Susan I. Hangen, 2000. the Rise of Ethnic Politics in Nepal: Democracy in the Margins

By Shahu, Man Bahadur | Contributions to Nepalese Studies, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Susan I. Hangen, 2000. the Rise of Ethnic Politics in Nepal: Democracy in the Margins


Shahu, Man Bahadur, Contributions to Nepalese Studies


Susan I. Hangen, 2000. The Rise of Ethnic Politics in Nepal: Democracy in the Margins. Routledge: London/New York, pp. 190, with index, photos and a map. ISBN 978-0-415-77884-8.

The Rise of Ethnic Politics in Nepal. Democracy in the Margins is a full-length ethnography on mobilization of Mongol National Organization (MNO), an ethnicity based organization in the eastern part of Nepal that launched struggle for redefining the process of racial identity. Susan I. Hangen argues that peaceful mobilization of ethnic parties strengthens democracy rather than destabilize the democratization process. The book gives a picture of ethnic exclusion and the ongoing struggle of the ethnic organizations for their entry into the mainstream politics in Nepal.

The study was conducted in a village named Maidel and the author has used pseudonyms to protect the identity of the persons and places of her study. The book begins by explaining the occurrence of the April Movement in 2006. She argues that the Rhododendron Movement was a result of the right to organization and association guaranteed by the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990, which resulted in formation of a large number of ethnic organizations, which resisted the homogenous Hindu policy. This chapter sketches the location, social composition, migration, demographics and social history of MNO, operational in Ilam and Jhapa districts. Hangen has employed the 'Theory of Margin' to interpret the ethnographic information. Her basic proposition is that the marginal communities cannot contribute to the mainstream without a guarantee of their self-autonomy. She uses the term margin to describe the marginal population, historically underrepresented, not hegemonic, and rural citizens.

In the first chapter, Hangen argues that the 1990 popular movement laid the foundation for the movement of indigenous nationalities against the ethnic inequality which prevails in Nepal since the late 18th century. She further explains that ethnic inequality has a long history in Nepal and is deeply rooted. She explains the causes of ethnic inequality since the unification of Nepal. She blames the homogenous policy of the autocratic Panchyat regime (1960-1990) as the main cause for restricting enjoyment of ethnic identity. She says that the Treason Act 1961 was one of the main causes of restriction to the people. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990 ensured people's rights to association and organization but there was a restriction in forming political association on the basis of religion, caste, ethnicity and regionality. Declaration of Hindu nation also caused severe dent in the independent identity of indigenous nationalities. Maoist insurgency, regicide in 2001, irresponsible acts of the elected bodies and the civil servants were all to be blamed for the ethnic inequality. This situation led to flourishing of social movements carried out by the indigenous nationalities and provided a firm ground for political participation to raise their voice against the position of under-represented marginalized population. The author further argues that the census in 1991 and 2001, which also took account of ethnicity and languages, gave an impetus to identity politics and that this was a gift of democracy. The hierarchy created by the caste system resulted in pervasive inequality in Nepal and this was not addressed until 1990. The Panchyat era-slogan "one language, one form of dress, one country (Ek Bhasa, Ek Bhes, Ek des) reflect the state's effort to create cultural uniformity" (p.31).

Second chapter deals with pre-1990 emergence of indigenous nationality movements in which ethnic organizations carried out their activities against the dominance of high-caste groups and advocated for promotion and preservation of culture. After 1990, the demands of these groups shifted from cultural representation to political representation including their ethnic autonomy, reservation and secular state. …

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