Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Media And Transboundary Issues

Namrata Sharma


February 21 WAS celebrated as the International Mother Language Day all over the world to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism. It was therefore a coincidence that more than 70 journalists and rights activists from Nepal and India - mainly from the bordering towns of West Bengal - gathered in Kakarvitta of Jhapa district to explore ways of interacting with each other on border issues between the two countries. Although, the event was not planned to be held on the international Mother Language Day, it was a subtle serendipity that nationals from two different nations who shared the same mother language were exploring how news and views could be disseminated to solve issues faced by people on a day to day basis on both sides of the border.
Human Rights Journalists Association (HURJA) facilitated in bringing journalists and rights activists working along both sides of the border to explore how journalists from both sides could work together to disseminate the factual realities of people, animals, goods, drugs, crime that cross across boundaries no matter what lines are drawn by legal parameters said Ghanshyam Khadka, chair of HURJA. The energy generated by nationals of two countries speaking in one common language indicated that human conflicts could be resolved if diplomacy could be shifted from political barriers to people to people level.

Media impact
Media is closely inter-linked with globalisation. The impact of media is instant and it moves quicker than any material goods or people. It has a tremendous impact on both sustaining and weakening or eroding the fabric of social life. Digital media has now made transborder data flow across political boundaries an instant reality. Media actively constructs people’s identity across the dimensions of nations, race, class, gender, ethnicity in a number of ways, which often lead to homogenisation process. Thus, in countries like Nepal and India, which share a 1,770 km long open border, it is important to explore how media can rise above designs to suit the strategies of political parties or increase the profits of capitalist firms.
Nepal-India open border includes the Himalayan territories as well as the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The two countries have no fences along the border so people, animals, smuggled goods, narcotic and natural resources move in and out all along. Rights activists like Supritam Raj Basu from Siliguri, India and Arjun Karki from Jhapa, Nepal have been fighting for environmental protection and protection of animals like elephants from both sides. The struggle to save the Elephants from angry people who have lost the lives of their family members, their homes and their agricultural products when the huge animals stampeded along the area they recognised as their natural habitat and to get compensation for the affected families have been a big struggle on both sides of the border.
Indian journalists including Pramod Giri, Raja Puniani Sukna, Ashish Pradhan – all from Siliguri -, Prashant Acharya, Bagdogra and Vibek Chetri from Darjeeling, and Bishnu Neuopane of Gantok shared the view that the special relation between India and Nepal could definitely be improved when journalists from both sides worked together on common issues. During the pandemic, several events related to the human trafficking and stranded migrant workers occurred. People to people collaboration along both sides helped getting vulnerable people safely to their homes. There are women married to men from both sides and the need for family reunion in emergencies. These had been facilitated by efforts of the civil societies and journalists.
Apart from this, there are two existing territorial disputes between India and Nepal over the Kalapani territory, a 35 square kilometres (14 sq mi) area at the India–Nepal–China tri-junction in northwest Nepal, and Susta, a 20 square kilometres (7.7 sq mi) and 140 square kilometres (54 sq mi) area in southern Nepal. Unfortunately, during the pandemic the Kalapani border dispute arose to create an acidic relation between the two nations. This chaos even questioned the “special relation” and the “roti-beti” relationships between the two countries. The interaction was focused on exploring how, on the basis of informal second track diplomacy, this acidity could be removed.
A transboundary media network between countries like Nepal and India and if possible between the South Asian countries could be a need of today. The time has now come to make sure that the acidity in the people to people relation does not get too overstretched. A transboundary network of media and in a similar way a transboundary network of the corporate sectors can use strategic diplomacy to pressurise the governments to sort out disputes and lead both countries towards prosperity.

During conflict resolution a variety of diplomacy is applied. Terms such as “formal diplomacy”, “Track One Diplomacy”, “Track Two Diplomacy” and “Multi-Track Diplomacy” are common in conflict resolution vocabulary. “Quiet Diplomacy” is popularly known as president Thabo Mbeki’s approach to regional political problems in South Africa (Christopher Landsberg, 2004). Track One Diplomacy has for a long time been complemented by Track Two Diplomacy (Montville, 1991). Track Two parties are not inhibited by political or constitutional power, therefore, they can express their own viewpoints on issues that directly affect their communities and families.
During Nepal-India conflict resolution, the governments pursued the Track One Diplomacy. However, there may now be a need of Track Two Diplomacy to look into border issues and help amicable solutions to avoid a backlash and animosity among the people of both the countries. Thus, a transboundary media network could play an important role in addressing issues related to cultural and social values.

(Namrata Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate. Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)