Do Nepali Blogs Need a “Huffington Post”?

Huffington Post, one of the most visited sites in the world, is also  criticized within the journalism and citizen media community for its approach towards online content. Pioneering the aggregation trend and  monetization of free content, HuffPo has been accused of benefiting from other people’s hard work and reducing journalism  to few short paragraphs designed to get quick hits.

Regardless, the liberal news site has grown into an institution and wields tremendous influence-online and in the brick and mortar world. Recent AOL-Huffington Post merger has further solidified its position, and the age of aggregation is here to stay.

The way HuffPo has shaken up  blogosphere and citizen media, even with all the negatives, makes me wonder if Nepali citizen media could benefited from being “HuffPo”ed?

There are great Nepali blogs, from literary to technical, entertainment and personal; jostling for readership. Compared to English or other major South Asian languages, Nepali has limited reach.  Technical and infrastructure barriers within Nepal and the tendency of diaspora to migrate towards English language media further constricts the pool. A platform like HuffPo, dedicated towards promoting Nepali blogs, could provide tremendous boost.

At this stage, more than opportunities to monetize, Nepali blogosphere needs exposure and  stable readership. Only after securing these two bases, the revenue question can be discussed. HuffPo treatment works perfectly for the eyeballs situation.

And on the charge that the blind dash towards clicks is degenerating online journalism and citizen media,  it a real cause for concern. Nepali blogosphere, by and large, is geared more towards the opinion/analysis/reflection than going after first hand reporting. Sustained effort to publicize  the bloggers’ code of conduct and insuring that signatories follow it could keep number of issues in check and preserve the integrity of forum.

Also, since the blogs  are  evolving and carving out their identity getting “HuffPo”ed could be very encouraging and could motivate them to care more about standards.

At this blog, we try to publicize Nepali citizen media. Instead of sharing entire posts, we now share short snippets and ask readers to visit the original blogs instead. This sends traffic to the blog and we too benefit from being part of the conversation chain.

The Nepali HuffPo could do something similar-publicize blogs and bloggers, but instead of cannibalizing the traffic focus more on building and nurturing community.

 

Tomorrow its all about hyper local sites and MeroReport.

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Nepali Citizen Media and Bloggers’ Code of Ethics

We were discussing Nepali mainstream media and the ethics lapses that hurt the profession and its standing in the society; and focused on active politicization of media and ignoring conflict of interest situations.

With regards to the citizen media, there haven’t been many (publicized) incidents of ethical lapses, but that does not mean the problem does not exist.

For instance, back in April, a misstep by Mysansar raised questions regarding user privacy.

“Regarding the ongoing scandal at the Finance Ministry and alleged involvement of prominent industrialist Binod Chaudhary in the forced resignation of Finance Secretary Rameshwor Khanal, Mysansar has this post:

http://www.mysansar.com/archives/2011/04/id/18122

It is a good post. At least they are asking questions mainstream media is avoiding but there is a problem.

In the post, they have published IP address and email of commentators who it seems have sent comments supporting Chaudhary and questioning Mysansar’s intentions from Chaudhary Group’s computers.

Now, Mysansar does not have an explicit privacy policy for it’s users but publishing email and IP address of commentators you don’t agree with is certainly not a good practice. What worries me is that this sets a precedent for vendetta blogging rather than having a constructive dialog.

I request Mysansar to delete the email and IP addresses immediately and respect privacy of these users.

What do you say?”

Plagiarism also hurts Nepali blogosphere.

“At Twitter we had long discussion with Rabindra Rijal, who discovered that a new website has been stealing feeds and publishing articles without any attribution or links.

I visited a website-NepalNepal.com, and found, what I believed, was a talented writer. After reading three articles , it was clear she was lifting them from mainstream news sites and posting them without any credit or link.”

Literary and entertainment blogs and websites seem to be victimized more often.

Then there is the infamous “Twitter Kanda” or the Twitter scandal that rocked Nepali social media circles earlier this year.

“A user at twitter posts some unflattering comments about his boss. Next thing he knows, his comments are published in a national newspaper. He is not notified before the comment is published, and almost lost his job.

What do you think? Is it ok for a national newspaper to publish a tweet, publicly available and not protected, without notifying or seeking permission from the user?

Before you make up your mind, let me share some facts.

The national newspaper in question here is Kantipur Daily-Nepal’s largest circulating national daily. The tweet was published, along with couple of other randomly selected ones, in its Friday supplement  Hello Sukrabar.

Ashish Luitel, Kantipur reporter, who is behind this tweet sharing experiment, defended his action amidst avalanche of negative comments. At Twitter-where else? Nepali bloggers (including yours truly) called his action breach of privacy.

He responded that because the tweets were not protected and publicly viewable, there should be no expectation of privacy.

Well, I disagree. Yes, the tweets were publicly viewable but that does not imply that the user was ok granting a national newspaper rights to publish it and make it available to larger public. How many times have we griped about our bosses? if all of that were to be made public, no one in this world would have a job. Social media has extended the sphere of debate and also blurred the line between private and public. You post something at Facebook or Twitter, and if you are not careful, it comes back to haunt you.

User in this incident, should have kept his tweets private, if he expected privacy; but is he not allowed to be silly about his boss without being nationally ridiculed? Is the media so powerful and ever-present that even random acts of silliness now make it into national newspaper?

Also, for a publication like Kantipur, does it make any sense to pick random tweets and publish them-without approval from users or notifying them; when the tweets are just too random to make any sense?

The published tweets, are all over the place and don’t contribute anything to discussions now going on around the world or in Nepal. At Twitter, Nepali youth are organizing fund-raisers to help social causes, some are debating civil servants and their right to politics free work place. To ignore all that and to select few tweets that are not part of any coherent debate, just for the sake of it is pathetic waste of time and space.

Ashish Luitel was nice enough to answer his critics and present his side of the story, unfortunately his experiment of adding some “hip” stuff into boring sections of Hello Sukrabar by inserting random tweets shows the fickleness of Nepali media and is a sad testament to the fact how un-evolved they are on matters related to social media and privacy.”

Ethics hurdles facing Nepali citizen media can be broadly categorized as:

# Lines blurred by technology

#copyright, privacy, content ownership

#preserving standards

# and the need to re-define the interaction between the mainstream media

In an effort to strengthen Nepali blogosphere, a code of ethics was introduced (and signed by handful of bloggers present during the unveiling ceremony). There were some who opposed the move, unfortunately, and refused to sign. Although the code of ethics movement has slumped a bit, it is an important effort and hopefully will be revived soon.

 

Moving on, from ethics to the blogs-we will discuss Nepali language blogs tomorrow.

Nepali Media: Ethics and Integrity

Earlier, we were discussing hostile environment Nepali journalists and bloggers face. It would be a big omission to ignore the issue of journalistic ethics and integrity at this juncture because  apart from the troubling reality that often the attackers hype the ethics lapse to justify their acts;  it is important to keep the basics strong so that the media elicits respect and not suspicion or ridicule.

Case 1: BBC Nepali+Anti Corruption Campaign+Media Glare=Conflict of Interest

Couple of days back, I discussed this issue at my Facebook page, here I am sharing the post

“In Nepal, corruption is a deeply entrenched disease. Every sector is affected. Just released report from Transparency International ranks Nepal as the second most corrupt nation in South Asia, slightly better than war ravaged Afghanistan.

Stakes are high and inaction is not an option. We all agree on that. But do we also agree on how to fix this ill?

For couple of months now, anti-corruption campaign lead by journalist Rabindra Mishra and supported by many (including some high profile social celebrities), has been sloganeering against corruption. They have also been selling t-shirts with anti-corruption messages and engaging the public and government employees to stand up against corruption.

A noble deed and the campaign has my full support. I absolutely hate their tag line and the modus-operandi; but hey, you have to start somewhere.

However, I do have serious reservations regarding their structure.

Journalist Rabindra Mishra is a respected name in Nepali journalism. He is currently serving as the head of BBC Nepali and also leads a charity organization. His work, philanthropy wise and as a journalist, is much appreciated. But..

Yea..there is a BUT in this story…

As a head of a news organization, which by the way covers Nepal’s notorious corruption problem, is it ethical for him to lead a very public anti-corruption campaign?

We Nepalis raise up stink when a politically affiliated person is part of media establishment. His ideology will affect news coverage, we cry.

Isn’t this a similar scenario? Because of his involvement in an anti-corruption campaign, Mr Mishra has formulated certain views and understanding of the situation. When working as a journalist, those views can and will hinder him from providing free and fair coverage of corruption related matters.

Also, the campaign has brought him closer to the high and mighty of Nepali establishment. This proximity affects his news coverage, and his judgement. Thats the reason why many journalists skip White House functions, to stay away from those they cover.Because personal connections do not facilitate balanced views.

I see Mr Mishra’s involvement in the anti-corruption campaign as conflict of interest. His work, as a journalist and as an activist, are valuable but they cannot go together.”

 

Case 2: Politicial Activists Masquerading as Journalists= Unethical Journalism

In Nepali context, the principle of fair, balanced journalism has a different meaning; and sometimes that meaning is just a synonym for unethical practice.

Earlier this year, Binod Bhattarai at Republica commented on unethical practice of political activists masquerading as journalists,

“In less than two weeks, Nepal’s journalists will elect a new leadership at Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ). Unlike in the past years, the run to represent around 9,000 Nepali journalists is becoming more and more of a contest to watch. However, it is not just about who wins or loses; instead, it is more about how wide the partition among journalists will become by the time it is over.

I spoke to a potential candidate who was holding his chips close to the chest early this week. Having contested and lost in an earlier bid to become an office holder, this time he wanted to play his cards right by waiting for a green signal from one of the three main political parties (or their unions, rather) before entering the fray. Should that not happen, you will not hear of him. ‘‘It is impossible to win unless I get an endorsement from one of the three main unions that control the block votes,’’ he said. ‘‘Only then will the votes I may receive on my journalism credentials be meaningful.’’ Losing as an independent candidate earlier had taught him exactly what was needed to win.

Up until a few years ago, the ‘invisible hand’ that blessed candidates for FNJ leadership was obvious but far less apparent. That has changed. Some weeks ago, newspapers reported that CPN-UML leader Pradip Gyawali had camped at the Press Chautari convention (inaugurated by the prime minister) to endorse the selection of Shiva Gaule as its candidate. There are conflicting reports on what his exact involvement was for: Some say he was there to anoint the candidate, while others said, he chaperoned the entire process. “

This open involvement of political parties in journalist unions, and journalists openly flaunting their proximity to a party is troubling and downright unethical practice.

Lapses like these hurt Nepali journalism’s integrity and standing; and provide more ammunition to those who cannot stand free speech.

We will discuss the citizen media in this context tomorrow.

Citizen Media in Nepal: Shallow Ground Below

We were discussing the shallow ground over which Nepali citizen media stands.The issues like lax free press protection,uneven standards, sustained crisis of leadership and ethics within journalism and the larger society, and technical barriers stand on the way of bloggers and citizen media.

Leadership and ethics crisis, and the hostile environment against the press pose the biggest threat.

Committee to Protect Journalists said earlier this year that leadership vacuum is seriously threatening Nepal free press.

Threats, violence against reporters happen with distressing regularity in Nepal. Instead of confronting opposing views with civil discussions, people seem more inclined to get violet and attack the messenger instead.

Lax laws and paralyzed law enforcement has further amplified hostilities against the press.

Citizen reporter and bloggers, so far have not faced adversity comparable to mainstream journalists, but there have been couple of incidents of intimidation.

Chaudhary Group, business power house whose CEO is also a member of the Constituent Assembly, threatened Nepali blog Mysansar (with the help of Press Council); blogger Shreedeep Rayamajhi was attacked by unknown goons.

These attacks, though handful, are disturbing as they point towards the flawed fundamentals,which if not corrected will never allow dissent.

In the Mysansar case, a powerful business entity used it’s influence to intimidate a blogger. This clear corruption and unethical behavior did not get as much media play as it deserved. Online community of Nepali bloggers was outraged but that anger did not or could not translate into a national debate. Also, the role played by Chaudhary Group CEO Binod Chaudhary was not examined properly. To make matters worse, Mr Chaudhary is a Constituent Assembly member. A person who has no respect for free expression is entrusted with writing the Constitution!

Blogger Rayamajhi’s case also failed to get attention, an example of how violence against journalists/writers/media is taken as “o anther one”. Frequency and regularity of attacks have reduced the society’s interest in these crimes. When political parties and professional organizations get involved, then only the incidents get attention. Even then the investigation and legal process is criminally slow and toothless.

As we discuss the bleak media landscape,crisis of ethics cannot be ignored. In some ways it adds to the environment of hostility against journalists and bloggers.

Nepali media, including the citizen media, is often too soft on ethics issues.

Rest coming up tomorrow..

Citizen Media in Nepal: A Look Back

Back in 2007, Citizen Journalism in Nepal was still a vague fad. An excerpt from my piece for Toward Freedom magazine (27-11-2007)

After the April 2006 revolution, which saw the Nepalese King lose most of his powers and reduced to a strictly ceremonial figure, Nepali web focused citizen journalism has seen a rapid growth. According to WebLali, a roughly compiled directory of Nepali blogs and Blogger, there are about 200-300 blogs on various topics ranging from politics to aviation and tourism. The number seems insignificant, but in the Nepali context it is big achievement. Consider this: based on 2006 data, there are only 249,400 internet users in the country and GDP-per capita is $15,000. Only 48% of the population is literate.

Present scene looks encouraging, but citizen journalism in Nepal is still in its infancy and faces many problems. These challenges include the country’s troublesome record on press freedom, a rise in attacks against journalists and activists, ethnic tensions and financial constraints.

In early November of 2007, journalist Birendra Shah was kidnapped; his whereabouts remained unknown for about a month. Later the Maoists guerrillas admitted to the kidnapping and murder. Although the reasons remain unclear, it is widely speculated that Shah was killed because he was working on a story linking Maoists to cross-border smuggling. In June, Reporters Without Borders published a report saying that 72 journalists were attacked or threatened by armed groups including the Maoists since the beginning of this year.

In last four years, blogging, social networks, video sharing platforms and online forums have pushed Nepali  media into a new era-where citizen input is getting recognized and reader engagement and interaction is encouraged.

Major news websites-Kantipur, Republica, Nagarik, Nepali Times, The Himalayan Times, all are making an effort to structure their presentation to attract more reader participation and contribution from bloggers. Compared to international media outlets, the push is weak, but the shift in attitude cannot be ignored.

For instance, the landing page for Kantipur has a discussion section, link to their Facebook and Twitter page, and the articles come with a “social media bar” which makes sharing easy.

In addition to making the media more interactive and responsive, social media is also responsible for the growth in Nepal’s citizen media. They act as an amplifier-strengthening voice of a concerned citizen, and sometimes as a bridge to connect a citizen journalist and the media.

Bloggers /citizen reporters are part of  mainstream media outlets like Republica, and The Nepali Times-although for most part, they are limited to opinion/personal story journalism.

Blogs like Mysansar and Meroreport ( citizen media collective) have successfully established themselves as sources, thereby creating new roles for citizen journalists and breaking out of the usual opinion, rant pigeon-hole.

Meroreport has also introduced hyper-local citizen media; where local stories, most likely to be ignored by the national media is featured. With bilingual approach (Nepali and English, but Nepali certainly dominates) they have managed to move beyond urban areas and expand their readership and contributor base.

Mysansar on the other hand has evolved into mini media, with its share of corruption and human trafficking expose and huge following.

Bloggers  as part of mainstream journalism and blogs emerging as trusted new source-the scenario presented above is very positive and encouraging, however, it is also misleading.

For all the success earned by MySansar and Meroreport, there are bloggers who don’t see any problem plagiarizing content. (Previous posts on content piracy and copyrights:

https://bhumikasa.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/on-digital-rights-and-piracy/

https://bhumikasa.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/digital-securityprivacy-and-copyrights/ )

and there are regulators and individuals who don’t respect free speech and free expression rights-as exhibited by the Press Council’s overreach on MySansar-Chaudhary Group bullying scandal.

Citizen media landscape in 2007 was vague and uncertain. In 2011, although much has been achieved, the base is still weak-thanks to legal loopholes,  political uncertainty, and uneven standardization.

Nepali Bloggers, in English

Random list of of Nepali bloggers, who blog primarily in English.

A Altruistic Blog: Poetry and personal . Not updated regularly. http://manyudixit.blogspot.com/

A Libertarian in Nepal : If you are not sick of Ron Paul already, this is the place to see libertarian-ism- through Nepali eyes. http://www.surathgiri.com/

A Prelude to Perfection : Personal, literary and random general interest topics. http://www.tanjali.com/

Blogdai: Nepali and regional politics, not updated regularly though. http://nepalnow.blogspot.com/

My Frame of Reference: Science and technology.http://www.nabinkm.com/

# She Thinks to Herself: Personal. http://shethinkstoherself.wordpress.com/

# A Room with a View : Personal. http://pratul-diaries.blogspot.com/

# Nepali: Personal, literary and politics. http://nepa.li/

# Dearest: Literary/personal. http://gooeyjournalism.blogspot.com/

# Guffadi: Political and social (with humour). http://guffadi.blogspot.com/

# Chandan Sapkota’s Blog: Economics, development. http://www.sapkotac.blogspot.com/

United we Blog for Democratic Nepal: Politics, current affairs. http://blog.com.np

XNepali: Entertainment, current affairs. http://xnepali.net

# The Radiant Star : Current affairs, media. http://www.nepalivoices.com/

# Ushaft :Politics, current affairs, media. http://ushaft.wordpress.com/

Why this list? Ok, the bloggers have not bribed me to share the links and this is definitely not a marketing campaign.

During National Novel Writing Month(November) we focused on Asian and Asian American issues. It was a great learning experience and we hope that you will find the compilation of posts we published earlier today helpful in understanding issues facing the community.

Encouraged by the experience, we are going to study Nepali blogosphere for the next two months and that is where the list comes to play. We will focus on these blogs (list of Nepali language blogs is here).

So see you tomorrow!

Asians and Asian Americans: A Glance

A compilation of our month long discussion on Asians and Asian Americans

First time I faced the “good Asian” tag, I wasn’t sure that it includes me. I was mistaken for an Indian more often than I could politely take. My understanding was “Asian” was used more for Chinese, Japanese, Korean and other SouthEast Asian ethnicities. But no, I was mistaken. As an Indian looking Nepali, I too was part of the “good Asian” brand of expectations.

And there were many expectations. Asian are the so called model minorities in America. Smart, highly educated with solid family structure and stayed away from trouble.

I was floored. It is flattering to be called a “model” of good behavior and success; but take some time and think about it, you will see that it is not so flattering after all.

This tag lumps all Asians into one group as if we age one monolithic group driven by same ideas and dreams. Our diversity is discounted and we are bound by an invisible chain.

When an Asian boy wants to be an actor or when an Asian girl wants to be a jazz musician, it is this perception of “model” behavior that adds to the pressure they feel from home to find more traditional pursuits like Medicine or Law.

Although nowadays you can see the number of Asians in art, television, movies and sports rising;compare that to their presence in say technology, it is negligible. There are about 2 million Indians in America, and how many have successfully transitioned into national mainstream in movies, music, sports etc?

The Chinese are the largest Asian community in America, how many are nationally known actors or musicians?

Other minorities too have to deal with this chain of public expectations and perceptions. For instance ask an African American boy or girl what career path they want to pursue. You will see that their choice or that their understanding of what thy can accomplish is strangely limited in this land of unlimited opportunities.

Where is the root of this chain? Why can’t there be a true freedom, no expectations and no judgments for all ethnicities?

Assimilation

It is futile to expect foreign born/ raised kids to be culturally pure and observant. The degree of purity depends on the definitions set by the parents, how they themselves were raised and their values. But the whole idea of pushing the young generation to follow on the path of their ancestors and ignore their surrounding culture is troubling.

We are born into a culture, religion and values set. Parents, relatives and the community shape us, but ultimately it is us- an individual who decides what to pick and what to ignore. In certain societies parents and elders do push youngsters to confirm, even then the individual decision counts.

To push a young person to follow their parents’ culture, while living amongst an entirely different culture creates “cultural and ethnic ghettos”. They live in an almost parallel universe and the clash between civilizations and cultures makes it’s difficult for them to integrate into their new homeland.

It also confuses them because here they are living in a country where personal freedom and valued, but at home and within their community their voice is ignored. How are they supposed to reconcile the difference and work so that they grow up to be responsible citizen of their new homeland rather then just being a good (insert ethnicity or religion here)?

You see this rift widening in Europe and parts of America. Ethnicities banding together and living in insular communities fractures a nation and crates parallel societies. Integration is difficult and the clash creates a permanent class of “outsiders”- and feeds alienation.

Instead of accepting these parallel societies, effort has to be made to truly integrate new comers and their families. Culture is important part of identity and diversity is good for a country but at a certain point different cultures have to come together and be one nation.

Nepali, Chinese , Hindi schools and culture lessons are welcomed and encouraged, but similar efforts are needed to make sure that the children and the immigrants know that they don’t have to feel like an outsider. An effort to integrate.

Most of us are descendants of immigrants/migrants. My ancestors moved to Nepal 3 or 4 hundred years ago, most definitely from north India. Over time they embraced Nepal and it’s culture and became part of the society. They did retain part of their culture and heritage, but embraced the new too.

Integration and assimilation over time is only natural. Resistance gives rise to fractured societies and ghettoes.

Family

Early this year, the American media was flush with excitement. A new species had been discovered- the Tiger Mom.

Amy Chua, successful Yale University professor and uber “Asian mom” of two daughters created a firestorm after claiming Chinese mothers are better than the rest in her Wall Street Journal article on virtues of Asian style parenting. Her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother chided American moms for their permissive parenting style and counted the benefits of being strict and stern with kids.

All this riding on popular understanding that Asian kids, compared to other ethnic minorities, do well in school and are more disciplined- applying the model minority myth.

What about the kids?

Missing in this debate, the kids and their perspective.

I was raised by wannabe Tiger parents. Yes, you can see they failed and I am glad they did.

Parenting focused on raising young achievers and ultra focused kids denies the children their childhood and robs them the freedom of making mistakes. My parents wanted me to be a Doctor or an Engineer. I hated math and had no interest in science. But the intense pressure and the environment where you feel lees worthy if you do not measure up to the “other” kids made me hate school altogether. I was almost held back for a year in 9th grade and failed every math test in junior high.

And there are hundreds like me scattered all over Asia and in Asian families in America. The push for success and achievement is actually hurting kids. They are forced to value success over honest hard work, achievement over learning and experience; and in many cases pushed to follow a career path chosen by the family instead of the freedom to dream and choose.

There is no denying that children need structure and discipline. They need guidance and encouragement too. Forcing them to abandon simple pleasures of childhood for the sake of future filled with grand achievements is wrong.

Complicit Media

The media circus following Amy Chua’s Wall Street Journal article and her book made me wonder why is the mainstream media in this country incapable of examining the other side when it comes to popular myths regarding the minorities.

The picture of smart Asians and model minority myth is so appealing that they went along with Tiger parenting and failed to show the damage it does to kids. Only after some outraged parents raised their voices, there was some attempt to examine.

Imagine a mother from any other ethnicity or religious group had tried to claim that their style of parenting is better than the rest, on national media! But the good Asian myth was allowed to perpetuate.

Strong discipline and moral foundation is necessary to set up kids for future success but Tiger style parenting focused on success and achievement is nothing but a patenting gulag and is nothing to be celebrated.

Hope the next time an Asian fad comes along, the media will respond differently.

Failed Integration

Sex selective abortion, female infanticide and discrimination against a girl child is pushing gender imbalance in many parts of Asia, specially India and China.

Reports from India’s latest census shows that millions of girls are “missing” because of selective abortion and infanticide. China’s one child policy is clashing with the country’s deep cultural preference for boys, forcing many families to go to the extreme.

It is easy to say that this troubling and inhumane development is confined to Asia and cannot happen in the western world.

Wrong. Immigration/migration has brought this problem into America and Europe. Selective abortion is practiced in number of Asian communities living in the US, as this Slate article shows. In the UK too selective abortion is taking place, according to this BBC report.

This problem has deep roots-boosted by specific religious and culture practices. The fact that families in US and UK are aborting baby girls shows that the education and exposure to different ideas and lifestyle are poor deterrents.

This also shows the failure to integrate in a meaningful way.

A family living in America or Europe, choosing to kill a baby girl shows that we are failing to integrate immigrants when it comes to accepting specific values, and are satisfied when we see outward signs of integration like clothing styles or food habits.

The values- respecting life, honoring women’s role in society and equality, they are in fact human values, not just Western values; but in countries like India and China they are being overshadowed and the West they are at least practiced with force in public sphere.

So why are certain communities holding out on these human values? Why are they reluctant to let go of old ideas concerning gender and equality?

Caste discrimination has also been imported into American from South Asia. Even with increased awareness in the community about the ills of discrimination and the need to promote fairness and democracy, the centuries old habits are still alive.If you compare gender bias with caste discrimination, in Nepali context, it is fair to say that the former is nowadays more acceptable than the latter. Thanks to tireless work of the equality advocates, caste is now a sufficiently taboo issue in major cities and even in rural areas, the people are getting the message. Gender bias however remains persistent.Among Nepali immigrants in the USA, these issues present a strange dilemma. Majority of them are aware that caste bias is demeaning and unacceptable, and yet far too many carry the relics of past and bring it to their new homeland. It may not be overt but behind the polite conversations, the issue stays alive especially when it comes to marriage and important social events like religious observations.

Couple of months back, I had moderated panel discussion on caste and the observations of one of speakers really startled me. Bias is present even among the educated and enlightened, and it is stronger against the so called “untouchables”. Other participant remembered a community picnic where the “lower caste” members felt left out and ate separately.

It is sad to see that educated, aware Nepalis choose to carry burden of caste. It is even worse when they claim “preserve” it as part of their Nepali identity.

As I have discussed earlier, identity crisis is very real for immigrants. In an effort to preserve their heritage and share it with their foreign born children, often they keep outdated practices-like caste and gender bias alive.

Observant Nepalis in America, know caste is wrong and yet they carry on with it in one way or the other. Objecting to an inter caste marriage, checking on guests’ caste credentials discreetly at events, in fact objecting to mixed marriages can also be seen as part of the caste problem. A problem that does not allow one human to see other human as equal.

While caste gets the discreet treatment, gender bias,is out in the open. Somehow it is perfectly ok to push women and girls to confirm to rigid standards, while proclaiming masculine superiority. And the bias gets dose of immigrant confusion.

Like caste, gender bias also often gets included in “our culture” stance. Families forget part of their heritage that promoted feminine equality and respect and choose to carry on the diluted message of bias and discrimination.

Honest integration into the American system could soften these biases. I am not saying that they will go away, but learning the principles of equality, fairness and democracy- not only on government but also in relationships, can provide a push, perhaps encouraging them to see the parts of their heritage that they have neglected. The part that is against caste and gender discrimination.

Asian Americans in Public

If you watch randomly selected major television network in America, you get a very twisted idea about the country and it’s culture- that the country is almost all white, white collar mega rich land where everyone is thin, and look better than most models.

Prime Time programming at NBC,CBS, ABC and FOX mostly have Caucasian characters as the leads. Some have tried to fill the gap by pushing in some black and Hispanic characters in between but they don’t get the meaty and leading roles.

I have been a devoted, almost fanatical fan of ABC’s Desperate Housewives. They did try to bring in an African American family as series regulars but after a season dropped them. Yes, they do have Eva Longoria’a family The Solis’ as the “Latino” representation, but is that enough? The show ignores two large sections of minorities in America- African Americans and the Asians. A youngster following the show, what is the picture of America in their imagination? All white with one Latino family!

News networks are no better. Crucial 8-10 PM hour are, with one exception- MSNBC has Rachel Maddow at 9; all white males. CNN has Anderson Cooper and Piers Morgan, Fox has Bill O’Reilly and Hannity, and MSNBC has Ed Schultz and Maddow. Women, minorities cannot be trusted to shape and debate issues facing America and the world?

Exclusive club of American mainstream media, gives an impression of America that is so skewed and false, it begs a question, is entertainment/news only for the delusional? Or are the minorities too insignificant to be embraced as part of the country?

Politics and Policy Making

Asian Americans are about 5% of total US population. Although they are spread out across the country, California, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia, Washington have number of large concentrated Asian American communities.

Previously we discussed how the community is portrayed in the mainstream media and, their disproportionate academic success and how it affects the way the community is viewed by the larger society.

The “model minority” myth means that issues like poverty, access to job opportunities, domestic violence, gender and religious issues facing the community do not get as much attention.

Political empowerment of Asians and Asian Americans is also of concern because compared to their success in medicine, technology or business, the community’s involvement in local and national level politics is minuscule, and erratic.

In states where there are large concentrations of Asian Americans like California and New Jersey they have found some success. San Francisco just elected it’s first Asian American mayor and in local level too Asian Americans are visible politically. In states like Texas (unlikely, I know) their participation is encouraging.

See this graph by University of Texas on race and Texas legislature. Asian participation is 1%, and they make about 3.8% of the state’s population.

The other side of this limited but encouraging success is the in states without concentrated Asian American population, their presence in state and local politics is dismal. Does this mean that their success still depends on large community backup and the country still does not see them as mainstream or is this different for Republicans?

What about Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley?

Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley’s success, that too in the South-often misunderstood and with long history of racial bias, is often used as an indicator of how Asian Americans are starting to make their presence in politics. In a way, that is true. They are of Indian heritage and have made their name in national level too.

The flip side of their success, they are hard Republicans, a party which in recent times is known more for it’s anti-immigrant stance and conservative religious values. Their appeal among Asian Americans, beyond the wow factor, is questionable. Even among Indian Americans, their policies could be a deterrent.

Their success is based heavily on their policies that court the Republican base. If they were Democrats pursuing liberal agenda, could they have produced similar success?

 

To conclude, it is clear that like any other ethnic group in America, Asians and Asian Americans have struggles and joys. It is unfair to look at them through the film of “exotic over achievers” and perpetuate the “model minority” myth.

Asians and Asian Americans are part of the American reality and they need to be accepted as such. Just like any other American.

 

(This concludes our series on Asians and Asian Americans.Thank you for stopping by)