Advocate and Sociologist, NepalLaxman Lamichhane originally hails from Kavrepalanchowk district and is now pursuing Master of Laws (LL.M.) in International Human Rights Law from the Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He also has obtained Masters degree in Anthropology from Purbanchal University, Nepal.
Mr. Lamichane is keenly interested in academic and research endeavors. His areas of research interest are law, governance, gender, human rights and socio-cultural issues. By profession, he is an Advocate and also teaches sociology at different Kathmandu based educational institutions.
Sujit Sharma for The Telegraph Weekly and its online edition telegraphnepal.com interviewed this young yet polite scholar on several contemporary issues of Nepal in particular and South Asia in general.
Below the excerpts of this exclusive interview: Chief Editor.
TQ1. Some prominent sociologists of Nepal have been claiming that Nepali society has already detached itself from the feudal social order and the capitalization of Nepali society has already begun. But on the contrary, several feudal practices like witchcraft belief, animism, excessive belief on the supernatural forces etc, are still dominantly prevalent among the Nepali population. Can you shed some more lights on these contradictory phenomenons? Do you think that Nepali society is no more a semi-feudal state, as claimed by the Communist Parties of Nepal?
Lamichane: Generally, many of us see the world in terms of familiar features of our own lives. We are all influenced by the social contexts in which we find ourselves. Well, it equally applies in case of sociologists also. The issue raised here is contradictory in itself as you have said because reality has no single dimension but multiple facets and need to be interpreted and understood accordingly. There is a dominant view in social science and especially in sociology that the reality cannot be understood in a singular way. If so then that becomes only a partial view. So, revealing the reality is something tough job definitely.
The sociologists who claim that the Nepali society has crossed the era of feudal social order and insisted the capitalization, have a different 'stand point' rooted in political-economy rather than socio-cultural ground and partially valid. And they see all forms of socio-cultural relationships as super-structure based on economy and call it as infrastructure of the society where means and mode of productions determine everything. But for me it is quite different and I equally believe that the socio-cultural and environmental factors play key roles in shaping any social order i.e. both structure of society and its functioning aspect, despite of economy. In this way human being are the construct of the same social structure and should be viewed in this light rather than bare economic being.
As we know that the religion, customs, traditions and belief systems are some major ingredients of culture as a whole. These elements have vital role in our life as they provide values and norms for us to speak, act and think and to live a whole round of life. Sometimes they are also called non-material culture and do not change easily because they are ideational-exists in people's mind and super-organic. Materials that we use and consume are highly influenced and created on the basis of non-material culture which changes rapidly and called material culture. For example, we may change our dressing styles without any difficulties but to change our attitudes and behaviors needs great effort. Here lies the core aspect of culture which seems easy going and rigid at the same time.
When we talk about Nepali society, it must not be forgotten that we are socialized in the society having full of superstitious values, inhumane practices and belief systems which endure for generations. Despite of being inhumane, we perceive them as "taken for granted" or natural phenomenon until and unless we encounter other value systems and do not come across with different culture with more human values. Education is that major means which provides us with opportunities to learn the core human values, principles and practices adopted by the civilized societies. In Nepal also many communities are still living with social stigmas such as witchcraft, animism, and strong belief in supernatural power because they lack the scientific knowledge of how to deal with particular problem. Meanwhile they may be less aware of what are they doing and its consequences. So, we can reduce such inhuman practices and beliefs gradually through education and making people aware about their rights and duties.
Taken all these into consideration, I don't think that Nepal has stepped forward from the semi-feudal state but still need a 'great-leap-forward' as told by communist parties of Nepal. How it can be claimed that Nepal as capitalist state where majority of the people have to rely on subsistence economy and the role of landlords have not decreased at all? Throwing monarchy does not necessarily mean that we got capitalism and all social relations become equitable.
TQ2. It is widely believed that the gap that existed between the ruling class and the laymen is further widening due to which Nepali society has yet not been democratized-speaking in a true sense. Mr. Lamichhane! do you agree with this school of thought? Can you please justify your arguments with convincing logic?
Lamichane: I strongly agree with this school of thought. It is evident that the gap between the ruling class and the general people or the ruled-ones is widening further as Nepal lacks institutional reforms with the introduction of democracy. We have failed to develop and maintain transparent and accountable institutions towards the people though it is named as democracy. As we know that the democracy is the representative system of governance where people from each and every milieu of social lives should get an opportunity to get represented and participate in. Despite of diversified society, people from different backgrounds have not realized the fruits of development yet and no access in decision making bodies of the state. They are not listened and their major problems associated with subsistence and developments are not addressed with adequately. Issues of marginalized and minority group seek proper address. The quest of inclusion is more limited in lip service rather than in action.
This argument can be supported by various data relating to the living standard and the quality of the life of people. If we see the position of Nepal in Human Development Report 2011, its rank is 157 (HDR, 2011, Statistical Annex p. 126) which is the lowest in the SAARC region. It proves that the resources of the state are in the hold of very few handful and ruling elites only. Nepali economy largely depends on Foreign aid. But foreign aid in supporting the upper class in their interest can have a number of important consequences for the recipient society (Mishra: 2007 p.174). He further adds that it can seriously distort the national scheme of priorities, sharpen the contradiction between upper class and the underclass, create an imperative for a larger dosage of foreign aid- if only to postpone a resolution to the contradiction (Ibid).
The report of household survey 2010/11 shows that the nominal per capita income of poorest 20% people is NRs. 15,888 whereas the richest 20% is 94,149 (CBS: NEPAL LIVING STANDARDS SURVEY 2010/11 STATISTICAL REPORT VOLUME TWO p.43).
TQ3. It is reported that the former combatants of the Unified Maoist, those undergoing through rehabilitation, were detached from the mainstream Nepali society during a decade long armed insurgency. Do you think former combatants would be able to making readjustments in their community? Does it help to reconcile with the new conditions and further for having lasting peace? Your opinions please!
Lamichane: Most reviews of "Maoist Conflict" in Nepal have tended to locate the causes of the struggle exclusively within specific features of Nepal's history, polity, economy and culture (Mishra: 2007 p. 88). Conflict always creates havoc in society followed by trauma. People who do believe in war and strength of weapon have largely ignored the beauty of human life and integrity of people. History shows that war is waged due to the ego of rulers and the rebellions and fought to suppress each other's ego. In the name of people, warlords have tended to fulfill their own vested interest. There could be no justification of war though parties involved in it try to do so.
In case of Nepal, the former Maoist combatants who took part in insurgency, were detached from the mainstream Nepali society, and now are undergoing through rehabilitation process. Now it is no more a secret that they were also motivated and mobilized via multiple factors. Fake dreams/assurances were shown/given to them that they will be liberated and get their due share if they could defeat their class enemy. The decade long insurgency took lives of thousands of innocent people. Hundreds have been disappeared during the insurgency and their knowhow should be disclosed. The question of their readjustment in their community and lasting peace largely depends on the truth telling and reconciliation process that reveals about the facts of the past which have not come to us yet and trying to be concealed. It should come before the community so that they could know the reality why they were victimized, by whom and with what intention? Perpetrators and the guilty individuals must confess their guilt and should seek to win the confidence of people that they want to live a social life and wish to walk together. This only can ensure community of their reconciliation.
TQ4. Several media reports have revealed that the western countries including Scandinavian, West European and the US are backstopping ethnic based federal structure in Nepal. Why these friendlier nations of Nepal are attracted towards the complex ethnic composition of this Himalayan nation that was once a beautifully harmonized national society? If yes, why?
Lamichane: We are living in the global age as nothing could remain in isolation. Developed and rich countries have influence in global politics since they have adopted the development and democracy as their strategy to extend their access in underdeveloped countries via foreign aid mechanism. These countries are interested to promote ethnic based federalism because they think that individual liberty should get first place among others and it is only possible when one's identity is well recognized. We can see the direct and indirect role of these countries in promoting identity politics in Nepal which could be managed in other ways and not impossible also. While blaming Pahade Rastrabad (hill nationhood), we must not ignore the history which has its own course guided by the need of the time. Now we are in very crucial stage of history since the Nepali nationalism is at the cross road. The situation demands more cautious action in order to maintain the social fabric among different communities of Nepal.
TQ5. The vibrant functioning of Arab League, European Union (EU) and ASEAN has showed that the relevance of regionalism or regional integration still prevails around the world. But the South Asian countries have so far have not succeeded in making substantial combined efforts for the overall benefit of this region. Mr. Lamichhane! What might be the cause of this situation?
Lamichane: Definitely these regional organizations are vibrant and have succeeded in their mission too. It is good that regional integration also contributing towards the global peace and harmony. If we have motivation with common interest then cooperation is possible to achieve such goals. There should be respect for individual identity within a group which furthers integration. But unfortunately in case of South Asian countries, it seems some problematic as SAARC is its lively example. India as a regional power has excessive influence in this organization. The tensed relation between India and Pakistan is another major cause of malfunctioning of SAARC. The factors of motivation to the member countries of SAARC vary and largely depend on their geo-political conditioning. Since the establishment of SAARC, the situation has changed a lot and the ties with global forces became indispensable. So member states of SAARC should review and redefine their interests and priorities in the light of evolving needs rather than their own perceived need and future challenges which can only secure its position as a regional force.
The SAARC can be rejuvenated if member states could overcome their narrow and self centered interests and develop a new relationship based on mutual understanding and regional benefit.
Exclusive for telegraphnepal.com and Telegraph Weekly.