A city awakeningWhen I made my first trip to New York in 2009, the streets were filled with people from all over the world. It reminded me of my hometown, Janakpur. It’s odd to think of Janakpur, a mosquito-ridden city in Province 2, when you’re in New York. Every second person in Province 2 is multidimensionally poor.
When I made my first trip to New York in 2009, the streets were filled with people from all over the world. It reminded me of my hometown, Janakpur. It’s odd to think of Janakpur, a mosquito-ridden city in Province 2, when you’re in New York. Every second person in Province 2 is multidimensionally poor.
New York is one of the wealthiest places on the planet. But both these cities celebrate diversity. I grew up in Janakpur. Memories of my hometown make me think that Janakpur was once a melting pot and growing city. People from all over Nepal—mountains, hills and the Tarai—lived peacefully and productively. As a kid when I went to the bazaar in Janakpur, I knew the crowd represented Nepal’s rich diversity.
Over the last two decades, people have migrated. The socio-economic condition has changed adversely. Janakpur is no longer the city that I grew up in. That is likely the case in many other places in Nepal. What has not changed is that many people from rural areas still come to a city like Janakpur for a better future. Many years ago, my parents moved to Janakpur from a village so I could have a chance for a better future. Eventually, I earned multiple degrees from some of the world’s best universities.
For years, I have observed the deterioration of a city like Janakpur. It is now encouraging to see groups in Janakpur working to rebuild the city. Let me introduce you to a few people who are reinvigorating Janakpur. Promisha Mishra and Amita Sharma are young professionals. Last year, I saw Promisha speak at a Code for Nepal’s digital conference in Janakpur. During her talk, she encouraged others to be bold and not let gender or socio-economic status weaken their ambition. Recently, Promisha trained female high school students to make and use menstrual pads. In a patriarchal community like Janakpur, we need voices like Promisha’s.
Amita is a Teach for Nepal Fellow where she is ensuring that kids get quality education. She also writes to raise awareness about gender inequality and digital education. Young leaders like Amita can be instrumental in helping Janakpur progress. Lack of quality education is one of the biggest obstacles to improving the lives of the local people. Amit Jha and Navin Shah are using media and technology to help the city. Amit started an internet advertising company in Janakpur. He told me that people thought it was crazy for him to think of launching a company there. For the last five years, he has been running a successful company called Internet Market Today that employs locals.
Navin founded Appan TV, a media and news company to provide news and give the people a voice. In the last few years, the company has created jobs and increased awareness about issues important to the local people. Now they are joining hands with Code for Nepal and groups like StoryCycle, ANTA and others to build a digital presence of Janakpur as part of Visit Janakpur. It is a project initiated by Code for Nepal. Visit Janakpur digitises the city to attract more tourists, help local businesses and assist people in Nepal. To ensure we can maximise the benefits of this project, we are partnering with the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Environment of Province 2 and Janakpurdham Sub-Metropolitan City.
We are volunteers working to launch a website to serve as an information hub for historic temples, ponds and delicious cuisine in the city. For example, Janaki Mandir, a white grand Hindu temple, is a masterpiece of Mughal-style architecture. The fish curry in Janakpur is arguably the best in the entire country. There are countless undiscovered gems hidden in the city. Visit Janakpur will share them with the world.
In 2018, virtually every tourist researches their next destination online. Ensuring that every Nepali city has a digital presence is critical. We hope to launch similar initiatives in other places based on the lessons we learn in Janakpur. Within five years, we could potentially build a digital presence for more under-appreciated places. For instance, people in Mustang can benefit from more promotion and income.
Janakpur has the potential to be a major attraction for those interested in religious and cultural tourism. India is the top source of tourists to Nepal. Pilgrimage is the second most popular reason why all tourists visit Nepal. As Nepal plans to attract 1.5 million tourists by 2020, Janakpur could benefit the country and itself by doing all it can to attract more tourists. Realising this potential, we are launching Visit Janakpur. As part of the initiative, we also plan to train local businesses to improve their services. For example, hotels and restaurants in Janakpur tend to be not as responsive to customers as, let’s say, in Kathmandu. We hope to convince businesses that they can’t thrive without great customer service.
All of this will take a long time. But we must start. Five years ago, I had thought of organising a digital workshop in Janakpur. I couldn’t do it then because there was no interest among Janakpur locals. Today, there are leaders committed to using technology, grassroots organising and their own resources to revive the city. It is hard not to be optimistic after seeing their commitment. Janakpur might once again become a melting pot of opportunity in Nepal.
Kumar is a founder of Code for Nepal and a member of Asia Society’s 2018 Class of Asia 21 Young Leaders.