in Nepal, very few (Des Chene 1996, Klauskopff 2009) have looked into this activism through media. Des Chene studied the debate on different aspects of Tamu culture in Gurung magazines, whereas Klauskopff studied the writings of two Tharu activists on the relationship between Buddhism and Tharus. Those who studied ethnic media have claimed that these media produce ethnic identity (Des Chene 1996, Klauskopff 2009), and act as forums to identify and debate the issues of contention (Matsaganis, Katz and Ball-Rokeach 2011). However, they have not taken into account the limitation of ethnic activism through media. For example, some issues could remain untouched even when activism is done for one’s own community. Additionally, these scholars have not given much attention to cases of activism by one group for another, and how the relations between the groups affect such activism. In this article, I am interested in discussing intentions and limitations of activism not only for one’s own community but also for other communities. For this, I have studied the contents published in Inap around activism for Newars and others groups, mainly Tamang and Magar, and the limitations of this activism.

In this article, I have four arguments. First, opposition and solidarity were two main characteristics of Inap. Second, though it showed solidarity with other ethnic groups, it was not uniform, and Inap’s preference of Magars and neglect of Tamangs helps us to understand the ambiguous relationship between Newars and Tamangs. Third, Inap highlighted an idea that Newars too were Janajatis like Tamangs, Tharus, Magars, and Rai diluting the view that Newars were oppressors like Bahuns and Chhetris. Lastly, it gave less priority to hierarchy and discrimination within Newars. This article shows that being a dominant group, the crux of the ethnic activism of Inap was for the recognition of languages and cultures of indigenous groups.

The article has three main parts. The first is a brief history of Nepal Bhasha (Newari) journalism, where I discuss two issues: language and religion. The second is representation of Newars and other Janajati groups in Inap. The third part discusses the reasons of these representations in detail.

Note: The  'Introduction' section from my article published in a book, Citizens, Society & State: Crafting An Inclusive Future For Nepal.

Monday, March 10, 2014

An Attempted Assassination of a Journalist: Rethinking Periodization in Nepali Journalism Historiography

Harsha Man Maharjan

This chapter demonstrates the limitations in existing schemes of periodization in Nepali journalism historiography that are based mainly on political-constitutional changes. These schemes take regime changes (Poudyal 2027 v.s.; Devkota 2033 v.s.; Nepal 2055 v.s.; Dahal 2070 v.s.; Pokharel 1994; Regmi and Kharel 2002) and new constitutional provisions (Acharya 2070 v.s.; Onta 2001, 2002) as triggers which set significant alternations in organization and practices of journalism in Nepal. While some of the organizational changes in media were shaped by these external factors, existing literature lacks concrete evidence relating these factors to the changes in everyday journalistic practices. The essay examines genealogies of the specific orientation of the journalists and of their characterization of the powerful across the sharp regime changes of the 1990s. It shows that professional journalism that conventional historiography sees as the effect of the 1990 Constitution was very much prevalent before 1990. It argues for a periodization based on characteristic changes in the internal aspects of journalistic practice. It will complement existing schemes based on contextual factors and will help build a more balanced journalism historiography of Nepal.

The object of analysis in this chapter is journalistic practice. By journalistic practice, I mean the orientation of journalists towards the powerful (watchdog or lapdog role of journalism), and the context and process of its making. I will discuss Nepali journalistic practice around the attempted assassination of a journalist, Padam Thakurathi, in 1986. I will use the event as a lens to view the complex field of journalism in the years leading to the changes after 1990. I demonstrate that Thakurathi and his team practiced what could be termed professional conduct.

The existing historiography puts the professionalization in the post-1990 Nepal as a major question to explain. It then attributes these changes to certain politico-legal innovations brought by the 1990 Constitution. These innovations are an explicit guarantee to the freedom of the press and right to information as well as the enactment of new media policies. For example, one narrative claims the post-1990 period as the ‘age of professionalism’ (Nepal 2055 v.s.). Another does so by enumerating broadsheet dailies started during the period, and hinting at the rise of the big media houses (Acharya 2070 v.s.).

There are, however, conceptual problems with the ideologically-loaded term professionalism (Waisbord 2013). As used for the broader cultural circumstances of American journalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, scholars have interpreted the idea of professionalization as a “publicly-appealing norm to protect them [journalists] from criticism, embarrassment, or lawsuits” (Shudson 2001: 165). Objectivity, fairness and public services are the main ideals of professional journalism but these ideals are constantly re-negotiated in the changing reach of the state, market and bureaucracy (Waisbord 2013). It means that objectivity, factual presentation of news, is weak in everyday journalistic practice, more so in non-western societies. Some scholars have therefore proposed to delink objectivity from professionalism and accepted autonomy, discrete norms and an orientation to public service as characteristics of the professionalization (Hallin and Mancini 2004; Schudson and Anderson 2009). This ‘trait perspective’ on professionalism is crucial to trace the continuity of journalistic practice across the 1990 changes.

Note: This is the introduction from my article published in an edited volume, Ruptures and Repairs in South Asia: Historical Perspectives, edited by Yogesh Raj and published by Martin Chautari. Please see this link for more information about the book: