Nepali Times


Dor Bahadur Bista, speaking in 1995 at the launch of the Nepali-language periodical Himal, in what turned out to be his last public speech.

Dor Bahadur Bista, Nepal\'s best-known anthropologist, social scientist and activist, disappeared suddenly and without trace a little over five years ago while working on a development project in the remote western hill district of Jumla. The mystery of Dor Bahadur\'s disappearance deepened with rumours that he had been killed by high-caste villagers who opposed his radical consciousness-raising among the poor. Even his family had given up hope.

Then, three weeks ago, word came that a Nepali pilgrim, Jitendra Bahadur Karki, had come across an elderly Nepali in Hardwar in India two years earlier. On his return to kathmandu, Karki had forgotten about the encounter until while flipping through some magazines, he came across a picture of a man resembling the person he had seen in Hardwar. It was Dor Bahadur Bista.

"When I met him in Hardwar I had no idea that it was Dor Bahadur Bista. He asked me about my background, about where I lived and other general questions," recalls Karki, who lives in Jawalakhel. \'\'He told me he was from Godavari and had been staying in Hardwar for some time. He told me his last name was Giri."

It was not until three weeks ago that Karki discovered that Dor Bahadur\'s family didn\'t even know whether he was alive or not. When he told them he had seen Dor Bahadur in Hardwar, says Karki, "They looked at me in total disbelief."

Now that there has been a probable sighting, the family is suddenly hopeful again. Says one family member: "Though we haven\'t seen him, by Karkiji\'s account there are chances that Bua is alive among the hundreds of jogis in Hardwar."

The family sent a search party to India with his photographs and with the help of the embassy in Delhi searched all the ashrams around Hardwar. Karki is convinced the man was Dor Bahadur because of the distinctive mole below his right eye and also because of the questions he asked.

Says Karki: "That was how I remembered him. But then I thought, why interfere in a family matter. They would know where he is so I didn\'t say anything to them all this time."

Dor Bahadur\'s family is now convinced that he is alive and roaming the holy spots of India like a sanyasi. "What matters is that he is in good health, happy. And yes, we desperately want to see him again, but we don\'t want to disturb his peace. We don\'t want the police to track him down," said one tearful family member.

Dor Bahadurs work started in the 1950s when he collaborated with the Austrian anthropologist Christof von Furer-Haimendorf on a sociological and anthropological study of Nepal. The result was his seminal work, People of Nepal (1964).

"Dor Bahadurji\'s importance to Nepali society lies in the works he has produced," says Chaitanya Mishra, sociologist and one of the founding members of the Sociology Department at the Tribhuvan University.

"He was basically a field researcher and had developed his own way of perceiving things and interpreting them. He travelled a lot, and understood Nepal\'s ethnographic canvas very well," says Mishra.

Dor Bahadur\'s career can be divided into several phases: during the 60s he collected information on ethnicity, in the 80s he interpreted that Nepali society was being main streamed into a monoculture, in the 90s he interpreted the value conflict and how the different communities were mutually compatible with each other.

Sudhindra Sharma, sociologist and a student of Dor Bahadur\'s, remembers his guru\'s intense arguments about issues concerning the dominance of a value-system he called the culture of fatalism. "Sometimes he would get offended in class as the issues he raised were not acceptable to conservative students," he recalls. "His arguments opened up an important discourse on why Nepal has remained backward. It made people think a lot on what had gone wrong.

Dor Bahadur\'s Fatalism and Development: Nepal\'s Struggle for Modernisation mired him in controversy. His thesis in the book is that there are two value systems in Nepal-one indigenous and the other imported. Bista\'s argument is that the culture of fatalism, which he calls \'bahunbad\', was imported and in the course of history gained an upper hand in society. According to Bista, Nepal is backward because the culture of fatalism devalued the country\'s productivity.

Says Sharma: "By calling fatalism bahunbad, Bista associated the concept with Bahun ethnicity which subsequently led to heated debates. The debate got even more polarised because the publication of the book coincided with the appearance of ethno-politics in the post-1990 era of democracy.

Dor Bahadur was involved in social activism in the Chaudhabisa area of Jumla district before he disappeared. He had helped construct two small hydropower projects, a school building and had begun employment training programmes with the Karnali Youth Club.

The Karnali Institute he established in Jumla in 1992 has now stopped operating. Chandra Prakash Devkota a student from Jumla, says: "One weak point of Dor Bahadurji was that nobody was trained to look after the institute in his absence."

Dor Bahadur\'s son is Keshar Bahadur Bista, former MP from Lalitpur, says his father was always a "loner and a roamer and an undeclared yogi".

"If my father were alive and living the life of a jogi, I would be so relieved. Because the atmosphere in the ashrams is so contemplative, it is the ultimate place for a man who has wandered long distances struggling and fighting against the ills of society to take a deep breath and relax in."

"In Nepal, people know that there is work which has to be done but they also know that this means low status. Anyone who does not have to work but can ask others to work for them is higher in status than those who work when asked by people at higher levels. Anyone who is educated, and thereby in a position to identify with the traditional role of the high caste, would never want to work. A great majority of the educated people do not work themselves but expect that others will do what needs to be done by them. When the bulk of the educated share this perspective, little work actually gets done...Everybody ends up being critical of everybody else, but does not necessarily feel guilty for not fulfilling his own formal duties. Lack of personal responsibility for work is excused by the belief that it is the supreme god who finishes all incompleted work in any case."

- p. 81, Fatalism and Development, Orient Longman (1991).

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)