Sunday, January 25, 2009

Where are we going? and why are we in this handbasket?

Garbage in, garbage in.

Nepali Immigration just got its first-ever computer of any kind (at least, that my friends and I have ever seen in four years of going there, a lot). They are still keying in records from the early 90s. I guess it will be another five or so years till they get around to finding the tie-dye bearded guys who have been holing up here for better part of a decade.

At least, they are keying old records the 4 hours in a working day there is electricity. No, government offices do not have battery or generator backup. What, me work?

Beneath the cute little 'Nana Republic stories of inconveniences and "ke garne"* attitude is some sinister stuff being shut up. Well-meaning liberal friends dismiss things like garbage-mountains with "it's a developing country, after all." But when front-page newspaper stories start with lines like this:

"It all started with the Maoists hacking off the legs of UML activist .... near the waste landfill site at Tinpiple three weeks ago,"
-you know there is a whole lot more going on than you can comprehend, and a lot more than just, in NGO-speak, "capacity building issues."

"It ALL started." You would hope that would be the dramatic horrific climax to a story. Nope, that's just how it all started.
A kind of triage
Not having electric power is a great way to shut up the media. Radio (verrry important in a country with only 28% literacy), TV and newspapers are facing extra expenses to maintain production schedules; some have cut back on-air hours. Staying open 24 hours the way a media outlet should requires costly diesel backup generators and fuel. This also necessitates making choices (you can't run computers, photocopy machines, printing press and lights and everything on the backup alternates...not all at once...just certain things. A kind of triage).

That would seem to work out great for the Commies who have launched four major violent attacks on media in as many months. The latest evidence of the lawlessness here was the brutal murder of young (26), strong, principled radio reporter Uma Singh. Her photo now stares out of tribute pages and posters uncannily like Benazir Bhutto's; the beautiful vessel of tragedy and terror.

(Before my friends and family freak out: there have been no foreign writers targeted, and this happened in the southern town of Janakpur near the Indian border.)

A simple pistol to the temple as usual (there have been other journo murders, but none this spectacular) wasn't enough; they really made an example, 15 men dragging her from her rented room and knifing her to death in front of neighbors. One of her crimes was to have reported on the disappearance of her father and brother by the Maoists, 3 years before. An international account (they were scant) focused on Singh's reportage of dowry and bride-burning, but I don't
think that was a motivation in her murder. Latest papers indicate she and her family were involved in a land-dispute, the kind that often turn murderous here.

Already, though, the newspaper notices "Bring Uma Singh's killers to justice - End Impunity" have been shifted to the second page. Media Ennui is relentless, even for its own children.

Other than Singh's murder, there have been at least 4 major attacks on media houses in the past as many months. The most notable was that on Himal Media (publishers of Nepali Times) - thugs (sorry, "youths") broke into their offices, attacked journos and workers and trashed equipment and broke windows, as a warning not to go to press with their expose of the Thug Culture that's been created by Red Brigade-like "youth wings" of political parties.
Other attacks on media have included delivery vans accosted and fresh papers destroyed en route to subscribers and newsstands.

Oh, and here's a photo of the garbage piling up....
*Ke Garne is a Nepali expression meaning "what to do?," trans. somewhere between "It's not my problem" and "Life goes on."
--Photo of Uma Singh memorial from by Chong Zi Liang from Nepali Times.

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