The Image: Surendra Lawoti

© Surendra Lawoti, Cave, Bāghdwār

This Country Is Yours, started in 2012, is a long-term body of work and is inspired by Robert Frank’s The Americans. The work focuses on Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, and looks at the six social and political movements of Nepal which include: women, Adibasi Janajati (indigenous nationalities), Dalit (untouchable groups), Madeshi (minority groups from southern plains adjoining India), the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex community and religious minorities. Besides the six movements, I am also photographing on the streets, visiting newly built housing developments, offices of political parties and other places that reflect the social and political vernacular of Nepal. As Robert Frank, I am weaving together pictures of quite disparate and complicated, but intertwined ideas. I am using Bagmati River, which meanders through Kathmandu to thread together the diverse set of images of landscapes, portraits and interiors. In This Country Is Yours, I am interested in encapsulating the essence of the social and political transformation of Nepal.

Presenting This Country Is Yours in a certain sequence is very important in order to create a certain reading of the work. The sequencing of the work starts off with two images from Bāghdwār on the Shivapuri Hill, on the Northern edge of Kathmandu Valley. The headwaters of the Bagmati River are located in Bāghdwār. Etymologically, Shivapuri is made up of two words "Shiva" and "puri." Shiva is one of the three powerful Hindu deities. And "puri" in Sanskrit means abode. So Shivapuri means the abode of Lord Shiva, and he lived there with his wife Parbati.

According to the legend, once Shiva laughed feverishly and some of his saliva from his open mouth fell and touched the ground; when it did, Bagmati River sprouted out from the earth. In this way I start the series with Hindu mysticism. When I was photographing Cave, Bāghdwār, I was thinking about Lord Shiva; his esoteric and hermitic life style. During the editing process, I was also thinking about Nepal and how until recently it had been constitutionally declared a Hindu state, which is the root of many of the issues in Nepal today. The Hindu state favoured certain groups linguistically, religiously and culturally. Indigenous nationalities and many religious minorities of Nepal have been subjugated by the high caste Hindus over hundreds of years. So Cave, Bāghdwār subtly refers to the old Nepal, the Hindu state or the status quo, in present day context.

© Surendra Lawoti, Sabita Poudel’s Bible

In sequence of the series, the two images of Bāghdwār are followed by Sabita Poudel’s Bible, Banshighat, one of fourteen squatter settlements along the banks of Bagmati River. There is a subtle juxtaposition here: of the old Nepal and the New Nepal. In 2006, Nepal was declared secular, giving much yearned freedom to many religious minorities including the indigenous nationalities of Nepal. With Sabita Poudel’s Bible, I am referring to the fact that Nepal is no longer a country with one dominant religion but is in fact very diverse and complex. The photograph is taken in Banshighat, one of fourteen squatter settlements, ironically located on the banks of Bagmati River. The owner of the Bible is Sabita Poudel, a young woman who lives in the settlement with her parents and her younger brother. Sabita’s family runs a mom-and-pop store in the first floor of their house they sleep in the second floor. Sabita’s family are Hindu, but she converted to Christianity a few years ago when she was seriously ill for an extended period. This photograph is about Sabita Poudel and the New Nepal that so many Nepalis are aspiring for.

So in the sequencing of the images I use the first few images to introduce the work by providing Nepal’s cultural and historical vernacular. Later on the work delves into the aforementioned six social and political movements of Nepal.

- Surendra Lawoti