Sajha Sawal: TV and Radio for inclusive debate in Nepal

In March 2019, we relaunched our longstanding weekly political debate programme Sajha Sawal (Common Questions). The show airs on TV and radio across Nepal, and is shared through multiple digital platforms, to encourage inclusive dialogue and debate between communities and their leaders.

We launchedSajha Sawal in November 2007 after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord, which effectively ended a decade-long armed conflict in Nepal. Over the years, the show has provided a vital platform for citizens across the country to hold their leaders to account during its transition to democracy.

The first episode was recorded in rural eastern Nepal and featured then Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, taking questions from traditionally marginalised citizens – including women, the rural poor and Dalit communities. A representative of the local indigenous community asked how leaders were going to protect against sexual violence:

"In my village, women are being regularly raped," she said. "Will a solution for violence against women have to wait until the elections for the constituent assembly?"

It was the first time the Nepalese public had had the chance to ask questions of their leaders in such a forum.

Twelve years on, Sajha Sawal reaches over six million people and has welcomed over 35,000 live audience members – around 8,000 of whom have been able to pose questions directly to their elected officials and government authorities.

One example is Shekh Jubaid, a sugarcane farmer in Sarlahi district in Nepal's eastern plains region. He had not received payment for several tons of sugarcane which he had sold to a local sugar mill over the course of two years. Whilst preparing for the wedding of his daughter, using remittances sent by his son from the Middle East, Jubaid’s house was destroyed by a fire – leaving him with nothing. In Episode 540 of Sajha Sawal, Jubaid got a chance to share his problem with Industry Minister, Matrika Yadav, who immediately called on the mill owner to pay him. Jubaid said:

“Thanks to Sajha Sawal I was able to share my grievance directly with the Industry Ministry, and because of his intervention I finally got my payment."

Over the years the show has covered important issues ranging from gender equality and disaster resilience to access to education and healthcare, and has featured all of Nepal's top political leaders. Since the relaunch, the show has focused on marginalised communities, federalism, regional conflict and governance.

No one left behind

Sajha Sawal aims to reflect Nepal’s rich ethnic, cultural, religious and geographic diversity – which is why we’ve recorded episodes in each of the 77 districts of Nepal, as well as provided a digital platform (bbcsajhasawal.com) for Nepali diaspora and migrant workers to watch the show and submit questions, wherever they are.

Through the Sundar Shanta Nepal project, we also partner with local TV and radio stations, strengthening their capacity and mentoring their production teams to produce similar discussion programmes. Most of these sister shows are produced in local languages to reach audiences who may otherwise be excluded. In addition to these outputs, we also provide online training for Nepali journalists on how to ensure their programmes include and serve marginalised audiences.

Project information
Project name Sundar Shanta Nepal
Funder

2007-2017: The UK Department for International Development (DFID)

2018-ongoing: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

Dates 2007-present
Themes Governance, rights, marginalisation
Outputs Sajha Sawal (Common Questions), capacity strengthening and online training on marginalisation
Broadcast partners

BBC Nepali Service, 400+ community radio stations through the Association of Community Radio in Nepal (ACORAB), 150+ commercial radio stations through the Broadcasting Association of Nepal (BAN) and 6 regional TV stations