This book aims primarily at painting a comprehensive portrait of Nepal, between past and present, More specifically, it seeks to provide a better understanding of the recent tumultuous changes that have taken place in the country. Emphasis is laid on the rise of the individual, despite the remarkable resistance of traditional forms of belonging at family and caste level.
The work of imagination in Nepalese society is of particular interest. The author contends that mental images, the system of values, and ideological dimensions play a vital role in the cultural realm and political life. Similarly, religion is pivotal in the construction of selfhood and social life.
From a methodological viewpoint, Imagination and Realities stands at the crossroads between anthropology, sociology and history. It is by combining these three different disciplines that the construction of self –hood and social life.
From a methodological viewpoint, Imagination and Relaities stands at the crossroads between anthropology, sociology and history. It is by combining these three different disciplines that the dialetics between local and global, particular and general can be most suitbaly considered.
The book is based on intimate and continuous contact with Nepal over the last forty –five years.
Gerard Toffin is Research Professor at the National Center for Sceintific Research (CNRS,) France. He has been carrying out Research in the Himalayas, more specifically on Nepal, since the early 1970s. A social anthropologist by profession, his publications have mainly focused on Nepal's cultural heritage, politics and religion. He is the author of a number of books including Newer Society (Himal Books, 2007) and From Monarchy to Republic. Essays on Changing Nepal (Vajra, 2013). He edited Man and his House in the Himalayas (Sterling, 1991), The Politics of Belonging in the Himalayas, and Facing Globallization in the Himalyas (Sage,2011 and 2014).
Life often hangs by a thin thread. This book was written before, during and in the aftermath of the two earthquakes (7.8 and 7.3 on the Richter scale) that devastated Nepal in April and May 2015. All of a sudden, on 25 April, just before noon, in the spaces of about thirty seconds, what had been feared by a large number of well –informed persons and scientists actually happened. A terrifying earthquake, not as strong as the one in January 1934 however, shook the country. A second quake, less violent, hit Nepal on the 12 May 2015. Tremors were felt on the suncontinent all the way to Chennai. Almost 9,000 persons died in Nepal and about 20,000 were wounded. There was massive devastation in the hills and middle mountains, froms Gorkha in the west to Dolakha and Solukhumbu districts in the east, and in some old Newar settlements of the Kathmandu Valley, Monuments were reduced to rubble in a large part of central Nepal. The earthquakes wreaked damage in 14 of the country's 75 districts. About most high –rise buildings in the Kathmandu Valley resisted, a number of them underwent such a serious structual damage that they were declared dangerous and are no longer habitatble. Thousands of survivours were made homeless and forced to camp, day and night, for weeks under makeshift tents and tarpaulins, in open spaces for fear of aftersshocks. People tried to consolidate their fissured homes by bracing the front and back with wooden beams.
Earthquakes, bhukampa, are unfortunately a constituent part of Nepali history. Local chronicles testify to these unpredictable tectonic calamities over the ages. Nepali people commonly assert that a major bhukampa occurs every century. Seismologists were expecting an even worst one, much stronger, making a far greater number of victims. And they do not exclude the fact that this might happens in the next few decades. Each earthquake brings its cohort of distress, sorrow, death and despair. The catastrophic event in 2015 was no exception. It caused enormous loss in terms of housing and infrastructures in the country. It is also greatly affected people's morale: the Nepali population suffered serious psychological trauma during the weeks after 25 April. The Earth shook nearly everyday for more than a month. The large number of Nepalis living abroad and the small foreign bideshi community with affective links to the Himalayan country watched with consternation, shock, and deep concern the tragic photographs and videos posted on Facebook, the Internet and other media. I myself was in Nepal a few weeks before the event and went back to Kathmandu Valley in July 2015. It is difficult to say where I wished I had been on 25 April.
The national disaster in 2015 will have considerable consequence, economically, socially and plitically, in matters of tourism, schooling, people's livehood, etc. over the years to come. At the moment, it is difficult to foresee the impact. Evaluating the consquences of past earthquakes in the course of history, even simply in political terms, is damage is estimated at about $10 billion, nearly half of its gross domestic product (GDP) which amounts to $19.2. New national building regulations were promulgated in the aftermath, setting a height limit for the new buidings.
At any rate, there will be before and an after bahattarsal (2072 BS in the local Vikram Sambat calender), just as there was a before and an after for the last great earthquake in January 1934 (nabble sal, i.e; 1990 Vikram Sambat), of magnitude 8.2 on the Richter Scale, at a time when Nepal was a secluded kingdom, forbidden to outsiders. In matters of construction, what was left of traditional dwellings before 2015 will no doubt disappear at a rapid pace with the growing use of cement and the adoption of modern architectural designs. In the hills, unsightly corrugated roofs are likely to totally replace tradtional roofing materials (wood, slate, grass and tiles).
This tragedy has hastened the writing of the long awaited constitution. On 8 June 2015, less than months after the earthquake, the four main political parties (Nepali Congress, UML Communist, Madhesh Forum and UCPN Maoists) signed to federate the country into eight provinces but they left the issues of the names of these federal provinces and of thier boundaries to a later decision. On 30 June 2015, after a long and rather obscure process, a first draft of the constitution was tabled on the Constituent Assemby. The total absence of transparency in the deliberations has left the average Nepali fearing that "the constitution writing has been hijacked by a cabal of political leaders" (Kanak Dixit).2 In the following weeks, this draft was submitted to the general public for the discussion. It was subsequently amended in Augest 2015.
Backed by a coalition of three dominant parties (Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (UML), and Maoist (UCPN)), the constitution (sambidhan), was endored by the Constituent Assembly with an overwhelming majority, far above the required two –thirds majority, including a large number of Dalits (former untouchables), Adivasi/Janajati ('indigenous' ethnic groups), Muslims and Madhesi (from Tarai plains), all of them members of three above –mentioned parties. Yet most Tarai political organizations (especially Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha) and Tharus (the so –called 'indigenous' ethnic groups), Muslims and Madhesi (from Tarai plains), all of them members of three above –mentioned parties. Yet most Tarai political organizations (especially Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha) and Tharus (the so –called 'indigenous group' of these flatlands) expressed their dissents about the new federal mapping and other measures concerning citizenship. They did not sign the document. The tharus in particular did not agree to their territory being split into two.
Finally, after much unrest and violent opposition in the southern flatlands (over 40 people died in clashes, among both protester and security forces), the constitution was promulgated on 20 September 2015. The text consolidates democracy, the republic, and introduces a number of inclusive provisions. It consecrates the power of parliament and abandons the presidential system advocated by Maoists. The number of provinces, pradesh, is reduced to seven, the Tarai plains being split into five different units.
The state of Nepal is defined as "invisible, sovereign, secular, inclusive, socialism –oriented". However some points transmission of Nepali citizenship to their children in case they married a foreigner for instance have not been fully satisfied. The foreign husband first has to take Nepali citizenship. And a single mother will have difficulty passing on her citizenship to her child.
Similarly, a number of issues raised by Adivasi/Janajati (about the right to land and to natural resources for isntance) have been omitted altogether. According to Article 7.2, in the provinces, only the languages spoken "by the majority" other than Nepali may be used as an official language. This is restrictive caluse towards other minority languages. This is a restrictive clause towards other minority languages. Social rights and claims to equality are recognised but there is a lack of hierarchy among the large group of marginalised people listed in the bill (Article 18.3).3 Seculraism is proclaimed, but it is ambiguously associated with the protection of sanatana dharma, a Hindu concept designating the righteous eternal religion, and sometimes used as an alternative term for Hinduism. This association is a major concession to those upper –caste Hindus who are in favour of a Hindu State, hindu rashtra. The possiblity of changing its religion from Hinduism to Christianity or Islam is therefore limited (article 31,3), as was the case in previous constitutions. Restoring an ancietn notion prevalent in Nepal during Rana and Shah rule reveals the continuity of the national politico –cultural repertorire, despite political changes, In addtion, the cow (sacred for Hindus) is made, as before the national animal. For a majority of Nepalis, the country's fundamental identity was at stake here.
In the matters of territorial reorganization, the federalizing process finally led to a revised and updated form of decentralisation linking the hills to the southern plains. It is more a lifting of the pre –existent mapping than a structural change. The provinces, pradesh, for instance, will have less powers than origianlly envisaged: their antonomy in matters of law, banking and foreign aid will be limited. Again in this field, the durability of ancient centralized structures has prevailed. The authors of the constitution obviously intend to counter the centrifugal forces within the country and to impose a more or less unitary framework that goes beyond ethnic and geographical identities.
Chapter 1 and 2 of the present book will help to understand the politics that lie behind this new mapping.
Two comments need to be made right away. First, despite mass protests and acts of violence across the Tarai, the territorial reorganization to the inhabitants of the plains. Power has not been redistributed among the country's leading groups. The constitutions remains hill –centric in its orientation. It reveals a mark of defiance vis –a –vis the Tarai, and, indirectly, towards India. Second, by approving the whole process, the Maoists will be regarded as blatant traitors by their former followers: Maobadi leaders have totally abandoned the defence of ethnic group territories (as well as the redistribution of land from landholders to the landless). All in all, this federalization will dissatisfy a large number of Nepalis, in the Tarai as well as among Adivasi/Janajati, even if adjustments are conceded after the promulgation, it is likely that provinces boundries will remain a major issue at the heart of the state's political arena and, most probably, a source of lasting conflict. There is nothing uncommon in this uncertain situation. All states, even democracy, are based on a balance of power. They express the domination of some groups, or the coalition of some groups over the rest of the population at a given moment in the course of history. The notion of social harmony is a myth.
Whatever happens in the future, these two events, -the earthquake and the proclamation of the constitution –will have far –reaching consequences on the lives and on the representations that Nepali people construct about themselves and their country. They will not only affect the realities of the nation, its economy, its political or demographic condition, but will also have a large bearing on people's imagination, nation and its population –the narrative of Nepali people through the ages.
The promulgation of the long –awaited constitution in September 2015 has engendered a severe crises in Nepali –Indian realtions and in the economy of the Himalayan country. Narendra Modi's government has decided to back Madhesis group in the Tarai plains who reject the new constitution and demand that state borders be redefined. Delhi has subsequently blocked the entry of goods into Nepal along its border (even if it denies this and argues that its truck drivers and freight forwarders have voiced worries about the deteriorating situation across the border). This embargo (Nepali: nakabandi) brings to mind the 15 –month blockade that India imposed in 1980 -1990 after the decision by Nepali authorities to buy sophisticated weapons from China. Just as 25 years ago, this hindrance has triggered a nationwide shortage of fuel, kerosene and gas.
The present crisis has jeopardised the livelihood of ordinary Nepali citizens, especially those living in urban centres. People were not able to go home to see their families during Dastain (Dashera) festival and they have now to rely on firewood for cooking instead of gas. Both sides of the border are now ruled by black –marketers who smuggle feel with high profit marhines. All over Nepal the prices of manufactured goods and basic food stuffs have skyrocketed. The impact on the economy is such that experts are suggesting a possiblity of negative fiscal year for 2015. Tourism and agriculture are particularly badly affected. The crisis, for instance, resulted in a shortage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and has disrupted market acess to farm produces (Nepal Economic Forum).
These events clearly go to show Nepal's persisting dependency on its powerful southern neighbour as far as vital goods are concerned. In addition, the ongoing blockade has put a stop to the emergency reconstruction efforts in the wake of the April –May 2015 devasting earthquakes. So far demands by members of Nepali civil society and by governments in the Europeon community to lift the embargo have gone unheard. In retailiation, cable TV operators in Nepal have blocked 42 Indian channels. As I prepare to send this manuscript to the editor, the situation is volatile in the Nepali Tarai plains and very tense between the two countries.
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