Course:ANTH309/2024/Exploring Nepal: Unveiling the Diversity of Identities

From UBC Wiki


Nepal is a landlocked country located in South Asia, bordered by India to the south and west, and China to the north. It covers an area of “147,181 square kilometres and has a population of approximately 29.6 million people.” [1] Nepal is known for its rich cultural heritage, stunning natural landscapes, and high mountain peaks, including Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. In this country, exist diverse identities, where culture and tradition are deeply intertwined with the land, mountains, and rivers. Our group seeks to explore and unveil the various identities that exist within Nepal, including cultural, linguistic, gendered, religious, and environmental.

Map of Nepal between the borders of China and India

Our goal is to delve into the intricate and complex nature of Nepali identities through a series of insightful essays. By examining how these identities have evolved, we hope to shed light on their impact on Nepal's social, political, and economic landscape. Our project is centred around the theme of "Identities," which will guide our exploration of the unique and diverse experiences of Nepali people and their realities. Each essay in this collection will dive deep into a specific aspect of identity, ranging from the connection between culture and landscape preservation to the impact of migration and diaspora identity.

Our essays cover a broad range of topics, including religious and secular identities, gendered identities, linguistic identities, mountains as a source of identity through cultural connections, individual and collective identities in art, and the impacts of the Nepalese Civil War and environmental crisis and circumstances on shaping Nepali identities. Additionally, we explore the intricacies of upholding Nepalese traditions overseas and domestically amidst modern cultural practices and challenges surrounding diaspora. By examining these individual themes, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the rich, diverse and complex tapestry of identities that exist within Nepal.

(Julia): Understanding Culture’s link to Landscape and Identity Preservation


Nepal is an immensely multicultural and biologically diverse country that draws global attention for its unique national identity due to these characteristics. In the past 200 years, Nepal has been the primary focus of over 3,500 studies focusing on its biodiversity[2], and the country boasts over 142 distinct and unique cultural identities[3]. Nepal is a culturally and biologically diverse place, and the correlation between both is interconnected. The cultural identities of Nepal are deeply entrenched in the land, and the degradation of one of these aspects impacts the other. We will explore Nepal's cultural identities ties to their environments and explore through a focus on the Tharu peoples of the Terai Arc how cultural degradation is deeply tied to land degradation.

The Interconnectivity of Cultures To Land

The diverse cultural identities have been founded upon and are deeply interconnected with the environment and its roles in the discourse of the diverse cultures of Nepal.  For example, the Limbu peoples of Eastern Nepal live deeply connected lives in relation to their land. Their religion and understanding of self are rooted in the animism of local environmental features such as deities' presence in earth, mountains, and rivers[4]. Their cultural rituals for birth, marriage, and death are also deeply entrenched in their relationships with the land. The Chepang peoples of the Chitwan region's culture have been deeply influenced and depend on their land as they lived historically nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles and now rely on subsistence agriculture. However, they also have continued traditions of dependence on fruit gathering and game hunting[4]. Their understanding of self and social structures are also centred around their land's natural features, with their clans derived from religiously worshipped deities of their landscape. Both of these geographically distant and uniquely distinct cultural groups prove the deeply important and entrenched relationships their cultures have with their land. However, in more recent years, both of these groups have reported hardships and cultural degradation as their land access has shrunk. The correlation of these instances is evident as seen in their understandings of self, ways of life for survival, relationships to resource access, and ritualized traditions are all interlinked and dependent upon their land.

Tharu women crossing their land in the Terai of South-Western Nepal to go fishing with their traditional nets

The Tharu Peoples Land Loss and Cultural Degradation

To understand the realities of the interconnectedness of cultural identity, degradation, and land, we will further explore the Tharu people of Nepal and their current struggles and experiences with cultural degradation and its link to their land loss. The Tharu people live in the Terai Arc region of southern Nepal. They have been living in the Terai for an estimated 600 years and have developed a unique culture deeply entrenched in their landscape[4]. They worship deities understood to be embedded in their landscapes and these deities and landscapes are also important to their understanding of the continuity of their ancestor's presence in their lives past their death[5]. The Tharu’s ancestors' spirits become situated in their land and, therefore, embody their kinship roots to their environment[6]. Their ties and values placed on their land transcend sentimentalities as they are the cornerstone of their religious understanding of self in the present, the foundation of their cultural traditions and practices, and their provider of health, food, and livelihoods. However, in recent history, Tharu’s land was not initially acknowledged by the Nepali government, allowing other peoples to purchase and push Tharu’s off their ancestral land under the Nepali land reforms[4]. The Tharu peoples lost 60% of the land they historically inhabited and stewarded, and as their land access diminished, so did their cultural identities[7][8]. Anthropologists have recounted common recollections of how local Tharus understand their dwindling cultural identities because their land has been lost and degraded by its new owners. They link their land degradation to the degradation of the deities' powers and influence in their modern lives, because their deities drew power from their jungles[9]. This showcases the conscious efforts of the Tharu to situate and understand their realities amidst times of drastic modern change with their eviction and degradation of their ancestral environments. Now, many of the Tharu people live and struggle in the Dang Valley with malnutrition, poverty, and little means to create substantial livelihoods nonetheless continue cultural practices and traditions[10]. Their cultural identities have also suffered from the grief of losing their land and its ties to their spiritual well-being, not to mention the lack of access to cultural settings of rituals and traditions which defined their lives and ancestors for centuries.  

Biodiversity, Conservation, and the Importance of Indigenous Knowledge

The Terai Arc, as a landscape and environment, has also struggled to maintain its biodiversity in the same timeline as after the eviction of their historical land stewards, such as the Tharu. Indigenous use and knowledge of local plants and sustainable use of animals have been biologically studied and scientifically understood to be linked. In fact, biologists and conservationists in the Himalayas, Nepal, and the Terai alike advocate for the use and promotion of cross-generational transfer of indigenous knowledge held by indigenous groups such as the Tharu to help combat biodiversity loss[11][12]. However, this advocacy for the cross-generational sharing of indigenous knowledge and culture comes with urgency. As long as indigenous identities such as the Tharu have been distanced from their land, their culture and indigenous knowledge have also degraded and is being lost. It is through cultural practices, and traditions that indigenous knowledge is taught and passed down and without access to land, indigenous culture, knowledge, and identity fade, as well as the health of their ancestral landscapes[11]. Even institutions such as the World Bank acknowledge the deep and essential co-dependent relationships indigenous groups and their cultures worldwide have for their land and its health[13]. Their report acknowledges that 80% of all remaining biodiversity is found on indigenous land. Through indigenous knowledge and land stewardship, these biodiversities have persisted throughout history. It is as vital biologically to keep indigenous culture alive as it is critical to preserving indigenous land access to preserve cultural diversity and longevity.


Nepal's famous biodiversity and cultural diversity features are intrinsically linked and co-dependent. Through ethnic groups' livelihoods, identities, and valuable cultural knowledge being deeply situated in their ancestral land, we see how land access is a necessity to the enduring realities of Nepal's unique and valuable cultural identities. Indigenous knowledge and land use are also vital for the longevity of the environmental health of Nepal's unique biodiversity and landscapes. The relationship between cultural identities and land degradation must be acknowledged, appreciated, and acted upon locally and internationally to ensure the enduring legacies and realities of these two dramatically important and beautiful features of Nepal.

(Noah): Frozen Giants: Exploring the Human Connection to Mountains in Nepal

I. Introduction

Mountains have always held significant value to various cultures worldwide. In Nepal, mountains are not only a source of identity but also a cornerstone of spiritual folklore, and in this essay, I aim to examine how Nepalese individuals like the Sherpa connect with their mountains and how these natural formations represent cultural heritage and a sense of identity. More specifically, how people in this region feel a deep emotional and spiritual bond with these respected spaces, viewing them as sacred grounds imbued with the essence of a deity. I will also be discussing some of the impacts of climate change is having on the mountains and cultural heritage in Nepal.

II. Mountains as a Source of Identity

The mountains hold a significant place in Nepalese culture, especially among the Sherpa community. Although Sherpas are known to live in other parts of the mountains and world, they "are popularly associated with the Everest region and the Himalayas in Nepal.” [14] According to Montana State University, "Mount Everest […] Called ‘Goddess of the Sky’, or Sagarmatha by the Nepalese and ‘Goddess Mother of the Earth’ or Chomolungma by the Tibetans, [...] is revered most by those who live in her shadow, the Sherpa." [15]

Mountains of Nepal by Ama Dablam

To the Sherpas, the mountains hold a significant spiritual and religious meaning beyond just physical features. These sacred peaks have become a part of their identity as they believe they are the abode of their deities. As such, living their everyday lives in the mountains is a choice made by some Sherpas who consider themselves the sacred guardians of their gods. Their cultural heritage is deeply rooted in mountaineering, and they have been essential members of numerous expeditions to the highest peaks globally. The Sherpas are widely respected in the international mountaineering community for their remarkable skills and expertise.

III. Mountains as Sacred Grounds and Deities

Mountains also hold a special place in Nepalese culture and spirituality. Many Nepalese people view the mountains as sacred grounds and “revered as the home of deities throughout history." [16] In other words, mountains are considered to be powerful and inspiring beings, and they play an important role in Nepalese spiritual folklore and mythology. For this reason, many cultures won’t allow tourists to climb them. For example, Mount Kanchenjunga “is alive for the Bhutia and the Lepcha people of Sikkim; he is sentient; he is powerful; he is our protective deity, and we do not allow him to be climbed or his desecration to be monetized.” [17] Thus due to their belief that every part of their natural environment possesses a sentient force, the Bhutia and Lepcha people consider it disrespectful to permit people to climb their gods and no matter the cash offers to the government, they will continue to deny people.

However, the Sherpa community is another group living in the mountains but they believe in the contrary. They also have a rich and deep connection with the mountains. They believe that the mountains are home to powerful deities that must be respected and honoured. Sherpas incorporate mountains into their religious practices and rituals, and they view climbing as a way to honour and connect with these deities. In fact, “Sherpas are there with every climber to assist them [in reaching the] summit and are making [a] living out of climbing as a profession.” [18] Overall, the mountains are an integral part of Nepalese culture and spirituality which are two key aspects of Nepalese identity. They are viewed as more than just physical landmarks but rather as living entities with their unique power and significance.

IV. Climate change's significant impact on the mountains and cultural heritage.

Nepal's majestic mountains have long been a symbol of the region's natural beauty and cultural heritage. However, these mountains are now facing significant environmental degradation due to the impact of climate change. The melting glaciers, erratic weather patterns, and shifting precipitation patterns are all contributing to this degradation, posing a serious threat to countless cultural communities and historic sites. As a result, many are calling on political leaders to take decisive action to combat climate change. In fact, "the heightened ecological precarity in mountainous environments is generating a politics of urgency that echoes broader global climate change anxieties." [19] Perhaps most alarming is the statistic that the glaciers are at risk of losing "75% of their ice by 2100",[20] which could lead to more frequent and severe flooding that would damage infrastructure, homes, and crops. This environmental degradation not only threatens the physical environment of the region but also the cultural practices and traditions that have been passed down through generations. It is therefore critical that we take immediate action to address the underlying causes of climate change and protect the natural and cultural heritage of Nepal for generations to come.

V. Conclusion

The Nepalese mountains hold a special place in their culture, influencing their traditions, customs, and way of life. These awe-inspiring peaks are more than just geographical landmarks; they are regarded as sacred grounds, serving as the home of gods and goddesses. To the Nepalese people, the mountains are the guardians of their land, and their well-being is intricately tied to the well-being of these majestic peaks.

The Nepalese individuals' deep attachment to their mountains transcends religion and spirituality; it is a cornerstone of their identity and cultural heritage. For generations, these peaks have served as a backdrop for countless tales, myths, and legends, inspiring a sense of bravery and resilience in many Nepalese mountaineers, including those who have conquered the world's highest peak, Mount Everest.

By appreciating the Nepalese people's rich cultural heritage and identity, we can develop a deeper understanding of their profound connection with their mountains. This understanding can foster respect and admiration for the Nepalese people and their traditions, and promote sustainable tourism in Nepal. Visitors can experience the beauty of the mountains while honouring the cultural values and beliefs of the local communities.

(Sam): Exploring Nepali Determination and Identity through the Impacts of Environmental Crises.


Author/uploaded by Susmitasatyal. Created: 2021-02-16 14:54:32. CC BY-SA 4.0. 3840 × 2160px.JPG.,_Rasuwa.jpg
High altitude forest fire destruction in Rasuwa, Nepal uploaded by Susmitasatyal, CC BY-SA 4.0

As Shneiderman (2015) suggested elsewhere "Fluidity [is used] to indicate a potential for change in the way entities are defined over time" [21]. In Nepal, identity continues to change throughout history, it has been fluid across various socio-political and environmental events. For instance, the fires caused by human action potentially harm people, ecology, the environment, and threaten decades of forest repopulation efforts [22]. The continuous exposure to environmental incidents like the more limited growth conditions for treelines, pollution, and the partly responsible fires have impacted Nepali citizens' trust in the government's protective and preventative measures. Threats of death induced by constant adversities and forced citizens to utilize their collective determination to survive. Hence, this paper will examine past and current environmental crises to learn how Nepali identity and determination have been shaped. Additionally, how the intersection between environmental incidents, political moves, and Nepali resilience reveals a failure of the government to support survival.

Origins of Shared Identities and Resilience Among Distrust

Historically, the identity of Nepali citizens who lived in the state boundaries were treated as subjects rather than citizens for over two centuries [21]. Previous events of this time illustrate how Nepali-born individuals were not treated properly by the government for a long time. However, this shared sense of identity as subjects rather than citizens fostered a stronger bond, while also suggesting governmental tension within Nepali society. It has only been 30 years since the end of considering citizens as subjects, the distrust for the government and inequalities may remain. One example illustrating how years of distrust are developed includes the Sherpa, facing the ongoing threat of glacial lake outbursts possibly wiping out their community; the reinforcement of fear induced by continuous research for 15 years with each new work restarting cycles of dread and acceptance [23]. Sherpa notes that such communities would prefer a single end to their history rather than a drawn-out result [23]. Consequently, the prevalent pressures faced by the Sherpa show the benefits of indigenous knowledge systems and developing resilience in the face of adversity. The impact of environmental crises alters the daily lives of citizens but also affects the social environment by altering government and research-based relations.

Finding Support Amidst Disaster

Nepal as a society has its identity strongly tied to the people, land, and cultural heritage. However, the losses established by local disasters are disregarded by the government as suggested by their combative efforts. "The earthquakes destroyed homes, historical monuments, and infrastructure such as dams, roads, and bridges, and they triggered an ongoing series of landslides, exacerbated by the monsoon" [24]. In response, communities must adapt to the altered landscape, rebuild homes, and facilities while uniting as a resilient collective identity for survival. However, the government of Nepal has shown in recent events that they provide little attention, resources, assistance or technology. For example, “the Government of Nepal,…with provincial governments and local units, has… [only] dedicate[d]… less than 0.5 percent—of the forestry sector budget” to manage the ever-increasing forest fires [25]. The lack of government support has left communities to suffer amidst the aftereffects of these environmental crises. Although the government has suggested implementing internal practices like providing kits to deal with fires or local training, a lack of action continues [22]. Meanwhile, the citizens of Nepal are left to their determinations to deal with the consequences.

Formations of Identity

Despite the impact of environmental crises not being limited to earthquakes or fires, persistent disasters should be shaping the development of a country. For some individuals the earthquake tremors of 2015 were not a big surprise as they had been expecting an earthquake for a while [24]. Considering the acknowledgement of a coming catastrophe, people's lives should be shaped based on them. The Nepali government should be embracing seismic-resistant homes, earthquake drills, and more practices. However, as Bhusan Tuladhar mentioned, "forest fire incidents are not only the responsibility of the forest ministry and National Disaster Risk Reduction... but of all people" [22]. Meaning, that the citizens of Nepal need a cost-effective method of reducing the effects of forest fires. Gyawali indicated that an environmentally friendly method involves spacing trees, reducing vegetation, thinning forests or utilizing fire breaks [25]. Utilizing their determination they could create fire breaks, the absence of connecting flammable material over certain distances to prevent fires from reaching sensitive areas like homes, farms, or ancestral areas. In the process, citizens would become capable of uniting and fighting back against environment incidents without government aid suggesting that their safety relies on their determination.

Alternatively, the treeline shifts in the Khumjung village show that due to global warming, trees are growing taller negatively impacting vegetation growth nearby [26]. Environmental crises that occur like the treeline shifts can be the result of both climate change and human construction. For instance, in the Khumjung village, tourism has become a common staple of income resulting in continuous modification of the land increasing infrastructure and population [26]. The change of treelines reflects well upon fluid identity, with the changing environment regardless of its cause, citizens' cultural identity continues to change as they adapt to arising difficulties. Overall, with each crisis handled citizens are forming resilient, cooperative, and expanding identities centred around tackling environmental disasters.


In conclusion, Nepali citizens and their identities have a prolonged history of distrust and mistreatment with the government which they are still recovering from. Due to previous difficulties, many existing practices regarding the formation of Nepali identity in terms of environmental crises have not been utilized. The lack of action to solve these inadequacies has created a knowledge gap among Nepali citizens and tensions with the government. Citizens feel their struggles with environmental crises are being disregarded and that they are forced to survive under the constant threat of death. Yet, the perpetuating threat caused by looming disasters has strengthened Nepali citizens' resilience and identity as a collective. Therefore, they become capable of uniting in their determination to survive immediate threats like ongoing forest fires while the Nepali government begins establishing the foundations needed to support its citizens.

(Jake): Exploring Identity while retaining ties to Native Land

Freedom Festival in Lalitpur, Nepal emphasizing cultural identity and beliefs of unity and freedom.


The Nepali diaspora embodies a multifaceted interaction of cultural preservation and adaptation as Nepalese communities globally establish themselves and simultaneously experience the departure of family members to foreign lands. Inevitably, identity of both individuals leaving Nepal and the families staying back see changes with the emergence of migration. Diving deeper, numerous factors drive emigration from Nepal, but the primary influence can be seen as globalization. As individuals depart their homeland, they confront the dual challenge of maintaining their cultural heritage in new environments. Migrants face issues of identity, assimilation, and the adjustment of having to create a new sense of themselves while maintaining their old identity and heritage. Meanwhile, the communities they leave behind also undergo significant transformations, reflecting the other profound impacts of global migration. This means diaspora is not only displacing identity of those departing, [but instead], one does not need to leave home to be displaced[27]. Progressing though modernity, this topic is becoming more prevalent in Nepali culture, as either in or out of Nepal, people are starting to recognize not only the changes emitted from migration but simply, the sheer numbers of people leaving. It is said that, since 2000, more than 167,000 Nepalese have immigrated to the USA[28].

Why Culture is Important for identity Formation

It is critical to maintain Nepalese cultural practices and identity [because as Shneiderman argues, it] serves as a crucial anchor of identity, offering a sense of community and continuity in an ever-globalizing world[29]. Furthermore, social solidarity and mutual support can be strongly influenced by culture [and] the success of social living is greatly dependant on what people may spontaneously do for each other[30] which shows how the continuation of culture and identity unites and brings together Nepal as a country, who they are, and what they believe in.

Identities Benefitting from Migration

For the most part, people moving away from Nepal are looking for work and a way to keep their families back home financially stable. It has evidently shown that through labour migration, individuals have the potential to better provide for their families, sometimes earning wages well above what is possible in their own country[31]. For this reason, international labour migration has become an important livelihood strategy for individuals in low- and middle-income countries where employment opportunities, particularly for low- and semi-skilled work, are limited or poorly paid[32]. Individually, people are able to gain a sense of belonging in their transition to their new out of country residencies because they can concretely know they are providing for their families back home. In retrospect, families back home are able to maintain family and the land they own with remittance payments. In this sense, migration can be viewed as a positive impact both on the self and Nepal. Individuals can be seen as strong, selfless individuals, who maintain a strong sense of being Nepali[33] while families back home can maintain their practices, beliefs with support. In this sense, both identities of the migrants and the homesteaders is improved.

In more regards to collective gain from migration, Nepal is able to take an array of positives out of this situation which can be viewed positivly to help the advancement of their society and improve their identity globally. Visibly, diaspora communities often face the complex task of adapting their heritage to new environments without losing the essence of their cultural identity, a balancing act that requires both innovation and reverence[34]. This means development of both the self, and the communities back home will need to evolve to do so. Introductions such as, modern technologies and social media are pivotal, bridging thousands of miles to connect the diaspora with Nepal, allowing them to participate actively in each other's lives and cultural evolutions[35]. Nepal will be forced to modernize in this sense, and inevitably advance at the same time. Further, “the return of diaspora members, even temporarily, injects diverse global perspectives into local Nepalese communities, often catalyzing changes in traditional practices and social norms.[36] Lastly, the diaspora plays a crucial role in the transnational flow of cultural values, acting as conduits through which new ideas, practices, and resources flow back to Nepal, enriching the cultural landscape[37]. Ultimatly, Nepal is learning to progress and work on their identity by comparing it to others.

Negatives to Migration and Change to identity

In today's interconnected world, there is a pervasive competition among societies to outdo each other in progress and modernization, each striving for dominance and advancement. This dynamic has particular implications for countries like Nepal, where migration plays a significant role in shaping societal views and aspirations. Nepalese migrants, exposed to the affluent lifestyles of Western countries, often return with a desire to replicate these foreign standards back home. This influence has led to the widespread use of terms like bikasi (developed) and abikasi (uncivilized, underdeveloped)Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag, creating a societal divide that undermines Nepal’s cultural identity. Such comparisons with the West can make Nepalese people feel disconnected from their own culture and unsure of their developmental path, feeling that they lag behind more 'modernized' societies. If migration were less of a necessity, there might be greater contentment with Nepal's unique cultural journey, rather than a pressured rush towards assimilation and internal debates about the direction of their future. Thus, migration can erode the collective identity of Nepal, as it prompts a drift away from traditional values towards foreign-imposed ideals.


The Nepali diaspora represents a complex interplay between cultural preservation and adaptation, influencing both individuals and the collective identity of Nepal itself. Migration, driven largely by the forces of globalization, presents a dual challenge to the Nepali people: maintaining their cultural heritage while integrating into new environments. This delicate balancing act has profound implications for the individuals who relocate and the families who remain, affecting their identities and societal structures. While migration offers substantial benefits, such as improved economic opportunities and the infusion of global perspectives, it also carries the risk of diluting traditional cultural practices and values. The widespread adoption of foreign lifestyles and standards can create divisions within Nepali society, as seen in the contrasting perceptions of 'developed' and 'underdeveloped' among its people. To preserve the rich cultural identity of Nepal amidst these global currents, it is essential to foster an environment where cultural practices can thrive and evolve without losing their essence. This will not only help maintain a sense of community and continuity but also ensure that Nepal navigates its path through globalization without sacrificing its unique cultural identity. Thus, as Nepal continues to interact with the global diaspora, it must carefully manage the influences of migration to enhance its societal advancement while protecting its cultural heritage.  

(Beth) Exploring the Relationship Between Individual and Collective Identity Within Nepali Artwork


While copyright prevents uploading the images discussed, this is an example of artwork found in Kathmandu as compared to Bangdel.

As Leigh Miller discusses in her analysis of the Tibetan artist Gadé, artwork can be a place of convergence for personal expression and collective memory in exhibiting identity, in its ability to “affirm” connection to traditional forms of artwork and “distance” itself from tradition at the same time.[38] Specifically, Miller contemplates how Gadé’s incorporation of secular and personal expressions within traditional Tibetan artwork reflects his childhood experiences and collective memory of suppression of artwork. Additionally, identity needs to be considered with different “vectors” in mind, as a concept with both individual and collective terms.[39] Shared collective features such as shared ancestry, gender, religion, and ethnicity bind groups together. Individual identities include these intersecting forms of the collective, with individuals “foregrounding and backgrounding” aspects in their own unique ways melded with personal experience and expression.[39] Contemporary artists in Nepal demonstrate a strong ability to represent both individual representations of identity, and Nepal’s larger social structures and history through acceptances and rejection of the traditional.

Lain Singh Bangdel (1919-2002)

Lain Singh Bangdel, labelled the “father of modern art” in Nepal, incorporates his individual diasporic and ethnic forms of identity within collective experiences of the broader social and political context. One of his most famous pieces, “Moon Over Kathmandu,” (1962) (as seen here), includes an semi-abstract depiction of the moon glowing over the “twin peaks” reflecting the city below. The painting incorporates Bangdel’s complex relationship with Nepal in his identity, as his ancestry is Nepali, and he always identified as Nepali, but did not live in Nepal until he was 42.[40] He grew up in Darjeeling, India, and represents the “twin peaks” of Gimmigela Chuli on the border of Nepal and India in many of his pieces as both the barrier and reminder of his homeland for so many years.[40] Furthermore, Bangdel first moved to Nepal in 1961, the first year the Panchayat was established and dissolved the elected parliament. Therefore, Bangdel’s ancestral connection to Nepal and his artwork was shaped by his experience entering Nepal at a time marked by political and modernization project upheavals. Duffy argues these complexities are demonstrated in “Moon Over Kathmandu,” providing a “hope and brightness” for the modern state among these transitions, as a possible image of “quiet patriotism”.[40] While many modernists were “concerned with the polarizing duality” of the valley and city, Bangdel paints them as peacefully integrated.[40]

Additionally, influenced by his art education in Europe prior to moving to Nepal, Bangdel’s incorporation of abstract technique and his Western European art education as shifted the “defined system” of “visible line” that characterized Nepali artwork with the inclusion of dynamic and “invisible lines."[41] Subedi views this as a turning point for contemporary art in Nepal to become “vehicles of the artists’ feelings, problems, frustrations, and hopes in the changing context of the country and culture,” with the tension between “accepting” and “rejecting” both the values and techniques of tradition embedded in the subject matter (pg. 124-125).[41]

Bangdel can then relate to Gadé in his ability to use art as a link between individual expression and collective identity. Gadé utilized secular and pop culture images, such as Mickey Mouse depicted as a Buddhist monk, to reflect his experiences growing up in the suppression of Tibetan traditional art in the Cultural Revolution and then the return of Buddhist traditional art in the post-Mao revival period. Bangdel takes Western influence of abstract art to reflect his diasporic identity and his personal connections to home and longing as identifying as Nepali. Additionally, Bangdel takes on the “responsibility” to connect personal elements of artwork to the larger collective past and its effects on the present, illuminating themes of “hope” in a new political environment and challenging the polarization of the landscape and city by modernists. These contemplations demonstrate how identity in Nepal is “defined processually over time,” and must be contextualized in a historical and political overview (pg. 83).[39] The work of both Gadé and Bangdel must be situated in its personal and collective memories of history and state politics, in order to understand its “multi-layered” and “fluid” components.[39]

Returning to the “vectors of identity," Bangdel at times puts his individual identity to the foreground of his work, with depictions of the “twin peaks” and its symbolism for his connection to Nepal, as well as collective aspects of his ethnic identity and political transitions through the changing of the city landscape blending into the landscape.[39] Similarly, Jingwei Li contemplates how visual representations of ethnicity are based on both traditional and the changing, contemporary world, such as reviewing how contemporary art in Nepal illustrates “life fragments” of individual painters, while also representing the social changes of democracy and modernization. For instance, Li discusses how ethnic paintings connect to “boundary-making” between ethnicities in the contemporary Himalayan region, investigating how material culture has the possibility to “unify or divide people.”[42] While Bangdel uses a physical boundary for inspiration in his work of the “twin peaks” and their placement on the Nepal-India border, he demonstrates how this boundary was both a symbol of separation in his early life, as well as a strong connection he felt to his ethnic identity when living in India.

Ragini Upadhya Grela (1959- present)

These complexities of identity, in both personal and collective understandings, are also represented by Ragini Upadhya Grela, a famous contemporary Nepali artist who often uses themes of womanhood in her artwork, with connections to the socio-political landscape and mythology. For instance, her series titled “Story of Ashes,” depicts the emotional and psychological side to motherhood, and Grela’s experience of losing her only daughter and mother in a short time period.[43] One of the paintings from this series, (as seen in 4th picture here), depicts a grey-toned Mānasa Devi, the serpent goddess or “mother of snakes,” carrying a young woman in her arms surrounded by images of ashen skulls and smoke. Mānasa Devi is a female naga, or nagini, semi-divine beings that are half human and half cobra, with the ability to assume either form known to reside in the underworld.[44] Mānasa Devi can also be worshiped as a protector and goddess of fertility depending on geographical region.[45] Grela draws on larger structural elements of motherhood and the feminine experience in Nepal, such as reimagining the famous   Hindu figure with her heart and head literally erupting. For Grela, this allows her to work through the individual aspects of her identity and the loss she has experienced: “Without painting and other forms of art, I would not have survived the pain of losing my daughter.”[46]

Grela illustrates the ability of contemporary art to blend the personal experiences of loss and motherhood to collective aspects of identity including Hindu mythology and gender. As Gadé would emphasize, this ability to situate the past in its effect on the present is a responsibility of artists, for Grela this can include how the “mother of snakes” and her representations allows her to process the death of her daughter and mother. Additionally, these themes demonstrate how “vectors of identity” are foregrounded by individuals in different ways through contemporary art, focusing on aspects of gender and religious mythology with a personal re-thinking of Mānasa Devi’s depiction. Lastly, as Mānasa Devi is an important figure in Hinduism, this re-thinking of her depiction may be the site of both “unity and division” among different ethnic groups beyond Nepal, depending on how a group or individual conceptualizes “traditional” or “authentic” artwork.[42] Grela’s work demonstrates her own the “life fragments” of her experience, while also imagining how this experience is disrupted through the destruction and haziness of loss, as illustrated with the dark, smoky imagery.[42]


In conclusion, these few examples of contemporary artwork in Nepal demonstrate the complexities of individual expression of identity and the life course, as well as larger collective structures of identity through ethnicity, religion, politics, and gender.

(Alex): Mobilizing Ethnolinguistic Identities to Navigate Neoliberal Economic Practice in Nepal

Ethnolinguistic Diversity in Nepal

Nepal hosts a diverse landscape of ethnic and linguistic identities, of which there are over 100 legally registered ethnic and caste identities and 92 languages.[47] Yet the extent of linguistic diversity in Nepal remains unknown, though the 2001 census found the most common mother tongue to be Nepali at 48.6%, 168 340 people remained under the “unknown” category (Yadava, 2007, p. 3).[48] Multilingualism is the norm within Nepal, given how different languages are often used at home, in town, at school, or in legal contexts.[47] Despite this, many of the languages within Nepal are at risk of language extinction, due to factors like  lessening intergenerational mother tongue transmission, land destruction, neglect of rural areas, and a rising united Nepali identity.[47] Nepali has been rising as a native language in Nepal, going from 4 million speakers in 1952 to 11 million in 2001.[47]

Language Policy and Neoliberalism in Nepal

Nepalese language policy over time has been closely interwoven with human rights, indigenous visibility, civil unrest, and other social discourses. Though the 2015 Constitution has numerous clauses addressing language rights,[49] it also nominates Nepali and English as the “medium of instruction” in schools, pivoting away from the “constitutional provision of fundamental linguistic human rights”, and toward neoliberal market ideals.[49] Harvey (2005), defined Neoliberalism as an economic system that posits that human advancement is best achieved “by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade”.[50] Within Nepal, neoliberal policy implementation primarily followed in the wake of the World Bank’s  Structural Adjustment Program in the 1980s.[50] Under such a capitalistic model, an individual’s language skills and ethnicity can be commodified.[50]

The Commodification of Language and Ethnicity in Nepal

While indigenous languages in Nepal have faced various extinctive pressures, English-Nepali bilingualism has become known as a key skill for individual success in market participation.[50] Bal Krishna Sharma and Prem Phyak’s 2017 article argues that while language ideologies remain in Nepal, novel “forces of globalization and neoliberalism bestow new meanings to multilingual repertoires and practices,” namely, that English is neither the singular nor assured method of obtaining greater economic or cultural capital.[50] The commodification of ethnic and/or linguistic identity also presents new possible economic horizons. Though it is not prioritized in schools like English or Nepali, Newari has a strong ethnolinguistic identity that links the Newari people and their language to form a group identity that resist hegemonic reforms. Turin (2014) found that, "minority language identities are often forged because of struggle and protest in opposition to dominant linguistic ideologies," and that, "the speakers of hegemonic languages may assert themselves when they feel insecure or under threat".[51] This seems to be the case with many ethnic groups in Nepal, like the Newari, they forge a distinctive cultural identity that, under neoliberal policy, has been commodified into cultural cuisine, fine arts, and other cultural tokens available for purchase in Kathmandu.[50] Also within the tourism industry, multilingual language capacity is essential; tour guides will market their ability to communicate in the language of the tourist, often English or Hindi.[50] For Sherpas guides, ethnic identity has been commodified to attract tourist, which links their ethnicity with certain traits such as their “self-sacrifice, heroism, friendship, and cheerfulness,” a reputation which circulates in Western mountaineering communities.[50]

However, the commodification of ethnic identity and/or language ability does not always bring economic gains its subjects. Tharu are a minority indigenous group who have suffered from social ideologies and structures such as being ‘lower caste’.[50] Some Tharu men can monopolize their ethnolinguistic identity for profit, given the specialized language skill and cultural insight they can provide to tourists.[50] However, due to the gendered nature of the tour guide profession in Nepal, Tharu women and their traditional tattoos remain the objectified subjects of tourists’ gazes while male tour guides can socially or financially benefit from showcasing others’ ethnic bodies.[50]

Tour guide at Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu Valley

Overall, new neoliberal market practices have influenced on the ways in which people in Nepal interact with ethnic and language identity, either by mobilizing their own identities, by participating in a new multilingual market standard, or by profiting from the identities of others.

Mobilizing Ethnolinguistic Understanding to Navigate Foreign Relations

Aside from mobilizing their own ethnolinguistic identities, people living in Nepal have also been able to use their understandings of foreign ethnolinguistic identities to better navigate a neoliberalizing market. Sharma’s research found that Nepalese tour guides also profile their customers’ spending habits based on ethnicity and linguistic identity.[50] Generally, North Americans and Europeans are known to be high tippers, while Japanese and Koreans are some of the lowest,[50] and Chinese tourists are ranked as the highest.[52] Unlike other groups, Chinese tourists are not seasonal visitors but visit throughout the year and tend towards large tour groups as opposed to individual travelers, thus are known as a more consistent and profitable clientele.[52] Most Chinese who visit Nepal do not know any English,[52] therefore the multilingual skill of the tour guide can have great impact on the customer base they can effectively interact with and profit from.[50]

Kathmandu has become a place to establish connections with Chinese people for future business opportunities, as one of Nepal’s closest neighbours, there is new opportunity to export business, especially through Tibet.[52] China has come to be perceived in Nepal as an “emerging global power,” a narrative which is circulated by news outlets.[52] Thus, learning Chinese, aiming to participate in foreign trade, is also a way of pursuing and benefiting from another country’s economic trajectory on both symbolic and financial levels.[52] However, Sharma also notes that Nepalis do not conceptualize Chinese as a hegemonic sociocultural force, but instead as a "tool” that resists the domination of English and Hindi.[52]

Linguistic Trajectories in Nepal and Implications of Identity

Since legislation during the Panchayat era, which promoted a “one language” and “one country” policy, Nepal has made progress in promoting more ethnically and linguistically diverse legislation that protects these diverse identities.[47] Even in the early 2000s, Nepalese radio broadcasted in eighteen mother tongues.[47] Though legislation is rising alongside various indigenous social movements to preserve and protect traditional cultural practices, there are also instances where one’s ethnic or linguistic identity as a minority group can be commodified to participate in the new market landscape. However, this commodification process risks tokenizing, othering, or sanitizing cultures into purely marketable forms. Furthermore, understanding of tourist ethnolinguistic identity has shaped the ways Nepalese people strategize for social and economic benefit. Overall, this has contributed towards the formation of a multifaceted identity whereby indigenous multilingual ability enables participation in daily life and membership of multidimensional group identities, and foreign language skill can represent one’s identity as an active participant in new neoliberal lifeways.

(Safeya): Gender, Sexuality, Others, and the Self: An Exploration of Gender and Sexual Identities in Nepal


The notion of gender performativity, proposed by Judith Butler, is based on an understanding of gender not as an innate biological category and instead as a way of living, that is a practice of performing and acting out one’s gender—both unconsciously and consciously, and never in isolation[53]. In the context of gender and sexual identity within Nepal, Butler’s idea of gender as a performative and socially constituted category is a useful lens for understanding the fluid and deeply connected role of gender and sexuality in individual and group identities. If we can understand the possibility for a dynamic social construction of gender and sexual identities, then this performative theory can be applied to the Nepali context with the purpose of understanding how gender and sexuality are constituted and connected to legal identity (i.e. citizenship and legal recognition) and to the social real (i.e. politics, societal norms, and the embodiment of identity). Rather than generalize the various gender and sexual identities present within Nepal, this essay will attempt to demonstrate the complex and interconnected nature of identity within Nepal in relation to gender and sexuality.

Gender and the Legal Realm

Citizenship plays a role in the constitution of national and group identity, therefore influencing one’s individual identity, as it acts as the connection between the individual and their state. Through one’s status as a citizen they are guaranteed certain rights, benefits, and protections by the state. These rights, benefits, and protections can be enacted and put in place through lawmaking and constitutions among other methods. However, at the time of Laczo (2003)[54] citizenship was not awarded equally to those with a claim to Nepali citizenship. The 1990 constitution which was in place at the time awarded citizenship through patrilineage which would then be confirmed at the age of 16 individuals would need to apply for a certificate of citizenship—and for women with the support of a male figure like a father or husband. These processes through which citizenship was confirmed meant that a woman’s citizenship was dependent on the support of her father or husband. As a result, ones’ citizenship was tied to their gender, and therefore linking the two to one’s identity as a whole—to be a woman was to be dependent on the support of a father or husband, before being a Nepali, they are a woman.

An image of a Nepali E-Passport listing various identifiers such as name, date of birth (censored), date of issue, date of expiry, sex, place of birth, issuing authority, personal number (censored), and passport number (censored). Additionally there is a censored photograph of the passport owner and their signature.
Nepali E-Passport, sex is listed

Furthermore, one’s gender and sexuality are wrapped up in the legal realm with regard to recognition of identity in the context of legal recognition of one’s identity. For example, in 2011 Nepal was the first country in the world to allow identification with a third gender in the government census. This inclusion of third gender identities in the census followed the 2007 Supreme Court ruling in Pant v. Nepal which stated that there should be legal recognition of non-normative binary identities. Though one’s identity as an individual is not necessarily dependent on legal rulings, legal recognition of non-normative identities opens the door for freedom of expression of one’s identity that is not possible otherwise[55]. This importance of legal rulings in expression of one’s identity can be evidenced by marriage laws; since November of 2023, Nepal has seen two landmark rulings which allow same-sex marriage for two couples (one between two men and one between two women).[56] For individuals experiencing same sex attraction, the ability to get married and therefore express one’s non-normative identity rely on legal processes of recognition. Lastly, the recognition of non-normative gender identities in legal documentation, such as with passports, further demonstrates the connection between gender and the legal realm in the Nepali context—that one's passport identifies their sex in a context where sex and gender are thought of as binary and synonymous means that a passport acts as verification or denial of ones gender.[57]

Gender and Sociopolitics

However, gender and sexuality are not only deeply connected to the legal realm within Nepal, and also plays a role in social and political relations, and one’s embodied experience as a Nepali person. This connection of gender and sexual identity with the political and social realm is clearly shown through the gendered discussions of the Maoist ‘people’s war’ in Nepal, which was recognized for the high percentage of women that made up combatant and civilian supporters. The movement was seen not only as a class revolution but also as one for women’s liberation—which could be achieved through a liberation from capitalist modes of production and control. However, the revolution cannot be uncomplicatedly seen as a movement for gender equality when it also played a role in the enforcing of an idea of a disempowered Nepali woman. [58] Though women’s empowerment might have become a defining characteristic of the Maoist movement in Nepal, this attitude also constituted a new set of gendered norms in its own manner—that Nepali women needed saving from a hegemonic reality and that the men who largely made up the leadership of the movement could be seen as the protectors of these women. [59]

Additionally, gender and sexuality entrenched within discourses on the body, or ‘biopower’—that is, control over bodies to achieve control over people. A critical sexual theory seeks to understand how gender and sexuality are constituted within a framework of various social characteristics including disability and the oppression of marginalized bodies. For example, disabled women in Nepal lack agency over their bodies within a hegemonic society that uses ‘biopower’ to exert control and are deemed asexual and without sexual agency because, in addition to being women in a hegemonic society, they exist outside of normative standards for beauty which are predicated on being able-bodied and are therefore seen entirely outside of the realm of the sexual. From this point of lacking sexual agency, disabled women become bodies, not people, which are subject to sexual and gendered oppression by the able-bodied and by men who, in hegemonic structures, are given power over women like fathers and husbands— they are asexual but required by society to participate in sex to fulfill their 'duty' as women so sex becomes something done to them, rather than with.[60] The reality of disabled women in Nepal highlights the physical implications and relevance of gender and sexuality. A point further emphasized by the role of gender norms in reproductive health outcomes—gender and gender norms influence one’s sexual and reproductive autonomy.[61] These two examples of the embodied impacts of gender and sexual norms on individuals reveal that gender and sexual identity within Nepal are not solely matters of theory, rather, the gender and sex of individuals is necessarily the gendering and sexualizing of their bodies within existing frameworks.


Ultimately, gender and sexual identity in the Nepali context are more than just isolated categories. Gender and sexual identity are deeply embodied realities tied to the realms of legality and sociopolitical realities. When gender and sexuality are tied to aspects of life such as citizenship, legal realities, politics, and embodied experiences of the world, as with the previously mentioned instances, then sexual and gender identity too must be understood as constituted in relation to these realms of life. These various components of citizenship, disability, politics, legal recognition, economic status, gender, sexuality etc. are deeply intertwined such that understanding their connection to identity requires an appreciation for their influence on each other. This understanding is exemplified by work on gender like that by Brethfield et al. (2014)[62],  which reveals that meaningful work based on gender and sexuality, such as that on reducing sexual violence, is incomplete without a consideration of the varying and multi-faceted components that play a role in the constitution and experience of one’s gender and sexuality. To understand gender and sexual identity in the Nepali context, gender and sexuality must not be separated from other realms of life and existence, because gender and sexual identity are not constituted and experienced in isolation. Future research and examinations of identity within Nepali context can therefore build upon this understanding of the importance of gender in order to better approach all forms of identity.

(Yasmine): The Road to Contemporary Secularism in Nepal

Introduction to Secularism in Nepal
The Hindu Manakamana Temple and Buddhist prayer flags showing part of the religious landscape of Nepal.
The Hindu Manakamana Temple and Buddhist prayer flags showing the diverse religious landscape that coexists within Nepal.

Following nearly a decade of civil war, the state of Nepal was declared to be a secular state in 2006[63]. In 2008, the new Constituent Assembly announced the once Hindu kingdom was now a Secular, Federal, Democratic, Republic[64]. Nepal’s fight for democracy came about as a result of the long civil war fought between the Maoists and the Nepali state, with the Maoists eventually coming into power to establish a democracy[65].

Secularism was not simply a political shift in Nepal, it brought the religious worlds of non-Hindu Nepalis to the forefront. Secularism in Nepal is not the removal of religion from public life, but rather the inclusion of all religions in the public sphere. Religious identities continue to be newly understood, confronted and contextualised. Owing to the fact that Nepal was historically a Hindu state, religious freedom within the nation state of Nepal is intrinsically a political concept. In addition to politics, religion in Nepal is also closely associated with ethnicity. Therefore, discourse surrounding secularism in Nepal is inherently tied into political and ethnic discourse.

Religious Diversity and Identity Within Nepal

People’s ethnic identities are primarily forged around common language, religion, cultural practice and territorial attachment[66]. In Nepal over a 100 languages are spoken and at least 64 indigenous nationalities (Adivasi Janajati) in addition to 58 Hindu caste groups exist. These diversities posed a threat to the homogeneous nation state of Nepali speaking Hindus[67]. To oppose hegemonic state ideology of this kind, a secularist movement, initially led by Newar Buddhist activists grew[68]. These movements in addition to the civil war laid the foundation of secularism in Nepal.

Nepal identifies dharma nirapekshata (removed or autonomous from religion) as the state ideology towards religion[69][63]. Torri explains, this came about as a result of years of parallel campaigns for minority rights, democracy, removal of monarchy and religious freedom. Very different campaign agendas all identified Hindu ideology as the pillar supporting the monarchic structure[69]. The focus had been to remove the monarchy rather than on secularism itself[70]. Before and after Nepal declared secularism as a tenet of the state, the focus was on de-Hinduising the state[71].

Apart from Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Kirat, Jainism and Bon are other religions that are practised in Nepal. Many Nepalis follow their inherited ‘tribal’ religions which have be reclassified under ‘Kirat dharma,’ ‘Bon,’ or ‘nature-worship[72].' Many who are not adherents of Hinduism have adopted Sanskritic and Hindu culture to various degrees[73]. Buddist Newars have several rituals which are very similar to Hindu ones[72]. Followers of Bon, Kirat and nature-worshippers have Hindu-elements fused into their own traditions and many do not oppose being labelled Hindu. Buddhism is followed by Janjati groups such as Newars, Tharus, Magars, Tamangs and others. Newly converted Christians come from a variety of castes and backgrounds, further diversifying Nepal’s religious landscape.

Modernity and Religion in Nepal

After discussing the historical context and contemporary understandings of religion, it is imperative to explore how modernity intersects with religions in Nepal. Sijapati’s “Modern Religiosities and Religious Modernities ” provides a framework through which the dynamic religious landscape of Nepal can be understood. The term modernity “is deployed to mean a contemporary condition that is both abstract yet pervasive, a field of discourse reflecting peoples’ desires, expectations, and a range of experiences all in a context of twentieth and twenty-first century modernization and globalization”[74] Modernity focuses on new ways of living, including secularisation. Speaking on religions in the Himalayas, Sijapati states “boundaries between religious traditions can be fluid and at times indistinguishable.”[75]

Although Nepal is now a secular state, there are laws against providing incentives for conversion. Despite these laws, Christian conversion occurs increasingly in Nepal. Gellner and Letizia find that adopting Christianity is a type of ‘suitable modernity’ and a way to remain true to local history while also being internationally connected[76].

Relating to hegemonic religious traditions of the Nepali state, Stacy Leigh Pigg identifies how the Nepali state subtly teaches its citizens to follow the state narrative. An image in a school book on Nepali society orders Nepali ethnic people (recognisable through distinctive cultural clothing) in a hierarchy. This represents a single evolutionary line of differentiation in Nepali society.  While it teaches students about the diversity in the country, it also teaches them that some religions (and peoples) lie higher in an ordered  hierarchy[77].

This alludes to historical contention that Nepal’s non-Hindu people have faced. When Hindu rulers claimed sovereignty over conquered hill territories in Nepal, they ranked groups as along a continuum of relative ‘purity’ (more civilised) and ‘impurity’ (less civilised) under the Hindu caste hierarchy[78]. The subconscious message is that one has to strive to be like the state promoted Nepali speaking Hindu citizen. While Pigg’s paper reveals insidious hegemonies of the Nepali state, it was published in 1992, long before Nepal became a secular state. However, it is an important framework to understand the context within which Nepal’s modern secularist movement began and developed.

Contemporary Secularism in Nepal

Social hierarchies which have made ethnic groups subaltern in Nepal are entwined with religious hegemony of Hinduism. Therefore, contemporary secularism in Nepal is very different from the way it is understood in the West. Secularism in the West refers to a religious free society where religious expression is confined to an individual’s private life[79]. Due to the highly politicised discourse surrounding religion in the region, secularism in Nepal is symbolised by religious expressions of non-Hindu groups[80].

In Nepal, secularism is not the banishment of religion from public life but rather an acknowledgement of religious diversity and respect for all religions[81][82]. As Gellner and Letizia note, Muslims hoped secularism would mean that shari’a law would be recognised for their community and that they would be able to receive state funds for Madrasa education and Hajj pilgrimages. However, shari’a law still does not seem to be accepted by the Nepalese constitution. For Christians in Nepal secularism was an expectation of religious freedoms and the freedom to choose one’s religion and convert[71]. According to a United States Commission on International Religious Freedom article published in 2023, the Nepalese constitution’s Article 26(3) stating that no person shall “convert another person from one religion to another” continues to exist[83]. State support for religion is not questioned, it is in fact desired in some cases as described above. Rather, for most it is about equal treatment of religions, similar to Indian notions of secularism[84][85].

Religious revival in contemporary Nepal is tied to the rise of marginalised ethnic groups[86]. Torri emphasises that the role of religion cannot be underestimated in asserting ethnic identity. Secularism has led to a revival of ethnic identities in Nepal. There has been a rise in places of worship and religious festivals related to different minorities’ religious traditions. Torri states that these physical manifestations of Janjati Adivasi religious practices epitomises the ethnic assertion quest and for state recognition[87]. To a certain extent there has been recognition of different religions. The national schedule of holidays now contain Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Christian holidays[87].

(Gurpreet): What Were People Fighting For: The Nepalese Civil War

Nepalese Civil war, Photo taken by Unknown. CC

1. Introduction

When people think about conflict it is usually something that has a simple beginning, middle and an end. However, in the case of the Nepalese Civil War it's something that felt like an unending conflict. For my page, I will be looking at the effect of the war on the people of Nepal. I believe this is important because it aids us to better understand and unpack the social and environmental scenarios that influence culture, people, and their beliefs. To do this I will be looking at evidence like the goals of the Maoists, why people were motivated to commit violence and how the division was still felt in post war Nepal.

2. Maoist Demands & Outcome

The Nepalese Civil War was fought between the Kingdom of Nepal and the Maoist Communist Party. The criticisms from the insurgents were about class, religion and secularism within the establish Hindu kingdom. The history of how violence broke out was written down by Krishna Khanal in the book The Politics of Change Reflections on Contemporary Nepal. They say that. “The Maoist insurgency, which had shaken Nepali society to its core, was followed by the mass uprising of April 2006 unleashing a strength decisive enough to bid farewell to the monarchy” [88] What the author is referring to as the mass uprising is considered the Nepalese revolution where the king of Nepal tried to reinstate the old houses of representatives after immense fighting had been done. However, this was viewed as a dismissal of the insurgents demands which included but was not limited to the dissolution of the monarchy. In a turn of events in what is known as the May Act, an act that came into effect on May 18th, 2006. That made sweeping changes to institute secularism statewide , reducing the powers of the king and beginning to address social issues such as the caste system and representation.

3. Split with main Stream Leftism

Another key factor that led to the war was the split Maoists had with the mainstream leftwing parties. As is noted by Paul K Davis, et al in their chapter Public Support for the Maoists in Nepal in the book Understanding and influencing Public Support of Insurgency and Terrorism. They say that “Nepal’s leftist parties successfully led the pro-democratic movements in alliance with the Congress Party and entered the electoral arena in the new democratic order. However, growing disillusionment with the new system led one party in particular, the United People’s Front Nepal (UPF) to split into two factions—the recognized and unrecognized.”[89] Often times when change is not happening quickly enough people tend to take extreme measures to get what they felt was necessary change. It doesn’t help that often extreme actions tend to have extreme reactions which we can see at the 17,000 plus civilian casualties. This break from the mainstream was instrumental to harbor a more militant ideology to fight.

4. Motivations to Fight

The motivation to fight during the war was for economic issues, representation in the government, in response to abuses done to people by state and the role religion played on a federal and individual level. The authors Christopher Blatttman and Edward Miguel talk about how these different group identities drew people to the cause. In their article Civil War, they attempt to break down sociological factors for why individuals could be goateed into violence. They say, “These models typically assume that group action is more efficient than individual action providing citizens with an incentive to join forces.”[90] Since Nepal was a kingdom the transition to democratic state was already going to be difficult. The situation becomes much more like a powder keg when we remember that the Maoist guerrillas wanted radical change as opposed to a slow transition of power. In sociology there is something viewed as Mob Psychology, the idea that the individual often gets absorbed by the group. It enables a sense of freedom from their actions and consequences making them feel as if they are a part of something bigger. When people feel they are on a side that is under attack they are willing to be complicit in violence especially when their is a feeling of protection.  

5. Canadas history of Aid in the region

The writer Frances Klatzel in their journal CIDA in Nepal The Legacy of Forty Years of Cooperation. Talks about Canada's role during reconstruction and continued foreign aid. They explain “The CCO and its staff have played a critical role in the successful implementation of the CIDA bilateral program, notably during the various crises that have affected Nepal, including the Royal Massacre and the ten-year civil war.”[91] Bilateral programs refers to multilateral assistance which comes in the form of financial and reconstructing aid following the civil war. However, one of the issues with foreign aid is It also sets up the continuing influence of western powers in these developing nations. Not to mention there is debate within developing nations about where these funds should be spent. That’s not to say that having an influence inherently means that it is malicious, but it raises questions about the flow of capital and when understanding the global north's hegemony. It’s something to keep in mind when considering the difficult transition from monarchy to democracy.

6. Implementation of Maoists policy

The true goals of Maoists were brought about in 2015 during a second reconstruction following an earthquake. Authors Feliz Hass, Sabine Kurtenach and Julia Strasheim explain in their article Fleeing the Peace:: Emigration after Civil War. by saying “The Constitution was only promulgated in September 2015 after the urgency to begin reconstruction following the April 2015 earthquake had fastened a long-stalled constitution-making process”[92] Even though the Maoist insurgency had essentially disbanded, questions and issues remaining to state governance remained. What the author is referring to is that there had been an intermediate constitution which was implemented in 2007 a year after the civil war ended. In 2015 an immense 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal that killed 8000 people and caused massive, political, economic, and physical damage that had chain effects through the region. During this time the official transition from an intermediate constitution to the 2015 ratified version was done. This included changes to issues like the system of governance, federal and judicial practices just to name a few. It's quite shocking that even after so many years the true process of instituting a form of governance that was more in line with the representation of the people didn’t come into full effect until 2015.

7. Modern Day Nepali Identity

When discussing how Nepali identities are represented in modern day is a difficult conversation to have considering how diverse the region is. This is something that Pasang Yangjee Sherpa in their article titled Institutional Climate change adaptation efforts among the Sherpas of the mount Everest region, Nepal. Mentions the need for individual cultural representation. Yangiee says “Before the cabinet meeting in Kalapatthar, Sherpas from around the world discussed the relevance and significance of this meeting to the Sherpas, especially of the Everest region.”[93] What this is in reference to is a government cabinet meeting held near mount Everest. The focus of this section recounts how the Sherpa people felt that since the meeting was being held in their homeland, the meeting should recognize their customs. The reason it was important was that western media has referred to people as native or traditional. The importance of recognizing individual cultural expression in real life and this reading is to show that the Himalayan regions and Nepal is not a monolith. After a war that had caused so much suffering and followed by natural disasters and political instability. It is more important now more than ever to give a fair and well-rounded representation both within a country and the way it is viewed in the wider world.  

8. Conclusion

It's important not just to look at the past but to see how it influences the present and how we can use it to better handle the future. Identities and culture are something that's always shifting and in a place like the Himalayan region in Nepal.  My Hope is that as anthropologists we are able to continue using a certain level of nuance to understand what makes people who they are and what the circumstances of their conditions come about from. Though sadly the time I have given to this subject is nowhere near enough to fully understand the gravitas of the situation. I believe I can take what I have learned here and transfer it to future work and case studies, it comes as no surprise that as diverse as the world is then that there are many uses for this kind of reflection.


This resource was created by the UBC Wiki Community.

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