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Article- Nepal's Top 7 Debaters, filling in the gap for parliamentary discussions

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Nepal's Top 7 Debaters, filling in the gap for parliamentary discussions
By Aarati Raghuvanshi

In a country where young generation is barely aware of their rights, responsibilities and their strength, “Nepal's Top 7 Debaters” is a show that is on its way to change this mindset for good. Produced by Today's Youth Asia, a youth led organization overseen by its president, Santosh Shah, the TV series is one of the very few platforms where Nepali students are encouraged to voice their opinions on a national level. Launched in July 2012 and successfully on its way to its third season, this annual debate show attracts viewers throughout the country. The show has also achieved recognition as the world's first reality television show based on a debate theme.

The Constituent Assembly formed in 2008 was dissolved in 2012 without delivering the promised Constitution. At a time when Nepal's political, social, and economic development is at halt, the show has become a medium to address public concerns. Megan Titley, a part of the live audience says, “It's great to get young people, especially girls, out there thinking, analyzing, and adding to the conversation about topical issues.” With thought-provoking topics such as ‘whether Nepal should focus on Asia or the West for its economic prospects’ and if ‘Nepal government should ban the privatization and exploitation of its natural resources’, this platform is a powerful tool for the Nepalese youth to discuss current affairs that were previously limited to the national political figures of the country.

The debate show has also been rated as of the highest caliber by visiting judges from all over the world. For one of the final episodes, where the topic of discussion was “Peace is possible without justice”, one of the judges, Dr. Dee Aker from University of San Diego, praised the tenth grade finalist, Anuska Pant, saying: “I'm very very impressed, I'm not sure if I have university students that would do half as well as you did with the topic.” As for the other finalist, Urusha Silwal of grade twelve, fellow judge Dr. Lilia Velasquez, from California Western School of Law said, “ I wish that my law students had half of the passion that you do while debating”. When asked about the concept of the program, Santosh Shah, the producer of the show says, “After the Constituent Assembly was dissolved in May 2012, there was a dearth of public platform to discuss the grave national issues, and my team and I thought that a debate series on a national channel would fill in the need very well, where young concerned citizens can fearlessly voice forth their findings, logics and public opinions. That is how we conceptualized Top 7 Debaters.”

The TV series may have the added glamour of a reality show, however participants are solely judged by Santosh Shah and two alternating judges. Claire Naylor, a judge for one of the episodes, says “Everyone has their own standard and way of judging, but we all look for the same things from a participant - content, clarity, and confidence. I was blown away by the maturity and the conviction of the students.” Naylor further adds “It's beautiful and powerful to see youths do something for other youths,” denoting to the fact that the production team is made up entirely of people in their 20s - the producer of the show Mandira Raut and the entire production team are in their 20’s, while the anchors and the research team are even younger.

Leadership Academy, the youth education wing of Today's Youth Asia that actually operates the show, aims to train many young intellectuals on the technical details of scripting, editing, and production, exposing them to the world of media at an early age. In fact, not only are youths included in the production of the show, but also in the brainstorming phase of the show as students can suggest interesting topics for debate through the use of social media.

Nepal's Top 7 Debaters is a show that has ignited a spark on the once stagnant and withdrawn spirit of the people of Nepal. It has and continues to provide young debaters a powerful platform to raise genuine and forthright concerns of common people that are often missed out in the discussions of parliaments, politics, diplomacy, and developments. It is indeed heart-warming and inspiring to see an organization that recognizes and values the role of the youth in our society.

[Aarati Raghuvanshi is an undergraduate student at Boston College, USA.]

To watch the debate episodes: www.youtube.com/Top7Debaters

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