Together we clickThe trend started with Prashant Tamang, back in 2007, when he won the title of Indian Idol Season 3. An Indian with Nepali roots, Tamang was an instant hit with Nepalis residing in Nepal and India
On February 3, 2016, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita was voted National Geographic’s 2016 People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year. Beating strong competition from nine other participants from all over the world—a team of Afghan women cyclists challenging gender stereotypes; a wildlife biologist who led a team in dugout canoes from the source of the Okavango River in Angola to Botswana to help protect Africa’s wildest place; a pair of rock climbers who completed the world’s hardest free climb on Yosemite’s El Capitan—Sherpa became the third Nepali to earn the honour, after Sano Babu Sunuwar and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa in 2012. Over the recent years, Nepalis have secured prestigious positions in the world arena, winning competitions on the basis of votes, garnering a stronghold in the world of connectivity. Whether it is the coveted CNN Hero of the Year titles or this National Geographic’s 2016 People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year, Nepal—in fact, Nepalis—have been on the forefront.
The trend started with Prashant Tamang, back in 2007, when he won the title of Indian Idol Season 3. An Indian with Nepali roots, Tamang was an instant hit with Nepalis residing in Nepal and India. He is the only contestant in the series’ history to have never been in the bottom three of the gala round. He went on to win the season with about 10 times more votes (70 million votes) than Amit Paul, the other finalist. In 2010, Anuradha Koirala won the CNN Hero of the Year award for her work with Maiti Nepal; Pushpa Basnet then won the same title in 2012, for her work with non-profit Early Childhood Development Centre (ECDC). Basnet was chosen from over 10,000 social workers participating in the competition from across the globe.
How is that a small developing country as Nepal, with such minimal means at its disposal, have such dominance in the world of internet connectivity? The latest Management Information System (MIS) report of Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) says that the number of data customers in the country stood at 11,893,004 in January 2016, with a 44.89 percent penetration. Although there has been a steady ascend in the penetration of data/internet services in the past year (it was 10,514,890 a year ago, in mid-Jan, 2015 with a 39.68 percent penetration), 11 million is not a large number when compared to the 3,366,261,156 users worldwide. China, the country with the highest number users (642 million in 2014) in the world, represents nearly 22 percent of the total number, and has more users than the next three countries— United States, India, and Japan—combined. Among the top 20 countries, India is the one with the lowest penetration—19 percent—and the highest yearly growth rate. Nepal, however, is nowhere in the picture, representing a meagre 0.4 percent of the users in Asia, as of November 30, 2015.
Internet in Nepal was pioneered in 1995 by Mercantile Commu-nications, the first company to provide internet service in the country. And after a span of two decades, Nepal currently has over 40 registered Internet Service Providers and nine VSAT Network Service Providers. If we look at the statistics, from a 0.00 percent penetration in 1995, Nepal has come a long way, now scraping to a whopping 44.89 percent. It was a sluggish trail, and only from 2009 could we see a swift climb: from a 2.0 percent penetration we suddenly ascended to 7.9 percent. “The sudden growth in internet usage started with the availability of smartphones. It was boosted when cheaper variants of smartphones were available in the market and mobile companies aggressively charged the market. With easy accessibility of services like 3G and GPRS, and social networking sites getting strong support, a favourable environment for internet blossomed in the country,” says Suman Lal Pradhan, CEO of Websurfer and President of The Internet Service Providers’ Association of Nepal (ISPAN). Yet, more than just being a by-product of globalisation, internet connectivity in Nepal is going a step further: it is bringing together users, who have now created a robust and vocal voting base. So much so, Nepali internet users have become great case-study for scholars decoding the phenomenon cyber tribalism.
Cyber tribalism is the term that defines alliances and associations formed by cyber tribes, usually a group of people in a virtual community that have attributes such as a common language, similar belief systems, culture, traditions, practices and interest. The purpose of such a tribe, just like any other tribe, is to communicate, disseminate information and build relationships. In such an alliance, people who communicate do not necessarily know each other, although this is not always the case.
Communication is done in a virtual manner. There is no assurance of personal interest protection, control and safeguards. Tribesmen have autonomy with respect to their activities.
The human brain is oriented towards tribalist behaviour. We are social beings who need to ‘belong’ and this is evident in many forms in society. In the world of connectivity too, people gravitate towards groups (or tribes) that they feel define them: football fan clubs, political assemblages, religious groups, etc are all segregated into different camps and have active participation. Add to that constant connectivity through social networking sites such as Facebook, Viber, Whatsapp, cyber tribes have become part of society.
“By culture, Nepalis are passionate people. If we look at the time when Prashant Tamang became Indian Idol, we can see how invested we were to make sure he won the contest, people were actually paying money and making sure that everyone was voting to make him win. Whenever a social issue arises, Nepalis are always in the forefront with instant reactions,” says Pradhan. “However, if we look at it critically, it may seem that we have too much of time at hand,” he adds in jest.
“It is quite an extraordinary phenomenon. I believe that small countries are always trying to prove their existence and establish a sense of presence through various extensions. Whether it is helping a Nepali win a competition or help a non-Nepali like Maggie Doyne win the CNN Hero of the Year title, I think it is a matter of wanting to be heard and seen and respected—a reflection of a small nation psyche,” says Hari Sharma, a political scientist.
“It has been a very humbling experience to receive the National Geographic’s People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year. I feel extremely overwhelmed by all the support of the Nepali people from all over the world,” says Sherpa Akita, about her win. “But I believe that there are many other adventures that deserve it more. And by honouring me with this award, I think people are encouraging young girls to enter the outdoor world. I too am trying my best, and want to give back to my own country in every way that I can,” added the new face of adventure.
She now joins a burgeoning list of Nepalis that have been thrust into the international limelight, thanks to dedicated Nepali voters. And as things go, the trend looks far from just a flash in the pan. As a cricket commentator, pointed out recently as Nepali voters continued to pick Nepal over Bangladesh until the very last moment in the ‘Who do you think will win the quarterfinal?’ poll at the recent U-19 World Cup, “It is a bit improbable now, but don’t tell the Nepali supporters that. Bless their hearts and perseverance.”