New Delhi: In a major setback to free cross-border journalism in South Asia, the publication of Himal Southasian, which had been in circulation for the past 29 years, is being suspended by the Southasia Trust because of “non-cooperation by regulatory state agencies in Nepal that has made it impossible to continue operations”.
Announcing with deep regret the August 22 decision by its executive board to suspend the publication of Himal Southasian, the trust said “Himal is being silenced not by direct attack or overt censorship but the use of the arms of bureaucracy to paralyse its functioning”.
Noting that this was a trend which is also reflecting in other parts of South Asia in terms of independent media and civil society organisations, it said “though Nepal has been a leader of free press since the introduction of democracy in 1990, continuous socio-political chaos over two decades has progressively weakened the commitment of the political class to open society”.
Giving details of the financial problems being faced by the publication due to government policies, the trust said relying as it does on external funding support, it has adhered to the strict regimen of rules and regulations that govern its day-to-day functioning. But, it alleged, there were pressures from “state entities” due to which government officials in the various regulatory departments privately admit that they are unable to process its papers.
“With no notification or explanation, grants meant for Himal were not approved over seven months of waiting, obtaining work permits for non-Nepali editorial staff became impossible, and there were unreasonable delays in processing payments for international contributors. Our dwindling workforce tried to overcome these and other challenges, but in the end suspension was the only option,” the trust said, explaining the reasons behind its decision.
The news was met with despondency by the followers of the magazine.
Many writers, filmmakers and bloggers recalled their association with the publication and expressed their resentment at it being “silenced” by the bureaucracy.
Pointing out that the decision to suspend the publication was not sudden, the trust said “despite repeated challenges over the past three years” which included “the political attack on Himal in parliament in April 2014, as well as the escalating targeting of Kanak Mani Dixit, Himal’s founding editor and trust chairman over the past year”, it had kept publishing the magazine.
Now, it said, Himal Southasian will continue to publish till November 2016 and meet all its outstanding obligations before suspension of operations. “The editor Aunohita Mojumdar and her team remain committed to independent journalism and Himal will resume publication when circumstances in Nepal (or elsewhere) make it possible. We will keep our subscribers as well as the larger public informed about developments through notices at www.himalmag.com , a message by S. Mishra, member-secretary of the Southasia Trust executive board said.
The publication, which started in 1987 as a Himalayan journal, was converted in 1996 to a Southasian magazine that the former editor of The Hindu, Malini Parthasarathy, described as a “voice of sanity” in the region. Though its future now appears uncertain, many like former Indian ambassador to Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar, Gautam Mukhopadhyaya hoped that the editorial board would have the resilience to overcome hurdles and resume publication