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The Nepal Digest Sunday 1 Jan 95: Push 16 2051 BkSm Volume 35 Issue 1
Happy New Year 1995!
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********************************************************************** Date: Thu, 29 Dec 1994 11:14:54 -0500 From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Eknath Belbase - Math Grad) To: NEPAL@cs.niu.edu Subject: Land Reform
There has been some discussion about land reform on TND lately.
Some have expressed the view that lowering land holdings will
increase productivity because there will be more of an incentive
to produce. I am a little unconvinced by this argument and perhaps
someone can un-unconvince me some. Here are the sources of my doubts:
(1) The US has the highest ag output in the world. Agriculture is an INDUSTRY here. Less than 1% of the population owns ALL the farm land. It WORKS.
(2) Even under the Mohi system, those that work the land get between 1/2 and
2/3 of the produce. [I am not sure how much this varies depending on
individual landowners. I know of some in Kapilvastu district who until
recently had a 50/50 deal, whereas as of this summer, some in Banke district,
not far from Kohalpur, on the way to Nepalgunj, had an arrangement where
the workers got 2/3 of the produce.]
Ergo, if you work harder, then you get more, even if the landlord gets a cut.
(3) Capital inputs: Tractors are expensive and pointless if you own
------------------- 1 bigha of land in the tarai. But if you own 150 bighas it makes sense to have one. Fertilizer? Spraying for pests? What's that? If you are a large land-owner you are much more likely to know about such things. You are motivated by that word that US trained economists learn to love, GREED. You want more money, to send your kids to boarding schools in India and then off to other countries. You want to buy a nice Honda-Rajdoot for your son when he graduates from HS and a lil ole Indian Jeep for yourself. Sounds like plenty of incentive to do anything you can to increase production.
I realize that equity-wise things are terrible. However, I am concerned that
without adequate steps to take into account things like (3), simply
lowering land-holdings with no additional work will make things worse, not
better. Yes, there are malnourished people with little or no land, and this
is partly why we need to import food. On the other hand, locally speaking,
there are also pockets of agricultural surplus [large Tarai-based landowners]
which means there are people who are actually making money off grains
they sell. Money that is used to BUY things fledgling industries in Nepal
are producing. You take away this surplus-using class and who is left to
buy things Nepals tiny industrial sector produces? Govt employees,
people who work in those industries, and NGO employees, UN related, etc.
And why not THIS approach: you lift all land-holding ceilings. You encourage
all ag practices that are greed-based, that increase greed-motivated
production. Pretty soon 20% of the people once in agriculture are not.
Then fewer and fewer...more people to work in the industries that you
Ok, maybe this is logical positivism taken ad nauseum. Does anyone know
of particular cases of countries that went from 92% ag based economy to
industrialized states? What was their land situation before and after and
what steps did the govt take to make it so? I would be interested to find out.
Date: Thu, 29 Dec 1994 10:48:48 -0500
From: email@example.com (Eknath Belbase - Math Grad)
Subject: More on the National Planning Commission>>
(1) Does anyone think things would go better for Nepal if no national level planning occured - total lessez faire? Or leave everything alone except the economy? Or do we need better, more planning that is taken more seriously by politicians-planning that is done apolitically.
(2) Do you think economists are trained to deal with issues of rural poverty,
health, education, environment, communications, etc...? Do you think
cost-benefit analyses applied to spheres where there are significant non-
economic issues involved are the best way to make decisions?
Date: Thu, 29 Dec 1994 10:40:37 -0500
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Eknath Belbase - Math Grad)
Subject: Planning Commission, etc.
Two posts on the most recent issue of TND dealt with issues having
to do with the Planning Commission. Although I'm not all that familiar
with all the details of when it became a branch of the government and
why, I would like to attempt to answer some of the comments or interesting
questions in the hope of further debate:
>Why have National Planning Commission in the first place? In all its
>40-odd years of existence, what has NPC achieved in Nepal anyway? Has it
>ever been publicly evaluated?
Presumably the NPC has a coordinating role, as well as having a more long-term
outlook on things, and a better overview. Individual ministries tend to have
a more short-term outlook, and they certainly don't have a clear mechanism to
interact with other ministries. Now you may say: well they are all under
the PM so he can do all that coordinating. I doubt any PM has the time,
much less someone who has to spend so much time making speeches, meeting
people and so forth. Furthermore, the NPC is supposed to be composed of experts
in various things who have portfolios to look after, like health, environment,
education, agriculture [one member often looks after 3 or more]. Their
staff "get" relevant data [as opposed to the NBS, which may gather more stats
than are needed for the purposes of the NPC] and they come up with these five
year plans [most of the stats they get ARE collected by the NBS].
Other countries also have NPCs. It seems to be fairly common among those
with more socialistic economies. If you look at the five-year plans that
our NPC churns out, you will see that they aren't ALL that specific. And
it is certainly not true that they "PLAN ALL THINGS FOR ALL NEPALIS".
After all, anything they plan has to be approved by Parliment! They are
accountable directly to the PM. And it certainly isn't a one-way dialogue,
where they tell everyone else what is best for the country.
What has having a NPC acheived? I can only answer this with a question: how can
anyone possibly separate their work from that of the rest of the govt?
Perhaps someone who has worked in one of the ministries can say in more detail
what sorts of things would be harder to do without a NPC... but it certainly
isn't true that the Ministers themselves are experts in whatever portfolios
they hold - most are politicians.
Publicly evaluated? Are you kidding? What in Nepal HAS been in the last
35 years? Perhaps it IS time to re-evaluate the function of many branches of
the government, tighten up certain bodies, strengthen others, eliminate some,
maybe. For example, the ability to investigate and prosecute corruption
in government has, until now, been non-existent. This is certainly something
that should be changed!
Then there were two separate posts about the composition of a NPC:
 ... a group consisting sociologists, geographers, economists, and all sorts of experts would JUST LOOK NICE, but would ultimately ACHIEVE LITTLE for Nepal. Ego clashes, lack of focus, poor job description...
 The second point that I wanted to touch on is the comments that have
been made about the new planning commission, and financial experts in
the new government. Some have made snide remarks about it being
composed mostly of sociologist, rural experts and geographer
(presumably they are less competent to run the planning commission than hard-core macroeconomists). I was particularly surprised by the negative comments on having two rural economy experts.
------- Presumably there is more to planning the general direction a country is going than economics? Ego clashes, lack of focus.... these things may exist or not but again, if you read one of the plans, they DONT COME ACROSS and there is atleast the appearance that there is some sort of coherent path, that somehow activities in different sectors are being THOUGHT ABOUT together. Not in isolation from one another as ministries cannot help but do.
Fill it up with economists? Hell, 3 of the 5 members of the last Panchayat-kal
NPC were! Look where that got the country. And consider this: perhaps the
problem is that the NPC has NOT BEEN TAKEN SERIOUSLY ENOUGH. That despite
their efforts to present informed choices, decisions have ultimately been
very politically [ie greed] motivated and very little consideration was
given to longer-term effects of these decisions. While a large post-industrialized economy [not to mention a polity that is so anti-government] like that
of the US may be more suited to simply having a body of economic advisors
who do monetary/fiscal fine-tuning, it is somewhat irrelevant to a country
where 9/10 of the population is engaged in agriculture. Primarily subsistence
agriculture at that. How much control can one acheive over the economy
by raising the interest rate when 2/3 of the population has never seen the
inside of a bank?
Nepal has serious problems. They have to do with education, health, environment,
transportation, energy, communications, population trends, and a shitload more.
These problems are all interconnected. You improve education and health-care,
more women are income-earners and the birth-rate starts to drop. You start a
park in Rara, move all the local people out to the Terai and they all drop
dead because of the heat, altitude and tropical diseases. You build a rapid-
freight transport system connecting industrial centers in the Terai to KTM
and suddenly the volume of trucks on all those winding roads is halved, the
air in Kathmandu is a little cleaner, and prices of goods go down...
The second actually occurred when Rara National Park was established.
Does it look like an informed decision? Rara could be making Nepal a lot
more money, while minimizing environmental impact, and none of those people
needed to die.
Date: Thu, 29 Dec 1994 20:39 EST
Subject: NGO for Oral Sex
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com,
This is something I received from Bhanu Neupane from Canada for general
Amulya,I think you may find it interesting!
World is full of innovation-- good, bad, radical, bizarre and so
on. Not only in technological sense, but these innovations can be
seen in every facets that bear directly or indirectly with the
human lives. Recently what I read in one of the ontario
(Canada) university newspapers could really be ranked on top of such innovations. After reading this article, I was not only flustered, but have now been thinking of terminating my studies and returning back to Nepal with a NGO* in my pocket (I atleast can teach some of the things in reference, I know what I mean?).
I had a very close acquaintance of mine working for UNDP ( I
assume, if you have worked in Nepal, know this guy, he
was a Bangladeshi--responsible for NGO support and worked under
Caroll Long, the Rep.), he always used to chastise, rather
criticize, how Srikrishana Upadyaya, who was not only a member of
NPC but also the executive director of SAPROS, coerced and
pressurized him to award UNDP support to his NGO's stupid and
imprudent activities (its activity in Dailekh district is an
outcome of similar forced funding). Yet, when I read how it works
in international sector, I thought at least Sk Upadyaya is a
nepali (let the old hog make easy money).. Eh!.
[Bhanu adds that a recent ACTION AID study reported that the percapita
allocation of NGO monies is Rs 460 lakhs. i.e. a $ 1 million excluding the
kathmandu districts, with Gorkha being the most saturated NGO district with 32
International NGOs, 19 NGOs and 81 VGOs. There are 42 NGOs committed and
sucking donor money to clean Bagmati and 73 more ngos are in the pipeline, and
the bagmati gets dirtier with these evil ngos]
An Ottawa (Canada) based INGO has submitted a very unique proposal to one of the leading canadian funding agencies. If the funding comes through, this INGO will non-formally teach men/women of south asia (Fortunately NEPAL is included), the techniques of oral sex (yes I mean, fellatio and cunnilingus) and (mutual) masturbation. The INGO will work in close cooperation with the "family planning agencies", local NGOs and VOs of the respective countries. It will be started as a pilot project and the success accounted for in subsequent evaluations will determine, if at all there exists a need to replicate or expand. This idea was initially floated amongst the participants of Cairo Population Conference, however, very few (prospective) recipient countries showed their interest (perhaps were shy). The rationale of the proposal-- subsumed under the broad objective of family planning (death while pregnant, unwanted pregnancy, mother and child health care etc.) -- is based on the following arguments:
1. The researches have shown that the degree of AIDS
transmission through manual sex is almost nil and oral sex is
relatively lower than genital or anal sex.
2. The unwanted pregnancies and venereal diseases among young boys and
girls can be avoided.
3. The package will deal primarily on sex education and teach
the value of personal hygiene (which is considered to be the
major cause of genital cancer and other sexually transmitted
The modus operandi, however, has been kept secret (I wish I knew).
On the face of the reality that, even "literate elites" of Nepal, having
an access to high-tech electronic media avoid sex-issues by branding them
"dirty talk", how would such program on sex (?educational or bizarre sex?) succeed amongst the rural-illiterate masses?
Considering the fact that even talking about "Condom" in public is
considered to be a taboo, how would people view a program having such
radical approach, which attempts largely to alter the existing sexual
preference? (Witnessing people shouting to turn the radio off, to avoid
young children hear about the condom advertisements are very common. I
have seen a little boy being badly beaten by his mother as he sang a song
on "Dhal" in front of the guests. Even, I personally loved that jingle
"mahila haru ko bikash hunchha Nilonkan knane Garema", but never ever dared to sing it aloud.
In a country, where people feel proud to tell "how they can have sex with
their wives without even waking them up" (Ref. ALOK'S ARTICLE), I wonder
how a program on oral sex or mutual masturbation will be viewed at.
Moreover, in general until one ejaculates within vagina, the sex is
considered incomplete. Even Nepali law asserts the same. Based on the
similar ground a panche neta's son was acquitted of rape charges in mid
eighties. (he was "cought in the act" and failed to ejaculat within
vagina, but was having coercive sex with the woman for quite some time).
I wonder if there is a word for foreplay in Nepali (An objoke, I heard
somewhere was: we don't have because, we don't need one?), what percentage
of couple get stark naked during sex, what percentage of Nepali women
really enjoy touching and fondling their husbands' genitalia or feel
pleasure when touched theirs, breast fondling is most spoken in Nepal, what
about genital fondling? -- was there something on that lady's thesis? I
hope you can help.
Next time you visit Nepal, be prepared to listen to advertizement jingle on
the radio having a verse " ek arka ko .... chalayema pani pugchha hai kam;
rog pani nalagne, garbha pani rokne, sabailai sancho ra aaram, la, la,
Season's greetings and Happy NEw Year.
* According to a UNDP mimeo of 1994, during 1993-94 a total of Rupees 7
billion (yes that is almost a quarter of the total fiscal budget of '93-94
of Nepal) was given to different NGOs and INGOs working in Nepal from
different bilateral and multilateral sources without government approval.
This huge amount has nothing to do with the national accounting. The
cost-benefit and multiplier effect of this odious expenditure has nowhere
been accounted for. There are 7957 NGOs (almost two for each VDC) and on an
average approximately 46 lakh (unaccounted) available to each of the
Date: Fri, 30 Dec 1994 14:25:00 -0500 (EST)
From: Laura Shrestha PHN 33692 <LSHRESTHA@worldbank.org>
Subject: U.S. Immigrant Visas
The U.S. Department of State has announced the application procedures for 55,000
immigrant visas to be made available in Fiscal Year 1996 and thereafter under
the Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) "Lottery" Program.
The application period for registration for the DV-96 visas will begin at 12:01
a.m. on Tuesday, January 31, 1995, and will end at midnight on Wednesday, March
1, 1995. Applications for registration will be selected strictly in a random
order from among all of those received during the specified period and may be
mailed from within the U.S. or from abroad. The law allows only ONE application
It should be noted that it is NOT necessary to include proof of education or
work experience with the registration application. Applicants who are
registered for DV-96 status, however, will need to present documentary proof at
the time of formal immigrant visa application.
7,087 of the visas for Fiscal Year 1996 are intended for Asians. Eligible
countries include Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Bran, Burma,
Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, North Korea,
Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maladies, Mongolia, NEPAL, Moan, Pakistan,
Quitter, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, I.E., and Yeomen.
Asian countries which DO NOT QUALIFY include China, Taiwan, India, South Korea,
Philippines, and Vietnam.
This information is from Department of State Publication 9514. The Dept. of
State's VISA BULLETIN also includes details about the application procedure.
PLEASE NOTE: PLEASE CONTACT THE DEPT. OF STATE DIRECTLY FOR THESE BROCHURES AND
FOR MORE INFORMATION. THIS IS ALL THAT I KNOW & I DO NOT HAVE THE ORIGINAL
BROCHURES. I ALSO DO NOT KNOW THE APPROPRIATE TELEPHONE NUMBER OF THE DEPT. OF
Laura B. Shrestha
Date: Wed, 21 Dec 1994 17:55:47 EST
To: The Nepal Digest <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: David Silversmith <76326.1331@COMPUSERVE.COM>
Subject: Technical Support Job in Washington DC
TECHNICAL SUPPORT JOB
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Date: Tue, 20 Dec 1994 11:32:50 EST
To: The Nepal digest Editor <email@example.com>
From: "Pramod K. Mishra" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Women in Hinduism IX: Some Tidbits
Women in Hinduism IX: Some Tidbits
I'm glad that we have stirred the hornet's nest about
Hinduism as a religion and women's status in it. In recent
issues of TND, some interesting questions have come up from the
contributors, and in this letter I'm going to think about them.
What is the difference between Hindu society and Hindu religion? Let's think about it. We have all heard the word
"fundamentalism"? Fundamentalists, although referred mainly to Muslim and Christian fanatics, could be anyone who pleads for a return to the fundamentals of a religious book created thousands of years ago in different historical surroundings. A fundamentalist denounces his society for its half-hearted adhrence to the religious book. If you don't follow the fundamentals literally, then you are not religious; somehow you are a deviant. The fundamentals of the book, a fundamentalist says, form the core of true religion, the ideal form, the basics, living life by the book.
I once met a Christian minister. True to tradition, he was very hospitable and kind and took me to meet one of the local born again Christian's house. I told them how great was Christianity, how spectacular Christ's sacrifice, and how one of the most powerful influences for me since age twelve had been the Parable of the Seed and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. But this born again Christian was such a fanatic, he would not listen anything about the value of Christ's message. He was adamant that if I did not believe in Christ the messiah, if I did not have faith in Christ, literally, in his resurrection, then all my early influence of those parables went down the drain. I said, "Well, why don't we just consider Christ a great man like any other great men and every one should learn from his sacrifice and from those messages that are still valid for us?" Of course what I said enraged the born again Christian. And after that, he never invited me back to his house, although I would have gone if he had and said what I had said.
Then I met a vegetarian Hare Krishna man, selling his Gita on campus and intriguing students. I felt pleased, for I had just arrived in the US then. To find someone across the seven oceans distributing a book whose many lines I had even then had by heart had its own peculiar delight. The man saw me passing by, looked at my face, and said, "This is Gita. Have you read it?" I stopped by and jokingly asked, "Have YOU read it?" "Yes, yes, of course," he said, with a beaming smile. "Have you read it in Sanskrit?" I asked again before running off to catch my class. "No, unfortunately not." "I have read it in Sanskrit. Do you want to hear the lines of the Gita in Sanskrit?" I said, lingering for ego-trip. He was apparently excited, and to savor a chance of showing off my childhood rote learning, I recited some lines from the Gita. The man invited me to his van to have dinner that night. At dinner that night, there were three white Hare Krishna people, one white American, three Indian Guptas; and I, a Mishra. After dinner when I got up to wash my plate, the guru of the ISCON said, "You are a real Brahmin." I felt embarassed in front of the Guptas that even here in the US, these people were in search of Brahmins.
After dinner, I recited the vernacular devotional poems of Jayasi, Raskhan, and Mirabai about Krishna. "Well, it's not enough to know these poems, it's the faith, the devotion that matters," said the guru at the end of everything. I never went there after that. Everywhere people in pursuit to be Brahmans, to have this illusory ego-trip of superiority.
So I would say religion--many controversies may arise about its definition; learned people engage in hair-splitting debates about Hindu religion as unlike any other, a dharma, a way of life, and so forth--I would argue that a religion is worse than the society that practices it by virtue of the book's antiquity and of the society's rich historical experience (I'm not being Whiggish here, mind you). Then again, religion, any religion for that matter, is not composed only of the book or books that it comes from. It is a conglomerate mass of books and historical experiences that come to define and shape it overtime. But the fundamentalists would want the followers of a religion to forget the historical experience and stick to the books alone. In this respect, conservatives and followers of orthodoxy are much better, for the latter's zeal comes from a strong nostalgia for the pristine past, made usually of both books and of historical experience.
A religion is contained in some books (if you insist on making a clear distinction between a religion and the society that practices it and validate the religion over society). For Hindus, the books are: the four Vedas, the Shrutis (the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sam Veda, and the Atharva Veda), called so because they were originally meant to be heard and memorized orally; the Upanishadas (one hundred and twelve or fifteen but only fifteen are extant; others have been considered lost); the eighteen Puranas (Shree Madbhagwat and Garuda are the most important and most often publicly explicated); the six Shastras
(the six schools of Brahmanic thought come from these books: Patanjali's Yoga, Shankhya, Vaishesik, Gaitama's Nyaya, Mimansha, and so on); the two epics (everyone knows their stories and so socially they are very effective in imposing discrimination and hierarchy); and the Smritis (to be always remebered and understood well as law), most known and practiced among which is the notorious Manusmriti. Similarly, Islam can be said to contain primarily in the Holy Koran and the Hadith; Christianity in the Bible (forget about their historical evolution here); Judaism in the Old Testament of the Bible but also in the Talmud and the Torah; Zoroasterianism (practiced by the Parsis of India) in the Zindavesta, and so forth (I have of course simplified the written documents of all religions here, but that's inevitable).
My intention here is not to bore you with this catalogue but to say that if we separate religion from society, then it resides in some books, however they might have been written (all claim divine origin) long time ago. Now if you say that religion is beyond any shortcomings, and it's the society that's to blame for the ills, then you are asking us to go by the book, literally. That's exactly what the fundamentalists ask us to do, to go by the book, to return to the letter of the scriptures and live by it. You can for your own information have a look at these books in any religion and answer for yourself whether you should follow everything that the book says. But if you want to go by the book, you sure are a fundamentalist, like any other fundamentalist. If you are proud of your fundamentalism, that's fine; I have nothing to say. I'll try to say only what it means for me, culturally and by birth a Hindu.
Some readers have brought out some famous Sankrit quotes from various sources. One of them was "Satyameva Jayate" (I don't want to create any forced humor here), another was "Sarve bhavantu sukhinah sarve bhavantu niraymayah." My father also quoted whenever the occasion presented itself, "Ashtaadash Puraneshu Vyashashya Vachanadvayam: Paropkaaraya Punyaya, Paapaaya Paripidanam" (in all the eighteen Puranas, Vyas, the writer, said only two things: to do good to others is virtue and to inflict pain on others is sin).
But one can find such benevolent one liners in all religions. "Love thy neighbors" and "do unto others as you want others to do to you," everyone knows, are Christian tenets; brotherhood and "Neki kar dariya mE daal" (do good and throw the expectations in the river) are the tenets of Islam. Yet there are problems, serious ones in their books. The Christians used the Bible to spread colonialism and justify slavery (among other atrocities Christians perpetrated in the Middle Ages from burning witches and heretics to stifling all outburst of creativity), and the fundamentalist followers of Islam use the law of Shariat from the Koran to subjugate women and refuse any contrary views. The good slogans become like the writings on the billboards all around Tundikhel in Kathmandu.
Now what do you think of the famous pronouncements of his majesty on the billboards around Tundikhel? His Majesty King Birendra had all the good intentions (God knows, we in Kathmandu said he was probably the most liberal monarch Nepal had ever had in Nepali history) but the constitution did not work to that effect. In spite of those pronouncements about poverty, hunger, disease, love for the downtrodden, love for the country, poverty ravaged people's bodies and minds, corruption deepened, and the country went downhill on the IMF scale.
The stories, the legends, the myths, the festivals, the songs, and the slogans in all religions are great; the metaphysics everywhere sounds sublime. Those stories and the metaphysics fire people's imagination and lift their hearts to magnanimity, to the splendors of creativity, but they also contain nasty earthly designs. The metaphysics of the Puranas is linked with the design of the Manusmriti and the latter is linked with such statements as Tulsi Das, the composer of the most famous epic of the Indian people in the Hindi heartland, "Ramcharita Manas," made: Dhol ganwar shudra pashu naari ye sab hain taran ke adhikari ("Women and animals, Shudras and drums; they are all made but to be amply whipped"). Pervasive in the metaphysical nuances and soothsayings remain the slave-master strategies and hierarchies that economically benefit one section of the society at the expense of the other.
To explore further what Hinduism as a religion tells you to do, you don't have to go far. You can, as I have already said in one of my letters, go to the nearest library and have a look at the Manusmriti, only one of many religious documents that have had tremendous impact in shaping Hindu society. No one cares about high slogans such as "Basudhaiva kutumbakam" (the whole world is one brotherhood) when it comes to exploiting others.
>From the mouth "the whole of humankind is one brotherhood" but
strict adherence to the code of untouchability in practice, following another shloka in the Manusmriti. So you see, how people only remember what serves their purpose, what makes them suck others blood, exploit others to the bone, what gives them the illusion of superiority and maintain them as masters. Well, caste, race, gender or any other kind of superiority is an illusion all right; but this illusion brings with it the treasure, the real source of power. Illusion and treasury are thus locked together in more ways than one.
And what about the weak and the helpless? Well, they also have some mighty lines made for them in the books that tell them to remain in servility for ever, that teaches them never to complain (thirty-two virtues for women and theories of incarnation, karma and so forth for the poor and the lower castes, and women, too). So religion, the mighty weapon, very often plays in the hands of the powerful to keep the weak and the oppressed in perpetual slavery. When was the last time we heard religion brought about a drastic change in the social and political structure in any society and punished the oppressor and rewarded the oppressed? (We have yet to see what the liberation theology of Latin America eventually amounts to doing).
So if we insist that Hindu society is worse than Hindu religion, we fail to understand the nature and functioning of religion. Religion worked well when there was no moral, social, legal codes; it helped to cultivate certain values. (And even now the stories of all religions provide a tremendous read, better than most modern books for children, for every child.) But in order to do that it gave some kind of divine sanction to the powerful to curve and control the weak. Haven't you heard the Nepali shloka, "Badaa le jo garchcha kaam hunchcha tyo sarva sammata; Ishorko magante bhesh hoonna kahile nindita" (whatever the great men do, the deed becomes sanctified; even the beggary of God [the dwarf incarnation] is worshipped)?
So what's the soltution? Well, I don't know. My concern is not to find a quick solution, but to see the problem in its minute details and ask others to throw light on the problems from their perspective so I can see my blind spots. But raised in the culture where we have always been discouraged to go too deep in analyzing a problem for fear of encountering a political and philosophical black hole, we quickly become wise people and advance quick solutions with a smug smile (If I were one of the readers, I would say by advancing quick solutions we are indulging in "self-promotion"). But I believe that if we analyze the problems adequately, the solution should present itself.
And positive things? We have been hearing a lot about the need of writing about positive things. Even after thirty years of Panchayat media's hype that fed us nothing but incessant doses of positive things: our nation is the greatest in the world; our people are the happiest in the world; our religion is the greatest in the world; our way of life the most flawless in the world; our country's rate of development is the fastest in the world. We still long to hear positive only the positive things in our suburban state of mind. But at the end of which where are we now?
So don't ask for positive things for a while; I'm still suffering from nausea of positive things. I'd suggest that we need to learn to be disturbed, to come out of our glass castles, and see the negative things and speak about them if we care about the real people of Nepal, not some phantom Nepal and Nepali people, who always eat rice puddings, who go to posh schools, who always laugh and dance in some fairy mansions. We should see the smile and feel happy, no doubt, but we should also see the hunger in the stomach and pain in the bones that the smile of some hides and feel angry and concern about it. If we don't, then we are either blind or complicit and live in a phantom Nepal of our imaginings. This Nepal comes from living in Marie Antoinette's palace.
Unexamined religion, I reiterate here, is more dangerous than society. In a real society, human beings live, and human beings, no matter how riled and confused by religion and other forces of existence, have hearts and minds and life experiences that rouse them to tears when they see a fellow human being suffering. A human being, if not blinded by the poison of religion and bigotry, also observes, sifts, dissects, and puts things in perspective and makes history, changes those things that don't work and promotes those tendencies that work and better the human lot. Those peoples who don't learn from life experiences and remain blindly attached to some books made God knows when and how are doomed to repeat the same mistakes and remain in misery. They create misery for others, too. And religion loves misery, the greatest of which is death.
But misery and poverty are no fun; they were fun for Siddhartha because he had the security of the palace where he could return anytime he wanted (the fact that he didn't return is a different matter); penury (is) uplifting for the Brahmans because they have the security of high caste which any time cashes their caste status into wealth and dignity.
And that's why, the most frightening thing for a high caste Hindu, particularly a Brahmin, is that everyone else including the women would get converted into some other religion, leaving them lifelong bachelors--no one to touch their feet, assuring them lifelong dignity and cash and perpetuate their caste purity.
I'm sure there never will come a day when everyone but the Brahman will convert to another religion. You can just imagine the consequences of everyone converting. But I want to ask such people who are most concerned about conversion, Why shouldn't the lower castes, the untouchables, in fact everyone except the Brahmins and their benefactors, convert to some other religion that gives them, at least in principle, equal status and dignity? For women the problem is more serious; there are not many options for them; most religions have more or less similar things to say about their frailty and sexuality. So no matter how many conversions occur, a marriage is assured for a Brahman. He does not have to worry about it. But lower castes and tribal people are a different matter. If the Hindus don't set their house in order, everyone will convert to one religion or another and leave the Brahmins (those who really believe in Brahminism and practice it) no option but to touch their own feet.
Although one can laugh about it, it's a serious matter. In the eatern hills in Aathrai region, a Tamang man once began following his grandfather's Buddhist practices, which his father had forsaken. The Chief District Officer of the district (I guess he might have been a product of Tindhaaraa Paathshaalaa) arrested him and put him in prison for conversion. Now what can you say to that? Is Buddhism an alien religion? And in India, when Buddhists try to convert the tribal Santhaals and the untouchables to Buddhism because Christian missionaries are converting them left and right with the temptation of love, equality, and education, some highly educated civil servants, instead of removing the ills of Hinduism, establishe Bajarang Dal, the Club of the Monkey-god Hanuman and commit vandalism. And what happens in Kathmandu itself?
Once, about seven years ago, in a famous annual gathering at Balmiki college, some of its young, enthusiatic, and fair-minded students asked me to speak. Well, I hesitated because from the platform two ideologues of the Panchayat system had also spoken. I did speak eventually in my jeans and T-shirt about separating Sanskrit language and literature from Karmakand (practices of religious rituals) and broaden its base, for most people believe, not without reason, that Sanskrit is the monopoly of the worshipping Brahmins; and it consists of nothing but the ritualistic mumbo-jumbo. After that I was never called to teach there for fear, perhaps, that I was corrupting the young minds, although young men there seemed quite eager to learn and get out of the boundaries of their confinement.
And this brings me to the system itself that privileges some people based on birth and caste rather than merit at the expense of others. The place where these young souls lived is called Teen Dhaaraa Paathshaalaa, just across the road from Ranipokhari and only a few paces from the Palace itself. Its students have been some of the staunchest supporters of democracy. The young people who live there don't have to pay a penny for their room and board; it's like gurukul, a seminary. But only the worshipping eastern hill Brahmins are admitted there; nobody else. And at one time, it is said, out of seventy-five Chief District Officers in Nepal, there were forty who were alumni from that seminary. Now the idea of a seminary in which one is fed and housed free and taught is great for teaching Sanskrit and advancing the cause of Hinduism, but we must admit that it is blatant discrimination and even racism to educate some because they are born Brahmins and do nothing about others. Wouldn't it be great if a leather-worker's son, a sweeper's son (I dare talk only about sons here!), a blacksmith's son, a tailor's son, a Musahar's son (all untouchables), and a host of other children (Rai, Limbu, Magar, Gurung, Tharu, and so forth) also could live and study Sanskrit there for free? Yet that's not possible. And you talk about conversion, Hinduism, Sanskrit, and quick solutions? Make a cobbler's son a Brahmin priest by invoking your Hindu religion, then talk about our Hinduism as the greatest religion in the world and brag that religion is greater than society. I'll then sing about positive things--and dance, too, with one hand on my head and the other on my waist.
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