Manika Jha: I write for justice

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Oliver Spencer

02 May 2012

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Manika Jha visited the UK with Peace Brigades International, who do great work protecting human rights defenders and journalists like Manika worldwide. This interview was carried out on 24 November 2011.

ARTICLE 19: What issues do you cover in your journalism?

Manika Jha: 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 journalists covering issues like this?

Corruption and crime issues are covered by other journalists - male journalists also cover these. But in women's issues and women's rights issues only a few other people cover but not so much.

Why don't many people cover women's issues?

I'm from the Tarai [a strip of Nepal between the the Himalayan foothills and the border with India] and there it is a male dominated society. In most newspapers, the owner and the editor are male and so women's issues are not something they touch. They never cover it. Sometimes, when a woman is raped or murdered they have to cover it. But basically they don't write a lot about it.

Are the articles that you write seen as being controversial?

Sometimes..

Why are they controversial?

Because society is not so free. In our society, men think that women have no rights so when they read that we have rights - when we fight for our rights - it's always controversial.

When you write about a woman who is inside her house - she has rights. When you write about the woman who doesn't want to sleep with her husband - she has rights. But when I write about that it's controversial for society. Because the woman 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 of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, but I don't feel any kind of support because they are all mostly male and I am the only female board member so...

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.

How about with the police? 

In our society, everywhere it's male. In the police, there are no women at a senior level. 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.

We are still in conflict and are waiting for the constitution so talking to the police is not... they are not so interested in talking with civil society, they do not want to talk to journalists. We don't have a good relation with the police, that's easy to say.

What changes would you like to see for 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 says women can't do anything. I want to prove 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 links 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.

[To offer support, please contact ARTICLE 19]

Background on Manika:

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. 

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