Just as sub-editors are hailed as “unsung heroes” of a newsroom, I have no hesitation in lauding Amrita Lamsal as the most powerfully prolific pen on gender issues in Nepal but barely honoured duly by the many groups and organisations ostensibly engaged in “advocacy” programmes of related interests. Her latest work, “Media, Mahlia ra Ma”, sums up a fervent commitment to raising timely and pertinent issues pertaining to the female population in general. The title of its micro-gist that says it all. It contains nine sections covering in a nutshell modern movements and issues pertaining to women’s cause and thereby the society in general. The contents make rich references to some of the hundreds of newspaper articles written since the late 1990s.
Basically, free from the frills of rhetoric, she raises issues that hardly get much space so fervently at gender-related programmes and meetings at state agencies and other forums. Journalism, journalists and women constitute the book’s three major planks. In the process, its author’s association comes into play at appropriate places. Perhaps the most definitive compilation of gender-related newspaper articles, the book represents someone who has painstakingly and prolifically produced numerous opinion pieces carried in about 20 publications, mostly leading news dailies and weeklies.
Always a fighting spirit in putting forth her views, Lamsal is unsparing in criticism and incisive in logic and argument without wasting words. She does not mince much word in getting to the point. In portraying real-life characters, Lamsal selects the subjects with care and eye for detail. She does not beat about the bush in touching upon key topics, their background as well as the how, why and what next. Sharp in her submission of facts, the narratives cement a logical sequence of arguments in an analytical study of how women fare in one of the world’s 20 oldest and also one of the most poverty-stricken nations.
Substance sans award
Lamsal would not expect any major prize for her narrative covering various facets of Nepal’s female population. A pro-active believer in gender equality to the core, she advocates reforms and change. In the process, she cites various cases and incidents to support her stance. The narratives cry for a fair deal addressing the more than half of the country’s community. A loner in that she is the most candid commentator on the wrongs done on women who face roads strewn with risks, prejudices and a host of other stumbling blocks, Lamsal cannot remain a mute bystander when injustice is done on the downtrodden section of society.
She puts her thoughts, observations and analyses in a straightforward manner befitting the emergence of Nepal’s most regular and consistent scribe on the area of her passionate interest. Quick to spot an interesting aspect, she chronicles related facts for clinical dissection. Not many experts summon energy to write on the issues they speak about at public platforms, only shirk the task of putting the same in written words. Proactive conviction is a telling tale in action that only a handful can accomplish.
Lamsal excels heads and shoulders above those who only raise the issues at seminars and panel discussions of the extempore type. Some of these speakers are chased by media for reactions and direct quotes covering a variety of topics, though they generally overlook, if not ignore, the one who has dedicated a writing career to an issue close to her heart with unparalleled dedication.
That someone like the most prolific scribe of substance hardly figures in the pride of place at programmes and projects hosted by government organisations, NGOs and INGOs presents a pathetic aspect of how they actually function. Virtually non-existent are gestures like offering her the dais, the chairing seat or the role of coordinating major programmes on topics pertaining to conditions of women, including social attitude, opportunities and recognition of talent and concrete contributions to addressing them. Notice to the concerned: You expend so much on resource persons and resource materials. Spare some time for self-review as to who really are who.
Though the fighting spirit does not desert her, Lamsal should not lose sight of the fact that invariably segregating male issues from those of women might negate the very concept of gender equality. Otherwise, her outlook could be limited to a narrow confine, which would be unfortunate for a scribe of her drive and devotion.
Surely a pen-wielder of her reckoning could spot and find space for cases whereby some individuals in the male species might have made contributions that could be termed rare, fair and creditable. Having channelised so much time profiling gender issues, cases of injustice and media practices, her writings in future might draw more attention on individuals and institutional activities originating (or not originating) outside Kathmandu Valley.
Given the acute dearth of materials on gender issues by Nepalese authors, the concerned academic curricula could include “Media, Ma ra Mahila” for at least further reading. Women’s Commission, for instance, could make bulk purchase of her books and distribute to various institutions as an acknowledgement of Lamsal’s work and concrete incentive to both the author and her potential readers. It would not be buying books just for the sake of buying but would demonstrate a measure enriching individual private book racks and library shelves.
The book should also inspire and prompt Lamsal’s peers to do even better. Those with access to state resources and donor support could emulate her by coming forward to document and share their observations, experiences and views with the not only the already supportive but also the apathetic sections of society.
Or would it be asking for too much? As far as gender equality is concerned, tokenism will not to do. Let conviction speak loud and clear, come what may. Calculating the implications of conscientious views and, therefore, refraining from airing the same in black and white portray a weak mind and pretentious posture. If the past is any indication, author Lamsal will most probably not figure in the short list for any major award instituted for contributions to her field of special focus. Recognition of her contributions with major honours in so important a concern is very remote.
No one is infallible. I would, on this score, celebrate to be proved wrong, though.
(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.)