by Sarah Hunt
Journalism isn’t an easy profession – just ask Mark Latham. Recently, however, I met a group of journalists who inspired me to believe in media to create social change. The group came to Australia through the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre for a month long work tour, with the goal of empowering the Dalit community of Nepal.
They present a complex picture of the issues facing Nepali society. Most of the journalists belong to the Dalit caste, which makes up about 20 per cent of the population. Dalit are considered untouchable or lowest caste within caste hierarchy. Thus, they experience systematic marginalisation and are excluded from social development and economic life.
In response to this discrimination, Suvash Darnal began the Jagaran Media Centre which is the only Dalit owned and run media centre in the country. The centre has its own radio station, magazine, television series and offers young Dalit journalists media training.
I met with Suvash and his colleague Bidhya Chapagain at their hotel in Carlton to hear what they had learnt during their Australian trip.
We are in the silver jubilee of the relationship between Nepal and Australia. Nepal has been receiving grants from Australia for fifty years, but we are still getting poorer.
I co-founded the Jagaran Media Centre in 2000, but now I work mostly in the policy area. The objective of this trip is to make new connections and network so we can break the cycle of exclusion and capture the development aid in Nepal. We want to build the capacity of journalists from the Dalit community by improving their skills.
We are using the same software and technology as the Australian media, but because of the facilities here they can create a better output. For example, in Nepal, we have low amounts of electricity and people don’t have a lot of access to the internet. Two thirds of people live in the villages in poverty, so they don’t have electricity. The radio is the most effective form of communication to the villages. Previously radio was the symbol of the civilized person, but now that has totally changed and everyone has a radio.
I am impressed by how you manage multiculturalism here. Nepal is also multicultural as we have over 100 languages and more than 80 ethnic groups. In the last 100 years, however, we have had one language, religion and caste dominate. All our systems and institutions are designed for these groups. Multiculturalism is our reality but we suppress all the other identities.
If you look at Australia, you can see how they respect different identities. I am very impressed by SBS and what they are doing and also by reconciliation in Australia. We are at the point where we need to reframe multiculturalism in Nepal. In our current national identity, more than 90 castes feel discriminated against.
It was a challenge to start the Jagaran Media Centre but we want to help the journalists who come after us. We are the first and the largest journalist group from the bottom of Nepali society so we don’t want to be the last ones to come here.
I am not a Dalit. Some of my family, like my grandfather, still don’t want Dalit people to come into our house. That is the fate of Nepal. Dalit people aren’t well educated and don’t have access to employment. I didn’t have Dalit friends because I didn’t come into contact with them.
When I started working as a journalist, I realised that everyone was equal and caste doesn’t matter. Improving the situation of the Dalit is about mindset, strong rules and regulation and implementing change.
To find out more about the Jagaran Media Centre you can visit there website at www.jagaranmedia.org.np.