We didn’t get around in a time traveling phone booth, and we might not have met the likes of Socrates, Joan of Arc, Abe Lincoln, and Napoleon… but Devin and Ted’s excellent adventure was just as interesting and entertaining as any film starring Keanu Reeves.
Recently Devin (the other AP Fellow working with JMC), Prakash (our Nepali Colleague), and I traveled throughout Western and Southern Nepal, hitting destinations like Pokhara, Tansen/Palpa, Butwal, Nepalgunj, Doti, Dhangadi, and numerous little villages along the way. If you glance at a map of Nepal, these areas might not seem to be that far apart or very difficult to reach. But after a combined 45 – 50 hours on buses, vans, and rickshaws traveling over hills, mountains, plains and jungles, on top narrow twisting roads and sketchy bridges (all over the course of 9 days), I now understand the daunting task of getting around in this country. (And I have yet to mention the “roadblocks” along the way!) But considering the breathtaking scenery, the amazing people we met, and the amount of information we gathered… the trip was well worth it.
This little odyssey, however, was not a vacation full of posed pictures and tacky souvenir shopping. Devin and I were on a learning mission. Since we have been on this part of the globe, we have been told that if we want to see the “real” plight of Dalits and understand the true extent of caste discrimination in Nepal, then the Kathmandu Valley is not the place to be. We had heard of a case in Doti where Dalits being beaten by a mob of “caste” Hindus for entering a temple. We were informed of numerous incidents where individuals and groups had been denied the use of “public” water because of their caste background. The stories and reports of human rights atrocities were abundant, but the whole time, while we were in Kathmandu, we were largely removed from these harsh realities… it was almost like they were occurring on another part of the planet. We both knew that we had to travel around the country or we would be giving up a valuable opportunity to get close to the issues that we and our colleagues are working to solve.
Though we had many personal and professional goals surrounding this trip, Devin, Prakash and I decided to primarily focus on one major task – meeting and profiling Dalit journalists who have shared an affiliation with the JMC and are based in cities outside Kathmandu. The individuals that we met were able to offer unique perspectives on the stories they were covering, as well as provide details of their own lives as both Dalits and journalists.
There are two major reasons why we focused on this activity. First we intend to publish these profiles on the JMC website (hopefully including sound bytes and video footage gathered by Devin) so that JMC’s domestic and international audience can feel a human connection with these intelligent, compassionate, and dogged professionals who have such a strong relationship with the JMC and its work. Secondly we hope to use the information gathered to help us develop strategies and proposals to restart the JMC e-bulletin. For years JMC’s e-bulletin served the only consistent source of information on Dalit issues in Nepal. It was appreciated worldwide an effective advocacy tool, but due to budget issues and communication gaps with some of the reporters in the field, the JMC staff stopped producing the e-bulletin last year. This was not only a blow to the e-bulletin’s readers, but also to the journalists themselves. It gave them a voice, plain and simple. There have been many instances where newspapers have rejected stories dealing with Dalit related issues and failed to give a decent explanation, if an explanation was even offered, as to why. The journalists we met wholly welcomed the idea of restarting the e-bulletin and kindly offered suggestions as to how we can make it better than before. They are invested in the idea, knowing that their stories will be read and their voice will be heard.
Devin, Prakash, and I returned to Kathmandu about two days ago, but it feels like we’ve been back for weeks. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, I have to say that it’s nice to know that I don’t have to wake up at 5am to catch a rickety bus to God-knows-where. But now I realize that I have an overwhelming task ahead of me… articulating the rest of the nitty gritty details of Devin and Ted’s excellent adventure in future blog entries. Stay tuned for more!
Posted By Ted Samuel
Posted Jul 3rd, 2007