ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Publication Date : 31-01-2013
After the opening up of democratic space in 1990, public discussion started to include all manner of issues and concerns. Yet, there were two institutions that remained sacrosanct—the monarchy and what was then the Royal Nepal Army. Journalists treated these institutions with great caution and respect. The media found it even more difficult to criticise them openly after a state of emergency was imposed in late 2001. But things began to change after the 2006 People’s Movement. The monarchy was toppled and its links to the Army severed. In the years since, the Army has been discussed publicly in a bold and open way befitting a democracy. Things, however, appear to be changing: there has been growing proximity between the ruling party, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), and the Army. Following complaints from the Army regarding the newly-released movie Badhshala, the ministry of defence agreed to ban it for public viewing altogether.
The Nepal Army has taken offence at the movie, which portrays the institution’s actions during the conflict in a negative light. And it may well be that the movie is not historically accurate and unnecessarily critical of the Army. In a democracy, however, these are not grounds on which a film, or a creative work, can be banned. Rather, the film has to be allowed full exposure. The Army can make its objections publicly known. Reviewers and the audience can discuss how reliable the movie is as a historical document. Nepal has only recently come out of a bloody conflict. Artistic portrayals of recent history are necessary for Nepalis to come to a better understanding of what happened. Artistic productions should reflect as many different points of view as possible. The attempt to ban certain movies or books means that the state is preventing its citizens from trying to come to a deeper understanding of their history.
The Army, it can be argued, is unable to take criticism because of its controversial past. For centuries it enjoyed a privileged place in the state structure and has always been above criticism. There is a tendency for the institution to view all criticisms against it as detrimental to the national interest. But the Army should recognise that times have now changed. The old hierarchies have eroded to a large extent. As an important organ of the state, the Army is meant to protect the country’s people and therefore, it should be able to take criticisms from the people in stride. In many cases, criticism can serve a good purpose: it can make state institutions aware of their weaknesses that had previously never been discussed. For these reasons, it is of the utmost importance that the movie Badhshala be allowed its screening across the country. In banning the movie, the Army, and a complicit Baburam Bhattarai government, have set a negative precedent in the consolidation of democracy. Who’s going to be the next target and on what pretext?