Nepali Times
Fourth Estate
Conflict of coverage


Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative for children and armed conflict of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, brings her formidable qualifications to bear on a very delicate responsibility. As the erstwhile chairperson of the Human Rights Commission and the director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Sri Lanka, Coomaraswamy is one of few Third World citizens who stride through the global corridors of power with ease.

Of the 4,008 disqualified combatants discharged from temporary cantonments in Nepal, over 3,000 were children. The Maoists claimed the discharges were a result of their magnanimity, while the anti-Maoist coalition of Premier Madhav Kumar Nepal claimed it as the most remarkable achievement of its 13 months in office. UNMIN, too, feels it is a success story for the organisation. Unsurprisingly, Sita Tamang, alias Manju Gurung, was a prize catch for the Security Council, where she made an appearance on 16 June.

It is extremely unlikely that Coomaraswamy was unaware of the potential repercussions of making Sita narrate her story in the full glare of the media eye. The 'Manju' alias was tokenism more than anything else, as the ensuing footage and photos of Sita did little to protect the testifier's identity.

In fact, the way media coverage of this teenage girl from Chitwan unfolded, it became clear that she might have been used as bait to trap the Maoists into fresh controversy. The ambush has been successful: the former insurgents tumbled into the trap when they quizzed and then reportedly threatened Sita last week.

The callousness of Coomaraswamy apart, Sita's travails also raise questions about the state of conflict-sensitive reporting in Nepal. The cover of the hapless student was very thin to begin with; Himal Khabarpatrika blew it with a lead story and an easily identifiable photograph on the cover page of its latest issue.

The report cannot be categorised as inflammatory. However, in countries where the capacity of the state to protect its citizens is severely limited, the media needs to exercise extra caution. Fact is a powerful weapon and everyone who uses it has the responsibility of making sure that unintended consequences are minimised.

In the fluid situation of Nepal, the media has to improvise as it reports. Before reporting about conflict-sensitive issues, a journalist needs to ask two questions: is the story contributing to conflict escalation? If so, what can be done to de-escalate the conflict without compromising the criteria of accuracy, balance and credibility? The rest follows from the answer.

Perhaps it was not necessary to disclose the identity of the victim; her story would have been equally powerful under an alias. Had the NGO to whom Coomaraswamy probably farmed out the assignment been able to pin the blame upon some individual Maoist commander, the cause of peace and justice would have been better served through naming and shaming. Tales of victimisation may have fascinated the UN Security Council. It did precious little for the cause of truth and reconciliation in a society still struggling to recover from the conflict.

The caretaker government is dysfunctional. The Maoist leadership needs to ensure that no harm comes the way of Sita Tamang, their former comrade-in-arms. This becomes even more important considering she is an easy target for whosoever doesn't want to see the peace process in Nepal succeed.

Coomaraswamy will be pleased with her success in getting Sita to testify at the UN Security Council in New York. But should anything untoward happen to the girl, history will hold her responsible. At least part of the blame will fall upon the Nepali media, too, for selling Sita's 'celebratory' status for commercial or political gains.

What has been done cannot be undone. Its lessons, however, are for everyone to learn.

10+2 for public health, KUL CHANDRA GAUTAM
Green hunt, PUBLISHER's NOTE
Stuff of dreams, INDU NEPAL
What's sticky?, ASHUTOSH TIWARI
Long journey home

1. Gole
Crocodile Tears. 
C.K.Lal,s article looks like curate,s egg.In the mean time  Grand Ayotolla's Islamic Guards have already threatened Sita Tamang at her home in Chitwan.
Like Salman Rushdi Sita,s security must be the concern of not only the state,but also of the Human Right Representative Bennet from now on.

2. ywep
utter nonsense ... media needs to show sensitivity, but goons of so-called political party can go around doing whatever insensitivity that they want. come agan, mr lal ...?!

3. Nishma
Thank you, CK Lal, for knocking our eyes open with your brilliant and incisive mind. I too was extremely skeptical about this much-hyped story but could not pin down why until I read this piece.

4. who cares

the blame should go to ck lal and likes of ck lal for motivating, supporting evils.

5. Anonymous
The lesson to be learned-- one evil cannot be cured by another evil. As Gandhi once noted if one goes after "eye for eye" the entire world may turn blind one day. Once again, the key players and the government of Nepal  have lost their moral ground. The 'locus of power' has been hijacked by the powerful lobby outside the country. Shame to those national players who failed to initiate urgently the much-needed 'Truth and Reconciliation Committee' immediately after the war. In this critical hour one feels the need of  personality such as "Desmond Tutu" in Nepal. When "New" Nepal  fails to give justice to Maina Sunuwar or Sita Tamang or many other 'Sunuwars' and 'Tamangs' the shame collectively falls upon the Conscience of the Nation. I agree with Mr. Lal that the "Tales of victimisation may have fascinated the UN Security Council. It did precious little for the cause of truth and reconciliation in a society still struggling to recover from the conflict." May we have collective courage to deal our problems inside our own home. Let's stop washing dirty linen in the public!

6. Chandra Gurung
All I can say is that I am surprised. Now, this all is a 'grand design' to ambush Maoists--i.e. they picked a girl, sent her to NYC, brought back, a fortnightly magazine narrates the story: all this is to trap four Maoists goons from Shaktikhor camp. To prove what? Do you think there are so few evidences to nail them that the media has to go to this costly length?

CK ji, all I can say is that you are writing too much these days.:) You are best when you write about popular psyche in Terai under armed groups.

7. KiranL
It isn't the media that exploited Sita Tamang as a child, forced her to join their army against her will and against international humanitarian law. It isn't the media that threatened her when she dared speak out at the Security Council. Yet, Mr C K Lal blames the media. There is not a word against the brutal psychopathic monsters who did this to Sita and tens of thousands of other children in Nepaland continue to do so. Mr Lal has some serious screws lose. I have never been angry reading anything in Nepali Times even if I didn't agree with it. But today I am boiling mad.  

8. Johann
Comrade Ck Lal, you are one seriously confused communist. Instead of blaming the people who recruit child soldiers and then threaten them when they are exposed, you blame the media, the same media that gives you the space to propagate this drivel.  

9. Gwen
That was a cheap shot against Radhika Coomaraswamy whose work in Sri Lanka with human rights and her crusade against the recruitment of child soldiers worldwide is well known. The columnist has belittled himself and his country by targeting the special rapporteur who is trying to draw international attention to this scourge of child soldiers. His criticism should have been directed instead at those who recruited Sita Tamang and threatened her when she decided to go public with her story. It proves they are still unrepentant and don't realise the gravity of her crime. Lal and Nepali Times owe Ms Coomaraswamy an apology.

10. hange

Lal got some things very right and some others extremely wrong: he's correct to hold Radhika Coomaaraswamy and the media responsible for putting Sita Tamang at risk.  However, in absolutely no way, shape, or form was this an intentional trap for the Maoists! 

How dare you suggest that the criminals who force children into their army and then threaten them when they communicate their hardships associated with that experience are somehow the victims!  Coomaaraswamy & the media were irresponsible.  But the Maoists betray their truly Machiavellian intentions through their wicked deeds. 

Lal, I've enjoyed your pieces and you create great debates but, in this instance, I suggest you go to the mirror and slap yourself silly a few times to restore some semblance of a conscience.  Saying that, "The Maoist leadership needs to ensure that no harm comes the way of Sita Tamang, their former comrade-in-arms" is simply not enough.

11. a commoner
LaL...plz do take a long break!! We don't need  a weatherman to tell us which way the wind blows!!

12. Dave
If the UN is genuine in its concern for the brave Sita Tamang did they offer Sita Tamang and her family resettlement in a safe haven? They should then finance the moving, housing and employment/education for her and her family. Surely this is the very least that should be done for someone who is brave enough to expose such organised abuse of children.

13. jange
What has been done cannot be undone. Its lessons, however, are for everyone to learn.

And what exactly are the lessons that we are supposed to learn?

What has been done might not be possible to be undone, but the perpetrators can certainly be punished.

14. who cares

Johann, ck lal behavior is common among commies:

* jungle, trees hide maosit for 10 yr and now maosit are cutting trees, destroying jungle, including in kailali

* krishna situala from NC supported, protected maoist for months, a few weeks ago, they insulted, humiliated him.

*ram hari shrestha fed them, asked vote for them and later maoist ate him.

*igp shrestha protected life of maosit prisoners and later maoist kill him with his wife and bodyguard while in morning walk (he must had been thinking that since he had protected their life, they wont attack him from behind.)


and the same idiots keeps on complaining that they are bing surrounded by everyone. ...

dont worry, there are always going be likes of ck lal among crowd.

15. jange
Nepali  intellectuals, especially of the "left" or "progressive" variety are in a dilemma. While they are happy with the political fruits of the Maoist violence they do not have the courage to come out and say outright that they regard the Maoist violence as justified and legitimate.

They cannot oppose the violence because to do so would mean that the political fruits of the violence would also then be illegitimate.

16. Tired
@Gwen # 9

Lal's reasoning is faulty. This is akin to his "defending the rapist" by saying that the victim should not have worn provocative clothes in the first place. Ms Coomaraswamy was only drawing attention to the fact that no matter what type of clothes one wears, that should not be the justification 
for "rape". 

But to say "Lal and Nepali Times owe Ms Coomaraswamy an apology" is to be both arrogant and stupid. 

If the right to criticize a national or international human rights defender in print cannot be exercised in the land of press freedom, then, Nepal doesn't need this sort of smug, self-righteous, and morally priggish White liberal sort of human rightism. You can have that in your EU countries. Thank you very much. 

This is the sort of "we are doing so much for these wretched natives, and the ingrates dare criticize us?" approach to human rights is what we have too much of in Nepal, and this has made genuinely local human rights initiatives a big joke. How many human rights organisations can you count in Nepal? 

Being criticized for defending rights is nothing new to rights defenders. If Coomaraswamy and her White liberal friends cannot stomach both fair and unfair criticisms, they should pack up and leave, and switch to gardening.     

17. Banker
# 16, your analogy is faulty. Coomarswamy was showing that if a girl has been raped once, there is nothing wrong in putting her at the risk of getting killed.

18. Thurpunsich
Summary of Mr. Lal's message: "Media should shut the hell up."

Some analogies:

"Victims of rape should shut the hell up."

"Victims of child abuse should shut the hell up."

"Victims of injustice should shut the hell up."

"Victims of criminal activities should shut the hell up."

"And then this godly world shall forever remain peaceful. Amen! Otherwise, the perpetrators have a right to retaliate." 

19. Nirmal
I didn't understand: If by changing her name it was tried to give the impression of anonymity in that conference with Koomarswaamy about her real identity, her real name appears to be Sita Tamang, but anyways  she is no more anonymous, so it could be understood the doubt of CK Lal to some extent. Of course, the identity of the victim should be kept anonymous in order to protect her physical integrity in case there is a threat, like in this case it was supposed. But you know CK Lal, what I perceive from her body language(see the above photo), is a transmission of confidence, confidence for those who have enough energy to fight against such evilness. she ex'plained her story in such a touching way! I am impressed! She is a living symbol of Truth and Reconciliation. If one reads her words carefully, you note that she is simply against bad order, neither she has criticised the maoists ideologically nor has demonized them. She has explained the atrocities that she had to suffer and wish to voice for those who had the same fate.

Now I wonder, If Sita is not a suitable person to lead the Truth and Reconcialiation commission then who else could be? Supposedly some commies of political party to continue with their partisan warfare? Someone who will have Phd or some excellent and expensive certificates from the west or someone nearer and dearer of our most hiperpoliticised politicos? I don't think she will be given the most deserved post ie to lead the so called commission but then I forward some of my words to these International organizations that create floods of money in name of peace, enough of bigshows! If person like Sita Tamang cannot resolve her and thousands of Sita Tamangs destroyed lives in an ideal condition.

But the goons of the maoists are even more silly! Now, If something happens to her then The Maoists's headquarter will have to respond not only inside the country but will have to face the wrath that it will create globally. Look goons of Maoist, with this detail Sita Tamang is now a living symbol against atrocity, If something happens to her, she will be a true revolution against you and this time globally also. Then kamreds will know really how many countries will start prohibiting them. So, Kamred Prachanda tell your goons to protect her now from any untoward accident If not this will lead the political life of the Maoists into ruin.

P.S: My tons of thanks to the journalist of Himal media for giving her this coverage. she deserves it and wish that she is able to follow what she has decided to.

20. sameer
WOW!!  I can't belive what I am reading.  CK Lal is a confused dude, and what he wrote is utter nonsense. He has no clue how big this story is, and what honest  journalism is all about.  Himal Khabar Patrika did a wonderful job by making it a front page news, and putting the photo up front... Kudos!!!  CK Lal basically follows the political wind and his journalism is totally tainted by it. 

21. KiranL
And, just to erase any doubts in the minds of people that the Maobadis have changed, yesterday the police busted a crime syndicate that had robbed Chinese businessmen in Kathmandu. And guess who the robbers were: Comrade Bibidh (Kali Bahadur Kham) whom the party promoted to the Central Committee after he was found to have been involved in the murder of Maoist bagman Ram Hari Shretha last year. So, the reaction of the Maobadi to Sita Tamang is perfectly in accordance to party doctrine: kill, maim, threaten, intimidate, extort, plunder.

22. jange
From Napali Times issue 173

UML boss Madhab Nepal slipped out of his house in Nepalganj at three in the morning last month to cross the border to meet the Maoist troika. There was bitter irony in the ensuing confusion of his security detail-a political leader ditches his armed police bodyguards to head off for a secret meeting with the leaders of a group that they are supposed to guard him against! Nepal doesn't even tell his own party colleagues what he is up to, whereas just about everyone knows through media leaks that the meeting is in Hotel Kapur at Lucknow, located (we might add) in a country that has actually labelled the group 'terrorists'.

Do you see why we need India?

23. kalam

this is one of many similar articles by ck lal and his likes. for so many years now they have tried to justify the violence etc of maoists and make them as victims somehow. and even when it is blatantly clear like in  this case rather than focusing on what actually happened etc. he is picking this story up from an angle again to implicitly somehow justify what had happenned to the girl.

if this had happened by the army/police or anybody form the state, he would have made some much hype.

peopel like him are at times more responsible fro the violence and everyhting that maoist do and have done in the past because their implicit support is more harmful.

24. yubakmalla
CK Lal's open comment on Nepali media's biasness against the Maoists was quite daring; only the likes of Lal could have done so.You see the recent incident of Dr. Bhaktaman Shrestha's abduction case, how almost all media houses put the blame on Maoists when the case proved to be something else.

25. Ekal

I'm grateful to the author Lal and all of you who left precious comments on Sita's story. It's me to be much serious, sensitive, anxious, learner, observer, responsible and accountable for covering this 'conflict' with the cost of her life and fate. I do so recurringly when the circumstances demand in the days to come. In addition, Sita was quite openly exposed to me for Himal with the dreaded story before 5 months what maight have been a 'click' towards UN Security Council. Please see the hardcopy (Not the online archive becoz the profile story of Sita is not published in it) of Himal from 16-29 Magh 2066 (30 Jan-12 Feb 2010). Thank you!

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)