Building the SWAY Digital Library
The Sway research team has now collected more than 1600 documents for the project’s digital library, and the cataloguing effort is ongoing. These items, in both Nepali and English, include articles, reports, essays, blogs and op-ed articles published in newspapers, periodicals. journals, and online news portals and platforms. Many items published online have already become inaccessible and irretrievable in their original locations. Hence, this collection is already proving to be valuable for reference and research.
Although the majority of the items are on the aftermath of the 2015 April earthquake, a few go back in time to discuss historical earthquakes and the responses to them. While many of the earlier items focus on earthquake damage documentation and reconstruction and relief efforts, the focus shifts gradually along with the political developments. The initial focus on relief gives way to constitution-drafting as the political parties found in the wake of the earthquake an impetus to finally draft and promulgate the long-awaited constitution. One outcome of this rushed process was the (perceived) suspicion and sense of exclusion felt by the historically marginalised peoples, especially the Madhesis. The items then focus on the ensuing border blockade by the Madhesis, in ‘collusion’ with India, which also felt offended that its views were not listened to by the Kathmandu politicians. The resentment at both the Madhesi (political parties) and anger at India is palpable in the items from this period as Nepal suffered from shortages of essential goods such as fuels and relief/reconstruction supplies.
As the six-month-long blockade ends in February 2016, the focus of these writings shifts back to reconstruction efforts as reconstruction bodies are put in place and policies are drafted. While many of the items have focused on the suffering of the earthquake-affected people during the monsoon and the winter, with the coming of the earthquake anniversary the items note a flurry of reconstruction activities, starting with symbolic pronouncements to reconstruct cultural and religious sites. There is also a distinct focus on new building codes and materials with a view to disaster risk reduction as well as ‘building back better’; however, there are also grievances among the affected people that processes for compensation and assistance are complicated and the delayed compensation is not sufficient.
The authors of the documents in the collection are Nepalis as well as foreigners, and specialists, reporters, scholars as well as laypersons. What comes out in the writings is their deep commitment and attachment to Nepal in one way or another. These writings represent their initial fears, increasing frustrations, and reassuring faith in the Nepali people. Yet as one of the prescient writings, building from other disasters, warns early on, and which has been expanded upon in later writings too, that which governments and development organisations deem to be the ‘resilience’ of people should not be an excuse for inaction and incompetence. The writings go on to document the difficulties and obstacles of reconstruction in the post-disaster context, even as the dogged hardiness of the affected people continues to be described as their resilience. The collection shows how massive natural disasters such as an earthquake can bring about political and cultural changes in a society that are not only abrupt but also permanent.
The project is currently working to secure permissions from copyright holders to enable us to make as much of this material as possible accessible to researchers from mid-2019 onward.
Khem Shreesh (Social Science Baha, Kathmandu), 9 May 2018