Friday, June 10, 2011

Graffiti Politic

The streets are a political forum. This is the ubiquitous graffiti of Nepal, long messages that stretch along the walls; messages of the parties, slogans and notices for events and dates. I've seen people carefully painting Devanagari on the walls, usually at night, stenciling the straight lines and carefully painting the characters. 

In 1992, a political analyst named R. Andrew Nickson noted similarities between Nepal's situation and the situation in Peru in the late 1970s. He correctly predicted the rise of the Maoist insurgency and the People's War four years before it began. One of the pieces of evidence presented in his article "Democratisation and the Growth of Communism in Nepal: A Peruvian Scenario in the Making?" was a comparison of political graffiti:

"In April 1978, a tortuous political slogan, over 50 metres in length, had appeared overnight beside the zarcón, the urban motorway which links the Peruvian capital of Lima with the fashionable coastal suburb of Miraflores. Denouncing 'United States imperialism, Soviet social-imperialism, and Chinese revisionism', and praising 'the shining path of Peruvian socialism under José Carlos Mariategui', it provoked the amusement of commuters and political analysts alike... By 1992, just 12 years later, Peru was in a state of undeclared civil war...

In October 1990, a 50-metre long political slogan appeared on the wall outside the luxury Himalayan Hotel in Patan [Kathmandu Valley]. The text, which bore many similarities with the Peruvian one of 1978, read 'Down with local feudalism, Indian expansionism, American expansionism, Russian social imperialism, Chinese revisionism and all kinds of reactionism!' Like its erstwhile Peruvian counterpart, 12 years earlier, its appearance was treated with a mixture of contempt and derision by local political analysts." 

So it is probably a good idea to read the writing on the walls. It would be a very interesting project to catalogue the development of political slogans and graffiti. I find the slogans difficult to read because of all of the political vocabulary, so I took a picture of two slogans at random and took a whack at translating them (I'd welcome improvements):

सैनिक सॅयन्त्र भित्रको लोन-रोन प्रवृति मुर्दावाद । सर्वहार क्रान्तिकारी पाट्री 
sainik sanyantra bhitrako lon-ron pravriti murdabad - sarbahara krantikari patri
"Down with Lon-Nol Behavior in the Federal Army! - Revolutionary Proletarian Party"

This was followed by the sickle and star. As Prime Minister, Lon Nol overthrew King Sinahouk and became the President of the short-lived Republic of Cambodia before the communist takeover. I think the phrases murdabad/jindabad correspond to English "Down with...!"/"Long live...!" Jindabad means "lifepath" or "lifeism," while murdabad means "deathpath" or "deathism."

सॅविधान सभाको म्याद थाप्न पाईदैन । नेशनल डेमोक्रेाटक एलायन्स ।
sambidhan sabhako myad thapna paindaina - neshonal democratak elayans
"Constitution Deadline Cannot be Extended - National Democratic Alliance"

This one was timely a few weeks ago when the deadline for the Constituent Assembly ran out for the second time with no consensus on a constitution. For two weeks the city was shut down almost every day because of strikes. Most of the them were scheduled, but they would often fall on unpredictable days and it was almost impossible to teach. There was a massive protest the night of deadline, and at the 11th hour the party members agreed to compromise and extend the the Assembly for three months. One of the provisions was that Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal would have to step down at a suitable time.

Just the other day Prime Minister Jala Nath Khanal spoke at the 50th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program. 

The signature on the slogan above is interesting because "National Democratic Alliance" is rendered phonetically in English, as opposed to the Nepali rendering of the Communist party name. Also, there is an interesting typo in the word 'democratic': (डेमोक्रेाटक) - the third syllable has two different vowel symbols on it - both 'cra' and 'cre.' This suggests that the sign writer was unsure if the English word should be pronounced 'democratak' or 'democretak.' 


I came across Nickson's article in Understanding the Maoist Movement of Nepal, edited by Deepak Thapa, a very interesting read. I also recently saw the documentary "Sari Soldiers," a film that is still quite controversial in Nepal because of its depiction of some highly-publicized accounts of the human rights abuses perpetrated by both the Maoists and the Royal Police. The film follows female soldiers, guerillas, and activists during King Gyanendra's takeover of the government and the intensification of the Maoist insurgency. 

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