Invisibility of Indigenous Peoples from Media

  • Tashi Tewa Dolpo

With the advent of multiparty democracy, Nepali Indigenous movement caught its pace. The movement against the state succeeded to establish Nepali Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), the umbrella organization of Nepali indigenous peoples. The movement scaled additional height in 2002 when it pursued the state to address and establish National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities (NFDIN). Consequently, the NFDIN act on behalf of the state for the first time recognized 59 indigenous peoples. Nonetheless, the state continues to maintain its discriminatory view over indigenous peoples.

The number of media and its influence increased with the advent of multiparty democracy. Indigenous peoples however felt its invisibility not only from the state administration but also from the media, one of the state pillars. The state and the media need to know more about such exclusion from the perspective of indigenous peoples. Are not indigenous peoples Nepali ‘janta’? Those media claiming that it inherit the voices of janta need to reflect “aren’t the indigenous peoples voiceless?”

Though the state’s oppression of indigenous peoples has continued for long, the discussion of indigenous peoples’ agenda and issues should have begun with the development of media. The development of media cannot be separated with the tradition of capitalism, industrialization and market. Various scholars have already established the fact that the capitalism and industrialization continue to have an adverse impacts on indigenous peoples. The intricate yet rich understanding of ecology including water, forest, and land is impossible without the detail understanding of indigenous peoples’ culture. It becomes important to understand when the markets have detrimental affect over indigenous peoples’ identity. Isn’t the agenda and issues related to identity of indigenous peoples are forcibly made invisible because of the media’s interrelation with the capitalist structure and market?

Pratyoush Onta, Kumar Yaatru, and Bhaskar Gautam edited and published ‘Chaapama Janajati’, the book including 14 sections with over 40 articles on the subjects of indigenous peoples.  Realizing the bitter reality of indigenous peoples’ exclusion from political, socio-cultural, linguistic, educational domains and then to establish the alternative perspective by dissecting the myth of manufactured pluralism is the main objective of the book. Since then, has the inclusion of indigenous peoples drastically increased in media? Considering the subjective analysis of the indigenous peoples’ issues, the question, “to what extent the issues of indigenous peoples are prioritized and discussed” is of concern. For instance, how should we analyze the issues of indigenous peoples through the portrayal of the indigenous peoples’ day annual celebration in one photo when featured in the media? Obviously, that one photo cannot illustrate the annual celebration. Consequently, whether the remaining indigenous peoples of the country can read about the issues rose in various places during the celebration from such media or not?, such question becomes significant.

The journalists belonging to Indigenous Peoples face the structural discrimination. The reality of media excluding the agenda and issues of indigenous peoples exist. Still, the editors of those media house might feel, why indigenous peoples have not written anything for their news-papers? Didn’t the indigenous peoples really write anything on their own issues? Or those write-ups and issues are not included by the media houses over few excuses? We need to understand few facts before complaining against indigenous peoples over their lack of writing.

Though the methodology of the census 2011 remains questionable from the indigenous peoples’ scholars, it established the fact that 35.4 percentage of the total population are indigenous peoples. Only the recognized 59 indigenous peoples have their own mother-tongue language, which is not the language of media. What indigenous peoples are forced to read early in schools and their syllabus are not the mother-tongue languages of indigenous peoples.  Nepali language is the language of Nepali media. It becomes important to point this out when one needs to be prolific in writing Nepali to make one voice publishable. Subsequently, those voices do not make it to the publishing houses even some indigenous peoples’ writers excruciatingly try and create something in Nepali. In several instances, Prof. Mahendra Lawoti, one of the indigenous peoples’ scholar has shared the extent to which his write-up go through heavy editing and then only gets published. It means indigenous peoples will not regain any satisfaction even when one tries to write something not in our own mother-tongue language but in a ‘foreign’ language. Therefore, those Medias who can reach out to around 75 districts of Nepal have to realize such problems.

Lack of accessibility of indigenous peoples towards every aspect of state has led to the indigenous peoples’ movement inheriting various socio-cultural, political, religious and geographical issues. Discourses and experiences of the oppressed live out of those struggles. Those discourses and experiences if expressed properly in the media can help out to increase public pressure and subsequently, the state will feel the pressure to address those struggles. Therefore, the accessibility of indigenous peoples and their issues over media is pivotal. In addition, the discussion over accessibility and inclusion of indigenous peoples and other marginalized peoples will become important.

While saying this, one question still raises: how many indigenous peoples are there in the Nepali main media houses? In what level, those few indigenous peoples are working? This question also becomes relevant especially to further extend the discussion over can those few indigenous peoples’ write-up can act, write and publish independently when the editor himself cannot work independently.

The author is an Independent Researcher, who belongs to Dolpo, one of the remotest Himalayan Indigenous communities of Nepal. He tweets @TashiTewaDolpo.