Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chronology of a Smear Campaign (Updated and Expanded)

"And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, from idle chatter: This is called right speech."
[Samyutta Nikaya, 45.8]

On the night of June 24, a 21 year old Nepalese Buddhist nun was raped by five men. Over two weeks after the rape occurred, allegations appeared that a number of Buddhist organizations in Nepal had called for the rape victim to be expelled from her nunnery because she was no longer a virgin. Although no evidence has ever been presented that any such call for expulsion was ever made by any Nepalese Buddhist organization, this false allegation spread quickly on the Internet arousing outrage around the world.

Below is a list of 29 links (significantly expanded from this earlier list) to news stories and other material related to the rape of the Nepali nun and the subsequent outrage over the false claims about her "expulsion". If one reads through all of the following, one will not find one shred of evidence that at any time was any attempt made to "expel" the rape victim from the Sangha of Buddhist nuns in Nepal. It looks, sadly, as if the world failed to learn anything from "the smoking gun in the shape of a mushroom cloud", and "we will be greeted as liberators". The more a falsehood is mindlessly repeated, it seems, the more it is believed.

It is interesting to note that the most recent version of the story, found in the Asian Age article published just today (August 16, see the last item on the list below), does not claim that the nun was expelled, but does still claim that there was a "debate" about expelling her, and that her future as a nun is "uncertain", although both of those claims are directly contradicted by the public position taken (nearly a month ago) by both the nunnery in question and by the Nepal Buddhist Federation (see their statement of July 19 below, and also the July 22 Nepali Times article also listed below).
  1. Times of India (TOI), Sudeshna Sarkar June 27:
    Buddhist nun gangraped in Nepal bus

  2. My Republica (English language website based in Nepal), Prem Dhakal, July 6:
    Gang-raped nun's family seeks justice

  3. TOI, Sudeshna Sarkar, July 11:
    Gangraped Nepal nun now faces expulsion from nunnery

  4. Sujato's Blog (a blog from Australian Buddhist monk Anthony Best), July 12:
    Gangraped Nepal nun now faces expulsion from nunnery

  5. TOI, Times News Network (TNN), July 16:
    Debate grows in Nepal about gangraped nun (reprinted at Buddhist Channel website here)

  6. My Republica, Prem Dhakal, July 17:
    TUTH refused to treat raped nun

  7. Nepal Blogs, Matthew Frazer, July 18:
    In Support of Raped Nepali Nun

  8. Sujato (Anthony Best) again, July 18:
    Nuns and Rape: some links and a message

  9. Nepal Buddhist Federation, July 19:
    Official Press Release

  10. Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils, July 19:
    Letter to Nepal Buddhist Federation

  11. TOI, TNN, July 21:
    Gangraped Nepal nun likely to get re-admission in nunnery

  12. The Times of Iran, Bismillah News Agency, July 21:
    Gangraped Nepal nun likely to get readmission to nunnery

  13. Gulf Times, IANS (Indo-Asian News Service), July 22:
    Support grows for raped nun

  14. GlobalPost.Com, Jason Overdorf, July 22:
    Gang-raped Buddhist nun likely to be reinstated

  15. Nepali Times, Dewan Rai, July 22:
    "I wanted to murder whoever did this to my daughter"

  16. Aid Netherlands, Shreedeep Rayamajhi, July 22:
    A national level hospital denies admission to a rape victim

  17. Syracuse Buddhism Examiner, Harold Mandel, July 24:
    Gang raped Buddhist nun may come back to nunnery

  18. Inter Press Service, Sudeshna Sarkar, July 28:
  19. Religious Practices Oppress Women

  20. OneWorld South Asia, Sudeshna Sarkar, Aug 2:
    Nepal: Oppressing women in the name of religion

  21. GreaterKashmir.Com, Sudeshna Sarkar, Aug 3:
    Nepal's Buddhist nuns rally behind rape victim

  22. My Republica, Prem Dhakal, Aug 3:
    Ani Choying takes gang-raped nun under her wing

  23. TOI, TNN, Aug 3:
    Nepal's 'singing nun' comes to gangraped nun's rescue

  24. News Today (Bangladesh), [no byline given], Aug 4:
    Religious practices oppress women

  25. UK Independent, Andrew Buncombe, Aug 5:
    Nepalese chant star gives refuge to nun shunned after gang rape

  26. My Republica, Surendra Phuyal, Aug 8:
    Where even a Buddhist nun isn't spared (reprinted at the Buddhist Channel website here)

  27. Salt Lake City Deseret News, Michael De Groote, Aug. 9:
    Raped Buddhist nun's lost virginity might mean she no longer can serve (Also reprinted at the Buddhist Channel website here)

  28. Twin Cities Star Tribune, Susan Hogan, Aug 10:
    Buddhist Nunsense: East vs. West over gang rape

  29. The Interdependence Project, Lawrence Grecco, Aug 15:
    The Importance of Following a Noble Path Over a Narrow One

  30. The Asian Age, IANS (Indo-Asian News Service), Aug 16:
    Gangraped Buddhist nun faces new ordeal in Nepal

Wherever possible in the above list, the author is given by name. In some cases the only attribution available is to a wire service, such as TNN or IANS, and in other cases the proper attribution is to an organization.

It is clear that a single "journalist", Sudeshna Sarkar, has been the main source of the endlessly repeated and baseless "vituperative attacks" (a term found in the Reuters Handbook of Journalism) against Nepalese Buddhism. But this smear campaign would not have been nearly so effective without the enthusiastic support of the Buddhist Channel and two Western Buddhist bloggers: Matthew Frazer and Anthony Best (aka, Sujato).

There is a great deal of repetition in what one finds at the 29 different links listed above. But that repetition (and especially what gets repeated and what doesn't) is essential to how propaganda works. We choose what we want to hear, what we want to believe, and what we repeat to others. The truth is in there, but it is invisible to those who only look on the surface.

"I wanted to murder whoever did this to my daughter." (Nepali Times story on raped Buddhist nun)

"I wanted to murder whoever did this to my daughter."

(Follow this link to the original story at the Nepali Times website)

FROM ISSUE #563 (22 JULY 2011 - 28 JULY 2011)

[BY HER SIDE: Krishna Tamang tends to his daughter at the Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu. She hasn't spoken to anyone since the rape a month ago. Photo by BIKRAM RAI.]

Krishna Tamang had taken his cattle out to graze on a meadow near his farm in Bhojpur in eastern Nepal. Dark clouds were gathering over the mountains beyond, and he had a sense of foreboding. At 2 pm, a neighbour ran up to tell him his daughter had fallen sick in Chainpur. Krishna borrowed some money and headed off with his brother.

Krishna says he felt like he had fallen off a cliff when police in Chainpur told him what had happened to his daughter. A 21-year-old apprentice at the Laligurans Rimthen Chholing Boudha Gumba in Dilkharka, the nun had been raped repeatedly by the driver and crew of a bus she was travelling in. They also stole the Rs 130,000 she was carrying that her sister Kabita Tamang, who lives in India, had sent home for constructing a new house in the village.

She was travelling from Khandbari to Dharan on 24 June, but a flooded river on the way forced the bus to make an unscheduled night stop. All the lodges in the village were full because of stranded passengers.

Although some passengers offered to share their room, the crew convinced her to spend the night in the bus. At 11pm, Drona Rai, sleeping in a bus parked nearby heard a scream and went to help. He was beaten up by the rapists.

The next morning there was commotion as word spread about what had happened. Members of the Limbuwan Volunteers were alerted, they caught the culprits in a place called Kharang and handed them over to Chainpur police.

By the time Krishna reached Chainpur the next day his daughter had been taken by relatives to Paramount Hospital in Siliguri in India after initial treatment at a local health centre. It took Krishna two more days to reach Siliguri and be by his daughter's side.

"She was in a terrible state," Krishna recalls, "she was still unconscious in the ICU. I wanted to murder whoever did this to my daughter."

When her family couldn't pay and the bills had exceeded INR 200,000, the Siliguri hospital evicted her. The family flew her back to Kathmandu on 15 July, but the Teaching Hospital refused to admit her despite request from members of National Women's Commission.

"We were told that the government hospital does not take this kind of case," recalls the nun's uncle, Surya Tamang. "We returned got to a relative's house at 9pm after waiting at the hospital all day."

After much lobbying with politicians, Teaching Hospital finally took the nun in the next day. Doctors told us she is suffering from extreme post-traumatic stress disorder. "She needs psychological and social support at this time more than medical treatment," Vidya Dev Sharma of the hospital's psychiatry wing, said.

The nun's sister, Kabita, watches as she tosses and turns in bed, moaning. Her bed is near the door of a large ward full of patients. She covers her face with her blanket every time someone walks past. Kabita says her sister hasn't spoken a word to her family, or to the doctors. She says: "Look at what those demons did to her, a young woman who has devoted her life to god."

The family is now worried about her future. Although there were initial reports that the nunnery where she studied in Pharping had excommunicated her, the Nepal Buddhist Federation (NBF) has denied this. "I was misquoted in the Indian media, she was never expelled, there is no provision in Buddhism for excommunication," said the NBF's Norbu Sherpa.

The Nepal Tamang Lama Ghedung, an organisation of Tamang Lamas, has said it will reinstate the nun in the local Gumba in Sankhuwasabha once she gets well. Palden Lama of the Ghedung said: "Her celibacy was broken against her will, Buddhist philosophy is about protecting, rescuing and rehabilitating the victim instead of adding to the pain."

The Sankhuwasabha District Court has sent all five accused to jail for further investigation. In Khandbari, government lawyer Krishna Bhandari says the court has recommended compensation and medical expenses for the victim. "The court will give its verdict once the legal procedures are complete. All we need now is statement of the victim," Bhandari told Nepali Times.

Two members of the bus crew, bus driver Raj Limbu and conductor Bhuwan Gurung have already confessed to the crime, while the rest have pleaded not guilty. The maximum punishment is a jail term for up to 10 years, but since there is also a robbery charge, they could get an additional six year sentence.

However, the bus syndicates in Sankhuwasabha are lobbying with the local administration to have the accused released. They brought transportation to a halt in four districts in eastern Nepal this week to put pressure on the administration.

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