There was a time when brutal violence was something that happened elsewhere. Indeed, Nepalis took pride their country in being known as peaceful and non-violent. But after 10,000 deaths in less than a decade, many more missing and brutalised, creeping religious and ethnic violence, we have to question whether we were ever as non-violent and peaceful as commonly represented.
Is it that our culture of peace has always co-existed with a culture of violence? Doesn't the viciousness of everyday life and the symbolic brutal violence of religious myths and rituals feed into the magma of curelty hidden in the bowels of our culture, waiting to erupt? And have we begun to localise the global culture of violence?
Many Nepalis experience structural violence in their everyday lives. Women, ethnic groups and Dalits suffer social exclusion, discrimination and oppression, and are often physically and verbally abused. The desperate struggle for existence and dignity by the poor is surely one of the most pervasive forms of structural social violence. It is a part of our history, social structure and culture, and until recently were not seriously questioned but considered a normal part of our tradition or culture. Even now, we do not aim to eliminate or reduce structural violence, but rather escape from it, be part of the oppressors instead of the victims. Perhaps physical violence always lurks in the wings of history to either suppress resistence against structural violence or overthrow it.
Physical violence is an important part of the religious discourse, practice and imagination of many Nepalis. Take Dasain, which at one level is a harvest festival, when we visit relatives to receive blessings from seniors and feast. At another level, it reinforces and legitimises the authority of the king, the power holders and senior family members. Yet at another level, the carnage of animal sacrifices, the open flouting of naked khukuris associated with Dasain glorify bloodhshed.
According to one katha, evil forces, represented by various danabs and asuras, threaten the cosmos and gods who are unable to defeat them. The gods combine to create a feminine force, Shakti, to destroy the evil forces. The goddess can destroy evil only when she herself takes on an even more fierce form and ultimately is able to slay the demon Mahisasura who has taken the form of a buffalo. The goddesss sometimes appears no different from the evil she fights. In sacrificing animals during Dasain, Hindus are both slaying evil as well as propitiating the fierce goddess, whose thirst for blood has to be quenched.
If the gory slaying of animals is one of the central elements of Dasain, then surely violence is one of the central motifs of Nepali Hinduism. Perhaps this ritualistic violence has been secularised such that people considered evil (class enemies, enemies of the state or whoever) are to be slaughtered. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two forces when both claim to be fighting evil.
Physical violence is a normal daily occurrence around the world brought to us by a voyeuristic media: bombings, burnings, beheadings, not only of soldiers, insurgents, freedom fighters and rebels but also unarmed civilians.
This combination of structural social violence, secularisation of religious violence, and localisation of the global culture of violence throgh media has fostered a 'new' culture of physical violence in Nepal that threatens to engulf us. We can only overcome it by reinvigorating a culture of peace, tolerance and coexistence.