It’s been an adventurous month working on this multimedia project. As a part of my master’s project, I flew to Nepal for this story: personal stories of what it means to be Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender in modern Nepal.
If I have to sum up my experiences of talking to people and hours of interviews: for most Nepali LGBT population, it’s getting better. However, though legal battles have been won and the country’s sexual minorities have gained a legal status and recognition from the state, some are still fighting on a personal level while others are making an effort to be fully accepted.
During this month, I have come across some amazing people who are determined to live the life they want, regardless of their sexuality, and not defined by their sexual orientation. Despite, they have used their sexual orientation as a medium to make people aware about the sexual minorities.
Jyoti Thapa is a transgender woman, Roshan Mahato is openly gay and so is Sunil Babu Pant, the country’s only openly gay lawmaker, while Bhakti Shah is a transgender man and her partner a lesbian.
All of them are the face of Nepal’s LGBT movement.
In 2007, Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the government to scrap all laws that discriminated against sexual orientation. The Court also mandated the government to form a committee to study same-sex marriage.
Nepal’s upcoming constitution, according to lawmakers will have a provision that says everyone has the right to marry, and marriage would be between two people rather than a man and a woman.
In May, Nepal’s Home Ministry decided to provide citizenship to LGBTI as “others,” and not under “male” or “female” category. Pant sees this as an implementation and acceptance of the 2007 Supreme Court decision by the government.
Amid all the success in the policy front, what it really means to be LGBT in Nepal? This project gives you a perspective.
Preview of the website [in progress] for the project
I don’t know what being closer to God means. I’m neither a religious person nor a spiritual one.
But sometimes I just feel good about myself when I visit a religious place of worship. In that moment of time, while inside a temple, I’m secluding myself with the outer world, literally. I don’t know if I go there to escape from reality, find peace of mind or “get closer to God.” But whatever it is, it works.
Yesterday, I visited a Gurudwara for a story, and though I was working, there was no pressure or stress. After work, I just sat down and spent my time not thinking about the other world, not thinking about my assignments or any other thing in this world. People were nice. The Langar was great. The recitals of Gurbani, the sacred Sikh literature, didn’t let anything else pass my ears.
Those couple of hours yesterday was what I needed–no stressing, no thinking, and only peace of mind. Maybe this is what they mean by “being closer to God.”
This afternoon, Naushad Waheed Hassan resigned from his post of Deputy High Commissioner of the Maldives to the UK. He is the brother of the current Maldivian President Mohamed Waheed.
Reading a statement in front of a group of protestors who came to the Maldivian High Commission office in Nottingham Place from the Commonwealth Secretariat office, their original place of protest, he said, “I cannot serve a regime that has brought down the democratically elected government.”
Hassan said: “ And I say this to my brother—you are my brother and I will always love you. Do not rob our people of our right to choose our government. Do not be a party to this police brutality that is ongoing in the country.”
Hassan’s step down follows the resignation of the Maldivian High Commissioner to the UK, Dr. Farah Faizal, who resigned on Feb. 8, a day after the Maldives’ democratically elected president Mohamed Nasheed resigned. The Maldivian ambassador to the United Nations also resigned this week.
Nasheed said he was ousted in a coup. Faizal also believes that it is a coup and the current government is thus illegitimate.
“I think people who believe in democracy cannot support a regime like this,” she said walking to the Maldivian High Commission Office. “That is the reason why people are resigning. And especially after seeing the police brutality, people who have principles can’t serve a government like this.”
Mohamed Ahmed, 23-year-old Maldivian standing in front of the Commonwealth, handing in flyers to passersby, said he came after seeing the police brutality on television.
“I’m protesting against the violence and the coup,” said Ahmed whose father is a politician in the deposed government. “Other than that I wouldn’t be involved in politics.”
“We have been robbed of the democracy we had,” he said.
While fingers are being pointed at the new president, Ibrahim, a Maldivian transiting via London and present in the protest but didn’t want to identify his last name, shared a different story of Waheed.
“It’s so unlike him to do something like this,” said Ibrahim, who was a junior to Waheed in school and knows him personally. “It’s out of character for him to do this. Has he been forced to do it is my question.”
Do you mind if I take some drugs?” asks Ben Jackson who plays the keyboards for the London-based band To Kill A King.
It was nothing serious but a pill for flu.
Only a day before, this five-piece band was performing in Glasglow with their entire musical gear. And on Monday evening they were in London minus their full set of equipment. Wednesday they would be performing at XOYO.
These series of concerts is the band’s beginning of its first headline tour in the UK after forming in 2009.
At the Light Bar in St. Martin’s Lane on Monday, frontman Ralph Pelleymounter, bassist Josh Platman, who was playing the cello that night, drummer Jon Willoughby and guitarist Ian Dudfield along with Jackson jammed as if they were playing for their close friends.
It was an acoustic show, something different from what the band usually does.
“Sometimes it’s more nerve-wracking to play to a smaller crowd,” Willoughby says before their performance. “You can see everyone focusing on what you’re doing.”
And in the small, cozy area, a handful of audience members were closely gathered around the band listening as they played the acoustic version of their EP My Crooked Saint as well as their new single “Hospital Worker.”
“It’s the same songs but we would sound like a different band,” adds Platman trying to explain the difference between performing for a larger audience and acoustic.
Their songs, as the band describes are “lyrically dense and explore complicated emotional landscapes”. Take “We Used to Protest/Gamble” and “Bloody Shirt” as examples.
A blend of the folk, indie rock music coupled with Pelleymounter’s captive and soulful vocal, To Kill A King has been compared to bands like The National, an indie-rock band from the United States, and also the British folk-rock band Mumford & Sons.
While To Kill A King takes pride in being compared to these bands that they’re all fans of, Pelleymounter says they want to be known for their own style and music.
“You don’t want to be the next whoever,” he says. “You want to be your own.”
Since 2004 when Pelleymounter met Platman as undergrads in Leeds University and later met Willoughby, Dudfield and Jackson after moving to London by 2009, this new band has been making their way up to brand their band in the growing music market.
And though the band thinks they’ve got a long way to go, Platman enthusiastically puts in that they “want to become a household name” in the coming days.
The protestors, who have been camping outside their libraries for months, have been listed as one of the “50 natives who did most to lift our mood in difficult times” in the Independent on Sunday’s IoS Great Britons 2011.
They are listed along the likes of broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Adlington.
On the other hand, Brent Council, during its end-of-the-year achievement award, felicitated the Library Transformation Team involved in the borough’s Library Transformation Project. Six libraries—Barham Park, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise, Neasden, Preston and Tokyngton—have been closed in the borough of Brent.
Nidar Singh Nihang engages with one of his students in Slough. Singh Nihang is thought to be the last surviving master teaching the dying martial art of Shastar Vidiya. Photo: Bibek Bhandari
On a sleepy Saturday afternoon in Slough, a borough west of London, Nidar Singh Nihang knows how to keep a group of young men awake.
Inside an empty hall of a church in London Road, Singh Nihang is an authoritative figure. As 20 men, most of them from the Sikh community, surround him in a semi-circle, he demonstrates some self-defence skills. With subtle hand and body movements, he exhibits a form of martial art that he has mastered over 25 years.
But more than 5,000 years after its inception, this form of Sikh martial art known as Shastar Vidiya could soon be limited to the pages of a history book. There aren’t many learners and there is a sole surviving master who embodies the technical and traditional expertise—Singh Nihang.
“My aim as a gurudev [teacher] is to ensure the art, in all its totality, survives,” says Nihang Singh.
In Slough, throughout the three-hour session, the man with an intimidating body structure standing at 6-feet-one-inch, explains about the various techniques and also history behind Shastar Vidiya to casually-dressed men, most of them in their traditional turban and beard.
Singh Nihang himself is draped in a blue robe with white trousers and sneakers. His sword and a traditional knife are neatly tucked between the white cloth belt wrapped around his waist.
His traditional get-up and a long beard with streaks of white hair might give an intimidating first impression, but he isn’t as fierce as he looks.
Singh Nihang is a combination of wit and a wealth of knowledge.
As the master sits down after his class, he is still energetic speaking about the art he discovered in 1984. He takes a memory train back to Jalandher in northern India.
Stroking his beard, flashing an apparent smile, he mentions his 80-year-old teacher who spotted him at a fair and asked him if he wanted to learn. A tall teenager with striking physical features agreed.
He tells the story, sprinkling some Punjabi words in between yet retaining his English accent.
“He gave me a stick and told me to hit him, but before I knew it, I was on the floor and he had the stick,” he says in a single sentence.
“The science of what he was doing, I didn’t understand then,” says Singh Nihang who then stayed back in India for 11 years. “But now I know the art and also the culture behind the art.”
For 42-year-old Iqbal Singh, a Bruce Lee fan, learning the Sikh Vidya is also understanding about his Indian and Sikh heritage.
“As a parent, I need my kids to know their roots and this is an all encompassing package to educate them,” an IT consultant and Singh Nihang’s student for five years says.
He defines his master as a “living entity and a torch bearer whose life is on a mission.”
Amrit Pal Singh, another student, speaks fondly of his master.
“The passion he has is addictive and he conveys it very well to his students,” the 25-year-old engineer says. “He is very inspirational that he dedicates his life to the art.”
However, not everyone agrees. Singh Nihang has received numerous death threats from Sikh fundamentalists who disagree with the ideologies of Shastar Vidiya.
But the determined and an assertive warrior gives an uncanny smile, explaining that his critics are not aware of the wider spectrum of their own culture.
He uses the phrase “intellectual rape” as the method he uses to tackle such problems.
Despite the mounting problems and challenges of saving a historical martial art with a cultural significance and finding a successor, he is still nurturing the knowledge he acquired in 1984. Finding a successor, he says, will not be an end to his pursuit.
“I’ll never retire,” he delivers promptly in a firm tone. “If I die and I can come back, I’ll train. We’re not meant to retire.”
I think I’m going local, especially when it comes to covering news.
If I reflect on my past assignments, I’ve been covering a lot of local news, those from within the borough where I currently call home–Harrow. And I think I’ve been doing it so much that my classmates have started calling me the local Harrow reporter.
Initially, maybe I was too lazy to travel far and wide in London to gather news. But when I think of it now, it would have been a bad decision on my part to be looking for a story far and wide when I could find something right around my neighborhood. Too many times, we just tend to overlook what’s happening in our vicinity.
If it wasn’t for my appetite (if I may say so) for local news, I wouldn’t really have known of so many issues and events going around, and how people around me are being affected.
Take for instance, the library closure issue. I never have to go to a local library here and so I would have never known about the closure of 7 out of 12 libraries in the borough of Brent. And if I weren’t covering the story, I would have never known what these libraries mean to the locals and how it’s going to affect them.
Living in Harrow or even in London is being immersed in multiculturalism. I see different faces and hear diverse accents every day. They all speak in English. But never would I known how some immigrants are on a mission to learn English so they can integrate themselves into the British society.
While working on my story for the funding cut on English for immigrants, ESOL programme, I realised the impact it could have, especially on women and elderly in the community.
And today, as I went to report on the local job fair in Harrow, it was overwhelming to see so many people looking for work. Hadn’t I looked into what ‘s happening around me, hadn’t I bothered to seek stories closer to the community I live in, I would have never got access to the issues and problems that actually surround me.
As I start packing for this semester to end and reflect on the stories I’ve worked on, I think I’m happy of what I have achieved. At least I know this community a little better, if not, at all.
As the Occupy London campaigners are camping against anti-capitalism outside St Paul’s in London, a small group of people—far from the national and international media attention—have been campaigning outside their local libraries in the borough of Brent in London.
But while residents have been fighting against the Council’s decision, last week’s the Council’s announcement of closing a seventh library at Willesden Green has come as a surprise to locals.
As I stood outside the locked library at Kensal Rise, locals stopped by some chat at a small camp or a library-like structure set up outside the closed library. Every day locals sit there, taking shifts, trying to get their message across that they want their libraries back.
They’ve collected more than £35,000 for legal fees plus over 30,000 signatures in petition. They’ve made an appeal in the court and they are due to find in two weeks if their days and nights of campaigning has worked.
Margaret Bailey, co-chair of the campaign known as Brent SOS Library Campaign, tells me the court might favour the Council, but they’re not giving up yet.
At Preston Library, now boarded by the Council, I came across some locals who have been using the library since their childhood. Priya Shah, a young campaigner says that the Council’s decision is wrong and it will hugely affect the people in the community.
As I was talking to these people, passionate about saving their community library, I was transported back to my country Nepal.
Growing up as a child in Kathamndu, I have no vivid memories of going to a library. Number one: There were no libraries in the neighbourhood. Number Two: The reading culture sucks, literally.
But before getting to Number Three, I along with some of my friends did something that we’re proud of. We created a small library in one of the vacant rooms of a friend’s house. We saved our pocket money, collected books and kept the library running.
But after a while, as we grew up and could get to the nooks and corners of the crowded capital, we started to visit libraries such as the British Council. Then later, I made quick trips to the national libraries in Kathmandu. But I was never a heavy reader, I must admit.
As I scan over my memory, reflect over the library closure story that I have been following and conversations with campaigners and locals who I’ve come across, I think would we have done this in Nepal?
In Nepal, the constitution drafting process is still pending. There has some sort of activism going on: A group of people gather every week to pressurise the government, but it’s only the same handful of people every time.
It’s the country’s constitution and Nepalis seem so chilled about it. And here we are talking about closure of community libraries and people are fired up, they are outside their neighbourhood camping day and night.
The decision for the Brent locals is not until the next two weeks. They’ve been working hard on the campaign, and more importantly it seems they’ve not lost hope. They are high in spirit.
Here’s a Q&A with Bailey. I asked her if the closure of another library puts more pressure on the campaign.