Nepali media tends to focus it’s reporting on the political leadership and its business: meetings, speeches, events, power struggles, etc. Most is rife with misinformation and lies – promises and actions occupy two segregated parallel universes in Nepali politics – but is reported nonetheless as is. It’s lazy and easy journalism, and social issues do not get the attention they deserve in the press.
The Jagaran Media Center (JMC) is a Dalit caste run media house and NGO, focusing most of its activities on Dalit journalism and human rights training. The Dalits they represent are the untouchables and downtrodden of Nepal, constituting 20 to 25% of the population. They are the lowest caste of Nepali society, and are often denied basic human rights like access to land, food, water, shelter, education, honest jobs and wages, information, and security.
Through the Hindu caste hierarchy system, the lowly Dalits are denied the freedom to marry other higher castes, and families face persecution in communities where inter-caste marriages do occur. Dalits are often raped, beaten, or killed for superstitious reasons, while many Dalit women are accused of witchcraft and force-fed their own feces when natural phenomena interfere with the natural cycle of things (i.e. a diseased cow dies in a community).
Dalits are underrepresented (if at all) in Nepali politics and media, so their plight is generally ignored. Police rarely provide justice to victims of caste-discrimination cases, politicians languish in establishing enforceable socially equitable laws and upholding those that are passed, while the Nepali press does a poor job in reporting all things Dalit.
Thus, the journalism project I am leading with Prakash Mohara of JMC comes in. The goals of the project are two pronged. One is to extract Dalit caste discrimination stories and cases out of communities in 10 different districts, while using our new network of grassroots civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide justice and democratic accountability to the community.
In each of the 10 districts we’re targeting (three in the east, two in the north, five in the west), we have identified a Dalit journalist to report on caste discrimination cases. His or her duty is to report these stories (that would otherwise not get press coverage), and publish them on a blog we have set up and trained him/her on, which will be hosted on JMC’s redesigned website (about to be launched).
Using this information, our partnered CSO in the district in question will attempt to provide justice and democratic accountability to those affected. Using Nepal’s new “untouchability” bill as legal strength in its investigation, the CSO will attempt to unite the community, police, victims, and perpetrators. The goal is provide justice to cases that otherwise wouldn’t receive it, while promoting a more transparent and honest Nepali democracy.
The second goal is advocacy, both at a national and international level. By hosting the blogs of the 10-targeted journalists, along with profiles of the associated 10 CSOs, the JMC will have a new network of Dalit media spread across the country, reporting on Dalit issues. The JMC will be able to use these sources to lobby their established network of national media houses to cover the reported caste-abuse cases and follow-up activities. Further, the JMC will be able to more effectively lobby lawmakers in Kathmandu to be more cognizant and equitable in their judicial duties towards the Dalits, having documented cases of Dalit discrimination hosted on JMC’s website that cannot be ignored.
At the international level, social media tools will be used extensively to advocate on behalf of the Dalits, and will try to attract international attention and pressure to the issues. Through avenues such as Twitter and Facebook, along with the JMC’s established network of international partners and organizations, it will reach out and try to engage the international community. Ultimate goals of these activities are to have Dalit cases brought forward and investigated at various human rights commissions (i.e. U.N.), and receive press coverage by popular international news outlets.
Ultimately, the JMC aims to be a media hub for the Dalit cause in Nepal, and be the destination for Dalit news that generally gets ignored in most other media. The aim is to firmly establish the project, grow it organically and sustainably into other districts across the country, and partner with an international organization for support.
The project is ambitious, with many moving pieces operating at once. However, it is realistic in its goals, and can achieve sustainable and influential results over the long run. There is potential for Dalit empowerment and promotion of a more inclusive and accountable Nepali society in the districts it operates, and is a formula that can be replicated through organic growth in other districts.
If some have suggestions or tips for this project, please share them in the comments section. It’s only the beginning.
Posted By Corey Black
Posted Aug 11th, 2011