Despite being so close and sharing a border there is an unimaginably high level of misunderstanding about THE HIGHEST DEMOCRACY in THE LARGEST DEMOCRACY…Nepal should do something to promote itself among Indians.
By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
Many Nepalis living out of Nepal face one common challenge: how to effectively tell foreigners about their country. Many in the world are completely unaware about Nepal which makes the job all the more difficult. The country of Mt. Everest, they have to tell. Another: It’s in Asia, sandwiched between India and China. Millions of Nepalis living in India don’t have to geographically pinpoint Nepal to Indians as they are aware about the location but that doesn’t make the task any easier. Despite being so close and sharing a border there is an unimaginably high level of misunderstanding about Nepal among Indians.
Some of those misunderstandings are based on rumours and hearsay (all Nepalis smoke pot) while others are created by the Indian mainstream media that is most of the times frighteningly immature and trivial when it comes to covering Nepal.
That doesn’t mean Nepalis have better understanding of India and Indians either. But the lack of understanding among Indians holds more weight because India is big and, more importantly, it plays important role in key Nepali affairs.
“Please don’t feel bad but what I have heard is,” one middle-aged Indian had told me some months ago, “Nepalis put fake Indian currency on their banks, come here in India and withdraw genuine currency from ATMs.” Astonishingly, his tone was serious. I had to explain about some aspects of Indo-Nepal relations for about 20 minutes before he finally said, “Yes, I also think it’s a ridiculous suggestion.”
It is Nepali students in India who mostly have to deal with Indians ignorant about Nepal and educate them. They are relatively best positioned to defend their country in arguments than other Nepalis who come to India and engage in various forms of employment—mostly non-skilled and lowly paid jobs. This class suffers through humiliation knowingly or unknowingly without an idea of how to educate co-workers or be proactive in disseminating information about Nepali society. For them humiliation comes as part of their jobs. Most importantly, they are neither articulate enough nor in a position to assert themselves and fight for their dignity through arguments.
For students it’s a different situation. They have hardly anything to lose.
Tens of thousands of Nepali students study in India—right across the country. They are more likely to meet educated and influential Indians (some with misinformation about Nepal) all over the country. That is why these students, not the diplomats, are the real ambassadors of the Himalayan republic in the world’s largest democracy.
1. Face Value: Being a Nepali in India
Only a person with a flat nose and, I hate to use the word here but I must, “chinky” eyes, passes as a Nepali for many Indians…..Going by their reactions and comments, I have come to the conclusion that only those with Mongolian features are considered Nepali in India….I seriously try to explain to them the diverse nature of Nepali society that lives at different altitudes, eats varieties of foods, speaks many languages and sport different looks.
It was the lunch hour and the concrete shade, not very far from the showroom, was his favorite spot to eat. Not that they didn’t let him eat in a corner of the showroom itself; but, he said, he found peace here. “And some time to rest,” he added. Hundreds of thousands of uneducated, unskilled and unemployed men (and women) from Nepal come to several Indian cities to take up low-wage, laborious and sometimes humiliating jobs. One can find such Nepalis almost everywhere in India.
Sometime the arguments turn into unreasonable blabber. “When they have nothing to support their argument, they just try to bring in nationality and say ‘you Nepalon, keep quiet’,” said a student who studies in Delhi University. “In such cases when they just argue nothing but keep repeating about the size of their democracy, we also say: if you are the largest democracy, don’t forget, we are also the highest democracy,” said another student at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“There are two options,” said Monica Jha, a Nepali student who studied in Delhi University until last year. “One, fight with them. Two, try explaining them about Nepal without losing your temper. I try to do the second. Whenever they hear my surname, Indians quickly comment: ‘Oh you are a Bihari, why are you calling yourself a Nepali?’ Some tell me I don’t look like a Nepali as I don’t have flat nose and small eyes. Then I try to explain them history, geography and ethnic composition of Nepal.” But the problem is not always with the Indians. Monica said she has been asked the same question (“are you from Bihar?”) at Kathmandu’s airport by Nepali staffs too. “I have to explain about geography and ethnic composition of Nepal there too,” said the girl who went school in Kathmandu’s Little Angles. Her parents live and work in Kathmandu.
It is a gloomy fact that many Indian brothels are crowded by Nepali women most of whom are trafficked to India. Many Indians are aware of that which is why they think Nepali girls, like those from India’s northeast region, are easygoing. “I have been suggested by some of my Indian friends and well wishers not to introduce myself as a Nepali because that may give the wrong impression,” she said. “But I can’t do that. I am proud to be a Nepali.”
Shuvechha Ghimire went to Delhi’s prestigious Jesus and Marry College where, on the third day, she got a rude shock when her Indian friends who were nice to her for the first two days stopped talking to her after knowing that she was a Nepali. “I was talking with this Nepali-speaking girl from Darjeeling on the third day,” she said. “Then these girls whom I had befriended on the first two days come to me and ask why I was speaking with a north easterner. They thought people from India’s northeast and Nepal were thieves or something. Then I told them where I came from. They stopped talking to me from the next day.” Shuvechha said she has tried to educate her Indian friends about Nepali society and culture as and when it was needed. “I always try to explain them and provide them correct information about our society,” she said.
In a way it is normal for the citizens of economically advanced countries to be unaware about the societies that are believed to be comparatively backward. Indians, for example, are more likely to know about America and Barack Obama than the Americans abut India and Pratibha Patil. In such case the lesser known or politically and economically less powerful countries try to promote their interests in important foreign societies and markets through various means. Even Bhutan does that so well. During the king’s visit some months ago the Bhutanese government bought print spaces on several newspapers and told the story of Bhutan to the Indian public. We didn’t see something similar happen during President Ram Baran Yadav’s trip to India sometime ago. Nepal, it seems, hasn’t found ways to promote itself among the Indian public.
But such situation shouldn’t continue. Nepal should help Indians understand about Nepali society and people for the betterment of its relationship with India. The tremendous lack of right information among Indians about Nepal and Nepalis can be palliated through such efforts like sustained publicity campaigns on Indian media and similar forums.
Nepali embassy in Delhi is largely inactive or ineffective in creating such awareness about Nepal in India. An official at the embassy who didn’t want to be identified because he was not authorised to talk to media lamented about lack of fund at his office to conduct public diplomacy programmes in India. Another agency that is supposed to promote Nepal in India is Nepal Tourism Board. Its activities are largely limited to taking part in some travel fairs and industry gatherings in cities like Delhi and Kolkata where very few general people visit.
This article first appeared in today’s Kathmandu Post.