Nepal | October 15, 2019

MIDWAY : Nepalis and modernity

MIDWAY : Nepalis and modernity

Upendra Rai

I am sick of reading about what modernity means to the Nepali middle class. The middle class Nepali is fundamentally non-democratic. The use of invectives is one attempt to prove this point.

The non-democratic side of the middle class Nepali is a natural instinct. The domestication of modernity in Nepal has a trajectory not unlike that of the taming of the shrew and indeed, many educated Nepalis would attribute to modernity, qualities not dissimilar to those borne by that hapless Shakespearean wench. Technology is the only arena where the middle class feels comfortable with modernity. And then they have to domesticate it annually through prayers during Dashain.

Around 70 per cent of all middle class marriages are arranged, caste-specific and involve the transfer of a virgin bride, if not dowry. Fairy tale romance is also subject to parental approval. One has to be extra brave to trespass caste and community boundaries. The modern Nepali is pragmatic and considers such chores suicidal. If one can find a love which fits in these rigid family values; great.

Most of the modern Nepali males still hold that love has a direct bearing with fidelity and hence worthy of being introduced to their mother.

Contacts are the ways to negotiate the professional world and it is all about kin-to-kin whispers when it comes to matrimonial chores. The use of connections to gain employment, favours and benefits is rampant among this class. When a family meets a family, sex and status are sharp dividing lines. The single professional woman and a modern Nepali has many of these and few single men try to establish friendship with a male colleague.

In other words, the Nepali middle class flees from modernity of the mind. Freedom is frightening because it demands individual responsibility. Collective (caste and family) responsibility offers a security that is difficult to resist. Female modernity challenges his patriarchal authority and opens up the subject of sexual choice.

The secular professional world does not always succumb to the lure of the contact or connection. Secularism and even democratic dissent by the unprivileged render the middle class vulnerable. Public spaces close themselves to those without credit cards, residential localities hem themselves in against the lower orders with watchmen and boundary walls.

The mentally modern is all too frightening. It is the modernity of matter — lucre — that lures the middle class.

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