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Ethnicity, Inequality, and Politics in Nepal

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Item Code: NAM351
Author: Mahendra Lawoti and Arjun Guneratne
Publisher: Himal Books, Nepal
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9789937826686
Pages: 174
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 220 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

The Surprising rise of identity politics after the restoration of democracy in 1990 led to increasing academic and political attention on political exclusion and ethnic politics. However, many aspects of exclusion are yet to be analyed. The atticles in this volume illuminate additional dimensions of exclusion and inequality. The authors examine interactions between foemal and informal institutions and political exclusion, inert-group inequality, ethnicization of the business sector and the country's protracted democratization.


The political context and issues

Since 2006, Nepal has been undergoing a political transition that could herald major changes in the society. Some major political transformations have already taken place (discussed below) while other change agendas are being hotly debated. Two important contested issues are the extent of socio-political inclusion of diverse ethnic groups (ethnic/national, caste, religious, linguistic, and regional identity) and forms of democratic structures for the "new" Nepal. These contested issues are important for two reasons. First, they will affect a majority of Nepalis. Second, the country failed in both fronts in the past. The majority of its diverse citizens were excluded from various realms of social and political action for most of Nepal's two and half centuries of existence while attempts at democratization since the fifties failed multiple times.

Being the oldest state in South Asia has not advantaged Nepal in its democratic trajectory or in the accommodation of its diverse ethnic groups. In fact, both exclusion and inequalities among ethnic groups and the failure of democratization, two issues analyzed in this volume are the result of the Nepali state's long history of authoritarianism. Although people's rights were slowly being expanded in early democracies during this period and even though the British Raj introduced local elections and some level of representative government to its South Asian colonies during the first half of twentieth century, Nepal's rulers were strengthening their authoritarian regime and caste-based hold even until the mid-twentieth century. Among other things, inequality and exclusion, which are not favorable for fostering democracy and could become inimical to it as well, became entrenched during this long period of authoritarian rule. The CHHEM (caste hill Hindu elite males) consolidated their hold with the consolidation of the state, and inequality as well as exclusion of numerous ethnic, caste, religious, and linguistic groups began, continued or became consolidated during this period. The inequalities and exclusionary norms and practices became so entrenched that they largely continued even during the short democratic interludes of the 1950s and 1990s. The relatively open polities of the 1950s and 1990s, however, energized activists of the traditionally excluded groups to organize against their marginalization and demand equal rights. The challenges especially increased during the democratic years of 1990-2002 due to the considerable political rights to organize and mobilize guaranteed in the 1990 Constitution. After the 'surprising' rise of identity politics during the nineties, exclusion began to receive increasing academic and political attention. Considerable work has been carried out on this issue but many aspects of exclusion are yet to be analyzed, as the contributions of this volume make clear. The articles in this volume will contribute to illuminate additional dimensions of exclusion and inequality, including after the multiple transitions to democracy.

Discourse on exclusion and inequality: Past and present

Nepal's attempt at development, which began after the 1951 transition to democracy, largely focused on class inequality for most of the time. Development was seen as reducing poverty through modernization by targeting individual citizens. However, these policies exacerbated inequality among various groups (Bista 1991). The dominant group largely benefitted from the policies because even though couched in universal discourse, the policies and institutions were influenced by dominant values, worldviews and interests (Lawoti 2005). For example, recruitment to the civil service through exams conducted in the native language of the dominant group contributed in their overwhelming domination of the bureaucracy. The state promoted nationalism, which was based on hill Hindu religious values, the Nepali language aka Khas-kura of the dominant group, hill dress and the Hindu monarchy, projected the ethos and worldviews of the dominant group as universal while considering others as deviant.

Writing and discussing ethnic issues from a political angle was considered taboo and discouraged even during the late nineties (Hangen 2000; Kraemer 2003). Such an environment restricted academic research on the issues of exclusion and in- equalities among different ethnic groups. Anthropologists and social scientists produced a corpus of knowledge on many ethnic groups that has contributed to understanding the status, including unequal positions, of those groups, but the studies rarely framed themselves explicitly from the exclusion and inequality angle, to a considerable extent due to the unfriendly and constraining circumstances. This does not mean that occasional academic work, even that produced during the Panchayat regime, had not pointed out exclusion (for instance, Gaige 1975; Beenhakker 1973; Rana 1971; Caplan 1970; Holmberg 1989), but exclusion had not become a major theme of political or academic discourse before 1990.

The exclusionary nationalism promoted by the state began to be challenged after the polity opened up in 1990. Political par-ties like the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (Nepal Goodwill Party), Rastriya Jana Mukti Party (National Peoples' Liberation Party), Mongol National Organization and associations of ethnic groups and NGOs of Dalits pointed out the exclusion of the Dalit, indigenous nationalities, and Madhesi from various socio-economic, cultural and political realms and they argued that the previous development and modernization policies had neglected or even discriminated against them (Lawoti 2005; Hangen 2010). This new form of nationalism that emerged from the society, and is empowering the traditionally marginalized group, sharply contrasts and, in fact, challenges the state led and imposed exclusionary nationalism that had privileged the CHHE at the cost of Dalit, indigenous nationalities, Madhesi and minority religious groups like the Muslims.

Initial attention on exclusion pivoted around cultural discrimination and on the under- or non-representation of various groups in the governance of the country. Various works pointed out that indigenous nationalities and Madhesi were facing linguistic, religious, citizenship and other forms of cultural discrimination, while Dalit were facing caste-based discrimination and women were socially and legally discriminated against (Bhattachan 1995; Gurung et al. 2000; Jha 1993; Kisan 2005; FWLD 2000). Data on representation of different groups in various influential state and society sectors showed the overwhelming domination of the CHHEM (Neupane 2000). The discussion of exclusion from governance assumes that descriptive or bodily representation is necessary for protecting the interests of different groups. Other work pointed out material inequality among ethnic groups as well, such as in access to education and employment opportunities (NESAC 1998; World Bank and DFID 2006).

Once exclusion among different groups even under democracy was established and accepted to some extent in the main- stream political and social discourse by late nineties, work began to identify causes of exclusion. Many work pointed out that for- mal institutions were the causes behind the exclusions. Constitutional articles that discriminated against native languages, minority religions, ethnic, caste and identity groups, the first past the post electoral system, and the unitary state etc. were pointed out as contributing to exclusion (for example, see Bhattachan 2000; Khanal 2004; Lawoti 2005, 2007; Neupane 2000; FWLD 2000). The ongoing political transformation is aimed at replacing many of these formal exclusionary political institutions. The papers in this volume, however, suggest that formal political institutional reforms may not be enough to ensure inclusion because exclusion in entrenched deeply beyond the formal political arena.

Contents of this volume

The first three chapters in this volume increase understanding of exclusion and inter-group inequality by analyzing newer dimensions of these phenomena, including their causes and consequences, while the fourth paper provides the political context in which exclusion has continued, with a discussion of the multiple democratic transitions Nepal has gone through.

Lawoti's article points out that informal institutions by them- selves as well as in interaction with formal institutions, contributed to exclusion by constraining, or creating incentives, for political actors to behave in certain ways. The article points out the role of the religiously supported patriarchy on the exclusion of women, the role of the Hindu caste system and the marginalization of Dalit and other "lower" castes like the indigenous nationalities, and it discusses the role of hill nationalism in the exclusion of the Madhesi. The informal institutions competed, substituted or complemented formal institutions to often exclude the marginalized groups while a few informal institutions occasionally promoted inclusion. This suggests that exclusion may continue even if new formal non- exclusionary institutions are established or new laws ban certain informal exclusionary practices because cultural attitudes die hard. The classic example is the practice of untouchability even after the 1990 Constitution declared it illegal. Thus, the ongoing reforms on the formal political sector that target formal exclusionary institutions of the past may not be adequate to reduce or eliminate various forms of exclusion in "new" Nepal. Particular exclusionary informal institutions have to be specifically targeted by new formal institutions to reduce or eliminate them.




Introduction: Ethnicity, Exclusion and Democracy in Nepal 1
Informal Institutions and Exclusion in Democratic Nepal 18
Horizontal Inequalities and Violent Conflict in Nepal 55
Capitalism and Ethnicity Facing a Rising Wave of Communism in Nepal 93
Nepal's Protracted Democratization in Terms of Modes of Transition 118
References 145
The Contributors 166


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