Is he a monster or is he a hero?

Sunil Babu Pant/Pahichan – During the time of the Buddha, he was slandered. When someone renounced household life to join the Sangha (monastic commune), family members and others criticized the Buddha, “He took away our sons and daughters from us.” “He took away my husband (or wife) from our family. Our family is now all torn up.”

The accusations against Buddha increased when Buddhism became more popular and Buddhist shangas multiplied in numbers. On one occasion, a follower of another religion retained a lady-for-hire (called Cinca) to make a false accusation at the Buddha. While the Buddha was preaching, she stood up with her abdomen bulging and raised her voice at the Buddha, “Sakyamuni, though you talk a good game when you preach the Dharma, what are you going to do with your baby in my tummy?”

Buddha remained silent. “Was the Buddha the father of her child!?” There was quite a stir among the audience. Somehow, while the women staging this drama, a basin tied to waist, to make look-like she was pregnant, dropped and rolled around the floor. Truth revealed. The Buddha continued his silence toward the woman and kept on preaching the Dharma.

Is the truth always revealed like that? Perhaps not! But how does one deal with such challenges in day-to-day life? False accusations — or even credit when it is not due — such challenges may be faced by each of us. And when one is put in a leadership position, this may become even more problematic.

Back in 2003 when Nepal was under state of emergency, security presence was visibly increased, day and night, across districts. In Kathmandu valley there were several check posts set-up both by the police and army. Some populations of people were more vulnerable to their attentions.

More and more (male-to-female) third-genders were stopped, briefly arrested and questioned. (male to female) Third-genders wearing makeup and female dress on a daily basis was not the norm as it has become today. However, during festivals and special occasions or going out at night to disco or clubs in Kathmandu, wearing a dress and putting make up by such third-genders were common since 1980s or even before. But, during the state of emergency, when asked by the police, “why do you wear make-up and dress”, they answered: “oh, we work for Blue Diamond Society (BDS) and our office asked us to wear makeup and dresses”.

The light-dishonesty ensured swift-release from police detention (or questioning) but also, eventually, set a very negative image of BDS’s leadership that “the office forces people to feminize”, which was/is never true. Yes, even in early years of BDS, we discussed office attire and decided to exercise the freedom of expression, at least in the office premises, as per one’s will, but no one was forced to wear what they didn’t wanted. So for years, more and more ‘metis (local term for feminine men and TGs)’, told the police and anybody else, while being caught or questioned them about putting on make up and dress, the easy mantra chanted: “oh the office asked us to wear”…fueling the myth: ‘BDS’s leadership forces people to feminize’.

After a few years the emergency lifted, BDS grew further, took on more projects, which meant increased opportunities for LGBTI to get a job who had nowhere else to go. So the competition was (and still is) fierce. A few TGs who were seeking job and already open about their gender identity and readily exercised their freedom of expression by wearing makeup and dress, argued saying: “we must get the opportunity as we are out, visible and equally qualified but gay man are still in closet, not visible”.

They also said it out-loud among the LGBTI communities that they deserve to get hired by BDS whenever there are vacancies. These arguments were then twisted further, spread across and another myth is established that “BDS leadership pushes people to wear makeup and dress to get/retain job”.

In 2012, a (female to male) third gender was assigned as a physical training (PT) officer to the community participants to the Nepal’s first LGBTI-sport festival prior to the festival. He had to start the PT at 7am in the morning at the national stadium. For few days only few people showed up in time and many anticipated participants didn’t show up at all. Disappointed by this he told them that: “Sunil sir (some staff called me Sunil sir, some called me Sunil Dai (Dai, elder brother in Nepali) ) had said everyone must come on time and regularly”. When asked “I never said this, why did you say so?” He replied saying: “Nobody listened to me, so I must use your name and see the results, more people are in PT these days and on time; everyone in the office uses your name for “things to be done” regardless of what you said or not said”.

That puzzled me thinking, using my name for the ‘good-cause’ (like this one) is OK but what if someone in the office also uses my name for selfish-causes? My weakness was I didn’t contain such name-using-phenomena in time; but it was also impossible to go after each and every staff or member of the society and try to control what they say or do using my name. So, over time, another big myth is established that everything happens within and around, not just BDS but also, LGBTI communities in Nepal has a direct link to its leadership.

The pros-and-cons of that culture were that I got all the praise for anything that went well and I was the one got blamed for anything that went not-so-well. After 2011 such ‘name-using’ incidents become more public for the wrong (or for some, right) reasons. Some lesbians who had quietly registered separate organizations started spreading rumors that: “BDS is corrupt and does not support lesbians”. Similarly, some gay identified men who had quietly registered separate organizations have started saying that: “BDS is only for flamboyant males and TGs and BDS is hugely corrupt”. Universally, negative news get quick attention and spread farther and faster. People as well as media from far and wide started believing these narratives.

A hero, so far, was painted with a mismanagement charges, corruption charges, sexual assault charges, attempted murder charges. All-praising-media so far suddenly turned against and started demonizing me/BDS. Charges were filed against the leadership of BDS at several governments, judiciary and other semi government entities. Donors rushed to investigate. For the next two years BDS spent time answering all these questions. No evidence was found to substantiate the charges since they were false charges. But the name-using did not stop for the right and/or wrong reasons.

I enjoyed working with such a great and diverse teams of very dedicated people and organizations across many districts of Nepal, and we achieved so much in terms of securing LGBTI rights in Nepal, ranging from greater visibility, to empowerment, to constitutional guarantee, to becoming powerful civil society, to joining the political arena.

By mid of 2013, I decided to quit BDS, mainly for two reasons, one was entirely personal and other reason was my own reading/understanding of these latest incidents of ‘name-using’. South Asia is a dialectical culture; one must be able to read the ‘metaphor’ behind everything said or told. The charges against me (initially started by some community members, later joined by others) were not actually charges; it was the revelation that the community is empowered enough and wishes to take the lead on the social and political space created by BDS. It took a while to read this metaphor (one donor representative actually helped me to understand this when she asked me in early 2013 at a private family gathering: “why don’t you quit, just see what they actually get up to?”). I was very happy with decoding the ‘metaphors of events’ and resigned from BDS in July 2013 but many people are, still, left with two niggling questions: Is he a monster? Or is he a hero?

Perhaps neither, as I was just doing what I believed I should do for larger good. But this ‘name-using culture’ is not just at BDS, such practices prevail across many cultures. The middleman’s role is always crucial for the success (or survival) of leadership in feudal societies. We blame the ex-King of Nepal entirely but how much we can blame to these “name-using middlemen” for the dissolution of the monarchy in Nepal? Perhaps no one will know. When the x-king took power in 2001, he was all-praised for a while and then he was demonized later by both the media and political parties.

Nepal is struggling to adopt a culture of democracy and leave behind the feudalism. As the monarchy is successfully replaced by some leaders with the help from these “name-using middlemen” entities that still occupy every institution Nepal has, establishing democratic culture will remain a challenge regardless of who is the head of state. Now, increasingly, political party leaders are unpopular and the ex-king is gaining popularity. So who is a hero and who is a monster? Is there an actual hero and a monster or they just created by these middlemen and mafias by creating myths through different means of media for the public consumption, or to serve their own interests? In India, some say PM Modi is a hero and others say he is a monster. For Tibetans, Dalai Lama is a hero, while for the Chinese, he is a monster. Different middlemen play their won card; play their own means of media, creating myths of “a hero and a monster”.

Regardless of leadership change, several times since I left BDS, every leadership, including the current one experiences (or faces) similar enhancements (or challenges) by/of these “name-using middlemen” entities. And this is not just a BDS phenomenon, the whole culture thrives on this phenomenon called: middlemen and bureaucracy (or popularly known as “dalals” and “babus” in South Asia).

So the public-in-general may never know the truths. But is it important that the truths are revealed to others? The answer is: it depends.

If you believe in Hero-Villain dichotomy, then it is important that what you have done is revealed to others and proof of truth is verified (examination of evidence to achieve justice). You are not satisfied until the truth is established. But if you believe in Karma-concept then revealing truth to others is not much of your interest, rather paying attention whether your intentions, at the time of the act, are good or bad are more important for you (examination of own’s mental tendencies). You are satisfied with your good actions regardless of other’s knowing or perceiving it because you have deeply questioned your own intentions.

In the end, that is all any of us can live with — if our actions arise from selfishness for wealth or praise, they can lead us to actions that are in conflict with our mission. And for someone who wants to become a hero, it is important for him to speculate ‘whether the history will judge him kindly or not’. But for a nobleman his own, here-now, judgement is far more important than the judging-history of the future.

Thank you and Namaste!