In 2008 Nepa Laya and Kunda Dixit (of Himal Media) published a photo book, ‘A People War‘, on the internal conflict in Nepal (1996-2006). The book took a people centric focus, rather than a military one, looking at how they were impacted by the ten year Maoist led ‘Peoples War’. I interviewed Kunda Dixit on the project earlier this year to learn how the project had come about.
The photos were taken on a successful national exhibition tour resulting in a second book, ‘Never Again‘, consisting of just some of the hundreds of messages left in the exhibiti0n visitor books. At the same time a documentary film was released called ‘Frames of War‘ by Prem BK and Kesand Tseten based on the ‘A People War’ book.
This week sees the publication of the third and final book in the series, ‘People After War‘. Through painstaking research and help from journalists and the public the publishers tracked down 50 of the individuals who featured in the original book to find out what had happened to them in the intervening years.
I managed to get hold of a copy of the book yesterday and can highly recommended it. The original photos are placed with new photos of the people they managed to find and are accompanied by an update on their lives. There are some fascinating stories, both inspiring and tragic.
The books and touring exhibitions have had a powerful resonance with those who have seen them. The projects evolving aim is one of promoting non-violence and historical documentation, and appears to have worked very well on the level of awareness raising and sharing of common experience. What the project could or should achieve beyond this poses an interesting question. The photos raise questions, emotions and awareness – there is cause for reflection on what happened on a national, local and individual level. But how this inputs into the current political impasse and continuing violence in the country is difficult to assess. ‘Never Again’ may be a cry reflected across communities nation wide but the political reality cannot be ignored – peace remains fragile, justice distant, and reconciliation difficult without both of these. Despite the mass public support for peace in 2006 the movement has failed to sustain itself as a unified presence, dividing along political lines. This comes as no surprise, after all when there is a common enemy we can easily forget our differences. But as King Gyanendra reliquished power those who found it convinient to join forces divided back into their various factions. So, there may be a common call for ‘Never Again’ but there is little unity on how to resolve why it happened in the first place.
We should not expect too much of photographs, though we often do. It would be nice to think that this project could do more to sustain peace if integrated into a national campaign to put pressure on politicians. But without such a campaign this remains a project appreciated by the people but ignored by those who can ensure a peaceful future for those in Nepal. If there is a criticism of the book it is not on the photographic level, but in regards to how it fails to address the difficult question about the legimate use of violence against the state, and that ‘getting on with development’ ignores the fundamental imbalance of power relations within the country.
The photos are currently on tour in Nepal and will be on permenant exhibition at Madan Puraskar’s library at Patan Dhoka, Kathmandu.