Youth Federation of Nepal, the youth wing of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), issued a strong statement on Saturday, taking exception to a satirical song ‘Lootna Sake Loot Kancha’ by Pashupati Sharma. The ominous statement warned that the Youth Federation would be “forced to take strong action that could be detrimental to his musical career” if Sharma failed to make amends for where he has erred, “knowingly or unknowingly”.

Sharma, who has produced a number of songs with social messages in the past, pulled his song from YouTube less than 48 hours after its release. The move sparked widespread criticism as an attack on freedom of expression and an artist’s creative right. People took to social media, and Maitighar Mandala, to express their outrage against what they saw as an attempt to silence dissenting voices.

Though there was no official government pressure on Sharma to remove his song, the incident, proponents of freedom of expression say, comes on the heels of a raging debate about the government’s proposed new Information Technology bill, which curtails freedom of speech online and increases surveillance of personal data. They also expressed concerns about whether Sharma’s decision to pull the song signalled the emergence of self-censorship.

“It’s evident that a threat issued by Youth Federation Nepal forced Pashupati Sharma to resort to self-censorship,” said Tara Nath Dahal, chairman of the Freedom Forum Nepal, an NGO working for democracy, protection and promotion of human rights, press freedom, freedom of expression and right to information in Nepal.

In a statement early on Sunday, Freedom Forum said that “deleting a video song signals there is no space for people with critical view; anyone criticising government and public officials are easy targets; there is no space for criticism in Nepal.The Youth Federation’s circular has clearly panicked the singer and spread alarm over the aware populace.”

After removing the video, Sharma said in a Facebook statement of his own that he needed to “change some words”, and maintained that he, as an artist, would continue to raise his voice against corruption, social anomalies and the inaction of those in power. Sharma said that his song was purely a satirical take on social anomalies and that he was well aware of the fact that there should be good governance. “I did not write this song with any prejudice against any party or any organisation,” he said.

When the Post reached out to singer Sharma and asked why he had removed the video from Youtube, he said: “Initially I was scared also… as I felt whether there were some weaknesses on my part while writing the song.”

“But after the overwhelming positive response, I am considering adding some more lines to this song before uploading the video because now I feel I was representing the views that everybody has about today’s situation,” he told the Post.

The song ‘Lootna Sake Loot Kancha’ takes a satirical look at the corruption prevalent in public and government institutions in the country and includes a chorus that roughly translates to “If you can rob, you should rob; you can’t do it anywhere else in the world, but you’re free to rob in Nepal.”

In the song, the singer talks about inaction in high-profile corruption incidents, including the 33kg gold smuggling case, corruption in the Airbus widebody purchase scam, a new helicopter for the President, and the government’s failure to fix the simplest of things, like traffic lights. The ruling party’s youth wing, however, has serious objections over the song and has labelled it a plot of the opposition Nepali Congress party.

“Yes, the rank and file of our organisation is angry with Sharma’s choice of words in his song,” Ramesh Poudel, chairperson of the Youth Federation, told the Post. He, however, denied that the Federation had issued a threat via Facebook.

“It was not an official statement by the Youth Federation. There are several such pages that are operated by our members throughout the country,” he said.

The Oli administration, which completed its one year in office last week, has been facing criticism for its failure to deliver on many fronts and its intolerance of dissenting voices since it came to office.

With social media abuzz over the federation’s statement and Sharma’s subsequent self-censorship, some drew parallels between the government of today and the partyless Panchayat regime when there was little room for freedom of expression. In the period, artists used songs, theatre and poetry to take potshots at the government.

Rayan, an artist popular for singing ‘janabadi songs’ [people’s songs] during the Panchayat days, said he had not watched Sharma’s video, but if it has been removed after pressure from certain sections, then it’s wrong.

“In a democracy, people have the right to speak against the government of the day. They have the right to criticise its work,” said Rayan, who is now chancellor of the Nepal Academy of Music and Drama. “The government should learn from such criticism and make amends.”

Jeevan Sharma, also a ‘janabadi’ singer, said that though he disagreed with some of the words Sharma had used in his song, he “denounce[d] the move of making any artist remove his song or stop anyone from singing or writing things that are critical of the government.”

The Youth Federation has now taken up the issue with the Lok Dohori Pratisthan, or the Academy of Folk Songs.

“I have put forth our official concerns regarding [Pashupati Sharma’s] choice of words with Badri Pangeni, chairperson of the Lok Dohori Pratisthan,” Poudel of the Youth Federation told the Post. “The singer has his right to express, but listeners too have their right to disagree with his presentation.”

The federation is primarily concerned with the way Sharma had “demonised the leaders of a particular political party,” said Poudel.

“There is no need to complicate the issue unnecessarily as things have settled since the singer removed the video,” said Poudel. “If there are any outstanding issues, the federation is ready to settle them through dialogue.”

In a statement later on Sunday, Pangeni, chairman of the Lok Dohori Pratisthan, stood in defence of singer Sharma and urged him to upload the song once again “in the original form”.

The words used in Pashupati Sharma’s song, which have been termed “controversial”, have been appearing in the media quite frequently, Pangeni said in the statement. “If these words—with their clear meanings—can appear in mass media and articles, then it is unacceptable that they are barred from appearing in a song,” he added. “The audience and the people have all the right to get to enjoy artists’ creations in their original form.”

Source: The Kathmandu Post

Published: February 18, 2019