Indra: a voice for the voiceless

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Indra Adhikari grew up with the world against him, but as we sat down to discuss his life I quickly discovered that he was never going to live a life of regret.

As I listened to the life he had lived, I could not help but contrast it to my own. I looked at the challenges I faced growing up and compared them to his – I realised that there was no comparison and probably never will be.

A lot of the struggles I faced were silly ‘first-world problems’. I did not have to worry about the food I ate being of inedible quality, or only having one set of clothes.

I sat there in my chair feeling more insignificant by the minute, with guilt creeping deep into my conscience. These thoughts continued to sweep through my mind and I worked out only one word could best describe my life so far – lucky.

At the age of eight, Indra and his family moved from Bhutan to a Nepalese refugee camp. They set up a plastic tent, which all nine members of the family lived under for eight months.

Agencies were only able to supply families in the camps with a limited food supply. This covered basic things such as lentils, rice, cooking oil and a few vegetables. Indra told me how, at times, he and his family were forced to eat food not even their dogs would eat because they simply had no other choice.

The Adhikari family later moved to another Nepalese camp where they were forced to construct their own house using mud bricks and bamboo.

Living in confined, dilapidated surrounds was not the only worry for the family, as limited clothing amongst them meant that Indra went without pants until he was in Year 8. He also had only one pair of pyjamas and did not see a pair of slippers on his feet until he reached Year 6.

This meant that there was nothing that went to waste, because waste could not be afforded. Old clothes would be repaired countless times and those no longer wearable were torn up and used for mattresses.

When it came to Indra’s schooling within the camp, there was a similar story to be heard. There were no fancy textbooks, or exercise books, or chairs, or desks. The teacher would have to stand while the students would sit on the floor.

Families in the camps had to also battle with frequent sicknesses and Indra’s parents were no exception. His father has been deaf ever since he can remember and lost mobility in his left arm after an altercation with a thief, while his mother continues to suffer from an unknown psychological illness.

Common coughs and colds also ripped through the camps, and with paracetamol the only available medication, many people died from easily treatable conditions.

Indra was one of the lucky ones. He was hardly sick.  However, because of the health issues faced by his parents, a lot of the family responsibilities were left to him and one of his brothers.

Many of us in today’s society could see this as being somewhat of a burden on our lives, hindering our potential. But the culture Indra grew up with was heavily based around the importance of family and complete selflessness.

“If I were to live by myself in a room, I would get depressed and I would go mad.

“We have to live in a family and we have to have interactions all the time. We have to see our relatives all the time.”

Indra said while he was studying in Australia one of the girls in his class said she would not bother conversing with her mother when they were at home at night. Instead she would send her a text message.

Indra explained to me how sorrowful he was of the girl and her family. He questioned if they were even a family if emotions and feelings could not be shared with one another face-to-face.

When Indra talked about his family in the camp, they acted as one body. Each person fought for one another because that was all they had. Money earned by individuals would be shared amongst the family. However, it was shared in a way that was beneficial for everyone – unless, of course, a certain individual urgently required something significant.

After hearing this what I found to be most remarkable was that Indra lived through this all before he was 18.

As harsh as his life had been, Indra never settled for anything mediocre, but I struggled to where he found his inspiration.

After I asked him, he told me it came from the famous Nepali poet, Laxmi Prasad Devkota, who wrote his first critically acclaimed poem at the age of ten. Indra said he looked at this achievement and said to himself: “Okay, if this boy can write a poem of such a great standard, why cant I?”

From here, Indra began to write and became the drama writer for his school in Year 4. Not before long, other schools started to approach him to write for them as well.

When he was in Year 9, a newspaper was started within the refugee camps called The Shangri-La Sandesh and was published in English. It was established to have the voices of the refugees heard.

 “We had lived in the refugee camp for ten years and there was no one speaking for us,” said Indra.

“There was a need for us to speak out, but we didn’t need to tell our stories to the Nepalese. We needed to tell our stories to the world.”

Indra went on to tell me that everyone involved with the paper at one point faced legal action from the local authorities.

“They threatened us and said we would be put into jail, but we were ready and said, ‘Okay send us because it doesn’t matter. You haven’t spoken for us, so we have to speak for ourselves. If you want us to do this legally – give us that right. If you cant give us permission to speak then you do it for us.’”

He worked with the newspaper for about two years. After these two years he had finished his schooling and decided to continue to pursue a career in journalism. So he moved to the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu.

When he arrived in Kathmandu he was 17 years old, had nowhere to live, no job and about 3500 rupees in his pocket (approximately AUD$25).

He managed to locate an old neighbour from one of the camps, who had moved to the city, and stayed with him for 22 days. He found a room to rent, but was still unemployed and had started journalistic training, which he had to pay for as well. He was able to secure a job at a broadsheet Nepalese newspaper, which he wrote an article for once a month earning him 700 rupees – the cost of his rent.

Indra at one point went a week without food, but still attended his classes. It was a 45 minute walk every morning because he could not afford the bus fare.

More opportunities started to arise once he completed his ten-month journalism course and he was able to secure more articles in local newspapers including The Rising Nepal. This job paid him for no more than two articles per week at 560 rupees each. However, he could not tell his employers he was Bhutanese, as the Bhutanese were not legally permitted to work.

Two and a half years later he established the Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) and through it started The Bhutan Reporter in Kathmandu. This publication consulted with embassies and the Consulate General offices in efforts to have the voice of the Bhutan people heard and spread amongst the local communities.

In the end, The Bhutan Reporter succeeded and its voice was heard with global media organisations like the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera consulting with them for Bhutanese information. It did, however, cause Indra to fall 150 000 rupees in debt and he was terminated from a number of jobs because of his Bhutanese heritage.

He also began teaching and lecturing a masters course on ‘Journalism in Bhutan’, as people had thought he had completed the masters degree himself, but he was yet to do so until he reached Australia in 2010.

Nowadays, he continues his studies and still consults with media personnel in Bhutan and Nepal, as he spends his first hours of every day catching up on their news stories. He is a producer and broadcaster on the Radio Adelaide program Yuba Sansar and will always be a dedicated family-man.

Indra Adhikari is not a man who accepts defeat. He is not a man who ever lets struggles overcome him. When he decides he is going to do something he lets nothing stand in his way and will achieve his goals at any cost.

He lived in hell for 18 years. He lived without being regarded as a human being and had almost no rights in this world. Now he calls Australia home and he is tremendously grateful.

 “You have given me a new life. I have started from nothing, but I hope to repay the debt I owe to this country for the incredible support and humanity.”

Indra has not just defied all odds; he has changed his stars. He achieved greatness out of a life-long struggle by not only making sure he accomplished what he set out to do, but by helping countless others in the process.

Courtesy : Our World Today

Editor’s note : Though not mentioned in the story, Mr Indra Adhikari was one of the founders and former editor-in-chief of the Bhutan News Service, the Bhutan’s first news agency run by Bhutanese refugee journalists since 2006.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Indra Bhai,
    Your story is the story of all Bhutanese who were compelled to live the most pathetic life by the autocratic regime of the so called country of Gross National Happiness. You are an inspiration to the rest of Bhutanese! Keep up your good work for the good cause!

    Bhagirath khatiwada
    New Hampshire, USA

  2. It’s a good story, I like people succeeding. I really Hope Bhutanese people succeed, we as a whole succeed. The question is are you doing the show on your own or assistance from the Australian Government? I bet its not on your own coz to run a show we need heck lot of advertisement and endorsements. None the less i think its juts waste of time to run a show like that. we get whole lot of good internet Radios in Nepali. The fact he writes for some nepali news paper is awsome. Thats independent journalism. But whatever radio you are running is a disaster. Please I have a suggestion for all of the media people: Stop making movies like ”Naya Suruwat” and songs from some lunatics. Being on youtube with a 500 hit doesnt make any difference. People have done quality entertainment like this particular website or some descent documentary from the Dutch Journalist. And all of you who say Im a Bhutanese/nepali is a shame if you organize a cultural program and dance on a Hindi song. What a shame..I listen to deep down western songs but let me make you clear i respect our culture and the artists.
    Amen!!