Friday, April 29, 2016

Role of Nepal Bhasa Journalism in the Struggle for Linguistic Freedom

Dr. Rabin Man Shakya
President, Newah American Buddhist Association

Nepal Bhasa is the language spoken by Newah people whose culture, arts and rituals are one of the richest in the world. Arts, culture and languages are the important sources of identity of a nation. Arts, culture and languages are indivisible parts  of civilization and therefore there obviously is a symbiotic relationship between arts, culture and language. The culture of any country is reflected in the way of living and lifestyle of people. There are many ethnic groups in Nepal. Each ethnic group has its own language, customs, culture and traditions. Living in the same nation, they strive to preserve and safeguard their own languages and culture.

If we go by the assumption that language is a central component of cultural identity, then all the languages of Nepal should be duly honored and recognized, not just in papers and documents, not just in the rhetorical speeches of the ministers and political stalwarts.

As a matter of fact, suppression of Nepal Bhasa was started immediately after the advent of Shah dynasty in 1768 AD. It is to be noted that the coup d’ eat orchestrated by Jung Bahadur Rana in 1846 AD further 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’.

It was during the period of Rana regime that a number of Nepal Bhasa luminaries, such as, Nistha Nanda Bajracharya, Siddhi Das Mahaju, Jagat Sundar Malla, Yogbir Singh Kansakar, Shukra Raj Shastri and Dharmaditya Dharmacharya started their revolutionary and creative literary activities for the cause of upliftment of downtrodden Nepal Bhasa.

In fact, Nepal Bhasa which is one of the historical and ancient languages was the administrative language of Nepal from  the 14th to the 18th centuries. Nepal Bhasa which is a major ethnic  language  of Nepal is spoken as a mother tongue by about 15 per cent of the people of Nepal. Nevertheless,  Nepal Bhasa was neglected and suppressed in different time spans of Nepalese history.

Actually, the history of Nepal Bhasa journalism is the history of its struggle for the due recognition of Nepal Bhasa, Nepal Sambat and Theravada Buddhism, the history of agitation and turmoil against the continuous repression. The history of  origin and emergence of the Nepal Bhasa press is profoundly inter-related with the activities of the Nepal Bhasa activists in British India. Nepal Bhasa journalism’s closed doors or cul-de-sac was opened for the first time in Nepal Bhasa journalism history with the publication of the magazine “Buddha Dharma” in 1925 AD from Kolkata, British India by Dharmaditya Dharmacharya. It was a landmark event in the chronicles of Nepal Bhasa journalism. Absence of conducive political conditions and specter of Rana regime’s repression - these were some of the reasons  that prompted some Nepal Bhasa advocates to embark on “magazine publication venture” in Nepal Bahasa not from within the territory of Nepal, but from abroad.

Therefore, the monthly magazine “Buddha Dharma” was the first printed publication in Nepal Bhasa and it was brought out in 1925 by Dharmaditya Dharmacharya which was nome de plume of Jagat Man Vaidya (1902-1963). In fact, “Buddha Dharma” was the outcome of the lofty ideals of some enthusiastic Newars in Kolkata, India like Dharmacharya to create a platform for reviving Theravada Buddhism and for promoting Nepal Bhasa as language of Newars.

It may be a coincidence or a planned event, but the first issue of “Buddha Dharma” was brought out on the day of Buddha Purnima. It was in 1927 that the name of the publication “Buddha Dharma” was morphed into “Buddha Dharma wa Nepal Bhasa”  thereby becoming an effective platform that accommodated interests of Theravada Buddhists and advocates of Nepal Bhasa.

So, what was the raison d’ etre  of “Buddha Dharma” being published from Kolkata, British India?  Press freedom and freedom of expression were the words that very few Newah elites could understand during the Shah-Rana regime.

What, palpably, made the Rana regime decide not to permit the people to participate in the linguistic, journalistic and social awakening activities was the specter that in due course of time, it would politicize and polarize the people to such an extent that a serious threat to their monopolistic and oligarchic regime might be posed.

Hence, the Newah people were not only deprived of press freedom and freedom of expression, but all those means of mass communication (such as newspapers, magazines, books, libraries, photography, radio sets etc) that might make them politically conscious of their legitimate rights were also prohibited to function or were controlled by the Rana generalissimo.

Speaking of the Rana regime, mention must be made of Chandra Shamsher Rana who was one of the cruelest and despotic Rana prime ministers. Chandra orchestrated untimely exit of Dev Shamsher who was relatively a liberal Rana premier and who started the publication of the Gorkhapatra in 1901. Likewise, mention should also be made of Gyan Mala Bhajan Khala which disseminated devotional songs and raised awareness against the Rana tyranny. It is to be noted that Gyan Mala Bhajan hymns were  usually written in Nepal Bhasa to enhance Theravada Buddhism, something intolerable to the Ranas. The activists of the Gyan Mala Bhajan Khala were  incarcerated and tortured by the  generalissimo during the reign of Chandra Shamsher. This was a testimony to the fact that the Rana rulers did not even tolerate the religious freedom, much less the social and political awakening.

The rituals, ceremonies and traditions of Bajrayana Buddhism practiced by the Shakyas and Bajracharyas of the Kathmandu Valley were allowed unhindered during the Rana regime. But the Ranas did not tolerate the religious activities of the Buddhist monks bolstering the Theravada Buddhism. As a result, a number of Nepalese Buddhist monks were banished from the country.

Given the fact that even the first and pioneering publication in the Nepali  or Gorkhali language (which has always been the official and national language of Nepal during the entire Rana and Shah rule) “Gorkha Bharat Jeevan” was printed and published  in Banaras, British India in 1888 AD, it is not surprising to note that the first publication in Nepal Bhasa was also launched not from within  Nepal but from Kolkata, British India.

Quintessentially, “Buddha Dharma wa Nepal Bhasa” was a magazine devoted to the issues of Theravada Buddhism and Nepal Bhasa. That is why there is no doubt that “Buddha Dharma” was an effective voice that was instrumental in disseminating and enhancing the ideas of Nepal Bhasa and Buddhism. It was able to inculcate values of language and give a voice for the freedom of religion and linguistic freedom.

In Indian town of Kalimpong, a monthly magazine “Dharmodaya” was published in 1947 by Mani Harsha Jyoti for Dharmodaya Sabha which was an organization established by Buddhist monks who had been banished from Nepal in 1944 on charges of promoting Theravada Buddhism. The first editors of the “Dharmodaya” were Aniruddha and Mahanam Kovid.

Rana autocracy’s downfall at the hands of the popular upheaval in the modern history of Nepal had stunning implications for the Nepalese people. One of the remarkable things done during the short period of democratic innovations (1951-1960) was that Nepal Bhasa was taught even at the high schools as an optional subject and later on  at colleges and university.  It is to be noted that a language is at risk of being lost when it is no longer taught to younger generation. Also, Nepal Bhasa was recognized by Kathmandu Municipality too during the short period of democratic innovations.

In this way, the first  Nepal Bhasa magazine published within the territory of Nepal was “Thaukanhe” (Nowadays) which was printed at Bagishwor Chhapakhana, Jhochhen, Kathmandu and which started its publication on May 21, 1951 is still alive and kicking. The magazine was edited by Purna Kazi Tamrakar and Pushpa Ratna Sagar while the publisher of the magazine was Ratna Man Singh Tuladhar. The magazine “Thaukanhe” championed the cause of uplifting and enhancing the Nepal Bhasa as the living language of Newars.

A literary quarterly magazine “Nepal” was brought out in 1952. The magazine was edited by Hridaya Chandra Singh Pradhan and was published by Nepal Bhasa Parishad. Another remarkable monthly magazine “Jhee” (We) which began publishing in1958 and continued to be published until 1985.The magazine was edited by Mohan Narayan. Likewise, the role of bimonthly magazine “Situ” (Holy Grass) edited by Prem Bahadur Kansakar  and published by Chwasa Pasa was tremendous. “Situ” came out  in 1964 and ceased its publication in 1991. All these  Nepal Bhasa magazines exercised tremendous influence to raise language and literary awareness among the people. 

Meanwhile, a weekly newspaper “Pasa” (Friend) was brought out in Kolkata in 1953 and it was published by Chwosa Pasa, a Nepal Bhasa literary association. In 1957, “Pasa” was morphed into a daily newspaper that was published only for three months and was edited by Krishna Chandra Singh Pradhan. “Pasa” also focused on the struggle of Nepal Bahasa language movement.

Even though radio broadcasting in Nepal Bhasa was initiated on January 18, 1951 over Nepal Radio which was aired from Biratnagar and thus had tremendous historical significance, it was perpetually neglected later on. News on Nepal Bhasa was broadcast  daily from the Radio Nepal after the collapse of the Rana regime. However, news in Nepal Bhasa was discontinued in 1965 and another weekly program “Jeevan Dabu” was scrapped in 1971 by the Radio Nepal during the Panchayat regime. Today, there are over 400 FM radio stations all over Nepal and the number of TV stations has reached almost two dozens, many of them operating 24 hours. Nepal Bhasa programs including news are today broadcast by 15 FMs and four national TV channels.

Nepal Bhasa Patrika which was the first daily newspaper in Nepal Bhasa was brought out from Kathmandu on Sept 28,1955 and was edited by Phatte Bahadur Singh. The launching of Nepal Bhasa  Patrika in 1955 with the objective of developing and consolidating Nepal Bhasa  was a tremendous stride made in Nepal Bhasa journalism. Going kby the contents of the newspaper, it disseminated national and community news and played a big role in enhancing and enriching Nepal Bhasa. The newspaper which also played a significant role in the struggle for linguistic freedom ceased publication in 1983.

The ceasing of Nepal Bhasa Patrika in 1983 was palpably a big setback for Nepal Bhasa journalism. But in the ensuing days,it was compensated by other Nepal Bhasa newspapers. A weekly newspaper “Rajamati” was launched in 1983 from Lalitpur under the editorship of Dharma Ratna Shakya. Likewise, a prominent weekly newspaper “Inap” (Appeal) was created by Malla K Sundar to preserve Nepal Bhasa and go ahead with the struggle for broader linguistic freedom against the Panchayat regime. The weekly newspaper which was published from 1983 till 1996 from Kathmandu also championed the cause of language awareness in Nepal.

Similarly, the daily newspaper “Biswabhumi” which started to hit the news stands in 1987 was a big sensation at that time. “Biswabhumi” was edited by Ashok Shrestha.  “Biswabhumi” which played a big role during the 1990 Peoples Movement was a favorite and a very popular newspaper in the Kathmandu Valley. Its coverage of political news and especially of the breaking news was eagerly awaited by  Newah readers of the Kathmandu Valley.

At certain point, “Biswabhumi” was plagued by internal bickerings, and as a result Shrestha quit the newspaper and went on to establish a new daily Nepal Bhasa newspaper called “Nhugu Biswabhumi” in 1992.

Thus, the period of the Panchayat system (1960-1990) was another significant period of struggle for Nepal Bhasa linguistic freedom. The trajectory of the Nepal Bahasa journalism during the Panchayat regime was marked by the chronicles of struggle against the “One Nation, One Language” policy of the then rulers. The scrapping of Nepal Bhasa programs in the Radio Nepal during the Panchayat period was palpably because some ultra-conservative Khas-Bahun elites were harboring  deep-seated antagonism with the Nepal Bhasa.

Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation launched airing a weekly half-hour program on every Wednesday in Nepal Bhasa from Nov 6, 1983. The scrapping of this program also epitomized another perfect example of deep-seated antagonism of the Khas-Bahun elites. The same was the case of ill-destiny of Nepal Bhasa songs program being broadcast by All India Radio, Kurseong because of the pressure by the ruling elites.

In this way, the activities of the Panchayat governments to prosecute and persecute the opposition minded press as well the Nepal Bhasa media was testimony to the fact that the regime allowed only the veneer of democracy to take hold.

Nepal Bhasa related associations used to organize a number of programs to enhance and raise  linguistic awareness during the period of Panchayat regime. Birat Nepal Bhasa  Sahitya Sammelan organized in Bhaktapur every year was one of the remarkable and conspicuous example of these programs. State controlled newspapers the Gorkhapatra and The Rising Nepal never published news stories about those programs. State controlled electronic media like Radio Nepal and Nepal Television generally ignored or disparaged those programs even not broadcasting little bit of footage. That was during Panchayat regime.

Today, Nepal Bhasa press can boast of five daily newspapers and 12 weekly newspapers. Sandhya Times, Jheegu Swaniga, Apsara, Desay Madu Jhyaa and Layaku are some of the prominent Nepal Bhasa newspapers. The Nepal Bhasa newspapers are unabashedly against the establishment’s approach of not giving due respect and honor to the ethnic languages. Many of the developments that Nepal Bhasa news media are covering are intrinsically helpful for the linguistic advocates.

If a language is a cultural heritage, the government should always strive to preserve and develop the ethnic languages. Are the post-II Jan Andolan governments of Nepal serious about boosting multi-culturalism in Nepal? These and other language-rights issues were some of the burning topics which were vehemently and consistently disseminated by the Nepal Bhasa press and rightfully so.

Even though Nepal Bhasa is not a dying language, but still this language needs to be saved from a number of  dishonest maneuverings and manipulations from its known and unknown detractors. There is a lot that can be done to further develop Nepal Bhasa journalism both qualitatively and quantitatively. Stronger efforts should be carried out to create a Nepal Bhasa media fund to help some of the ailing newspapers. Similarly, provisions of workshops and training (national as well as international) for Newah journalists could   lead to contribute in qualitative journalism.

What is amusing, however, is that the political parties and political stalwarts are advocating for more freedom to Nepal Bhasa and other ethnic languages at public forums and expressing commitment on behalf of their  respective parties for enhancing Nepal Bhasa and Nepal Sambat, but are failing to meet the minimum pre-requirements that are needed for this. It looks like support of the politicians in their rhetorical speeches vis-a-vis Nepal Bhasa and other ethnic languages, and Nepal Sambat and other ethnic Sambats is just window dressing. According to some Nepal Bhasa advocates, the mainstream political parties of Nepal have just paid lip service to the Nepal Sambat and Nepal Bhasa.

There should be continuous public and media pressure on the government and  mainstream political parties for providing full honor and respect to Nepal Bhasa and Nepal Sambat.  Today more than ever, Nepal Bhasa press and Nepal Bhasa advocates should presssurize the government to include Nepal Bhasa as an optional language course in the high schools as was the case in 1950s and 1960s. Concrete government policies about Nepal Bhasa are what we need,  lip service is not a solution.

Historical experience shows that the monarchy and the Rana charlatans indeed always played villainous role to destroy or at least to minimize the role of Nepal Bhasa in the past. But even in today’s republican and democratic dispensation, the Nepal Bhasa and Nepal Sambat are yet to be recognized to the full extent probably because the Royal specter and Panchayat hangover still haunts the “neo-kinglets”. Even today the powerful leaders and the neo-kinglets have half hearted attitudes towards Nepal Bhasa and Nepal Sambat..
Time has come for the Newah people across the world to come forward with some concrete actions to lend stimulus to the process of consolidating and enhancing the Nepal Bhasa movement in global level. The establishment of World Newah Organization (WNO) some years ago was quite relevant in this context.

WNO is an international platform  of the Newah people scattered across the world to champion the cause of strengthening  and consolidating the Nepal Bhasa movement. The Newah  people across the world are looking to the Second World Newah Convention to be held at Baltimore, USA with keen interest and curiosity, as WNO has become an important stakeholder and partner for Nepal Bhasa’s development in international level.

The WNO which has moved to centerstage in global Nepal Bhasa movement should make uniting Newars across the globe to preserve and promote Nepal Bhasa , Newar culture and identity the centerpiece of its agenda. WNO’s presence is already strong and effective in the global Newah movement. The top priority of the WNO should be to bring in all the Newars and all the Newah organizations across the world into one big umbrella organization.

It is not that the state has totally ignored the pathetic situation of the Nepal Bhasa. The state has proclaimed that all the ethnic languages of Nepal are national languages of Nepal. However, failure to enforce this proclamation into practical reality is a chronic problem of our country. It is in this context that the WNO can play a tremendous role by exerting global pressure on the Nepal government for the full recognition of Nepal Bhasa and Nepal Sambat. There is no doubt that the WNO should be a trusted source of inspiration for the Newah people across the world.

It is evident that in the perspective of contemporary Nepal, in its elaborate process of social and cultural development, the scope and role of Nepal Bhasa is getting to be vital.

* This article was originally published in the "Halin Newah", World Newah Convention Souvenir published by  World Newah Organization March 25-27, 2016, Baltimore, USA.

1 comment:

  1. This is a well-written and thorough article on its subject, Nepal Bhasa. To this Westerner very ignorant about Nepal it comes as a surprise that in such a relatively small country as Nepal there are so many different peoples and languages, as in much of the world. That'a why the article is so informative.

    Maurice Posada, Portland, Oregon, USA