Sunday, January 11, 2015

History of Nepali Journalism

Dr Rabin Man Shakya
Former Lecturer of Journalism at Peoples Campus, RR Campus, TU.

The history of origin and emergence of the Nepalese press is profoundly interrelated with the activities of the Nepalese immigrants in British India. Nepalese journalism's closed doors or 'cul-de-sac' was opened for the first time in Nepal's journalism history with the publication of Gorkha Bharat Jeevan in Varanasi, British India in 1886. It was a landmark event in the chronicles of Nepalese journalism. Absence of conducive political conditions and specter of Rana regime's repression - these  were some of the reasons that prompted some Nepalese intellectuals to embark on 'magazine publication venture' not from within the territory of Nepal, but from abroad.

It is to be noted that the coup d' etat  orchestrated by Jung Bahadur Rana in 1846 paved the way for brutal and repressive hereditary Rana prime-ministership which lasted for more than a century (1846-1951). Except for the 'Mulki Ain' there were no press laws and regulations during the notorious rule of Rana generalissimo. More often than not, the words coming from the mouth of the Rana prime minister used to be the law.

However, the founder of the Nepalese journalism is considered to be Moti Ram Bhatta, who brought out the first Nepali monthly publication "Gorkha Bharat Jeevan" in the year 1886 AD. Since "Gorkha Bharat Jeevan"  was the first and pioneering publication venture by the Nepalese in British India, there is no doubt that this magazine championed the cause of enhancing and enriching the Nepali language. Although the first monthly literary magazine was launched by Moti Ram Bhatta, the editor of the magazine was Ram Krishna Varma. Gorkha Bharat Jeevan's publication, however, gave an impetus to other Nepalese intellectuals in British India to  go ahead with other publications.

A monthly magazine 'Gorkha Khabar Kagat' was published in January, 1901 in Darjeeling and was edited by Ganga Prasad Pradhan. Likewise, another Nepali literary monthly 'Upanyas Tarangini' was launched in Varanasi in 1902 and was edited by Sadashiva Sharma. The aim of the magazine was to publish novellas  in Nepali language. Other monthly magazines which were launched in Varanasi were "Sundari", "Madhavi" and "Udaya" all published in early 1900s. The pages of the weekly "Gorkhali" edited by Surya Bikram Gyawali in Varanasi in 1915 for the first time voiced  for the restoration of civil liberty in Nepal.

In Indian town of Calcutta, a monthly magazine "Buddha Dharma" was published by Dharmaditya Dharmacharya. It was the first publication in the history of Nepal Bhasa journalism. Meanwhile, Thakur Chandan Singh of Dehradun had brought out three weeklies - The Himalayan Times (1926), Gorkha Sansar (1926) and Tarun Gorkha (1928).

Jung Bahadur Rana upon return from his landmark Britain visit had brought with him a hand printing press (Giddhe Chhapakhana) in 1851. It is true that no newspapers and magazines were published in Nepal during Jung Bahadur Rana's regime, Nepal's first newspaper "Gorkhapatra" had to wait for liberal Rana premier Dev Shumsher to be published on May 6, 1901. This newspaper first published within the territory of Nepal was brought out still in the epoch of feudalism in Nepal. The newspaper continuously served the interest of feudal institutions headed by the hereditary Rana premiers until 1951. The authorization orders of 1901 issued by Rana prime minister Dev Shumsher clearly point out the fact that the first editor of the Gorkhapatra was Pandit Nardev Pandey. It is to be noted that the Gorkhapatra did not print the name of its editor for decades during the Rana autocracy. The Rana generalissimo handed over the Giddhe Chhapakhana and Litho Press to Nardev and authorized him to publish Gorkhapatra under the supervision of Lt Col Dilli Shumsher Thapa

The Gorkhapatra's publication during the Rana period is a testimony to the fact that some kind of liberal moves and reforms were brought out in fits and starts. The launching of the Gorkhapatra became the raison d' etre  of the emergence of journalism in Nepal. It will not be an exaggeration to assert that the Gorkhapatra is the newspaper which is the quintessence of journalistic history of Nepal. Well, the Gorkhapatra was a harbinger of 'little change' or reform during the notorious Rana autocracy.

However, liberal premier Dev Shumsher's rule was very short-lived and was forcefully replaced by the more hardliner Chandra Shumsher whose regime lasted for 31 years. It was during Chandra Shumsher's regime that Pundit Nardev was effectively replaced by Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh (his brother-in-law and petty king of Bajhang). But the very thing that the Gorkhapatra was published during the rule of Rana Prime Minister Dev Shumsher is a testimony to the fact that he was a liberal Rana prime minister.

However, the first magazine published within the territory of Nepal during the Rana regime was "Sudha Sagar" which was printed at Pashupait Press in 1898 in Kathmandu. The other notable publication was 'Sharada' monthly magazine launched in 1991 BS by Riddhi Bahadur Malla. Similarly, 'Udyog' fortnightly magazine (1992 BS), 'Gharelu Ilam Patrika' (2004 BS), 'Shichhya' fortnightly (2004 BS), 'Kathmandu Municipal Patrika' (2004 BS), 'Nepal Shichhya' monthly magazine (2005 BS), 'Aankha' (2005 BS) and 'Purushartha' (2006 BS) are other publications brought out during the Rana regime.  No doubt, these publications published in Kathmandu merely played the role of cheerleaders for the Rana oligarchy. Other two remarkable publications during the Rana regime were 'Sahitya Shrot' monthly magazine (2004 BS) and 'Jagaran' weekly newspaper (2007 BS) both edited by progressive litterateur Hridaya Chandra Singh Pradhan.

In this way, the trajectory of the Nepalese publications during the Rana period - it is sad to note - is marked by lapdog journalism plus literary writings, with some exceptions, of course. However, Rana autocracy's downfall at the hands of the popular upheaval in 1951 had stunning implications in the modern history of Nepal and opened the door for liberal journalism which, again, was short-lived.

*Shakya is also State Education Director, NRNA-USA, Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA.

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