Assertion of new identities Challenging dimensions

A local TV footage recently showed the parading of the newly created Khas Chhetri militias in Birtamod, Jhapa recently. The so-called militia parade was organized by what is called as Khas Chhetri Samaj to press their demand for recognition and enlistment in the category of Adibasi Janjatis. The Samaj has threatened to take up arms if their demands were not honored and met. The so called militias formation as could be gleaned from the footage has recruited people of varying ages and background. Ex-servicemen and former army personnel are among the people, according to the above mentioned material, forming the so called Khas Chhetri militias. Mention may be made in this context of the submission presented on behalf of the Khas Chhetris—the biggest community of the people in Nepal in terms of size and influence—to the panel chaired by Dr. Om Gurung to enlist them in the category of bonafide nationalities (Janjatis). They did organize a massive rally and demonstration in the capital city last month sounding off a clarion call against the allegedly ethnicity based segmentation and division of the country.

A rally and demonstration of similar type was held by the Brahmans in Bhairahawa to express their anger and indignation over what they alleged as incessant and deliberate attacks on the cultural ethos, values and national integrity. These two events represent the increased fractionalization and deconstruction of the Nepali society along the caste and ethnicity based affiliation. These instances do permeate the reactions of the largest communities of Nepal— Chhetris and Brahmans—against alleged attempts to sideline them.

For the last few years Nepali society has been undoubtedly divided. And the wedge in the social fabric has been driven due to aggressive mobilization of various social and ethnic groups for political ends. More emphasis has been given to invent and intensify differences and distinctness among the social and ethnic groups. A tendency of cultivating cultural and ethnicity based separateness has been on the rise. Even within the Janjatis several micro-groups have come to the fore to challenge the established identity and assert attributes of new identity. A separate identity and recognition is claimed and demanded for each micro groups. New figures and facts have been concocted to establish and prove new identity for each of them.

Generally, two levels and patterns of social cleavages have been noticed and accentuated. While there is a growing chasm between between Janjatis and non-janjatis(Bahun and Chhetris) at the larger national level , the in-group tensions and fissures have been created to engender fractions at the micro-level. It is reported that the above referred to panel formed by the government to review the listing and recognition of Janjatis has received the claims and petitions on behalf of the several new groups claiming separate treatment, identity and recognition. The feud between the Chepangs and Bankariyas is not new. Provided that the centrifugal tendencies among the various social groups and sub-groups are allowed to grow and snowball in the manner it is being done today, Nepal will confront serious social conflicts threatening the social stability. The logic that was marshaled for the identity construction, assertion and enlistment of the fifty-nine ethnic groups (Adibasi janjjati) around twelve years ago can be used by the micro-groups to disagree, if not resist and oppose the established identities, and seek new distinct recognition for them during the years to follow. The process of group fragmentation with reference to primordial attributes may not stop and can lead to increased social division.

The current phenomenon is that the Chhetris have also come forward claiming for recognition as a separate social group They are demanding the same treatment and concessions accorded or being accorded to Janjatis in the new political order. The Brahmins—allegedly the dominant social group blamed for ushering in the order of caste based suppression and subjugation using or misusing state power— are seemingly feeling insecure and apprehensive due to some warranted, and other unwarranted attacks. Brahmins have rooted for caste-based unity and coalescence to defend their existence in face of the assaults and attacks from other groups. The parading of militias organized by Chhetris and rallies staged by the Brahmins in several parts of the country may be construed and interpreted in this light.

No one can oppose the genuine aspirations of Adibasi Janjatis for enhancement of their dignity, increased share and representation in power structure and distribution of resources. This should not be done in a manner that other groups feel insecure and threatened. This will give rise to group-based conflicts which will be difficult to tame. Relations between diverse groups should be characterized more by interaction, interdependence and mobility than contrasts and boundaries. This alone can make a new democratic federal Nepal based on harmony, justice and interdependence.