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 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.
Posted on 06-11-12 5:02
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Many times when people give their rhetorics on democracy, it includes an acceptance of bloodshed and massacre, which although may seem like a logical argument, fails to take into account that you are placing the lives of the people at stake with the hope that it will have a positive outcome down the line at some hopefully not to distant future.
So you technically agree that hundreds if not thousands need to be killed needlessly so that perhaps the country may achieve a better political system. The problem I always have with this kind of rhetorics is that - Where Is the Guarantee that such unnecessary killings will lead to a better democracy? What is the country keeps falling into an endless abyss and then later on gets taken over by a helpful neighboring country?
It is not natural or patriotic to volunteer massacres and death to your fellow citizens with the hope that you might be right someday.
As far as making attempt to deny our country's impoverished state, it is all but futile. We have people living subsistence lifestyle. They farm and eat what they produce. Perhaps they get to eat enough but they don't have anything else!, and we cannot claim that they are living a full life. Even prehistoric human beings were living subsistence lifestyle, and in to hint that that is fine for people living in this day and age is just wrong. You are just trying to justify your own opinions.
Nepal is on the brink of collapse and let's not feed any misguided information to the public. I am tired of people pedalling hope. Every few days, a new face emerges pedalling hope and manupulated truth to show their own greatness.
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Posted on 06-11-12 6:10
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Well parakhi good point and nice to hear some positive layer on Nepal. But unfortunately I think nytimes article is very true. Only reason is not being able to make constitution. Do you see it coming from any angle. With all jaat bhaat and tarai
Posted on 06-11-12 8:32
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Thanks to Nepali Jiwan and Sewa for bringing this point forth. Few things that really touched me:
1. Nepali Jiwan: 45% unemployment doesn't take farmers into account.
2. Nepali Jiwan: Less income doesn't necessarily mean deprivation or loss (think self subsistence).
3. Sewa: "In my understanding, aid is given to those who you want to help, not to those who toe the line according to your ideology."
I agree that we aren't as poor as under developed as the foreign media portraits us as. If you go to any village in Nepal and they seem to be living happy life via self subsistence; sure they cannot afford an iPad or a Harley, but that doesn't make them poor-or not rich. 1st world's view of prosperity is highly skewed.
Having said that, instead of protesting against every foreign media out there; I'd rather take their words with a grain of salt and move on with what we can do back home. They have a standard of comparison and they will follow that; are we a failed state or not is a big question.
As for your foreign aid statement, that was quite a refreshing statement. Yes, they aren't really helping us out of humanity; foreign aid often comes with strings attached and I don't think this is wrong. US insistence on not sending foreign aid to Iran or N. Korea is not wrong. Now, sending WHO rations, food supplies is a different thing and I think international community is doing that.
Lastly, are we a failed nation? I don't think so, not yet atleast. We are in a transition mode and it comes with many bumps and bruises. We are in a critical juncture: we could steer this country to another decade of darkness OR we can finally start the rebuilding process. Prospects, however, do not look too good. Special interest groups are steering this country against the will of 90% people. If we divide this country and let this special interest (I am talking domestic special interest: those who are for caste based division) take over us, we will lose the country for another few decades.
For Op-Ed, follow @nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow @andyrNYT.
“Nepal, on the Brink of Collapse,” by Seyom Brown and Vanda Felbab-Brown (Op-Ed, June 6), oversimplifies and underestimates the democratic process in Nepal. The current political turmoil is troubling and, indeed, a constitution must be delivered. Still, Nepal has made substantial progress in its democratic transition, which began only in 1990 and is unlikely to end now.
Accomplishments include the creation of a genuinely open public sphere, in which all citizens can engage in wide-ranging debate; unprecedented political participation from previously marginalized groups; and the agreement on demobilization and integration of Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army.
The suggestion that donors withhold aid is counterproductive. Donors are deeply enmeshed in the political process, having directly or indirectly supported nearly every interest group over time, not least the corrupt state. If embargoes were the solution, they should have been implemented long ago. Instead, the global community must encourage Nepali politicians to fulfill their constituents’ democratic aspirations.
Potential visitors should not be deterred by the Op-Ed article’s alarmist tone. Reports from across the country suggest that life on the ground is calmer now than at many points in recent history.
New Haven, June 6, 2012
Ms. Shneiderman is an assistant professor of anthropology and South Asian studies at Yale University. Mr. Turin is a research associate at the University of Cambridge and an associate research scientist at Yale.
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