Manika Jha was in the UK with Peace Brigades International, who do great work protecting human rights defenders all over the place. They also sent me the background information at the end of the interview. Apologies for the stuttering nature of my questioning!
NB: I’m planning to greatly increase the amount of interviews I put up on here as I so often have questions about the humanitarian sector that irritate me sufficiently to warrant asking some people who know about such things – as I have done previously, to an extent. I’d like these interviews to be video-fied so as to strip away my all-to-unecessary editorial filter and perhaps produce something more useful than my limited interviewing skills currently elicit.
Anyhow, that’s all for the future so, you know, watch this space.
What issues do you cover in your journalism?
Mostly I cover issues like violence against women, domestic violence and the human rights situation [in Nepal]. Sometimes I also write about crime issues and corruption.
Are many other people covering issues like this?
Corruption and crime issues are covered by other journalists – male journalists also cover these. But women’s issues, women’s rights issues some other people also cover but not so much.
Why don’t many people cover women’s issues?
I’m from Taraji [a rural area of Nepal] and there it is a male dominated society. In most of the newspapers, the owner and the main person is male so mostly the women’s issues is not an issue they touch. They never cover it, mostly: sometimes, when a woman is raped or murdered they have to cover it. But basically they don’t write a lot about that.
Are the articles that you write seen as being controversial?
Why are they controversial?
I told you, the society is not so free. In our society the men think that women have no rights so when you read the issue that we have rights, when you fight about your rights, it’s controversial, always. When you write about the woman who is inside his house – she has a right. When you write about the woman who doesn’t want to sleep with her husband – she has rights. But when I write about that, for society, it’s controversial. Because the woman, she has to always sleep with her husband so these are very controversial issues.
Do you get any support from other media professionals?
I don’t have any support in the media. Yes, I am a board member for Federation of Nepali Journalists, also, but any kind of support I don’t feel because mostly they all are male and I am the only female board member so… But there are some international organisations who help me like Peace Brigades International, because of them I am in Europe and I’m talking to you now.
Just not domestically.
How about with the police?
In our society, I told you, everywhere it’s male. In the police, there are no women police in the high level. With me, I am a woman journalist and when I want to talk with them about a lot of issues, about women’s rights issues, they don’t want to speak to me because I’m a woman. Mostly, the situation of Nepal we are still in conflict, we are waiting for the constitution so talking to the police is not… they are not so related with civil society members, they do not want to talk a lot to journalists. We don’t have a good relation with police, that’s easy to say.
What changes would you like to see from your work?
Mostly I think in our society, women never read newspapers. They are not educated, they don’t know about their rights – what’s their rights, what’s women’s rights, what’s a human being’s rights? So I write for justice. I want to change the mindset of men that “women can’t do anything”. I want to prove that; that we can do, we have the capability, if you give us a chance then we can do something.
If someone’s interested in what you’re working on or where you’re working do you have any links for people who want to support your work?
From the international community we are always waiting for support. We are not looking for any type of economic support or anything like that but moral support, I think, is the best type of support for our job. I’m working in a very critical situation so if anyone wants to support me…. maybe I want their blessings and their moral support.
Manika Jha is a 23 year old female journalist and human rights defender from Janakpur, Dhanusha district (bordering India). Dhanusha district is widely regarded as one of the most volatile regions of Nepal, where police corruption is rife and political party cadre and armed groups act with impunity. Dhanusha is also very conservative socially, particularly regarding the role of women in society.
Manika started working as a journalist in this context when she was 19 years old. Due to the dangers inherent in the work, and the need to work all hours and in traditionally ‘male’ spaces, she is currently the only female reporter in the district. Manika has written for two daily national newspapers and focuses on exposing corruption and on women’s rights issues.
This is difficult and dangerous work and there are many who would like to see Manika silenced. In January 2009, Manika’s neighbour and co-female journalist Uma Singh was brutally murdered by a group of 15 unknown assailants. That same night a cross was drawn on Manika’s door and she was told she would be ‘next’. Over the past two years, Manika has received numerous verbal and written threats and has been attacked on at least three occasions, including an attempt on her life in May 2010.