24 July: Panel Presentations

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 Day 1: 24 July (Wednesday)  

Opening remarks: Nirmal Man Tuladhar, Chair, Social Science Baha 

Panel 1
9 – 11 am

Chair: David Holmberg, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University
Sudhindra Sharma
Executive Director, Interdisciplinary Analysts

Sujan Ghimire
Research Officer, Interdisciplinary Analysts
Bandana Gyawali Gautam
PhD Candidate, Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki
Modernity Prior to the Era of Development: Forestry Management, Domestic Water Supply, and ‘Pragati’ during the Rana Period
Lok Ranjan Parajuli
Visiting Research Scholar, University of Illinois at Chicago
From Controlling Access to Crafting Minds: Experiments in Basic Education in Late Rana Nepal
Thomas Robertson
Associate Professor, Humanities Department, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
A Lowland Plague in a Himalayan Country: A Historical Political Ecology of Disease in Nepal Before 1950 
Discussant: Sambriddhi Kharel, Senior Research Scholar, Nepā School of Social Sciences and Humanities  
BREAK: 11 am – 11:30 am

Panel 2
11:30 am – 1:30 pm

Chair: Gérard Toffin, Senior Researcher, National Centre for Scientific Research
Andrea Kölbel
PhD Candidate, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford
Nepal’s Change Agents: Educated Youth and their Involvements in the Local Labour Market
Shrochis Karki
PhD Candidate, International Development, University of Oxford
Positive Deviance: ‘Success’ in Unexpected Places
Amanda Snellinger
Postdoctoral Research Associate, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford 
Mobilising for What: A Discursive History of Nepal’s Youth Policy
Discussant: Bandita Sijapati, Research Director, Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility
LUNCH: 1:30 – 2:30 pm

Panel 3
2:30 – 4 pm

Chair: Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka, Professor of Social Anthropology, Bielefeld University
Christie Lai Ming Lam
Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka University
Park, Hill Migration, and the Changes of Gender Relations of Rana Tharus in Far-western Nepal
Sanjay Sharma
Research Associate, Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility
The Political Economy of Migration Process: A ‘Distorted’ Rational Choice of Nepali Labour Migrants

Discussant: Thomas Robertson, Associate Professor, Humanities Department, Worcester Polytechnic Institute 

BREAK: 4 – 5 pm 
Moderator: Abhi Subedi, Professor, Department of English, Tribhuvan University

5 – 6:30 pm

Michael Hutt
Professor, Nepali and Himalayan Studies; and Chair, Centre of South Asian Studies, SOAS
Five Nepali Novels


Modernity Prior to the Era of Development: Forestry Management, Domestic Water Supply, and ‘Pragati’ during the Rana Period
Sudhindra Sharma, Executive Director, Interdisciplinary Analysts; Sujan Ghimire, Research Officer, Interdisciplinary Analysts; and Bandana Gyawali Gautam, PhD Candidate, Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki

Abstract: With external financing entering Nepal especially after 1951, aid policies and planning models have increasingly built upon the monolithic and quintessential western construct of development trying to eradicate ‘traditional’ obstacles that were blocking ‘development’. This representation implies a lack of development prior to entry of foreign aid in Nepal. In fact, aid documents usually begin by stating the country being in a ‘blank state’, where there is no ‘development’ and a ‘…text -book of opportunity’ available for donors to implement their projects (Fujikura, 1996). However, this paper argues that engagements with ideas and practices of modernity and some extent of scientific and technological advancement were prevalent in Nepal prior to 1951.

This paper argues that the conventional textbook approach of the account of development in Nepal does not take into cognizance the efforts made to modernize during the first half of the twentieth century.

Development is portrayed as something that began only from 1951 onwards. The paper argues that though the Nepali term for development, ‘bikas’, has indeed been popularised from the 1950s onwards, the general absence of this term in pre-1951 Nepal should not be construed to imply an absence of development initiatives.

The paper notes that the state had in fact undertaken modernity-informed decisions in pre-1951 Nepal: it examines two cases to explore this further. It explores what the Rana rulers did in forestry and in water supply during the first half of the twentieth century. In doing so, it explores the terminologies the rulers used in introducing new forestry management systems or laying out new water supply networks. Exploring the genesis and trajectory of terms that refer to development in the Nepali language – terms such as ‘pragati’, ‘unnati’, and ‘bikas’ – the paper examines the terminologies and logic/reasoning the Rana rulers used when introducing modernity – be these in setting up new forest management systems or laying out new water supply pipes.

The paper concludes that though development initiatives had taken place in the pre-1951 Nepali state, development was far from being the state ideology – a status it received only from the 1950s onwards. During the first half of the twentieth century, though the state was engaging with modernity, it was doing so in a context where it did not adhere to democracy. Though the state made attempts at introducing modernity in specific spheres of life such as in introducing forestry management systems or laying out water supply networks, in the absence of the recognition of the principle of democracy, which in turn implies the principle of equality and equality of all before the eyes of the law, there was a limit to how much changes a state that was based on the principle of hierarchy could introduce*. These modernity-informed initiatives led to the enhancement of the living standards of the aristocracy or their clientele class, not the majority of the citizenry. What this further implies is that development presumes democracy; only in a state where all citizens are, in principle, equal, would it make sense to provide services to all.

*Legitimate political changes during Rana times could accrue only from the ‘Roll-kram’ – the document that stated the principles of succession to various positions of office beginning with the office of the Prime Minister downwards.

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From Controlling Access to Crafting Minds: Experiments in Basic Education in Late Rana Nepal
Lok Ranjan Parajuli, Visiting Research Scholar, University of Illinois at Chicago

Abstract: In the education history of Nepal, the Rana era (1846-1951) is almost always portrayed as an era in which citizens were denied access to (formal) education. The less than two percent literacy rate at the end of the Rana regime and the concomitant figures (related to schools/teachers/students) give credence to this line of argument. There is no denying that the Ranas in general barred their ‘subjects’ from having access to education, but this uni-linear narrative masks a number of experiments (e.g., Bhasha, Shresta and Basic education) that the Ranas conducted over the years in this sector. This paper charts the trajectory of the Basic Education System, introduced in 1947. The introduction of the Basic Education System was, I argue, a radical policy turnaround. With it, the Rana era education policy moved from keeping the masses ‘ignorant’ (by barring their access to education) to crafting the minds of the masses (by teaching them their ‘duties’).

The Ranas appropriated this Gandhian education system, I argue, to prolong their rule because they thought, among other things, it would smooth and strengthen their relationship with the new rulers of post independence India; show that they were not wary of, or against change. For the Ranas, this education system was also alluring because it was touted as ‘self-sustaining’. The Basic Education was however bound to fail for one, the philosophy of Basic Education and the idea of ‘control’ was an oxymoron; and two, there was ‘trust deficit’ as citizens were wary of all government initiatives. Eventually the Basic Education System was replaced by the ‘modern education’ after the political change of 1951.

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A Lowland Plague in a Himalayan Country: A Historical Political Ecology of Disease in Nepal Before 1950
Thomas Robertson, Associate Professor, Humanities Department, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Abstract: For most outsiders, Nepal evokes the soaring peaks of the Himalayas—Everest, Annapurna, Kanchenjunga.  But, surprisingly, much of Nepal’s history has been shaped by a lowland disease and the insects that carry it: malaria.  Malaria plagued the entire Himalayan area—especially the Tarai, but also the valleys between mountain ranges. Its eradication, although not 100%, radically re-configured the country’s economic, social, political, and environmental history.  Today, we cannot understand the history of Nepal’s lowlands or its uplands without understanding the history of this disease.

And yet, we actually know very little about the malaria of the Nepal Himalayas.  Misunderstandings are common.  Even well educated people think of malaria as a single disease that comes from dirty water and that affected just the Tarai and did so equally.  But in fact, Nepal’s malaria was several different diseases, came mostly from clean water, plagued the hills as well as the Tarai, and affected different areas within the Tarai differently.  As one scholar later put it, ‘The whole of the Tarai was not equally malarious.’

The purpose of this paper on Nepal’s history is to analyse the impact of malaria on Nepal’s history up to 1951, when Nepal’s government began efforts to control malaria in coordination with different foreign development agencies, especially the WHO and USAID. Drawing from a diverse array of historical and ethnographic sources as well as contemporary science, the paper does two things: 1) it describes the epidemiology, entomology, ecology, and geography of malaria in the central Himalayan area in order to shed light on the various kinds of malaria parasites, the various mosquito carriers, and the ecological conditions that facilitated malaria; and 2) it examines how the disease shaped Nepali society, the ways Nepalis adapted to the disease, and the ways Nepalis influenced the disease.

In addition to trying to establish a historical baseline from which to understand the dramatic changes that the malaria programmes of the 1950s and 1960s brought to Nepal, the paper outlines a framework for thinking about malaria that I will call the historical political ecology of disease. The approach emphasises historical dynamism, ecological variability, and social inequalities.

The paper is part of a larger project on the environmental history of development programmes in Nepal during the Cold War.

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Nepal’s Change Agents: Educated Youth and their Involvements in the Local Labour Market
Andrea Kölbel, PhD Candidate, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford

Abstract: Recent studies of Nepal’s labour market indicate that unemployment rates are highest for the age group between 20 and 29 years, with almost half of the young population being reported to be underutilised. In search for an adequate solution to the persisting problem of youth un-/underemployment, public actors, including national policy-makers and international partner organisations, increasingly place their hopes on the resourcefulness of young people themselves, emphasising on the ‘hidden potential’ of youth-led initiatives. In this paper, I investigate to what extent Nepal’s educated youth can indeed fulfil the role of a change agent by taking initiative to contribute to the wider social good. I argue that this is a question not only of young people’s motivation per se but also of their latitude to follow through with their ideas. I therefore explore in which forms of work young Nepalis were engaged, what motivations underlaid their economic activities and how their present job situations were related to their future career ambitions. With my analysis, I build on existing research which conceives of society as a mechanism for the production of public hope as opposed to the individual’s private aspirations.

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Positive Deviance: ‘Success’ in Unexpected Places
Shrochis Karki,
PhD Candidate, International Development, University of Oxford

Abstract: Although public schools have been rapidly on the decline in Nepal, this paper traces the circumstances under which a school has emerged as a quality education provider in the region. Positive deviance (PD), which first gained prominence in the field of nutrition and public health, provides the theoretical grounding to understand why and how certain actors and/or institutions flourish in hostile environments.

Secondary schooling is a major component to the transition to becoming an ‘educated’ youth and while most analyses focus on the severe problems that public schools face, this PD approach helps find possibilities for change. However, the picture is not entirely rosy because even these graduates then face harsh realities where their success does not translate into meaningful higher education or employment. The category of ‘educated’ youth and their prospects within Nepal’s political economy thus come under scrutiny, raising questions not just about succeeding within the system, but the success of the system itself.

This paper is based on extensive fieldwork research carried out in and around an ethnically heterogeneous community (comprising Magars, Tamangs, Newars, and Chettris) in Dadagaun, a semi–peripheral village in Lalitpur in 2012. Although within spitting distance from the capital, the village is a world apart socio-economically.

The well-documented rapid rise of private schools has actively undermined the public school system in Nepal. Further, an overwhelming majority of public school students do not even pass the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams, the ‘iron gate’ for higher education and gainful employment.

However, Bhumi School, the local community secondary school, has bucked the trend and set the standard for education. For instance, Bhumi was one of only two public schools in the entire district to pass all students in the SLC this year. The school’s impressive track record has pushed enrolment, and 72 private school students moved to Bhumi last year alone.

Positive deviance identifies successful behaviour in adversity to then help develop a plan of action to promote their adoption. This theory has particular meaning in Bhumi, where teachers navigate the system successfully precisely by manipulating its rules, but to deliver accessible quality education. Examples include manipulating hiring and funding practices to free funds for poor students, emulating private school practices such as mandating uniforms and extra coaching classes, and engineering School Management Committee elections to keep political parties at bay. Bhumi has also assimilated one of the three public schools that collapsed in the region.

Bhumi’s case study shows that under unique circumstances, blurred boundaries in a failing system can open possibilities for action. The preoccupancy with structure often fails to recognise the power of agency for positive change. However, significant challenges remain. The specificity of the context makes replication of the model difficult, while a closer examination reveals the need to re-evaluate the definition of success under which these schools operate, the notion of ‘educated youth’, and their opportunities and constraints.

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Mobilising for What: A Discursive History of Nepal’s Youth Policy
Amanda Snellinger, Postdoctoral Research Associate, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford

Abstract: Over the last decade and half, there has been a converging international and national interest to establish a youth policy agenda. The first initiative of youth-specific policy was in the Ninth Government Plan in 1998, in which youth were separated from adolescents and given a subsection, 14.2.1 ‘Youth mobilization’. It identified education, culture, employment, health, sports, crime involvement, and substance abuse as major priority areas (NPC 1998). Youth issues took less priority in the Tenth Plan devised by the last HMG of Nepal. However, since the institution of the 2006 interim government, there has been heavy investment in creating a National Youth Policy (2008), The Ministry of Youth and Sports, and broad scale education and employment schemes in the post-conflict era. It is not surprising that youth policy has become a national priority since it has been a global focus of the UN and other multilateral organisations from the early 1990’s. What is more interesting is that it is one of the rare priorities shared by all sides in Nepal—the far left parties, democratic parties, royalists, general public, and donor agencies. The majority of democratic activists and Maoists combatants were of the youth demographic. In order to keep them loyal, all the parties recognise that they must address their young cadres’ concerns. There has also been more youth advocacy since student leaders and young Maoist commanders have transitioned into party leadership and government positions. Moreover, donor agencies and the general public directly correlate investing in youth opportunity with maintaining peace and stability. The National Planning Commission has tried to address these concerns by crafting a National Plan of Action for Youth Employment (2008-2015) with technical cooperation from the International Labor Organization. It emphasized: employability, equal opportunity, entrepreneurship, and employment creation. The estimated total budget was 14 billion NPR, little of which has been allocated or spent on developing programmes.

This paper provides a discursive history of the national youth policy development – focusing on the values, priorities, agendas of all the participating stakeholders and the degree to which they influenced policy outcomes based on their position in the policy making. It employs a trademark of youth studies by analysing the dynamic interplay between social, economic, and political structures and young people. This approach empirically grounds the tracking of social change and relationships between structure and agency (Beck 1992; Furlong and Cartmel 2007). I focus on policy and development to further unravel the relationship between the international donor regime and the state, providing insight into what mediates cultural flows and social change across sovereign borders. What should a policy of youth mobilisation entail?  Or what will be the lasting effects of the Nepal National Youth Policy designating the youth demographic as 16-40 rather than the internationally sanctioned ages of 15-24? Such questions propel my analysis on the relationship between the global and local, and its implications for Nepalese youth as they navigate their life trajectories.

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Park, Hill Migration, and the Changes of Gender Relations of Rana Tharus in Far-western Nepal
Christie Lai Ming Lam, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka University

Abstract: The main theme of this paper is to focus on how gender relations of Rana Tharu society were changing to reflect the new material conditions and cultural ideology. The key question I intend to answer is: did these changes have any implications for the status of Rana Tharu women?

The labour arrangement between men and women has been widely recognised as a unit of critical analysis by social scientists in understanding gender relations and its role in the transformation of a society (Beneria 1982; Harris 1981; Mies 1986). Gender division of labour does not only reflect the social values of men and women but it is also shaped, recreated, transformed, and reinforced by social and economic changes taking place (Deere 1990; Moore 1988). Bear in mind, despite the fact that gender division of labour allows me to understand the gender relations of a society, it is also problematic to adopt gender division of labour as an unquestionable variable when analysing the status of women (Cameron 2005; Mukhopadhyay & Higgins 1988; Whyte 1978). Therefore, in this paper, I see Rana women as social actors and the lived stories of Rana women are used to tell us their changes in livelihoods and the implications of these changes on gender relations.

Based on my year-long anthropological study of Rana Tharu community, my ethnographic data clearly show that recent social changes, including the establishment of Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve and the hill migration, have shaped Rana gender labour arrangements significantly. Rising poverty and the Park policies resulted in Rana women working more in agricultural activities and fuel wood collection. On the other hand, their increasing workload was constantly underestimated and treated as ‘informal productive work’ compared to men’s work. As a result there was a tendency of growth of the level of economic dependency of Rana women on men. Furthermore, the hill people’s cultural ideology resulted in stricter control being exerted by Rana men over their women. It was noted that the traditional gender division of labour practices had been transformed and reinforced as Rana men’s weapons to ‘reclaim’ their dominant position at the domestic level and in the wider society; it was also the strategy for them to attain higher social status.

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The Political Economy of Migration Process: A ‘Distorted’ Rational Choice of Nepali Labour Migrants
Sanjay Sharma, Research Associate, Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility

Abstract: The number of Nepali youth seeking foreign employment overseas, especially in the Gulf countries and Malaysia, is higher now than in any other time in history; this accounts for the escalating volume of remittance received by the country, which is also at a record high. Among the various frameworks that have been put forward to explain the causes of labour migration, the ‘Rational Choice Theory’ is one such approach that has gained much acclaim. In this context, the theory claims that the labour migrants calculate the costs and benefits of migration before going abroad for employment and decide ‘rationally’ to migrate. It therefore follows that a labour migrant’s decision to go abroad is made on the rationale that it is more beneficial to work abroad than inside the country. In Nepal’s context, however, the ‘rationality’ behind the decision-making of aspiring migrants is highly distorted, mainly due to the false information and promises provided by informal service providers, mainly consisting of national and local agents. The inaccuracy of migrants’ pre-departure cost-benefit calculations is recognised or realised only after they experience different terms and conditions at destination countries, such as lower wages than previously agreed. Furthermore, while on the one hand the interest on the debt taken to go abroad keeps increasing, on the other hand, all their earnings are spent in meeting the household expenses and paying back the borrowed sum.

This paper, therefore, re-examines the ‘reasons’ through which potential migrants decide to go abroad and seeks to assess how the ‘Rational Choice Theory’ figures in this context where many of the migrants who decide to go abroad are misinformed by informal agents. This situation is further complicated by the absence of government agencies at the local level, where aspiring migrants can attest the information that they are provided with. The findings are based on 50 in-depth interviews conducted in four districts of Nepal with aspiring migrants, migrant returnees, and the families of the migrants interviewed. Various other stakeholders such as government officials, non-government organisation workers, members of the civil society, lawyers, and staff of recruitment agencies were also consulted. The study finds that although there is a series of cost-benefit calculations done prior to migration, the plan in most of the cases fails primarily due to the ‘distortion’ in the rational choice of the migrants and the absence of governmental mechanisms to check these distortions.

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Keynote address 

Five Nepali Novels
Michael Hutt, Professor, Nepali and Himalayan Studies; and Chair, Centre of South Asian Studies, SOAS

Abstract: In his seminal book Literature, Popular Culture and Society, Leo Lowenthal argues that studies of the representation of society, state, or economy in the literature of a particular country or time contribute to our knowledge of ‘the kind of perception which a specific social group—writers—has of specific social phenomena’ and therefore to our knowledge of the ‘history and sociology of shared consciousness’ (1961: 143). This discussion will focus on five Nepali novels published between 2005 and 2010, i.e. during the final months of the internal conflict between the CPN (Maoist) and the monarchical state, and the period of political transition that followed. The novels were selected mainly because they have been widely read and discussed, at least in Kathmandu, and can therefore be seen as possessing sociological as well as purely literary significance. Three of them (Narayan Wagle’s Palpasa Café, Narayan Dhakal’s Pretakalpa, and Krishna Dharabasi’s Radha) won one or other of the two major Nepali literary prizes awarded each year, and the other two (Yug Pathak’s Urgenko Ghoda and Buddhisagar Chapagain’s Karnali Blues) have achieved a high public profile.

The paper will summarise the content of these novels and provide some translated extracts.  It will then analyse and discuss them, with a particular focus on (a) Dhakal’s, Dharabasi’s, and Pathak’s use of the past (b) the influence of the Maoist insurgency and the imprint of Maoist ideology (c) the location of each novel’s central protagonist in relation to urban metropolitan perspectives and (d) implied and actual readerships. The paper will explore the sociological significance of the commercial success of several of these books in light of the increasingly close relationship between Nepali literature and the Nepali print media. Finally, it will ask whether the expansion of the readership for Nepali novels in recent years is a sign that the Nepali novel is now breaking out of the narrow elite sphere of ‘art literature’ and becoming a part of what Ashish Nandy calls ‘the popular’.

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