Radio Nepal’s ban on Nepal Bhasa: 54th commemoration of Newa Upsurge
Newa people have made struggle for linguistic rights in the face of opposition from the government since the invasion of Gorkha in Nepal Mandala. The movements started to upsurge against the suppression of the language by the state that began with the rise of the Shah dynasty in 1768 AD, intensified during the Rana regime (1846-1951) and Panchayat system (1960-1990). The state repression against Newa people cause multi-dimensional effects and from 1952 to 1991, the percentage of the valley population speaking Nepal Bhasa dropped from 74.95% to 43.93%, while the language has been listed as being “definitely endangered” by UNESCO.
Nepal Bhasa was climbing the stairs of prosperity as its speakers were too, spread over diverse sectors, being used from daily life to administration, office, media, and its literature was enriching along its various scripts. Open suppression began in 1906 with documents in Nepal Bhasa being declared not admissible in court. In the subsequent years, authors were fined, whipped, imprisoned or expelled and their books confiscated, while it was illegal to sing hymns in Nepal Bhasa or speak it on the telephone. As a result, development of the language and literature was asphyxiated.
Rana regime and systematic suppression
The Rana regime, what would be as ‘Lānā Sāsan’ in the Newa colloquialism, was an autocratic rule. During the Rana regime in Nepal, Nepal Bhasa faced serious crackdowns. First of all, Nepal Bhasa was renamed as ‘Newari’, while Gorkha Bhasa got renamed as ‘Nepali’. It was a crime to speak Nepal Bhasa. Despite the hostility, Newa people still continued their language, as the town planning of Newa towns, could not make Ranas easily patrol. During the period 1909 to 1941 known as the Renaissance era, a few authors braved official disapproval and started writing, translating, educating and restructuring the language. Pandit Nisthananda Bajracharya, Great Poet Siddhidas Mahaju, Master Jagat Sundar Malla, Yogvir Sin, Martyr Shukra Raj Shastri, Dharmaditya Dharmacharya were amongst those personalities who did not care of state suppression and continued to contribute in Nepal Bhasa. Newa people kept on struggling for their linguistic rights.
In 1940, the government mounted a crackdown against democracy activists and writers in which Shukraraj Shastri was hanged. A large number of authors were imprisoned for their literary or political activities. Dharmacharya was jailed for three months. Chittadhar Hridaya was sentenced to six years, Siddhicharan Shrestha was sentenced to 18 years, who wrote a collection of poems entitled Seeswan (“Wax Flower”, published in 1948) among other works. Phatte Bahadur Singh was sentenced to life imprisonment and Dharma Ratna Yami was sentenced to 18 years. They were released in 1945 after serving five years. In prison, Hridaya produced his greatest work Sugata Saurabha, an epic poem on the life of the Buddha.
Newa Buddhist monks stood up to the Rana regime and published books on Buddhism, which led to the banishment of Buddhist monks from Nepal. In 1944, eight monks were expelled for refusing to stop teaching Buddhism and writing in Nepal Bhasa. They seeked asylum in Kolkatta. While exiled, they had formed a small community of Buddhist monks in Kolkatta. They formed Dharmodaya Sabha. Dharmodaya Sabha published newspaper Dharmodaya Patrika in Nepal Bhasa. During the time Prem Bahadur Kasa worked there as a chief editor. He studied Farsi as well. When he met Nepalese citizens in Kolkatta, he used to talk with them as if they were his own family. This way he had won hearts of people. He asked many Newars to write in Nepal Bhasa. It was the time when it had been more than one hundred year that Nepal Bhasa got displaced from administration. Therefore many Newars found it difficult to write, but he insinuated many to write in Nepal Bhasa. This way, many Newars at Kolkatta had developed writing skills in Nepal Bhasa.
During those times, people had to go to Telecom Office and use a telephone. If someone spoke in Nepal Bhasa, the phone would be cut off by the authority. Any publication could be made only by approval of Gorkha Bhasa Sansthan. If anyone wrote in Nepal Bhasa, they would be jailed. No people in group of three or four were allowed to sit and talk in public spaces. Many of writers went to Banaras or Kolkatta and printed books. These books were very secretly brought into Nepal, like two three books hidden inside a big basket of fruits. If found, the people were punished and the books were destroyed.
The end of Rana regime, constitutional monarchy and democracy
After the First People’s Movement in Nepal, Rana regime was abolished and democratic constitutional monarchy was established. It was Nepal Era 1071, 1951 C.E. Following democracy state became bit open to multi-lingualism. About 105 years of Rana regime and suppression against Nepal Bhasa had already pushed the language behind. A subject in the language was added to curriculum, where 90% students from Nepa Valley studied this language. The word ‘Nepal’ was in the process of being re-claimed.
During the democracy revolution, the Democratic Radio Nepal was established. In Nepal Era 1080, once in a week, 15 minutes radio program on Newa culture, music and literature, named “Jeewan Daboo” was broadcasted in Radio Nepal. Hitkar Bir Singh and Birram Shrestha were hosting the show. While in this period of democracy, Nepal Bhasa was slowly being uplifted, the people saw another period of dark age and suppression.
In Nepal Era 1081, 1960 C.E. King Mahendra Shah used his emergency powers and took charge of the State once again with false allegations to the Congress government. On December 26, 1961, King Mahendra appointed a council of five ministers to help run the administration. Several weeks later, political parties were declared illegal. Once again Nepal Bhasa went into a period of severe suppression. It was now more severe than in Rana period. The state adopted “One nation, one ethnicity, one language” policy.
The New Education System Plan brought out in 1971 disrupted the popular study of Nepal Bhasa in educational institutions. Under the plan, native language subjects were removed from the curriculum, and students were forced to choose between the mother tongue and technical subjects, leading to Nepal Bhasa being pushed into the background. Student enrollment in the course dropped, resulting in the subject being pulled out of many schools and a further decline in students. From 1977, students could study Nepal Bhasa at the Master’s level; but the university degree was not counted for promotion by the government, and so there were few takers for the subject.
During this period, started a trend of not teaching children Nepal Bhasa, because there is no place for the language in the state. The state introduced policies and endorsed linguistic genocide. In Nepal Era 1084, 1964 C.E. Surya Bahadur Piwaa and Laxman Rajbanshi were detained in Nepal Bhasa Literature Seminar in Padma Kanya Campus. In the region of Nepal Mandala, Nepal Bhasa was a prominent language, while the severe state suppression turned it into an endangered language in its own homeland.
Radio Nepal’s ban and the movement
It was Nepal Era 1085/6/12, while the Common Era was 13 April 1965, Bikrama Era introduced by the Ranas in Nepal saw its new year, the Newars were turned back into dark, by the state. Radio Nepal broadcasting “Jeewan Daboo” for just 15 minutes, banned the language.
This crackdown against Newa was not tolerable. It was not just the valley, but people from every Newa town around Nepal Mandala started to upsurge. This movement of Nepal Era 1085 wasn’t a riot protest, it was a three days long Literary Seminar.
When the news arrived, Newa youths started to gather and discuss till late night. The students of Juddodaya School, Ganesh Saymi and Mukti Saymi went to corners and corners of Kathmandu Town, climbed on one’s shoulders and started to paste posters.
The other morning, Nepal Era 1085/6/12, 13 April 1965, Ganesh Saymi, Bishnu Chitrakar, Tirtharam Dangol, Mukti Saymi, Maila Kaji Tuladhar and Pushpa Ratna Tuladhar gathered under the peepal tree of Nhoo Satak and went to Sigha Bahaa for discussion. That discussion concluded that organized protests would mean detention, and this wouldn’t make our voices reach the mass, therefore a Literary Seminar was to be organized.
There was another team of Malla K. Sundar, where Vikshu Sadarshan, Ishwarananda Shresthacharya and Pushpa Bahadur Chitrakar had formed an organization called “Luza”. This organization organized Literature programs from place to place, every Saturday and collected signatures in a petition to Radio Nepal.
It wasn’t easy to get a mike
The group of Newa youths started to discuss with litterateurs and language lovers, while went from corner to corner of the town, borrowed microphones and speaker, and made a public appeal. In order to get a microphone, permission of Anchaladish( a government official incharge of a zone) was required. Anchaladish Tek Bahadur Rajayamajhi refused to permit. The activists targeted the festival Sithi Nakha. “You Newars are separatists. Why do you want to do it in such a language?”, Anchaladish started to spill hegemonic and mono-ethnic narratives of nationalism to the activists. Then each contributed five rupees to get a microphone of their own.
The writers were hesitant to openly participate in the program since they already knew that they could be jailed. “This is an attempt to murder our language. Down with Gorkhali hegemony!” embarked over Nepal Mandala. People started performing symbolic funeral ceremonies, Nepalbhasa sita dhakaa sithan yankenu “Our language is dead now. Lets mourn with funeral” was a satire used to public appeal. The people who organized public campaigns were arrested.
It was a literary revolution
This series of Nepal Bhasa movement wasn’t protest or riot, but organizing Nepal Bhasa programs at different places to resist language policy of the state. Nepal Era 1085/6/16, 17 April 1965, the first literature seminar was organized in Kwanbahaa. Poems recited by poets, the program happened three times here, while the next was organized in Kanya Mandir, near Ikhaa Pukhoo, where women played a vital role. In this way, every week, from place to place, from area to area, this seminar happened.
Durga Lal Shrestha wrote this song Ghaa juyaa jakka khoigu kha jhee(We are crying only because we are wounded). Shree Krishna Anu, Mathuraram Shrestha, Bijay Manandhar and other youths formed an organization “Pasa Pucha” in Kamalachhi. Poet Natribajra Bajracharya and Dabalkaji Tuladhar along youths of Bhotahity and Dagubahaa, organized it is Dagubahaa. Durgamanda Bajracharya in Jhwaabahaa, Gyaanimanda Bajracharya in Dhwakhabahaa, Tulshi Saaymi in Nakshal, Raja Shakya in Janabahaa, Umaratna Bajracharya in Kwaabhaa, Bishnu Chitrakar in Tyanga, Kulanbhulu, while Prem Ratna and Ratnaman Dangol in Tunchhen Bahaa, Makhan Gali, and Mahilakaji Tuladhar in Makhan Bahaa, took lead in organizing this. Similarly, it was organized in Wongha, Tadhan Chuka, Mahaboo, Fasikyaba, Watu, Moobahaa and Itunbahaa.
Although there was heavy rain, people participated in Tyabahaa. “Let us not be meat butchering log, Lets learn to live as axe- Jhee Twakaa juyaa makhu, Paa juyaa mwaay seyeke”, Prem Bahadur Kasa’s narrative went popular. Prem Bahadur Kasa, Mangalman Shakya, Bikshu Sudarshan were the ones who spoke harshly against the state autocracy. The seminar was even organized in Paropakar School, Bhindyo Twaa.
From the town of Yén(Kathmandu) it spread
When it was organized in Tekhusi, Kalimati, it started to spread to West. Kipoo, Nagaan, Bosigaan, Kipulcha and Satungal started to organize the seminar. Dharmakrishna Suwal and Bhimbahadur Nakarmi helped in organizing in Balambu and Thakwaa.
The poems of revolution, the poems of dissatisfaction and satire was the prominent literatures of the movement. Slowly appealing people to stand against Panchayat System, the movement added fuel to fire.
Towards Yala(Lalitpur) and Khwopa(Bhaktapur)
The series then continued its momentum in Yala. Chhatra Bahadur Kayastha, Rohini Bahadur Kayastha, Suwarna Ram Joshi, Asha Bahadur Nuga, and many other people organized at various corners of Yala. First it happened in Dhawaa Bahee, then Adarsha Kanya School, Bakhunbahaa, Wambahaa, Hauga, Chakbahee, Tyaga, Lunkhusi and Agimatha. Birendra Shrestha, Kajiman Jawaa and Asha Bahadur Nuga were the ones who participated continuously with their burning poems. Poet Mangal Man Shakya was arrested from Nagbahaa and detained in Nakhu Jail for nine months. This movement also brought many organizations to establishment in Yala.
Ratna Gopal Sainju, Yogendra Pradhan and Purna Baidhya organized in Khwopa. The same series of seminar happened. Following the movement Birat Nepal Bhasa Sahitya Sammelan Guthi(Grand Nepal Bhasa Literary Conference Trust) was formed. The songs in a different dialect of Nepal Bhasa had its own typical melody.
The movement started to spread across Nepal Mandala, the ancestral territories of Newa civilization. Pankaj Chitrakar organized it in Dhaukhya(Dhulikhel). Ram Bhakta Bhomi, Jawahar Bhomi, Mohan Duwal, Krishna Prasad Duwal, Ashakaji Sewak, Gyankaji Manandhar, Bhakta Bahadur Nhyookhwaa, Varnavajra Bajracharya and Kedar Awaa were forefrontiers at Bhonta(Banepa). Laxmi Sainju from Palati(Panauti) organized it four times. The momentum reached to Dwaalkha(Dolakha). Their distinctive nature of Nepal Bhasa was another interesting subject. “Thaapare Dwaalkha Guita”(Will you go Dolakha this year?)
Women claiming equal spaces
In every history of a patriarchal society, women and their roles are least talked, while utmostly women do not have chances to contribute. Having integral feminist values, mostly in its philosophy, Newa society roots patriarchal practices, and this really seems perplexed. Danhera, Chinihera and Indrakamal are notable women of the movement.
Subarna Keshari Tuladhar established Nepal Bhasa Misaa Khala(Nepal Bhasa Women’s Group), also the president of Nepa National Party, was outspoken about women’s rights and participation in the program. She had a strong narrative, “Erasing the indifference towards men and women, we need to chant ‘We all'(Misaa Mijan yaa bhed bhaav huyaa, dhaay maa jheesan jhee sakalen)”. She was also speaking that gender segregation and male domination should come to an end, inorder to succeed the Newa movement. Moti Laxmi was another woman who published a book called “Gadya Pucha” that raised women’s individual identity’s issue. It was the time when a feminine suffix to the word politician was added to address the wife of a politician, (Neta: Politican’s wife was called ‘Netanee’- adding feminine suffix). This was in every sector, while through her literature she called to end this. “Women’s position is defined by her own individual effort and success”, she said. Women also had active participation in the movement.
Attempts to suppress
The movement added youths to come up with creativity. Every seminar had its own new welcome song. Publishing Nepal Bhasa Literature books was vivid. There were a lot of discussions on how to success the movement, but a strong confederation could not formed.
Spy person from the Royal Palace, Nanda Lal Pandey also entered this seminar. He found out that Newa people had no strong confederation and were raising voice surfacially. Understanding that it would be a bad impression among citizens and in the world if suppression is made during a Literature Seminar, state did not suppress. But, people who boldly spoke against “One Nation, One Ethnicity and One Language” policy were arrested, jailed and threatened. Ram Chandra and his friend from Kwahiti were arrested and released only in bail. It was attempted to arrest a lot of people by publishing warrants. Due to this many people had to hide themselves time and again. People who even spoke the word “revolution” were arrested.
In this way, slowly and slowly the movement started to diminish and the demands were not fulfilled. Movements cannot succeed if people get scared, but we cannot say that every citizen are equally brave. The organizers also think not having a strong confederation was also the reason for movement to diminish.
The Panchayat period killed a large portion of language from the speakers. Children and people were indoctrinated. An ideology that speaking any language except Gorkha Bhasa, was anti-national and separatist. Nepal Bhasa started to be systematically removed from all sectors. Many Newa started internalizing this hegemony.
This wasn’t the end of suppression. Through out the Panchayat regime, suppression continued. Arbitrary actions increased resentment towards Panchayat. In 1988, police arrested participants in a procession marking the birth anniversary of Nepal Bhasa poet Siddhidas Mahaju. People who organized New Year rallies of Nepal Era were seen as criminals who were trying to break harmony. The state did everything to fit a narrative that Gorkha language and culture is the only characteristic that define nationality and being Nepalese, and any other culture or language needs to be eliminated.
Even after monarchy was dethroned, democratic republic state established, country did not see linguistic equality, various protests followed and Nepal Bhasa Movement is still at the period of movement.
- Interviewing people who participated in the protest (Primary respondent: Ganesh Saaymi
- Secondary: For C.E. dates: Wikipedia
- Nepal Bhasa Times