Readings on Social Inclusion and Exclusion in Nepal

Bookworm Issue 100 Jul, 2010
Text by Don Messerschmidt / Photo: ECS Media

A Double Book Review
Identity and Society: Social Exclusion and Inclusion in Nepal (2009) and From Exclusion to Inclusion: Socio-Political Agenda for Nepal (2007)
Social Inclusion Research Fund (SNV Nepal), Kathmandu

For anyone working on development and social reform in Nepal and, indeed, for anyone merely living in Nepal, social inclusion and exclusion are everyday issues. The subject of exclusion has had high visibility over the past decade, under the program funded by The Netherlands Government (SNV) known as the Social Inclusion Research Fund (SIRF), and with initiatives funded by bilateral and multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and others.

Succinctly put, social exclusion is a “rupture of social bonds” (from a French source) or, more specifically, the European Foundation defines it as “the process through which individuals or groups are wholly excluded from full participation in the society within which they live” (cited by Krishna Bhattachan in the 2009 volume).

In the multi-ethnic and caste society of Nepal, exclusion impinges most heavily upon the Dalit (formerly called “untouchable”) castes and the Janajati (ethnic groups) in caste-dominant contexts, on women in largely male-dominated situations, as well as on the poor and other disadvantaged people, sometime even reflecting biases against one or another religious orientation. It is not only manifested in physical acts of avoidance and denial of participation and citizen rights, but also in manners of speech. The commonly spoken distinction between “high” and “low” castes, for example, tends to perpetuate it.

Hence, exclusion, in one form or another, is endemic to Nepali society, more so in the rural areas, perhaps, but no less odious when it occurs among the well-educated and sophisticated urban elites. It is reflected in various acts of avoidance and denial, and is seen in such behaviors as blocking access of individuals and groups to natural resources, education and to freedom of choice in many ways.

It must be pointed out, however, that great strides have been taken in recent years to counter exclusionary behaviors with increased awareness and serious attempts to change the way government agencies, schools, community groups, NGOs and development organizations perform.

These two books provide the interested and concerned expatriate and Nepali reader, the development worker, the student and others, with a wealth of perspectives and insights on the history of exclusion, and on its socio-cultural, political and policy ramifications. The authors range across the castes and ethnic groups, and include voices of some of the most privileged and the most discriminated groups alike. Together, these two books provide a grand tour of viewpoints and experiences.

It is refreshing to see that 15 of the 17 authors in these two volumes are Nepali scholars; two are European social scientists. The list includes men and women with considerable interest and prior publications on social issues.

The authors of the 2009 volume are Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka, Kristian Stokke and Mohan Das Manandhar; Krishna B. Bhattachan, Yam Bahadur Kisan, Keshari Kansakar and Sita Ghimire; Yogendra Prasad Yadava; and Kamal Maden with Ramjee Kongren and Tanka Maya Limbu. The authors of the 2007 volume are such notables as Harka Gurung, Pushpa Shrestha, Ram Prakash Yadav, Hira Vishwakarma, Kristian Stokke and Keshab Man Shakya. They include a range of PhD researchers, social activists, teachers and development workers.

Between them, the authors discuss the deeper meaning of exclusion, the SIRF program providing opportunities for aspiring Nepali researchers, and include wide ranging and insightful reviews of past research and publications, the nature of inclusive governance, the Janajati movement, Dalit upliftment, participatory democracy, inter-caste marriage, linguistic diversity and the importance of indigenous knowledge of natural biological resources.

These two volumes provide students of society and culture with a solid foundation in the social exclusion/inclusion literature, and are recommended as important additions to our understanding of the dynamics of life in changing Nepal.

Identity and Society, 2009, 154pp, NRs 300; From Exclusion to Inclusion, 2007, 175pp, NRs 200. Both are available at Mandala Bookpoint and other bookstores in Nepal. The reviewer was not involved in the writing, editing or publishing of these two volumes, but he has served as an external reviewer of research proposals submitted to the SIRF program for funding. The books were provided for review by Mandala Bookpoint, on Kantipath, in downtown Kathmandu.