Nepali community in India is fiercely staging demonstrations to protest demeaning remarks made by a New Delhi FM RJ. Why?
Newly crowned Indian Idol Prashant Tamang, 24-year-old Indian police constable of Nepali origin, was warmly welcomed in Kathmandu this afternoon. He is here to take part in two concerts while his hometown Darjeeling (India) is tense and his fans across the region are protesting the demeaning remarks made against him and Nepali Indian community by a Radio Jockey in New Delhi.
It was only a few days ago that North East Indian city like Darjeeling and Siliguri (or Silgadhi) were merrily celebrating their beloved boy Prashant Tamang’s mesmerizing victory in the hugely popular and closely contested Indian TV singing talent show Indian Idol. When Prashant, a 24-year-old boy of Nepali origin who is a constable in Kolkata (or Calcutta) Police, was announced the winner, his mother took out a Nepali Dhaka topi (traditional Nepali cap) and proudly put that over her son’s head. The Indian Idol program was phenomenally popular, especially among Nepali communities in India that thousands of people didn’t sleep to push Prashant towards the success by voting in the contest. Why? The answer is very easy. In a big country like India, Nepalis (Gorkhas) aren’t recognized in the way they deserve to be recognized. There is sort of identity crisis and Nepalis in India are by and large marginalized.
In that situation, they suddenly found their identity flashing in the avatar of Prashant in a nationally televised program that was watched by millions of Indians across India. Prashant was not only occasionally chatting in Nepali with Udit Narayan Jha, one of the judges in the contest, a popular Bollywood singer and a Nepali but he also sang a Nepali song in the grand finale of the program that talked about the glory and plights of Gorkha. The very presence of Prashant in the program and his ultimate success gave the Nepali community an identity that they were craving for. There was a movement called Gorkhaland (a separate state for Nepalis) which didn’t see success but I am sure it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the winning of Indian Idol by Prashant was in no way less than having a separate statehood for Nepalis in India (or something like that).
When a New Delhi FM RJ badly cracked a joke on the same Gorkhali identity it really hurt the Gorkha sentiment. That is why Nepali Indians and other fans of Prashant are furiously protesting those insensitive remarks of the RJ. Whatever the RJ said was not only insensitive but also demeaning to the community. The RJ’s uninformed statement undermined the very glorious identity of the Nepali community in India that was renewed with Prashant’s victory. The RJ Nitin reportedly said:
“Aaaj Prashant Tamang ‘Nepali ladka from Darjeeling’ [Today Prashant Tamang, Nepali boy from Darjeeling] has become Indian Idol [laughs sarcastically] and we have a [cricket] match tonight so we need to guard our house / malls / restaurants by ourselves as there will be no Nepali people to guard these place and whole night we need to say Jagtay Raho [stay awake].” The RJ also added that all the Footpath Momo shops will remain closed as Nepali guy has become Indian Idol.
[Click here to read an Indian newspaper report about the controversy.]
Even in Nepal, the program was so popular that thousands of people from across the country rallied in Prashant’s favor, collected hundreds of thousands of money and sent them to Darjeeling so that more votes to Prashant could be text messaged. Though the Indian Idol program’s slogan was ‘Bharat ka saan’ [pride of India], many Nepalis were thinking that Prashant was actually ‘Nepal ko saan’ [pride of Nepal.] Many groups of Nepalis even went to Darjeeling waving the glorious Chandra Surya: Nepali national flag. Actually there are many talented singers in Nepal who hail from that Darjeeling and surrounding area of India and are living in Nepal for decades. Amber Gurung, who composed the tune of the new Nepali national anthem, hails from the same area. Though I haven’t been to Darjeeling, I have heard from many of my colleagues that the love towards Nepali language and culture is more visible and intense in Darjeeling than in Nepal itself.
Coincidently Prashant is in Nepal now to take part in two concerts- one today afternoon in Kathmandu and the other in Pokhara. He arrived in Kathmandu yesterday afternoon and, no surprise, was warmly accepted by a crowd at the airport. He briefly talked to reporters in a press meet in the five-star Soaltee hotel. “I had dreamed of wearing the Nepali topi on the stage after winning the contest,” he said, according to Kantipur reporter Suraj Kunwar who attended the press meet. “I had wanted to bring out an album of Nepali songs but sadly couldn’t because of monitory problem.”
This evening I saw celebrated Indian journalist Vinod Mehta, editor of Outlook magazine and Javed Akther, famous Indian lyricist, on CNN IBN channel condemning the remarks of RJ. Mehta pointed out the fact that media, especially the electronic, are influential and they need to be extra careful and go through matured editorial scrutiny while dealing with sensitive issues. Yes media is indeed powerful and I can give an example related to Prashant and Nepali media. I was the one who called our reporter in Jhapa, a Nepali district bordering Darjeeling, to go to the home of Prashant, talk to the family and fans and file a story from there. The reporter, Benup Raj Bhattarai of Kantipur daily, promptly filed a story. I enthusiastically edited, put additional quotes from a Nepali film actress in Kathmandu who hails from Prashant’s home town and had just returned from her home, and the 800 word story was published along with two photos of Prashant and the signature campaign because, luckily, there was plenty of space on the back page of Kantipur that day.
That was the first story about Prashant in Nepali media and, oh, that was just the beginning. Within days, almost all papers in Kathmandu and in eastern Nepal were publishing every detail that they could gather about Prashant. Meanwhile, Kantipur also kept the coverage and that created huge interest among Nepali viewers because the TV channel that airs the Indian Idol program is available in almost all cable channels in Nepal. As the voting was progressing towards the final day, a group of young boys in Kathmandu came to me saying they had made ‘Vote Prashant Tamang’ t-shirts and they wanted their effort to be covered in Kantipur so that they could sell the clothes and send the money to Darjeeling. This case really makes me think that media is indeed powerful.
And we have seen/experienced a tragic incident a few years back when a rumor spread like wildfire that Bollywood actor Hritik Roshan allegedly remarked something demeaning about Nepal. The Indian actor denied having made any such statements within days but by then we had already seen some of the worst riots in Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal in which an innocent 9-year-old girl lost her life and properties worth millions was destroyed. We are rumor prone and yes we are also very much sensitive about our dignity.
This time, when I heard yesterday in our newsroom that Nepalis in Darjeeling were calling for a Darjeeling banda (general strike), I instantly decided not to publish that news in Kantipur. Why? Because I know the fire will almost instantly come in Nepal. The same people who went to Darjeeling waiving the glorious Moon and Sun will start rioting to protest the silly remarks of the New Delhi based RED FM RJ. I prey that the protests in Darjeeling and surrounding areas don’t come to Nepal.
In the CNN IBN program this evening, Javed Akther made a valid point that such insensitive and foolish remarks should be ignored. That’s right, I also think so, but when the issue reached to the crowd it’s very hard to control the anger. I really do wish people of Darjeeling and surrounding areas didn’t hurt themselves by organizing violent bandas and vandalizing their own properties to teach a simpleton RJ about their glorious and world famous identity. Instead, they should pressurize the Indian government to reform the education system that properly provides knowledge to students about Nepali community in India.
Thanks to UWB reader and commentator Patriot for sending the RJ remarks and the Metro Times news clip.
PS: A quick note to those Indian Hindi news channels who are mispronouncing Prashant’s surname. He is Tamang (which is pronounced Taamaang, not tamaang)