This is the first of a series of posts on some of the history, politics and current events of Nepal. As I mentioned on Sunday, a lot of stuff is happening in this little country which has a history that the average person probably isn’t aware of (certainly I wasn’t until I became an “honorary” Nepali of sorts). I enjoy writing about Nepali culture, and I think this topic is relevant as well. I don’t think it veers too far astray from my main theme of intercultural relationships… I mean, isn’t it nice to have some holistic knowledge of your partner’s home?
I also want to give the disclaimer that I am not, by any means, an expert on Nepali history or politics. I will definitely make a point to talk to people who know far more than I and look up additional resources, but feel free to call me out if something doesn’t sound right or if you disagree, or vice versa. I mean, that is what the comments section is for anyway, right?
So where to start? Tonight P and I went to AS and N’s place for dinner. Inspired by an Indian dinner we had a few nights ago, AS and I rolled out homemade tasty spicy aloo (potato) paratha and fresh tomato achar, and over dinner I tried to pick N’s brain about Nepali politics. His dad is a prominent politician back home, and N’s life has been surrounded by politics. Whether he likes it or not he is a politico at heart.
What I secretly wanted was for him to sit down and give me a nice neat intro to Nepali politics and history. I said to him, “pretend I know nothing about the country and we are planning to meet for coffee, what could you tell me in 15 minutes that would give me a very brief general context for what is happening now?” (as if any political situation can be summed up like this… fat chance…)
“That is impossible” he said, “everything is so interconnected and complicated. Where would I begin?” So we spent the reminder of dinner going back and forth about some of the larger issues, but I still don’t think it is what I needed for my introduction.
So I guess I’ll start with this: Nepal has a long history of conflict. Whether the conflict stems from forced Hinduization, or caste struggles, or land reform, the past several hundred years have been a cycle of various conflicts and power struggles culminating in the “People’s War” from 1996-2006 which might just be in the process of rekindling. I guess one could argue that continuing conflict is common in many countries around the world, so perhaps Nepal is not so unique. Fair enough, but in our situation I know that conflict in Nepal has hit a lot closer to home for P’s family (riots, power cuts, strikes, burning tires, blockades of the city, etc) than it ever has for me in the United States.
Modern Nepali history begins around 1768 with the formation of the Nepali state and the institution of the first Shah king, Prithvi Narayan Shah, who conquered the peoples of the Kathmandu Valley. Under the king, and within 40 years of the king’s death, his Gurkhas (warriors from Gorkha) had expanded the borders of the kingdom beyond the present day borders of Nepal into large regions of northern India. Unfortunately, around 1814 the British East India Company was gaining strength in the region to the south, and the Gurkha had to engage the Company on multiple occasions to keep the kingdom’s autonomy. Although Nepal proper was never colonized, a peace treaty with the Company in 1816 led to the shrinking of Nepal’s borders to their present day position. The failure to protect all of Nepal from western seizure caused much political turmoil for the monarchy, leading the Rana family to usurp power from the ancestral line of kings in 1846 and caused the monarchy to be nothing more than figure heads for the next one hundred and four years.
On a side note, the Gurkha became famous for their fierce fighting and courage. Although the British didn’t colonize Nepal, they did create a “Gurkha” division in the British army which still exists to this day. You can learn more about the Gurkha’s HERE and also read about their recently won campaign to give retired Gurkha soldiers immigration rights to the UK HERE.