Local cultural activism and the production of public meaning: a Kirtipur case study
Ingemar Grandin, Linköpings universitet, Sweden
This contribution studies Nepal’s democratic transition as it is articulated and interpreted in local cultural production. The town of Kirtipur is a good case of this. Cultural activism voicing both political and ethnic issues is a longstanding tradition here, and is tied in with other ways of creating public history. To give an example, the names of the four Kirtipur martyrs (shahid) of the Jana Andolan of 1990 are perpetuated not only in memorialising cultural programs but also in the very name of a successful local school.
Kirtipur cultural activists have navigated through the sometimes turbulent years of post-pancayat Nepal, actively relating to events such as the Jana Andolans and their aftermaths, the Gyanendra era with its curfews, and the advent of the Maovadis. Commenting, arguing, and reflecting upon such events but also upon more general social and cultural conditions, they have performed from makeshift local stages such as a water tank or a crossroads as well as on more formal stages in Kathmandu. As they go by, they forge links and make alliances with people (songwriters, dance directors, in theatre) and organisations (cultural, educational, political) who operate on a translocal or national level. But still the Kirtipur scene remains very much a locally situated practice.
Beside the ”live” cultural programs, the output of this practice includes media artifacts such as cassettes, cds, video-cds, and recordings and visualisations for broadcasting purposes. In both media artifacts and live programs, songs are the single most important component. New songs are continuously devised, but the Kirtipur cultural activists also draw upon an accumulated, large repertory from which items can be mobilised when the situation so calls for.
Grounded in in both historical and local/national contexts, my analysis of this cultural practice and these cultural products aim for the stories they tell about, and the meanings they give to, the sociopolitical conditions, developments and events of the recent decades. My contribution builds upon familiarity with cultural activism, in Kirtipur and on a more national (i.e. Kathmandu) level, and the empirical material has been collected in 2010 as well as intermittently throughout the transition period (and back into the late days of the pancayat era). The data include song texts as copied in notebooks, printed or the like; songs as sung at programs or demonstrated at home (and recorded by me) but also as preserved on local recordings or brought out on commercially available cassettes, cds and videos; programs as observed live and as seen on local recordings. In my study of the local production of public meaning here, not only texts, but also musical resources such as melodies and instruments and the non-verbal statements in dress and dance will be ”decoded”. And finally, not only the artifacts but also the practice of cultural activism itself (as observed and as inferred from interview data) will be ”read” as a running commentary on Nepal’s democratic transition. The very decision to stage a program or write a song at a particular moment can be understood as a statement on how that transition is seen to proceed.
Ethnic activism, Maoism, Communism, Cultural activism, Nepal, Newars, Kathmandu Valley, Music, Literature