From Nepali Times, ISSUE #434 (16 JAN 2009 – 22 JAN 2009)
KANAK MANI DIXIT in JANAKPUR
It was only in death that one got to know what a fine journalist Nepal had lost in Uma Singh.
Working in the most lawless part of Nepal, Uma Singh was fearless with her written and spoken word. She reported in particular against violence and discrimination against women. She did this with a sense of immediacy and professionalism in radio and print and in three languages.
Uma Singh was committed to bring to book the Siraha-based Maoist cadre who had disappeared her father and brother during the war. She wrote the truth and she named names. The insecurity all around her in the past years seemed to make her all the more fearless.
Someone decided that she could not be allowed to live and on Sunday night a gang of barbarians entered her one-room dera and hacked her to death.
Ground-level journalism, especially in the lawless middle-eastern Tarai, takes guts these days. At the frontlines are reporters and editors who wage a daily struggle amidst relentless political instability. Our nation wide FM radio revolution has filled the airwaves with energetic discourse, their print colleagues constantly push the envelope. Uma Singh was one of the best among them, a journalist who understood her calling intuitively and deeply.
Singh’s murder must push us to oppose the infrastructure of violence and impunity in Nepal, which has put innocent citizens in the line of fire. By extinguishing a journalist, the criminals have violated the public’s right to know.
The Maoist leadership, it has to be said, set a sad example by serving as a role model for opportunists who seek to use violence to various ends, by having given violence a cruel sheen of political respectability. We must demand from those who lead the government today that they transform into practitioners of democratic politics. We ask them to publicly renounce violence as a political tool.
And yet, an elected prime minister threatens armed revolt. Against whom?
Even in death, Uma Singh will continue to inspire more young women and men to take up journalism because Nepalis now know the vital need for free media. The pull of good journalism has become irresistible, because free media can assure the public that the future can be better than our past by enabling an accountable government.
In the other direction, in the meek submission to violence and the appeasement of those who continue to use it to get their way, lies statis, silence and the feudocratic state.
After we emerge from mourning the tragic circumstance of her passing, Uma Singh will shine like a beacon to those who will become tomorrow’s committed young journalists. She is the true exemplar.