Maoists at the Hearth: Everyday Life in Nepal's Civil War

Maoists at the Hearth: Everyday Life in Nepal's Civil War

Maoists at the Hearth: Everyday Life in Nepal's Civil War

Maoists at the Hearth: Everyday Life in Nepal's Civil War


The Maoist insurgency in Nepal lasted from 1996 to 2006, and at the pinnacle of their armed success the Maoists controlled much of the countryside. Maoists at the Hearth, which is based on ethnographic research that commenced more than a decade before the escalation of the civil war in 2001, explores the daily life in a hill village in central Nepal, during the "People's War." From the everyday routines before the arrival of the Maoists in the late 1990s through the insurgency and its aftermath, this book examines the changing social relationships among fellow villagers and parties to the conflict.

War is not an interruption that suspends social processes. Life in the village focused as usual on social challenges, interpersonal relationships, and essential duties such as managing agricultural work, running households, and organizing development projects. But as Judith Pettigrew shows, social life, cultural practices, and routine activities are reshaped in uncertain and dangerous circumstances. The book considers how these activities were conducted under dramatically transformed conditions and discusses the challenges (and, sometimes, opportunities) that the villagers confronted.

By considering local spatial arrangements and their adaptation, Pettigrew explores people's reactions when they lost control of the personal, public, and sacred spaces of the village. A central consideration of Maoists at the Hearth is an exploration of how local social tensions were realized and renegotiated as people supported (and sometimes betrayed) each other and of how villager-Maoist relationships (and to a lesser extent villager-army relationships), which drew on a range of culturally patterned preexisting relationships, were reforged, transformed, or renegotiated in the context of the conflict and its aftermath.


The Nepalese civil war/the Maoist insurgency/People’s War in Nepal—what you call it depends on the assumptions you approach it with—lasted ten years, from 1996 to 2006. As Judith Pettigrew describes in these pages, more than 13,000 people were killed, oft en in brutal ways, and many more were maimed for life, physically, psychologically, or both. The rise of the Maoists was a shock both to ordinary nonpolitical Nepalis and to almost all foreign scholars of Nepal. The Maoists had come from nowhere (so it seemed) to dominating the country in a few short years. In the 2008 elections for the Constituent Assembly they won the biggest share of votes and exactly half of the 240 seats contested on a first-past-the-post basis (the Congress Party, which came in second, won only 37).

Those of us who work on Nepal are frequently asked four questions about the Maoists: (1) How is it possible that in the 1990s, with communism in retreat all over the world, you suddenly get a successful Maoist revolution in Nepal? (2) Does the Maoists’ success have anything to do with China? (3) Are they really Maoists? (Perhaps they are just pretending to be Maoists?) (4) How were the Maoists, at the height of their military success, able to gain control of up to 80 percent of the country (though not the fortified district capitals)? Was it because ordinary people supported them?

Question 1 is large and complex. Anthropologists, political scientists, and political economists of Nepal—initially as taken aback as everyone else—began to turn their minds to it as soon as the seriousness of the conflict became apparent. Social science—the best efforts of economists notwithstanding—is not predictive in the same way as natural science. It is only now, as the dust is starting to settle, that the war is beginning to be grasped in all its complexity.

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