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The Nepal Digest Monday 29 Aug 94: Bhadra 26 2051 BkSm Volume 30 Issue 7
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********************************************************************** Date: Tue, 23 Aug 1994 14:13:45 EST From: email@example.com To: Nepal@mp.cs.niu.edu
Dear Ms. Regmi,
Please refer to your letter to TND (August 18, 1994), and my
letter (TND July 29, 1994). Your question is quite pertinent
'What are you comparing ? Silence vs. media blitz ?' I would like to assure you that no body is capable of comparing a reported cases vs. unreported cases. We can only compare a reported number vs. another reported number. I agree with you that in Nepal news reporting of rapes are more difficult than in USA. However people's dailly life is affected and they do talk about it. Again, we can neither conclude nor assume that the overall true number of cases (per capita) is same in Nepal and in USA. However validity of the data (underreporting) is not in question, since there is no conclusion drawn. I simply wrote that a real condition may be compared with another real condition in its many facets, not with some imagery ideal condition. As I wrote, the comparison need to be done not in the light of criticism but in the light of learning. Still the whole issue is redundant, because the issue Mr. Mishra has brought is not the 'social position of women in Nepal', but the 'Women and Hinduism'. That is a religious not a social topic. The clear definition of the issue is important not only to understand it but also to look for the solution. For example 'heckling of women' is a 'law and order' problem. If Nepalese police would import 'canes' from
'Singapore', I would think those hecklers would turn gentlemen overnight (or shall I say 'overcanes').
Thanks and regards. Sincerely yours - Tilak B. Shrestha.
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 1994 03:01:20
Subject: JAN_KARI Gorgeous Nepali fonts available at $15.90 for a set of three fonts
Gorgeous Nepali fonts available at $15.90 for a set of three fonts
INPROS is pleased to announce the release of
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You can get a sample of SheelRekha in UUENCODED file
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The sample font contains some very nice symbols like Om,
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for that it is worth getting a copy of the sample.
The font also contains Nepali flag as one of its character.
For further information please contact email@example.com
InPros Box 57-2141 Houston Tx 77257-2141
713-465-2967 (Fax, Voice Mail & Fax on Demand)
Date: Thu, 04 Aug 1994 10:48:53 EDT
Thank you so much for preparing and coordinating the Nepal Digest. At the moment I have two visitors from Nepal living with me and they have been especially happy to keep up with the political events in their homeland via your newsletter.
In a week or so, we are all moving to central Pennsylvania. I am starting a new position as a professor of psychology there. You might be interested to know that I will be on sabbatical in Nepal from mid-Jan to mid-Jul, studying emotional development in Nepali children, particularly how children learn to regulate their anger according to cultural norms. My visitors are close friends and will be assisting in the research too. Sincerely, Pamela M. Cole
Date: Sat, 13 Aug 1994 09:17:35 EDT
World Bank Backgrounder #34 July 22,1994
Nepali Government Defies Court Order
To Release Information to Citizens
World Bank Criticized for Supporting Controversial Arun III
The World Bank is set to support the Nepali government in its
defiance of an order from that country's highest court.
Last month, the Supreme Court of Nepal ordered the release of all documents related to the massive Arun III hydroelectric project. But the Nepali government disregarded the court order and withheld documents from Mr. Gopal Shivakoti, a representative of the Arun Concerned Group.
Mr. Shivakoti, along with other Nepali and international organizations, says the documents are required to assess and critique the technical, economic and social viability of the controversial project.
The World Bank, meanwhile, continues to prepare a US$140 million loan for the Arun III project. A vote on the issue by the Bank's board is scheduled for next month, and the Bank's imminent support for Arun III, which flies in the face of the Supreme Court's decision and public opposition, is being criticized by Nepali citizens who are struggling to make their government accountable.
"It should be understood by the World Bank that the Nepali government must abide by the mandate of the Nepali people, particularly as stated by the Supreme Court," Mr. Shivakoti said.
The project is one of a series of major hydroelectric
projects built in the last three decades by the World Bank and the Nepali government. In the 1960s, the Bank pressured the Nepali government to nationalize three private power companies that had refused to fund uneconomic mega-projects similar to Arun III.
For more information contact
Margaret Barber, Probe
International, Canada at (416)
For more information contact: Margaret Barber, Probe
International, Canada, at 964-3675 ext. 236.
Date: Sat, 13 Aug 1994 09:30:19 EDT
Subject: Bhutanese Refugees
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Sunil Shakya)
The Greater Boston Nepalese Committee organized a talk program on the
issue of the Bhutanese refugees at Northeastern Universsity on Sunday
Aug. 7. The featured speaker was Dr. D.N. Dhakal who spoke on the plight
of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal for twenty minutes. We followed that
up with 20 minutes of question and answers on the issue. We wrapped the
evening by opening the forum to everyone and encouraging discussions on
the Bhutan issue as well as the recent political developments in Nepal.
Following Gbnc policy the language used was English or Nepali whichever
the speaker felt comfortable in.
Most of us I am sure are aware of Bhutan, also known as Druk Yul or
Land of the Thunder Dragon. Situated to the Norteast of Nepal it is
totally engulfed by India except to the North, it boarders the
autonomous region of Tibet. It has a land area of 18,000 sq. miles.
The total population is estimated to be 75,000, of course this is
disputed and also is at the heart of the prsent crisis. In 1972, King
Jigme Wangchuk went on to be the youngest monarch in the world.
Educated at N.P. Darjeeling, and Eton, he speaks fluent Nepali and was
known to be a competitive basketball and football player.
Being in the United States we may be more aware of the problems in
Sarajevo, Haiti or presently Rawanda. Of course the refugee problem of
Bhutanese in Nepal, may not have reached that magnitude, but it sure is
problematic. Presently there are 85,000 Bhutanese of Nepalese origin
living in 8 camps on the banks of the Kankai in Jhapa. The UNHCR and
the Nepalese government is providing the necessary help right now. So
on humanitarian grounds I believe we should be sympathetic to the plight
of the people, who have been uprooted from their natural abode, and if
possible try to help them.
To talk about this and more I introduced Dr. D.N. Dhakal. He is good
friends with Ambika Adhikari who is presently in Toronto. They met
while both of them were at Harvard. Dr Dhakal was at the Kennedy
School of Government where he received his masters in Public
Amnistration and Public Policy. Dr. Dhakal also holds a Ph. D. in
Economics from the Colorado School of Mines. He was born at Lamidara in
Chirang district (Bhutan) in 1955. He was working as an economist with
the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Bhutan. He also is the General
Secretary of the National Democratic Party of Bhutan. Below are the
excerpts of the talk.
Until 1958, Bhutanes Authority had treated its Nepali subjects as
foreigners despite their residence in Bhutan from the time of the
Dhabdrung Nawang Namgyal, the founding gather of Bhutan. The first
batch of Nepali workerw were inducted into Bhutan by Nawang Namgyal
during the consolidation of feudal principalities in the 17th century
A.D. The subsequent batches of Nepali immigrants were taken by the
Bhutanese authority as required by the situation, either to build dzongs
(forts), or to teach the local population in the art of terrace cultivation. In 1987 as the Government of Bhutan was distributing national identity cards, ethnic Nepalese were asked to produce tax receipts dating back to 1958. This was quite a impossible requirement for the illiterate and poor villagers to have maintained. Along with this, restriction was placed on the Nepalese from observing and practicing their culture and traditions.
There is significant speculation in the Indian press that there is a
Nepali conspiracy to create a mega Nepali State, comprising the present
kingdom of Nepal, Bhutan and the Indian territory of Sikkim, North
Bengal and parts of Assam. Which of course is totally false and
baseless and is propaganda fueled by the Bhutanese goverment.
According to Dr. Dhakal a unique situation exists today in the world ,
where around 12 million people of Nepalese ethnicity live outside the
boundaries of Nepal. Thus the solving of the present crisis wold have
significant impact on future course of action. He noted that without
India's active participation the problem will be hard to solve and some
moral pressure must be put on the Indian leadership to try to solve the
At the end Dr. Dhakal also appealed to the Nepalese abroad, especailly
Nepalese in the US to try to provide the intellectual leadership to
alleviate the problems of the 12 million Nepalese living outside the
boundaries of Nepal.
Date: Sun, 14 Aug 1994 22:08:46 EDT
To: The Nepal digest Editor <email@example.com>
From: "Pramod K. Mishra" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Women in Hinduism V
I have almost finished talking about the upbringing of a Hindu female child in Nepali society, and am thinking about a young woman's marriage and its aftermath. I mean marriage in that society in Nepal that rules the roost, that wields power and enjoys privileges, makes waves on the national scene. I leave the job of detailed study of the tribal societies to the anthropologists. For one thing, I haven't seen much of the tribal societies nor lived among them. What I have heard about them has come to me through the prism of prejudices fostered by the dominating Hindu castes in Nepal. For another, I think the anthropologists of recent years have done and are doing an incisive job by studying these tribal cultures, long suppressed and ignored in the mad lust for power in the name of serving the country. Nor have I started talking about the Hindu culture of the Terai which I have barely survived, intact. In this letter, I intend to digress from my straight path, for reasons that will soon be obvious.
Now you can ask, "Why don't you--a PhD candidate for making
'complete nonsense out of sensible things' at Mr. Shrestha's University of Fanaticism--sing songs about and offer eulogies to the great Hindu culture of Nepal? By exposing the potholes of such a great culture, you are showing only your 'profound ignorance' and lack of understanding of such terms as
'Brahminism', 'Hinduism', and what have you. You must sing panegyrics as they have done so far and as we are used to. Any new idea shocks us; we are not used to new ideas and new thoughts in our social and religious spheres; we just live life, without thinking and philosophizing about it."
Well, Mr. Editor, singing eulogies and living in utter smugness has brought Nepal to a state of the emperor's new clothes. All those years of the Rana tyranny and the Panchayat buffoonery, the courtiers did nothing but sing eulogies and said what the rulers wanted to hear to the extent that the country was denuded, financially, ecologically, socially, politically, and in every other way; but the eulogies never stopped--eulogies sung and flattery offered in a country where no respectable alternative remained but to sing praises like the Charans and Bhaats in Sanskrit plays in order to gain petty favor.
I leave the venerable job of singing eulogies to the Charans, to the HMG's ministries of information and culture, and, of course, to the travel agencies and the writers of travel books about Nepal. No matter how much I try, I cannot compete, as ignorant as I am in that department, with their resourcefulness and time.
My critics, for one reason or another, want me to show my credentials so that I can prove that I know enough of Hinduism in order to be able to speak about it, so that I belong to a Nepal that they belong to in order for me to be able to speak about its social and religious structure. I don't know what kind of qualification they want--a college degree in Sanskrit and Hindu religion? A membership in the brahmin caste? Lifelong experience in living there? Or what? Or maybe they want me to write a book about Hinduism and get that book certified by someone they unanimously agree to be the scholar of the century in Hinduism, with thousands of Sanskrit lines on his tongue. But unfortunately, I don't have time right now to follow their noble instructions. I'm engaged in obtaining PhD in something else. For now, I can say only such things as readily come to my mind regarding why I say what I say, to the discomfiture and ire of many. I would, however, beg their attention and appeal that they first listen what I have to say and then make convincing--that's the word, folks--criticism in a language spoken in educated circules of what I say.
As for Hinduism, I really want to go back to the state of complete ignorance about it, to be a dumb ox, but I cannot. In my present level of ignorance I have seen Hindus bringing calamities on themselves not only in Indonesia and Cambodia, where at one time the Hinduism of the Vijayanagar empire culturally enriched the terrain and whose remnants could still be found in the island of Bali and amid the war-ravaged ruins of Ankor Bat in Cambodia; but in India where, as soon as the spirit of perpetual questioning and quest declined and a kind of rut set in, Hinduism no longer remained a potent force, but became a handmaid of hypocritical brahmins and their blind, ritual-bound followers. If the hypocrisy of the hypocrites continued to thrive, and the blindness of the blind continued to breed blindness, Hinduism would die the kind of death that Sanskrit did, as the Hinduism of Indonesia and Cambodia did.
As you know, the dominant island of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia had thriving Hinduism at one time. The majority of the people living there at one time, the ancestors of present-day Muslims, followed the Hindu religion. You can still find the remnants of the Sanskrit language in the vocabulary of its national language, Bahasa Indonesia. But because of its stagnant waters, Hinduism festered there and finally decomposed and decayed and couldn't compete with Islam, which, as the Indonesians say, presented a better alternative. The Indonesian Hindus were not converted into Islam by the force of the sword, but by the power of the word and the dynamics of the religion.
It is not that I am claiming an unprecedented role here. Many people have assaulted Hindu orthodoxy even as the Hindus were engaged in the metaphysics of the sun, the stars, the cosmos, and, of course, heaven and hell. The Buddha was the first among many who wanted to break free of the blind ritualism of the brahmins, but the clever, self-serving brahmins made him the tenth incarnation, after the fish, the turtle, the boar, the lion-man, the dwarf, the Rama, and the Krishna incarnations, in order to prosper in perpetual laziness in the field of ideas and physical labor. Sankhya philosophy and Charvak's philosophy tried to infuse new blood in Hinduism but they remained effective only in books and classrooms for demonstrating the breadth of Hinduism. The real society remained steeped in the mud of ritualism and casteism.
Later, in different centuries, after the first Muslim invasion on India in 1000 A.D., various rebel thinkers tried to bring whiffs of fresh air into the musty quarters of Hinduism, at times trying to found a separate sect. But nothing came out of those efforts. The privileged upper castes refused to give up their born privileges, eventually making the countermovements unsuccessful. The sect of Kabir in the fourteenth century (?); in the nineteenth century the Arya Samaj founded by Swami Dayanand and the reform movements of Bengal--all tried to break free of Hindu orthodoxy. If you have doubts, I would suggest you to read the poems of Kabir or Dayanand's rebel-rousing book Satyarth Prakash. If you want to know about the twentieth century, it would be a good idea to study the career and writings of Periyar in Tamil Nadu in India.
Of course, I don't want my ideas to go unchallenged. I want an intellectual debate and discussion about women's status in the Hindu society. After this response, however, I'll continue to say what I have to say and let the reader figure out what is to accept and what is to reject. If my ideas are convincing, I would ask the reader to give them a serious thought; if not, then forget about them or, if the reader wants, write convincing responses. I will benefit from them, too, as ignorant as I am. Unlike my critics, I don't claim universal knowledge. In fact, I have always, to the best of my abilities, fought my ignorance, but ignorance persists, and now some people remind me only of its profundity. I'm not surprised at my ignorance, for I know that I don't know or know very little, and I have a lot more to know.
And now I take up, before I delve into Nepali women's issues further, the responses of my critics, Mr. Shrestha and Ms. Dhakal. This effort at responding to my critics' charges I attempt with all humility to the reader and respect to the right of my critics' opinions. I only show here the flaws in their opinions, much as they have the right, the privilege, and the luxury to hold them.
Both my knowledgeable critics have commented on some common issues: menstruation, social versus religious (real versus imaginary or ideal), the edicts of Manusmriti, evolution of a society. And then they have, although coming from the same institution, veered into different directions. I here first take up the common themes and then will analyze individual comments.
First menstruation. One of them calls menstruation as a
"vacation from house work" and both declare a female child's first confinement (gupha basnu--Sitting in the Cave) as
"education." If the untouchability of menstruation were a vacation, why is it called "biraami," illness, and why are women during their periods made to work in the fields; in fact, everywhere except in the kitchen?
What is this education for a young female? Well, they both don't delay in supplying the answer. The answer is: "now on she is no longer a girl but a maiden fully capable of bearing children" and "now they have come to the age in which they are capable to bear a child." Thus both my learned respondents assume that a young female child has no other value and function than understand and accept that her body, never mind about her mental and emotional preparedness, is made only for bearing children. But we can ask, Are these young females instructed about how a child is conceived, what happens in the womb during the nine months, what sex is, what is the implication of sex and love and so forth, during this "educational" period? I don't know how my critics would answer this question. But from my experience I would say this: most of us, men or women, in "our Hindu society" learn about how a "maiden" is capable of "bearing children" from the dogs or, in the case of many young females, we plunge into the whirlpool of sexual accident in arranged marriages without much knowledge about it (more about it later). So this education that they so effusively, almost romantically, talk about amounts to only convincing a young woman that she is a vessel, a medium, a seedpot or a flowerbed. To aspire for something other than just bearing hordes of children would challenge the social norm, turn turtle "our Hindu society," (mark the word "our" here, as if "our" in itself were an unchallengeable merit).
Then Ms. Dhakal mentions another initiation ceremony in the life of a young female--"Gunyoo-Cholo"--"proud occasion for a female child," "not less exciting and enjoyable than the
'Bratabandha' for the boys." "Bratabandha" of course is the Double Born ceremony for the upper caste boys. Why should Ms. Dhakal mention the upper caste feature of "Bratbandha"? At any rate, that's not my point here. Ms. Dhakal says I am
"intentionally silent" about this glorious ceremony for young Nepali girls. I thought talking about this ceremony would be redundant in the light of the Sitting in the Cave ceremony. But the point I wanted to make not only remains unchanged but is further strengthened if I take a look at this ceremony, which is precisely what I'm going to do here.
Look at the symbolic meaning of these two initiation ceremonies, one for the girls and one for the boys. The Double Born ceremony not only represents the racism of the upper castes in its exclusive nature, it is flagrantly sexist and male chauvinist as well. As I mentioned in my previous letters, this initiation ceremony for the boys is characterized by the shaving of the boy's hair, making him wear loincloth and wooden sandals, and beg. But the most important element that results after the ceremony is the Sacred Thread, to be always worn by the upper caste male child thereafter. (The fact that many of them do not wear is a different matter, like the Brahmins drinking alcohol or eating forbidden meat).
I want to make but two observations here. First, by making the boy appear as he does on this occasion, it is insured that he be shorn of physical attractiveness. The boy with his shaved head, loincloth, and a begging bowl becomes as bad-looking as you can get by making short-term changes in appearance. This unattractiveness is brought upon the boy to make him realize that he is made for abstract, spiritual, transcendent contemplation and for higher virtues of unflinching bravery, indomitable courage, rock-solid manly dignity, and so forth, and not look ravishing, charming, and indulgent, but be aloof so he can be corrupted by a woman if ever he is to lapse in the domain of the flesh. The sacred thread that he wears now admits him into the adult world of the upper castes by letting him know through a whisper into his ears by his guru the very secret mantra--the Gayatri--not accessible by either the Sudras or any women. Have you bothered, dear readers, to know the meaning of this mantra? Well, the meaning is grand. The mantra is an invocation to the sun for knowledge and godly hallow. The Upanishadic stanza that I quoted in one of my letters is a common one, but it nonetheless is aimed at the education of men. (Read the current India Today's brief news section. There, His Holiness the Sankaracharya of Kanchi is reported to have said that the reason why he abruptly prevented a young woman in Calcutta in public from singing the hymns of the Vedas was that singing the Vedic hymns is unhealthy for a woman, that if a young woman sings or reads the Vedas, the child she would bear would have birth defects!)
Now what happens to the female child in addition to the Cave Sitting ceremony? Ms. Dhakal proudly talks about the "Gunyoo- Cholo" ceremony. This blouse and petticoat ceremony again is very interesting. Amidst some festivities, a young female child is given a blouse and a petticoat to wear. Unlike the physical unattractiveness that the Double Born ceremony induces on the boy, this ceremony for the girls emphasizes nothing else but the girl's beauty and attractiveness, her purely physical attributes, her external qualities to attract the head-shaved, bowl-in-hand, loinclothed unattractive male (or otherwise the bearded, dreadlocked rishis), devoted to transcendental pursuits and contemplations in order for her to conceive a male child so he can salvage his ancestors. I wonder if anywhere in Hindu scripture the desirability of a female child is emphasized. But I can certainly assure you that everywhere you will find how urgently wanted a male child is.
Another important point this Clothing ceremony makes is its emphasis on the sexual aspect of a female child. The purpose of this ceremony, contrary to what happens to a male child in the Double Born ceremony, is to cover a young female's body with attractive clothes. Her sexuality becomes a shameful thing now onwards, a burden, you can say, to be always covered, always kept hidden and protected from the predatory male gaze, always hushed over. But the underlying contradictory intention behind the attractive dress remains one of making the so nicely dressed girl highly desirable for men for the sake of her sustenance and the birth of male children.
We need only compare the blouse and the petticoat with the Sacred Thread. The former is functional, physically essential, doing some practical job--hiding and covering the female body and genitals in an attractive way in order to attract, lure, the male--whereas the latter is purely symbolic, always the caste marker, pointing toward spirituality, wisdom, knowledge, and some specific manly virtues. The blouse and petticoat, like a woman's body, are earthly, flesh-bound, body-oriented, therefore temporal and transitory, subject to inevitable aging and decay, to soiling from body fluids (breast milk and menstrual blood) and stained, eventually transformed into wrinkles, callouses, profanity, and rags. The Sacred Thread, on the other hand, like the Hindu husband's body, even though physically subject to wear and tear, is heaven-bound, soul-enriching, mind-expanding, knowledge- and wisdom-inducing, therefore permanent, subject to nothing, transcending even time and space. Remember the stanza from The Gita about the attributes of the soul? "Nainam chchindanti shastrani, nainam dahati paawakah, nachainam kledantyapo, nainam soshati marutah." Translated it would mean: Neither any weapon
(divine or earthly) can sever it, nor any fire (three kinds of fire: badwaanal [fire of the ocean], dawaanal [the forest fire], and jathraanal [fire of the body]) can burn it, nor any water
(cup, tap, pond, lake, river, ocean or clouds) can make it wet, nor any wind (breeze, storm, tornado, typhoon, or cyclone) can make it dry (parentheses mine). The sacred thread directs the body toward the immortality of the soul. My point, ladies and gentlemen, remains valid about the initiation ceremonies: that Hinduism practices double standards and is biased against women.
Another point in my critics' response relates to the Hindu code of law, Manusmriti. Mr. Shrestha in his irresistibly deep knowledge fumes, "An ancient poet wrote 'Women's character and men's destiny are unpredictable'. So, what do you want to make of it? Is it all gospel truth? God's revelation? A great Hindu mantra? Do all the Hindus go around chanting this sloka?" He calls the infamous Sanskrit stanza "one poet's one expression" and ends his paragraph with a great declamation: "What a nonsense!"
I am thinking about writing a separate article on sense and nonsense. So I wouldn't say anything more here than "One man's meat is another's man's poison." As for the sloka "Women's character and men's destiny," Mr. Shrestha in his profundity should have known that this notorious but probably the most widely circulated Sanskrit stanza comes from The Manusmriti, the Hindu code of law. And if he knew that it came from Manu and even after knowing it chose to call Manu a mere "ancient poet" and the line itself "after all one poet's one expression," I for one would never wish for Mr. Shrestha's wisdom. God bless my ignorance! Otherwise, much of the social and religious system of the Rana rule was based on Manu and Yagyabalkya Smritis.
Why do we think Tanka Prasad Acharya was not put to death
(Nepal definitely benefitted from his life, I must say that) whereas his other comrades of the Praja Parishad (Ganga Lal, Ishworchandra, Dharmbhakta, and Sukraraj Shastri) were shot and hanged to death? Because Tanka Prasad was a Brahmin, and killing a Brahmin is the greatest crime, more heinous than killing a cow, according to Manu. Jayasthiti Malla created castes in Nepal Valley based on the edicts of Manu; casteism, untouchability, Suttee system, and whatever good or bad was practiced according to the laws of Manu, whose remnants one can still find both in the modern legal system (Muluki Ain) and, more strongly, in the popular beliefs of the dominant class in Nepal.
Even the West granted suffrage to women late, in the twentieth century, but we in Nepal still deny women inheritance of her ancestral property until the age of thirty-five but allow a manchild to be an adult, capable of inheritance at sixteen. I think we are still very much inspired by Manu, and my whole purpose in writing is not to talk about what a poet said in the ancient times but to analyze and understand what that saying means now, how it impacts a man's or a woman's life now, at the end of the twentieth century.
As for the distinction between social versus religious and real versus imaginary, it is hardly possible to see social formations in these strictly binary terms. I wouldn't go into any abstract intellectual formulations about the relationship between these binaries at the moment. I'm afraid I'll send many of my readers to sleep because of boredom. To be brief and concrete, I would say that social and religious issues are intertwined; one emanates and draws sustenance from the other. As I have shown in this letter, the social sphere is informed, sustained, reinforced, and hindered and harmed by what ideas and beliefs float in the religious sphere. And what I'm saying is nothing new; it's very common. And what goes around in the religious realm is equally influenced by what is practicable and practiced in the social sphere. The Reformation came to England because of the palace intrigue in the Tudor court of Henry VIII, who broke with the Pope because he wanted to divorce his wife in order to marry another; but in the Continental Europe the Reformation came because of Martin Luther's crusade against Papal corruption. The same can be said about Nepal or any other society. Before Bhimsen Thapa in Nepal and Ram Mohan Roy in India, not going to Suttee must have been thought as sacrilegious for a widow but now not many people in Nepal or India, for that matter, would insist on this practice.
What Mr. Shrestha says about the real and the imaginary, however, is not very clear. If he has borrowed these terms from Lacanian psychology, it is clear that a further understanding of the terms is desirable on his part, and if these terms have been used in a general sense, then I would say, as I said in the case of social versus religious, that a watertight separation between these terms is not possible.
Both Ms. Dhakal and Mr. Shrestha attempt at profundity by saying "much have changed for the women since the early 20th century, slowly and surely" and my "lack of understanding the historical evolution of Hindu society as per different internal and external pressures, not to forget ecological and economic imperatives."
The first statement about the change in the status of women is as true as the sun shines in the east. But the change has come about not because we spend hours in the worship room with folded hands, eyes closed, lips moving in great solemnity but because thousands of men and women struggled, fought, and demanded suffrage in the West during the last part of the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth centuries, because Mary Woolstoncraft, John Stuart Mill in the nineteenth century, and hordes of other women's rights advocates and activists challenged the existing orthodoxy. Change of course occurs, evolution takes its course, but not by chanting "Lekheko huncha, dekheko hundaina," whatever is inevitable will occur, but by actively taking charge of the situation, by actively influencing the course of events and actions, by producing ideas, by active participation. It is important to contemplate how the changes of 2007 B.S., the referendum of 1979, and the advent of multiparty system in 1990 took place in Nepal. Do we think they took place by visiting Pashupati temple on Saturday mornings or by the spilling of the whole of Kathmandu into its streets for a do or die situation?
The second statement is equally fraught with loopholes. In fact, this kind of thinking is downright dangerous. The whole theory behind understanding the internal and external social and historical pressures and ecological imperatives comes from the fact that we understand the historical forces in order to change the society. Auerbach's eleventh thesis in Marx that the function of philosophy is not only to understand the world but to change it applies here. But when one uses this idea of understanding the historical forces in order to defend and apologize any social evils, the approach becomes, as I said above, downright dangerous. Are we going to offer a similar explanation about the atrocities and crimes against humanity of Hitler's Nazi Germany? Are we going to say that whatever Hitler did and whatever happened in Hitler's concentration camps occurred because of the economic depression of the thirties or because Germany was dealt a humiliating blow in the treaty of Versailles after the First World War? Are we going to defend the Holocaust in the name of internal and external pressures and ecological imperatives?
It is important to be careful while advancing easy theories to defend social and historical evils. Of course, one can understand a particular historical practice that way in order to change it, not to defend and apologize for it. Social evils demand outright condemnation, whether they come from the practices of neo-Nazis of Europe and America or from the Caste system and the atrocities against women in India and Nepal.
Critiquing and exposing the harmful effects of a particular social practice is not "fostering hate." On the contrary, it is a contribution to that society; it is an effort to infuse fresh blood into the weak veins of that culture. A society or a culture that does not constantly question its practices even as living in those practices and renew itself dies an easy death. The examples are too numerous to recount here.
Comparing the statistics of rapes, divorces, income, education, and so forth, would hardly turn on the light bulb of understanding in the mind. We have doing that for ages. In Nepal, they have for ever comparing the number of school dropouts, girls going to elementary schools or high schools, or college, the number of births, deaths, marriages, and so forth. I let the professional sociologists do that job better. My attempt is to interpret the cultural signals and expose the rut to the scorching light of the young public eye. Besides, what is to be gained by comparing the cases of rape, divorces, and unwed mothers in the United States with those in Nepal?
First of all, in Nepal, as in many developing countries, most cases of rape go unreported because of the stigma attached to it (many cases go unreported even in the developed contries in spite of raging feminism and social awareness for this reason) and because what is considered rape here in the United States is considered a legitimate sexual activity in many male dominated societies. And what about divorces? Well, if you are a rightist, you always decry divorces as social evil. In Nepal, because divorces are considered social stigmas, many a woman loses her life but cannot get divorce. Her own parents send the daughter again and again back to her husband's house finally to die either in a kitchen accident or in some other way. These are of course extreme cases. Who cares for minor emotional maladjustments? Child birth out of wedlock occurs even in Nepal. But most often, the child is aborted and the mother is put in prison. As I wrote earlier, most woman prisoners serving life imprisonment in Nepali prisons come from these categories. This is not to say that the US society is perfect. Far from it. The curse of American Indian extermination and the slavery of the people of African descent and their maltreatment now still hang heavy here, producing numerous social ills. But at present that's not my issue of concern.
What can I say to "Perhaps some time in future there may be a demand for freeing female sexuality out of the boundary of marriage. If that occurs how would you react Mr. Mishra?"? Well, this reader at least seems to have missed my point here. Freeing female sexuality out of the boundary of marriage means nothing in itself. What I said was that for fear of a woman's sexuality, her personality development is obstructed. Her desires, her ambitions, her aspirations to cherish a goal, strike a path for herself, realize her dreams, eke out her own identity are foiled and suppressed for fear of her sexuality. There is its other side, the economic one. Female sexuality is inevitably bound up with the domestic economy of male chauvinism. But that's another matter right now. Just by sleeping with numerous men or women will not make a woman or a man a Buddha or an Einstein. If that were the case, the science labs and research universities would be filled with male and female prostitutes. But it is the freedom to choose and equal support for personality development that will certainly pave a step in that direction. The fear of sex, not the act of sex itself, on the part of the guardian of a young Hindu woman at present is one of the greatest obstacles in her personality development.
Finally, the issue of living in different Nepal that Mr. Shrestha raises so enthusiastically deserves attention. "It seems [Mr. Mishra] comes from a different Nepal than I come from," says my learned respondent. Well, he is right. But I thought I would raise this issue of Nepal and Nepali in my subsequent series on Nepali nationalism. Here, however, I would perfunctorily say something. There are indeed many Nepals: the Nepal of the beneficiaries of the system and the ruling classes is certainly different from the Nepal of the hilly and plain tribals, the lower castes, the untouchables, those who look different from how they should look in the dominant Nepali configuration, speak a different tongue from the one that the ruling castes speak, belong to a different gender from the ruling gender, live in a different region from the one where the powers- be live and thrive on foreign aid and grant and loan. It seems that either Mr. Shrestha is blind or I see too much or maybe we have two sets of eyes, his and mine belonging to two different species, colored and powered differently. Mr. Shrestha assures me that he would find women in Nepal "doing business, talking, working, laughing, worrying, singing, quarreling, dancing" when we walk the various regions of Nepal together. He sounds as though he is the only one who has walked in Nepal, and I spent my childhood and youth in Mars. This effusive outburst means nothing. Even in the most inhuman conditions of Hitler's concentration camps, men, women, and children did all those things. In fact, it is said that in the crowded situation and in the camp's inhuman life, the female inmates of the camps got more pregnant than in any other time. What I mean is how much opportunity the society offers to its male members in comparison to its female members is what is at the bottom of the question. Other analyses are but part of this goal.
I don't think we need to be defensive about our culture or anyone needs to be defensive about their cultures. An intellectual's task is to mercilessly analyze and interpret any culture and show the problems there for the society to detect them and solve them, always keeping in mind the full development of the potential of its members, male or female, this caste or that caste, this race or that race, living in one region or another, speaking one language or another. If an intellectual fails to accomplish this task, then he participates in the oppression of the dominated by the dominant. I for one don't have to advertise my culture to anybody; I know I stand on a solid ground, although there are some holes in it that I must deal with.
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