When the Nepali Times was preparing to launch two decades ago, many Nepalis were sad, frightened and looking for ways to leave areas affected by armed conflict, and then Nepal altogether.
A few decided that the future would depend on what we did and how effectively we did it. Twenty years later, Nepal is at peace with numerous challenges, but at least it is at peace.
Nepal went from war to peace and from monarchy to republic, it inducted some of the guerrillas into the national army, it held elections at all three levels of government under a new federal constitution, and the ruling party promises citizens stability and a better quality of life. The earthquake, the Indian blockade, endemic corruption and a lack of trust in government, businesses houses and political parties have slowed things down.
Throughout these last 20 years, the Nepali Times team had a ringside seat to history being made. It worked hard and worked smart and issue after issue, it kept the hopes and aspirations of Nepal as high as it could with facts, data, images, animation, analysis and, yes, even humour. The colourful and elegantly designed pages of the Nepali Times became conversation pieces every Friday, raising public consciousness about critical issues and allowing people to form communities and organise for action.
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The paper became a catalyst, and provided a medium for small and big actions around health, environment, the economy, gender and justice. Confused by day-to-day politics, many of us readers looked forward week after week to stay informed and to make personal and collective decisions based on what the Nepali Times covered, analysed and projected.
But even while the Nepali Times marks this 1000th issue, the future of free press and the financial viability of publications cannot and should not be taken for granted. People in power have tried to manipulate or control the media to consolidate power and personal wealth. Media outlets that do not fall in line are under attack. The legacy media, already under financial strain because of the internet, is also facing pressure from the government. This newspaper has been made to suffer for its independence. It has been attacked by both the extreme left and the extreme right in the past 20 years.
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These thousand issues of the Nepali Times are fully archived, and a site search of any subject will show that this archive provides a valuable window on Nepal’s recent history. Future generations of historians will find a handy narrative of how Nepal made its great transition. And perhaps a book summarising the times of Nepali Times would ensure that history is not written by the winners.
As regular writers for the Nepali Times, we crave ‘shelf life’, which these archives give us. And this means remembering not to forget what we lived through in the past 20 years, so that we do not repeat the fearful times of conflict, the royal massacre, the communal riots of 2004, or the abuse of human rights in the name of revolution that has left deep scars in Nepali society.
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The earthquake united the Nepali people unlike the politics that divided us. Disasters seem to bring out the best in us, and politics the worst. In the next two decades Nepal will reap what it has sown in the past.
The unresolved issues in the Constitution and the challenges related to identity politics, correcting historical wrongs, growing pollution in the Kathmandu valley, corruption and fraud are what we will now be grappling with. To stay tuned, read the Nepali Times.
Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc and writes this forthnightly column ‘½ Full’ for the Nepali Times.