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The New Nepal: Enter Ethnic Politics?

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The Maoist leadership is playing the ethnic card, writes AVANTIKA REGMI, adding: Contriving ethnic schisms to gain votes will not help solve the problems.

So, we have now entered a new era of ethnic politics. That was abundantly clear in the communal clashes in Nepalgunj last month. At least one was killed and scores were injured when Madhesi youths clashed with Pahade youths in the Terai plains bordering India.

What does that rare incident signal?

The immediate public response may be this: Being a Madhesi, or a Pahadi, or even a Bahun or a Chhetri or a Newar can be tough in the new Nepal, where caste and ethnicity-based politics seems to be emerging as a new game.

But we are not always what we may look like. My own experience is that regional constructs can also be illusive. Due to my naturally sun-tanned face and those “Indian features” – a hooked nose, dark, brown eyes, black hair, etc.-- I have often been mistaken for an Ethiopian or an Indian or a Latino and even an Iranian when outside of Nepal, and invariably as an Indian within Nepal.

I spent two years as a graduate student at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi listening ad nauseam to my Indian friends who insisted I don’t look like a Nepali. Others find Nepalis similar to Tibetans. Jared Mason Diamond, the Pulitzer-winning evolutionary biologist from America, says Tibetans and Nepalis are ethnically the same.

The bottom-line is this: Nepalis can look like Indians who can look like Nepalis who can look like Tibetans. Confusing; isn’t it? It all depends on who you are comparing with whom.

Aside from my “Indian features,” these days I have other things going against me. I have never felt anything but Nepali. The fact is that I was born a Kumai Bahuni- a new caste/ethnicity that I may have to identify with more often in the post-2006 Nepal where ethnic politics may have gained ground. I can trace my roots of that identity. My baba had a copper plate hung outside his library hall with the name of his several ancestors etched on it - generations of Maharastrian Bahuns who migrated to Kumaon via Kanauj to Lamjung.

Known collectively as “BCN caste-coalition” for their domination of Nepali society for ages, the “Bahun-Chhetri-Newar troika,” however, are Nepalis first, and Bahun, Chhetri and Newars, second. They were born a Nepali and will die a Nepali, too. Sure, a vast majority of Bahuns may look down upon Chhetris who look down upon others below them in the caste/ethnic hierarchy and so on. But the solution to Nepal’s caste-based discrimination, or for that matter, to the “Bahun-Chetri-Newar trioka” supremacy is not pay back time.

The solution is to provide other ethnic communities with opportunities in skills and development in such a way that the social churning that must take place occurs peacefully, and not in the way that some, like the Maoists, have advocated. The Maoist leader Prachanda’s prescription on this issue will surely turn neighbors against one another.

Hardly a single day has gone by since the peace agreement last November in which hate has not been preached: the shadows of a monster ready to engulf and destroy whatever lies on its path are looming large. The recent assertion of Prachanda that ethnic-autonomy is the Maoist’s agenda may speak volumes about the direction toward where our country is moving. Under such a circumstance, statements like "because my real name smells Bahun" may not portend well for Nepal.

Against this background, let me pose some questions to the readers:

First, is Prachanda playing the ethnic card for political gains – blinded perhaps by his grandiose desire to transmute Nepal into a Tito-ish state? The former Yugoslavia had simmering ethnic tensions that were kept at bay by the iron hands of Josip Broz Tito, who ruled that nation for almost thirty years, starting in 1953. Is Prachanda raising and creating ethnic divisions to such levels that only he can control, and only as a dictator? Are the other gleeful ethnicity dividers not playing with fire to stoke a conflagration that once ignited may never die out? Is peaceful co-existence with a steady social churning better or knee-jerk demands of pay back time?

Second, if we read, write, see, listen and believe blindly without thinking about consequences how long will it take for this kind of ethnic tirade to transform into hatred, if that has not happened already? It didn’t take machete-wielding Hutus a long-time to kill a million or so Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda. What happens tomorrow if a group of Tamangs from one village kill some Bahuns to settle old scores, and the Bahuns retaliate and kill an equal number or more of Tamangs? Will the killing end here or will it spread to other villages like wild fire? What happens if Bahuns and Chettris and Newars decide to raise their own vigilante armies? Will such ethnic actions provoke the Hindus from across the border to come to the rescue of their Hindu brethrens here? Will a cross-border conflagration start then?

Third, let’s hypothesize that somehow, and without bloodshed, the social churning occurs rapidly. Suddenly, Madhesi-land, Tamang-land, Magar-land, Dalit-land and so on are realized and the “Bahun-Chetri-Newar trioka” finds a new home someplace in Nepal. Prachanda has already declared Kathmandu Valley as Newar-autonomous region. Thus, Valley Newars may fair better in this new potential equation.

But the towering question remains: Does carving ethnic territories ensure that the root cause of all problems, i.e. general backwardness of ethnic groups in education, health, employment and other socio-economic sectors automatically disappear in each ethnic land? Is there not something amiss here, that the proponents of ethnic autonomy cannot differentiate between “people” and “problems?” Is it not possible that feudal autonomous Madhesi, Limbu, Dalit, Tharu and other Janajatis could merely take the place vacated by the feudal “Bahun-Chetri-Newar trioka”?

Fourth, is the “real” problem not poverty and the lack of economic opportunities in the whole country? Is the problem not the lack of good, efficient and honest administrators and leaders? Instead of creative policies and the will plus skills to implement them and leap frog the country ahead, we have leaders who raise issues that are sure to bog down the country into ethnic conflicts. Despite that, our politicians have positioned themselves as everyone’s saviors.

Fifth, this leads one to ask: How come the Bahuns and Chhetris and Newars, unlike other minority ethnic groups, have disproportionately occupied all positions of power? No prizes for guessing correctly; it is education and opportunity. And then, after occupying these lucrative positions, the BCN have milked the country dry, not an uncommon practice among socially dominant groups in South Asia. Does this mean that all Bahuns are bad, and all other ethnic groups good?

Sixth, what are the chances that if the BCN hegemony is replaced by a Rai-Limbu or a Madhesi Dalit or a Pahadi-Dalit construct? Will the latter not turn corrupt?

What is the problem here really? Is it the Bahun or is it the system? Playing the blame game is easy since we are all frustrated and easily swayed and politicians know that, Prachanda included. Solving a real problem requires first the guts to accept the existence of the real problem which only a true leader can do, and vote bank politicians can never.

Seventh, is it not time to really come up with reasonable and feasible solutions to the problems of proper representation to all communities? Is the solution, of creating ethnic divisions even practical? If the “Bahun-Chhetri-Newar trioka” were suddenly forced out of running the country there will be chaos all around. It is fair to say that nobody should be forced out of running; all must run the country together? Therefore, the solution to this problem is to provide the ethnic communities with the economic foundation to come up and the education to realize their full potential. Will the creation of ethnic enclaves all over Nepal really solve any problem or it will create new ones?

Eighth, isn’t it time to select the best people to run the country irrespective of their ethnic background and those who see the pressing need that all Nepalis are able to get out of the poverty trap and the conflict trap simultaneously? That should include not just poor ethnic groups but also the poor within the “Bahun-Chetri-Newar troika,” the entire lot of poor Nepalis.

Ninth, isn’t it the job of our educated elite and our politicians to think, read, write and preach responsibly for the bright future for all Nepalis instead of playing ethnic political cards that only creates divisions?

The constituent assembly elections are on the horizon and Prachanda is harping on ethnicity. Is he doing vote bank politics?

Lastly, to conclude, let me quote here a melancholic and sadistic character (who is nameless) from Notes from Underground, a novel by Dostoyevsky: “And if he does not find means he will contrive destruction and chaos, will contrive sufferings of all sorts, only to gain his point.”

Only to gain unfathomable and unimaginable power, may I suggest.

Previous articles by the author:
Against Early Disarmament, July 27, 2006

Avantika Regmi can be reached at


No, I do not think that Nepal is new to enter into the ethnic politics! Please look at the history! You will see that the root causes recent agitations for indigenous rights or regional rights are deeply rooted into the history. The modern history of Nepal (or earlier too) begun with ethnic interest, and it has effected lots in the development of Nepal, otherwise, the imbalance wouldn’t seen in the studies. Why so called high castes and certain groups of people are enjoying the prosperity and dignity in Nepal?? If today, ethnic, dalits and other groups are demanding their rights, it is simply because they had no rights before. Ethnicity/caste is social reality as class is, thus our whole model of political system which is based on western thoughts, should be reevaluated!

It is too idealistic when Avantika says the ‘other’ ethnic groups should be provided opportunities on the basis of skill. We must learn from India and Brazil. We know less or more the Indian contexts about reservation in government and private sectors for the marginalized population (it is recommended to read ‘Reservation and Private Sector’ edited by Thorat, Aryama and Negi 2006). In Brazil too reservation system is going to be implanted. Brazil and India both are huge and economically booming countries where ethnic heterogeneity prevails. But I think Nepal can solve the problem in much sophistication than Brazil and India, i.e. proportional representation, which was once the prime demand of the marginalized people of Nepal. Now this idiom of revolutionary thought is being cunningly collapsed! The marginal groups must provoke this demand as prime, and let not the powers misinterpret the idiom. Proportional representation should be implemented in every sector from parliament to workplaces, from governmental organizations to private sectors! The last election is proof that how the soul of the proportional; representation was raped by the cunning politicians. It is time to awaken up academician to work for Nepal!

Valuable thoughts and advices. I read your topic with great interest.

these leader r fooling us? they don't have any roadmap so they try and divert everybodi's attention?

नेपाल का एकमात्र सच्चा आदिबासी , ने मुनि का सन्तान , नेपाल एकीकरण कर्ता खस (बाहुन्, छेत्त्री ,ठकुरी,सन्यासी)--दलित समेत----- अहिले नेपाल मा देखिएको खस र नेपाल बिरोधि बिखण्डनकारी हरु संग मुकबाला गर्न पनि खस हरुको बलियो संगठन बनाउनु आवसेक छ. आफ्नो संगठन खोलेर छेत्त्री हरुले एकदम राम्रो गरे . अब बाहुन , ठकुरी, र सन्यासी ले पनि आ- आफ्नो संगठन खोल्नुपर्छ , र अनि सबै मिलेर खस हरु को महा- संगठन खोल्नु पर्छ
हजारौ वर्ष देखि नेपाल का रैथाने , आदिबासी खस को बिरोध मा भोट , बर्मा /थाइलेडं र इंडिया बाट नेपाल चिरेका आप्रबासी हरु को नेपाल तुक्र्युने उदेश्ये सफल हुन नदिन र नेपाल लै बचौना पनि खस हरु को एकता हुनु जरुरि छ.
जय नेपाल

ma bahun kai bachha ho but I grew up in a Kami family and they became my parent. this parent were working for my biological parent in the kheti baarima, but they never had a chance to reap what they sown. I saw every thing about how bahun treat the low catse people from my own eyes in my family. when I became 11 I was brought back to home and my bahuni ama put gaiko mut all over my body and vitra ko lagi she took me in. and I became a bahun boy just by the mut of gai. but mero bhudi maile khayeko sunur ko maasu was still with me in side her house which she never realized. One day I asked her kind mero baba-kaami father lai vitra khana khaana nabolaunu vako? only she could answer me was you dharma ko kura ho,ta thulo vayepachhi aafai thaha pauchhas and then she asked me read some ramayan child-hood life went on this way...struggled with in myself for the jatiye ved vaab.....became rebelious.....fell into jaad-raksi.....started learning karate so that I could beat all the bahun kaathaas....I did that for few kicked me out for all this thing....and lost my identity......could not make my 2046 when local election I helped a lot to UML parti to win the election....I was a group leader.....if anyone knows I am there they used run a way from there....... Looked for bahuns....there was a bahun ummedwar from nepali congress parti for Adakchhe... I took one of my kaami friends and both went into his house and took out all the samaan that he was prepared for the bijay utsab.....he thought that he will win the sorry!!!! it didnot happened.........anyway uml ko bijaya vayo......unfortunately, this uml neta who was from chhetri also turned out to be rude and started talking bad thing about me.... then I went to him took jim out from house and on the road side in public I beat him so badly.... went to jungle forever.............since then people in my village had no idea where I went....some thought I joined can I do that? I know who mao is and who nepal ko mao is and what their mukundo is..... I looked for a jatiye sammantaa not for any ganaune rajnity.....after Nepal ko rajnity bahun ko hatma how can i JOIN THis ghin lagdo khel........continued to looked for Nepali maanisko artha "Nepali".....anthropogy ko major liyera patan campur hudai Singapore ma master ani arko deshma( aile tyo desho ko nam na vanaau)anthropogy baata Doctor bahadur garera Nepal fireko chhu. yeuta chhutai identity liyera but new revultion dine ko lagi. Bahunist ma yeuta yesto power chha tyo rajnity tarika ra jatiye danga baata umkadaina yesko lagi dherai dna garnuparchha......sajilo chhaina but no bahun hu ra bahun le bahun kai study garera bahunist vitra baatai yesko kranti hunuparcha.......daibik shakti chha tyoshakti lai ukhelne yeuta arko supernatural power ko Nepal lai khaccho chha. tyo shakti ko discover garne jimma ma tapaiharulai nai dinchhu....aile ma eklai chhu......but when you discover it by yourselves I will show you how you should go a head......don't don't have die neither do you need to kill any one....this is not maobadi---na maobadi war hoina........spritual weapons chalaunus but they are very hard to find in this world but they are around you.

Dear Avantika,thank you for sharing your thoughts with us,readers.
Sorry that you are mistaken for an Indian.Well,that is the price we pay when we live in a foreign country,I am mistaken for a chinese or Japanese in UK.
Well,you are at JNU ,very impressive.I hope you will accept the intellectual honesty.Majority of Nepalese hill bahuns are Khas descendents,and NOT Rajisthani descendents according to our foremost historian Baburam Acharya and Prof Surya Mani Adhikari.
Nepalese ethnics,no wonder,look like Nagas,Tibetans,Chinese or vietnamese because they are of Mongoloid race in terms of physical features.
Finally,not a single ethnic is asking for an exclusively ethnic dominated Nepal.What they rightly want is an inclusive Nepal.Didn't you know??K RAI

According to more than 6 decades of Nepalese social and political record of Nepal,

It proved that Nepalese must change their social, racial and political Behavior, Morality, Mentality and Action. As long as, racial discrimination, national crimes and corruption remain deeply and heavily, Nepal will not have peace and will not move toward developments. This is guaranteed.

All Nepal tribes, race or indigenous people must get Equal share and treatment, or Fair treatment. All people must be Equal. In-fact, truth and reality, there is NO-BALANCE or NO EUALITY among Nepal races in Nepali social, governmental and political systems. This is a major problem of all problem of Nepal. Equality is the true democratic systems.

In real context of Nepal, 97% Bahuns and Chettris employ in Nepali government offices, 99% work as a Minister, High ranking officers and High ranking authorities, 99% Bahuns and Chettris get higher educational opportunities, 98% political leaders and members are only Bahuns and Chettris where other Nepali race are dominated. Nepal society technical socially and political suppressed by Bahuns and Chettris. It is shame that those who do not see the obvious major racial problems just in front of eyes in Nepali society, government and politics. If we can solve racial and discrimination problem in Nepal, we can solve 90% of our major problems in Nepal.

In Nepal, What we need for political and governmental stability:

(1) No one must be above Constitution, Law, Order, Rule and Regulation. Royal families must be under the constitution and national law.

(2) All Nepalese tribes and race must get equal opportunities in Education, Government employments, Political participation and representation as well as national social activities.

(3) Political parties and Nepal government must be truly Democratic with fully fairness and zero tolerance in racial discrimination, crimes and corruption. Equality and fairness is key element of the true democracy. National Law must upgrade or change for racial discrimination, crimes and corruption.

(4) Nepali election systems and criteria of applicant for election must be changed. Applicant criteria for prime minister and ministers must be very scientific and democratic. Ruling terms of Prime minister must be maximum 2 terms (1 term must be 4 years), then one person can not be applicant for prime minister. E.g. USA. Applicant for minister must be certain age, education, transparency of background or history, clean criminal record history, contribution record to country, must be 4 generation authentic Nepal born Nepali citizen etc. All indigenous people of Nepal must have their own political and governmental representatives in Nepali parliament.

(5) Crime and Corruption investigation persecute agency or government body must establish and must give it full power for hunt, investigate, seize, persecute and punish to criminals. egg. American FBI (federal Bureau of investigation). This body must have full authority and power to investigate and persecute to Royal families, Prime minister, Ministers, Army Generals and Police chiefs. It is very important body of controlling crimes and corruption of country.

The writer has imagined a probable horrible scenario meticulously. But her writing is more problem-oriented rather than solution-oriented. I have the following reservation in addition or against the author's assertions.

The legacy of Balkan history, cold war strategy during bipolar era, and effect of globalisation caused the Yugoslavian incident. Tito and his charismatic leadership has merely a pawn effect on the whole game. Ongoing and developing scenario of Nepal do not match any of such a similarity so that we are confident that we should not face the yogus episode. Based on social flavour of-- cultural harmony, tolerance, and accommodation-- we are surviving to this date. Fantasies of small cluster of dissatisfied group, can not engulf Nepal into fierce ethnic war in the Yugoslavian model, but it certainly can creat some trouble.

We should visualise why Tarai is boiling up? As the auther mentions, Mr. Prachanda is solely responsible for the ethnic violence or not. In my opinion other than Prachanda may also have a lead role for this ongoing boiling ethnic problem because humiliation is more dangerous than hunger. Even interim constitution itself is not more than ill-conceived political paper. This political paper is prepared hurriedly overlooking key aspects and underestimating the major power legacy. It is well understood the underestimated power centre can project their importance through various means and modes.

As we all are well aware of that poverty, health, and quality education are the crux of the problem not the elaborated political preaching. Therefore; dreaming peace and prosperity in Nepal without being bold against deep rooted corruption will mean hardly anything. During signing peace agreement the pen Prachand has used and the watch sported on his wrist became the talk of the town. It indicates how much should we be optimistic about him.

Every democratic change has certain setbacks and small group of people try to show drawbacks of any system giving alternatives and false promises. This is redundant cycle, and continuous continuously. With due consideration on the fact, we must eradicate corruption rather than monarchy and should establish ethical society rather than DHARMA NIRPEKSHYA society.

The underlying motive of Maoists is really dangerous. now that they are in the interim parliament , Nepal is likely to witness further deterioration in situation if the people fall in the trap of maoist.

If they win the elections they will destroy nepal by infitrating their cadres into all aspect of nepali lives. But I beg to differ with the writer in the fact that the newars have been the ruling class! Newars have been an egalitarian society contributing maximum to the country's economy. They have never formed troika with the Bahuns and Chettris. They have been the most tolerant and have allowed aliens from everywhere to inhabit Kathmandu. Newars will stay out of this...of course unless dragged into this.

I suggest the writer to kindly analyse the reality before talking about newar community in a derogatory manner. It will be unfair to compare the newars with the BCs. Newars operate under different principles and fundamentals.

But why talk about this danger when Nepalis never had any of this feeling for hundreds of years....war never solves problems- we have seen that !

We can solve these problems like decent human beings...
prachanda's has his game plan in place. he will play this card in a real dirty manner if his party gets a wallop in elections.

Nepalis themselves will have to be careful of this scoundrel caled "Prachanda: because the state has negotiated with terrorist !!!!

The author correctly points out that it is not all BCNs that are bad but fails to point out the root cause of Nepal's problem. It is the systematic way of "hindukaran" that gives the Bahuns, Chetris and Shahs the crucial advantage. The system is right for them to do well at the expense of others. So if Prachanda says his bahun name represents that system, he is right about it. It is true that we don't want an ethnic clash like Rawanda but we certainly need radical and fundamental changes in Nepal vis-a-vis proportional representation and affirmative action to some extend. If we have created a caste based nation, we should not be afraid of talking about the castes and allocate resources and power accordintly. The article tries to present a picture that if BCN tioka is "removed" there will be a vaccum of power and skilled people. There are enough qualified people from the marginalized groups (including women) to run the country if they are given a chance and they might well do a better job than the Bahun and Chettri men for Nepal.

The author also blames the lack of opportunies in Nepal for the problems and misses the point why there are no opportunities. It is because the Bahun Chetri country that we have created is completely based upon "chakari". Their minds are so occupied with the "chakari" that they cann't think of innovation and reforms that creates these opportunities.

So it is time that we form a new Nepal that is truly inclusive and fair that gives opportunities to everyone and creates opportunities.

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Brihát Śhānti Sámjhautā, 2006
(Comprehensive Peace Agreement)

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