Jun 11, 2012

Nepal: Not on the brink of collapse

Recently, there was an article in the New York Times titled “Nepal, on the Brink of Collapse” that became wildly popular on the internet, shared, tweeted and retweeted by a lot of people I know.  This article seems to have touched many  chords. Upon reading it, I found a lot to disagree with.

Many months ago, I had done a study for class and come up with the conclusion that international media points out Nepal’s poverty and underdeveloped status even if it is not relevant.  It is amply proved by this article where phrases like “impoverished”, “poorest countries in the world”, and “unemployment at 45 percent” are scattered around like garnish even if they add nothing to the article. A blog called Nepali Jiwan has rightly lashed out at this portrayal, arguing that the western world’s standard of earning cannot be foisted on Nepal, and that 45% unemployment does not take farmers into account.  Other than politics, life has progressed in Nepal. Today we have better roads, better phones, better education, better values, than we had ten years before (some of them marginally, some of them astronomically), and yet none of this gets mentioned in the article. When I protested that international media maligns outsiders, no matter what, my friend Kaishuv argued that they have portrayed us negatively because this situation is negative. Easy to say, but one look at international media’s write ups in favorable times is enough to confirm that international media does not wait for unfavorable situation to condemn us.(The focus simply moves to social issues or values in more favorable times).

Besides this thoughtless stereotyping is the graver issue: of calling Nepal an almost failure. For the record, no country has made the transition to a radical new constitution in an entirely peaceful manner. England had to massacre two kings before it established the current model of democracy. France, likewise, massacred its royalty, and still ended up with a dictator. All that violence, and still no radical constitution. Still, nobody called these nations a failure. They did not have to live with the intense media scrutiny that we do, where each and every step is measured. (Sorry for my Eurocentric knowledge, but I am sure that any other country that has promulgated a radical constitution went through this period of intense labor pains). History confirms that chaos is nothing surprising or out of the way for Nepal right now, and yet it is being touted as something unique to Nepal and somehow the fault of Nepalese people alone.  From a sleepy little hill station, Nepal has reached this state of intense intellectual debates in about two decades. A revolution has brewed in the time span that other revolutions could not brew their coffee on, and yet Stakeholders lie in wait, eager to pounce on every “failure”.  In the same breath the writers recommended withholding foreign aid, and that is such a regressive statement that it knocked me out. In my understanding, aid is given to those who you want to help, not to those who toe the line according to your ideology.  Using aid as a punitive measure just overturns the whole concept of humanity that aid stands for; it classifies aiders in the same category as militant missionaries who help only those of their own faith.

Why is it important to refute this viewpoint of Nepal as a failure? Because this article is being taken as the final verdict on judgment day. The responders on Nepali Jiwan’s website all argued vociferously that Nepal is indeed failed. Everyone who shared this article shared similar sentiments, calling it a "must read", and a simple google search will tell you that this article was carried by several other news sources as well. We Nepalese have a great respect for international media, for us, what New York Times says is not just opinion, but fact. Having our fears spelled out by the international media just reified them for us. This article is being heralded as the signal of doom, instead of being discussed as just another viewpoint! Everywhere people are citing it to prove that the situation is hopeless.Give us a break!  Everything that the article pointed out - corruption, crumbling institutions, squabbling, has happened a million times worse in other countries, most notably in the Western countries just prior to embracing democracy. We have come a long way, we still have long to go, but we will do it our way, and we will take our time with it, thank you. The judgment of whether or not we have failed should be left to the Nepalese people, and no one else.

Original New York Times Article
Response on Nepali Jiwan
My analysis of media's portrayal of Nepal
Dr. Abhi Subedi's article with a similar viewpoint


BN Patnaik said...

A mature response to some arrogant piece of journalism – an example of balanced views and controlled writing. I like the way the author has reminded the west of its own history and understand that transition from one political system to another is never very easy. Unfortunate that lives are lost, but that’s how it has always been. As for America, the less said the better: Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Vietnam, Iraq...The Browns should read Noam Chomsky.

curly locks said...

Thanks again for understanding, Dr. Patnaik. Often the arrogance and the outsider's gaze prevalent in Western media shocks us no end. As South Asians, we share a similar fate of being stereotyped as poor, ignorant tribals.

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