Addressing amnesia in NepalIn Nepal, political parties are plunging headlong into a culture of post-truth.
This year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, too brought mails and messages of friends from Nepal and abroad. Browsing through them the theme of amnesia struck me once again. But no plays were staged and no musicals were performed on this day this year. Sabine Lehmann of Hotel Vajra, for example, did not direct or perform any play on the Holocaust Remembrance Day at her Studio 7, Naga Theatre. It is all because of the menace of Covid-19. But I realised this year amnesia has assumed greater meaning; it has come with more challenges than any other time in the past.
Ironically, amnesia, whose semantic collocations are forgetting, loss of memories and ennui, has greater penchant this time. The question of whether amnesia is a mental or political condition became a subject of debate after the Second World War. But it has raised many uncanny alarms in these two decades of the 21st century, too. Amnesia, or the condition of loss of memories, was caused by the severity of the horrid fate suffered by mankind. Since some nasty rulers and powers had created those conditions, it is important to look at amnesia from critical perspectives. In this article, I will mention amnesia both as a mental condition as well as a state of forgetting the bad days of history stage-managed by the political rulers.
A shocking piece of news added to my mood of misery. On this very day, I heard that a friend, an ex-Gurkha, an academic, scholar and writer Dr Chandra Laksamba died of Covid-19 in a hospital in Farnborough, England. Laksamba has published his analyses and views in this newspaper about the campaigns of the Gurkhas for equal pay and pension for their service in the British Army. Laksamba’s campaign to keep the memories of the Nepalis, in general, and the Gurkhas, in particular, alive in Britain and elsewhere makes it very important to remember him today. He has written about that in the Post as well. Laksamba once said to me that historical amnesia is the worst enemy of the Gurkhas, whose services of two centuries through the two World Wars, is being forgotten or is allowed to be forgotten. Laksamba as part of this struggle worked with scholars like Dr Krishna Adhikari and Dr David Gellner of Oxford University and others. Laksamba says that the Nepali community is one of the fastest-growing ethnic minority groups in England. Through a steady rise, their numbers in the UK between 2001 and 2016 had reached 100,000, says the brochure that Laksamba gave me at Farnborough, when I visited using the opportunity of my Britain-Nepal Academic Council lecture in London in November 2015. Should I say the demise of Chandra Laksamba on the Holocaust Remembrance Day is a cosmic coincidence? His death is an irreparable loss.
Amnesia has remained the most ignored but the most utilised aspect of Nepali history. As everywhere else amnesia has assumed more political meaning over the last century, especially in one historical context. Rulers of autocratic nature act with a design to create hegemony in such a manner that the people do not show grievances and anger by referring to the hardships they suffered in the recent and a little remote history. For that, the autocratic rulers develop a mechanism to write history in such a manner that the people either accept the sufferings, or dukha, of history as normal or do not question its origin and application. The state, in order to create that condition of hegemony, develops a propaganda mechanism. The rulers spread false propaganda and keep the people in the darkness, making them believe as if nothing wrong has happened in the past. This amnesia has remained the autocrats’ weapon in history.
If we open our eyes to this, we can see that the rulers in Nepal of all denominations and nature have always loved to use amnesia as a powerful weapon. Do political parties use amnesia as a weapon? Of course, they do. They use theories and political doctrines as weapons for making people forget the reality of history. That grows sometimes at a virulent pace and at other times functions in a very subtle manner. We do not have to go very far. What is happening in today’s Nepal is the best example of how amnesia is used as a weapon. One post-graduate student of mine who is working on the style of the language of history was telling me the other day that he has culled such resources, such propagandist language to create a repertoire of lies and analyse. He has found the most original stuff for research.
Vituperative use of language by all factions of the Nepal Communist Party, the ambivalent use of the language by Nepali Congress, and the knowingly fragile and backwards-looking language of the RPP all show that they are using it as a weapon to lead people into forgetting the reality of suffering and history. So much so that they distort the language and the interpretation of reality of just two or three years ago to make people forget the very recent history. It’s not ‘The Audacity of Hope’ as the title of Barack Obama’s book from 2006 goes; it is the audacity of deception.
Propaganda has assumed another name—post-truth. Ironically, this was much discussed and, sadly, even applied in some cases in the greatest democratic country, the United States. The title of Matthew d’Ancona’s book, Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back (2017), shows in simple language how it is happening. Demagoguery is another political manifestation of post-truth in many countries today.
In Nepal, political parties are plunging headlong into this culture of post-truth. Generating the bulk of brazen lies and distortion of reality to generate a culture of amnesia and establish a system that you can manipulate to come to power and continue to rule is the common strategy. In countries like Nepal, memories do not last long. People tend to forget faster. For that, everybody should be alert. The press and media become the target because in Nepal, as far as my knowledge goes, they juggle people’s memories and prevent them from slipping into a state of historical amnesia. Vigilance is the price of liberty.
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