Dharmadhatu Foundation

"Transforming Self, Transforming World"
" Pioneering Culturally Appropriate Community-based development in Nepal "

Ramesh Tamang - Nepal
Oct 7 2010
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Struggle Against Marginalization in Nepal

From the very inception 2003 the Dharmadhatu Foundation concentrated its entire activities to a new movement that aimed to address the needs of the historically marginalized people of Nepal i.e. Indigenous Peoples, women and Dalit "Untouchable" or "Crushed" communities of Hindu caste group as the Struggle Against Marginalization in Nepal (SAMAN). SAMAN literally means equality in Nepali.

Background to the problem:
saman Above two pictures illustrates in a nutshell the features of politico-social space that pervaded throughout history of South Asia in particular and Asia in general. The first picture on red illustrates spatial plane featuring fundamentals of the Hindu Kingdom originated from the Vedic literatures. This model of polity which dates back to 1000 BC promoted religious totalitarianism in favor of Brahmin and Kshetriya ruling elites whose core value of life was laid by the Hindu law dharmasastras and smrtis promoting Caste System in entire South Asian region.

Nepal adapted this model long ago and sustained state orchestrated marginalization of Ethnic, Gender and Castes peoples to benefit ruling elites. Although its history goes far back to the middle age but it was officially legitimized in 1854 AD with the proclamation of a National Code Mulki Ain by then Maharaja, Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana . The National Code or Mulki Ain of 1854 roots back to Hindu law books i.e. smritis and dharmashastra that officially introduced Caste hierarchic polity as envisaged by preceding Hindu religious scriptures such as Rg Veda and Mahabharata (Bhagavat Gita).

Caste Pyramid (1854 Civil Code)
saman Source: World Bank/DFID, Unequal Citizens: Gender, Caste and Ethnic Exclusion in Nepal (2006).

From the very outset, Nepal was the mosaic of multi-cultural society. However, the nation remained as "Hindu-kingdom" for more than two and half centuries during which the multicultural heterogeneous characteristic of the nation was forcefully denied in an effort to reify homogenous nation with one language, one culture and one people. The rulers of Nepal kept the country in isolation barring access to any kind of exchange between people and culture to protect her homogeneity from the external influences. But the country had never before experienced such a massive cultural innovation and diffusion than in last decades from 1970's when the country was first time officially opened to wider world. The western cultural phenomena such as universal franchise, democracy, liberalism, capitalism, feminism, globalization, open market, tourism etc suddenly begun to diffuse in Nepal where it encountered with hitherto existing cultural phenomena of Hindu-nationalism, caste system, divine monarchy, personal gratitude for after life salvation (moksa), theory of Karma and rebirth, religious charity, devotion, women's supplementary role in personal, familial and social life etc. which had remained as main characteristics of Nepal to proclaim her territory the "Asali-Hindustan" or Hindu state in its true essence by the King Prthvinarayan Shah who is accredited to the unification of Nepal.

The process of political and cultural incursion begun with the 'so-called' unification of multi-ethnic or nations by Hindu King Prthvinarayan Shah from small hill principality of Gorkha in western Nepal in an effort to make homogenous nation with one culture, one language and one people which later was termed by the ethnic people of Nepal as "Gorkhali Invasion."

As a result of different 'people's movements' the present interim constitution of Nepal 2007 however, states that in "recognizing the mandate of the Nepali people expressed, from time to time, since prior to 1951 till now, through historical struggles and people's movements for democracy, peace and progress," the nation is the "common aspiration of multiethnic, multilingual, multi religious, multi cultural characteristics…" Hence the heterogeneity of nation has been finally recognized opening up opportunity for historically marginalized people i.e. ethnic people, dalits (people from Hindu untouchable caste), women and other minorities to bring into mainstream of development.

The second picture in blue illustrates spatial plane featuring the fundamentals of modern "democratic state" of Nepal. The entire country has been heading towards this end as guided by the interim constitution of Nepal 2007. It is an outcome of historical struggle carried on by peoples and parties of Nepal. Although the path has been paved towards democratic, free, peaceful and prosperous societies yet there is a long way to go for the nation to be really democratic and peaceful state. As a matter of fact, we believe that democracy must be rooted to grassroots, learning by the people and working for the people.

DF applies a strategy of "3R" of the SAMAN movement which focuses on the Revival, Reformation and Reintegration of indigenous knowledge systems and institutions establishing and/or changing centuries old traditional institutions of Indigenous Peoples such Buddhist monasteries as the Center for Cultural Dialogue (CCD) and also through programs that fall under the acronym "SMILING EYES." SMILING EYES is an acronym that describes the fields of activities that the DF is engaged by respectfully incorporating indigenous knowledge systems in order to reach its organizational goal: building harmonious and equitable societies with sustainable transformations.