Nicole Farkouh

Nicole Farkouh (Collective Campaign for Peace – COCAP): Nicole graduated from Smith College with a BA in Cultural Anthropology. She also has a Master of Education from the University of New Orleans. Nicole’s professional background is in education. She has worked as a teacher, administrator, and consultant, mainly with middle school students with special needs. She is also a certified community mediator and has studied a complementary model of mediation based on Non-Violent Communication. She has studied abroad in India, lived and taught in Mexico. At the time of her fellowship, she was studying for a Master of Public Policy degree at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. After her fellowship, Nicole wrote: "More than anything, this summer I received a new level of understanding /appreciation for the complexity involved in “development” and “human rights” work…. Particularly being a foreign body trying to work in a new culture."



POLITICS AND MUSIC: THE NEXT INDIAN IDOL

16 Sep

There are two kinds of voting currently consuming the thoughts and energy of the Nepali public. First, is the voting related to the Constitutional Assembly election scheduled for 22 November. This newly elected body will be charged with the important tasks of writing a new constitution for Nepal, helping the country transition to a democracy, and bringing stability after 10+ years of violent conflict. The second type of voting that urgently weighs on the minds of many Nepalis relates to the all important selection of this year’s “Indian Idol.”

The national delight in Indian Idol is not surprising as Nepal’s culture is infused with singing. I have experienced sitting on the roof in Gaighat during power outages and stifling heat to pass the time learning Nepali folk songs, witnessed workshops in which late-arriving participants had to sing a song as their entrance toll, been surrounded by a roomful of young adults from different parts of the country earnestly sharing and teaching each other songs from their regions, and heard people burst into song during meetings – either to close things out or as a way of expressing their sentiments when words were insufficient.

AN AFTER-HOURS SING/DANCE PARTY AT THE MADHESHI WOMEN’S NATIONAL CONFERENCE

However, this love of all things musical seemingly turned into a national obsession when an Indian Idol participant of Nepali decent by the name of Prassant Thamang made it to the Top 10 Finalists. One night a few weeks ago, shortly after my move to Kathmandu, I was walking home after dinner with a friend, and the street was eerily quiet, save one song that was swirling all around me… Then suddenly the entire neighborhood burst into cheers and applause. I was very confused for a moment until I realized, it was Friday night around 10pm, which meant Nepalis across the country were huddled around any television they could find to watch Indian Idol and cheer on Prassant.

This support for Prassant has not only become a national pastime, it has also been turned into a national campaign. Though Nepalis can easily get the cable channels from India that allow them to watch the show, they are not able to participate in the voting as the systems do not allow international votes from Nepal. However, these resolute Nepalis have not been deterred. They have set up a coordinated effort to make calls, submitting votes from numerous centers just inside the Indian border. Through their successful and strategic manipulation of the voting process Prassant has made it to the very last round and he is one of the two finalists vying for the title (though he is good, I have to say he is certainly not at this point based on talent alone).

In the last few days, I have begun to see the army of Prassant troops mobilizing their final push to support their candidate in the remaining 7 days of voting. I have repeatedly come across young people marching with pictures and banners in the street and booths with loud speakers calling on people to donate to the cause.

PRASSANT SUPPORTERS TAKING DONATIONS

The money that is collected for Prassant is sent to communities of Nepali descent living just across the border in India – much like the one that Prassant came from in Darjeeling. Once it arrives, I imagine these donations support a network of volunteer troops that have been organized into around-the clock shifts, making non-stop calls to ensure that Prassant will become the next Indian Idol.

It would be really easy to moan about how the energy and resources going toward Prasant (and filling the coffers of the Indian phone companies) could be better spent on some of Nepal’s urgent needs. It would also be easy to joke about the organizational lessons that the 8-parties could learn from this youth initiative. But I’ll do neither. Instead I’ll say that the ingenuity, enthusiasm, and organization of this campaign impresses me, and in some ironic way gives me hope for the next generation of Nepali leaders.

And I’ll hold out a hope that Prassant will take a few weeks after his stint with Indian Idol is over to take advantage of his popularity, return the love he has been shown by Nepal, and encourage the Nepali people to put the same energy they have shown into the next set of vitally important elections.

Posted By Nicole Farkouh

Posted Sep 16th, 2014

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