Nepali Times
Dr vs Dr

In their separate articles published in the Himalaya Times and Nepal, Madan Mani Dixit, Ramesh Bikal and Dr Surendra K.C., have attempted to define the term "janjati". None of the three writers are janjatis or members of indigenous groups. Neither are they sociologists or anthropologists by training. However, they feel qualified to find fault in the definition of "janjati" propounded by the janjatis themselves. (Janjati=ethnic community or nationality. Editor)

This is a testimony of their "bahunbadi" mentality. Bahunbadis feel threatened whenever people from indigenous groups, the janjatis or the dalits try to establish their identity as people from those groups. (Bahunbadi means a proponent of bahunbad, which was defined by Dor Bahadur Bista in his controversial book, Fatalism and Development, as a culture of fatalism; also loosely used to define domination by the Bahun caste group in different spheres of national life. Editor) Bahunbadis have always tried to project the janjati movement of this country as being erroneous, ill-intentioned, unnatural, meaningless, and with the eventual aim of engendering communal hatred and intolerance.

Dixit refers to the definition of "janjati" provided by the Nepali Brihat Shabdakosh (the Nepali dictionary published by the Royal Nepal Academy). According to this dictionary, janjatis are "jungle tribes such as Naga, Koche and Kusunda who are primarily hunters and gatherers, who lack education and are isolated from the outside world". Thus he claims that the definition of "janjati" used by the janjati activists is "unnatural and ambiguous and coined to suit their own purposes". Similarly, without any knowledge of sociological concepts and relying totally on English dictionaries for terminologies, historian Surendra K.C. makes the presumptuous statement that the definition of janjati is "sociologically inappropriate" and "sensationalised and politically motivated". Bikal, on the other hand, recycles the meaning provided by Dixit.

Janjatis, in general, object to the definition of "janjati" offered by the above-mentioned dictionary. The dictionary was edited by a team consisting of Prof Bal Krishna Pokhrel, Dr Basudev Tripathi, Dr Ballav Mani Dahal, Krishna Prasad Parajuli, Gopi Krishna Sharma and Harsha Nath Bhattarai. This team of bahunbadis had the authority to select words to include in the lexicon as well as to define them. If the team had included janjati linguist Dr Novel Kishore Rai and poet and academician Bairagi Kaila, then perhaps "janjati" may have been defined differently. On page 963 of the dictionary, the team of Bahun linguists have defined "Bahun" as "one of the four classes of Aryas, the Brahmin" or "priests" and "poor, honest and innocent Brahmin". If non-Bahun linguists had propounded a derogatory definition of the term, would it have been acceptable to Bahuns?

Words and concepts have life cycles similar to that of living beings. They are born, they mature to reach youth, then get old and die. Concepts and words do not determine people's actions. Instead, people themselves attribute meanings to words and form concepts. Words and concepts survive so long as they serve a practical purpose. When they become obsolete, they either die a natural death or may assume a different meaning. The linguists editing the Nepali Brihat Shabdakosh had the moral responsibility to take into account meanings attributed by the general public to words rather than try to impose their own bahunbadi definitions on the users of the Nepali language. Doing otherwise is tantamount to cultural tyranny.

The Nepal Federation of Nationalities, a confederation of 32 janjati organisations, defines the term "janjati" as "indigenous peoples and settlers who are not encompassed within the Hindu caste system". The report prepared by the official Janjati Uplift Taskforce agreed to use the term "janjati" because of its ever-increasing acceptance and use by the general mass. "Janjati" describes the social structure of a community while "indigenous" denotes time and period. These two terms are not synonymous but since the majority of the janjatis in Nepal are also indigenous, the two can be considered proximate.

The janjatis are today waking up to the fact that over the last two and a half centuries, the bahunbadi rulers of Nepal have been exercising the power of the state to create a mono-linguistic, mono-religious and mono-cultural country at the expense of the cultural identity of the majority of the populace. In today's atmosphere of commitment towards democracy, human rights and equality, different communities (who had hitherto accepted the cultural hegemony of bahunbadis) are establishing their own individual identities. Only the janjatis have the right to define themselves. It is pointless for other communities to worry about the terminology and meaning of "janjati".

Dr K.C. makes an appeal to ensure that society's identity and history documentation are not dictated by hatred, self-interest and political ambitions. But Dr K.C. should take a good look at himself to determine if he is putting his own words into practice. There are many people who know more about "his story" than "history", who believe that the events mentioned in the Mahabharat were real, who believe in written history but totally ignore the oral histories of indigenous peoples. These are the very people who are trying to discredit the janjati movement. Democracy allows room for different opinions. Only thoughts and theories grounded in truth, facts and life experience can survive the test of time. Otherwise, they die and are quickly forgotten. The two-penny's worth on janjatis expressed by Dixit, Bikal and K.C. is being discarded by the general public while the concepts and interpretations promulgated by the janjati communities regarding their own identity is gaining momentum at a rapid pace. Various philosophers have pointed out that power, knowledge and self-interest are interrelated. The opposition of the bahunbadis against the meaning of "janjati" and its interpretation speaks volumes about the strong interrelation of the three.

I find the allegations labelled at me by the well-known Thakali writer Krishna Bahadur Bhattachan against my article extremely intriguing and fascinating. Unlike what he has declared, my article was not intended to be meaningless or misguiding.

I was born in Taplejung district of the Limbuwan region in east Nepal to a Karki family of the Chhetri caste. Though I was born a Chhetri, I do not wear the janai, the symbol of the Tagadhari castes. Nor do I perform shraddha in the name of my deceased father. I do not visit Pashupati nor do I do puja at home. Although I have faith, I have no religion. At the same time, I possess no ill-feeling towards those who do. There is one matter I often ruminate over. It has often struck me that unlike Hindus, followers of other faiths have not displayed a decline in their religious convictions and communal sentiments. Even in Nepal, janjati activists such as Bhattachan calls for a differentiation between communities within the Hindu caste system and those without. I personally believe that Nepal is a multi-ethnic society. While I agree that Nepal is dominated by a single language, caste and culture, I am of the opinion that its cause is the class-based state structure.

In my article, I was trying to argue that society and janjati should be identified on the basis of reality. That process requires answers to various questions. Questions such as if the terms "janjati" and "indigenous" are synonymous, when and how did the Mongolian janjatis and Aryan castes begin settling in Nepal; which communities were the original settlers of Nepal; are Newars janjatis or indigenous if the social status of Rautes and Newars are similar; which janjati group do Bhujels (Gharti) belong to and if the non-Vedic Khas are also Hindus?
There are more answers required from America-returned janjati academics like Bhattachan: "Where did Dolpo, Mugali, Bahragaule, Panchgaule, Bolung, Tangwe, Marphali, Manang, Topkegola and Syangtan janjatis originate? What are the similarities and differences between these communities and Bhotes (Sherpas) and Thakalis? In view of the fact that within the single Rai janjati more than 30 dialects are spoken, is it not probable that there may be communities which exhibit cultural similarities despite linguistic differences?" It will not do to make empty claims on the basis of having a Masters degree in Sociology and Humanities from an American university, even though one may be a janjati. How is one to respond if intellectuals belonging to communities classified as janjati by the Nepal Federation of Nationalities choose not be identified as such?

In a recent article in Nepal Jagaran, Pradip Man Shrestha has claimed that Newars are not, have never been and will never be janjatis. Shrestha further claims, "In fact, calling Newars janjati is an attack on the community's proud history. By listing Newars, who have historically been very vocal supporters of janjati rights, as janjatis, genuine janjatis may be deprived of their rights". Shrestha refers to the Constitution's Article 26 (10) to define "janjati" and also to the Nepal Human Development Report 1998, which reveals that the human development index of Newars is better than of any other community in Nepal. Prakash A. Raj has made a similar claim in Nepal Samacharpatra. Likewise, a satirical article published in Kantipur recently proposed that Bahuns are the most genuine janjati of this country. These articles clearly indicate that no community can be listed as janjati merely on the basis of their claim to be so. All I demanded in my article was an honest intellectual debate on the matter. Unfortunately, Bhattachan misunderstood me and has used a lot of adjectives to label me a bahunbadi.

Nepal's history was never written with the objective of serving the interest of a certain group, but pro-janjati intellectuals, who are using the janjati platform to camouflage their leanings towards communist ideologies, are attempting to discredit history. Is Bhattachan ready to engage in a discourse on whether cultural and social domination, discrimination and exploitation are perpetuated by the Bahun community or by groups who control the power of the state? There are two classes of bahunbadis in Nepal: the brahminbadis and the Bahun brahminbadis. The first group is driving the country towards inter-communal clash by continuing the tradition of centuries-old social exploitation and dominance of other communities for the creation of a mono-cultural and mono-religious society. The second group of bahunbadis, fully cognizant of the intention of the first group, is exploiting the issue to encourage inter-communal hatred.

I am sorry to say that Bhattachan has failed to catch the essence of my arguments. He questions my credibility as a writer and historian interpreting the issue of janjati just because I do not belong to a janjati or a dalit community. I firmly believe that the success of the janjati movement will depend on the support of the poor, rural janjatis. Nothing will happen so long as city-dwelling, foreign-educated people claim proprietorship over the issue and use it as a means to receive foreign donations. We have to be careful in case the second class of bahunbadis start using the janjati movement as a ladder to reach higher positions in society. Bhattachan and his ilk fear that the hidden agenda of this second class of bahunbadis may be exposed. Consequently, they are trying their level best to exclude Bahuns and Chhetris from not just the janjati movement but also from any discourse relating to it.

(The above articles appeared in the daily Himalaya Times and were translated from the original Nepali.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)