A Nepali photojournalist formerly with the Maoists is now documenting the protests on-going in Hong Kong, and says the demonstrations seem to follow him wherever he goes.
Jagat Ambu Gurung, 53, (pictured right) says he has not missed a single protest. He even leaves his job during working hours to follow the street demonstrations.
“I have always been a risk-taker and there is still a bit of rebellion in me from my days as a youth in the andolan for democracy back home,” says Gurung. “My 13-year-old son, who speaks Cantonese, updates me regarding the protests, helping me to be in the right place at the right time. I documented the 2014 Umbrella Movement as well.”
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Gurung was born in Hong Kong to a British Gurkha father, but spent much of his youth in Chitwan with his grandparents. During the Panchayat period, he worked as a reporter for Chalphal weekly and also wrote for Bimarsha.
After the first Jana Andolan of 1990-91 brought democracy to Nepal, Gurung worked in South Korea for four years as a reporter and photojournalist, documenting the lives of Nepali migrant workers for a local newspaper.
In 1995, he decided to move to Hong Kong and later started working for the Nepali paper Everest. It was after joining the online news portal HK Nepal that he decided to focus primarily on photojournalism.
“The protests here are different from back home. Nepal has a longer history of rebellion; people in Hong Kong are just beginners,” says Gurung. “The demonstrations here are still relatively safe in comparison, even though there are now crackdowns on the press.”
Gurung became a member of Communist Party of Nepal (Masal) in 1985 and then Ekata Kendra, before joining the Cultural Wing of the CPN (Maoist) during the conflict years. He remained with the party until 2008, when he became disillusioned with the sycophancy and nepotism.
“We fought a war but not much has changed,” says Gurung who describes himself as a straight-shooter who does not kowtow to anyone for favours. Like many descendants of Gurkha servicemen, Gurung now works in construction. He is employed by HK Electric, a power project on Lamma Island.
When the pro-democracy demonstration reached Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Gurung came across some Nepali students who had not left the campus compound for days. He found that they had joined the movement against their families’ wishes and under peer pressure.
“I tell them not to be involved in it and if they are, first and foremost to be safe,” says Gurung, who himself has been to both the Ninja and pro-Beijing demonstrations and says the Nepali community in Hong Kong is worried about the stability of the island.
He adds: “Many Nepalis are concerned that they might have to return back home but I think that unlike the hospitality industry, the impact of the protests will hit us in about two years’ time when we Nepalis have to renew the contracts for our construction jobs.”