Accepted paper:

The rebellion in the shadow of a Maoist revolution: urban activist practices of the Kamaiya Movement in the western lowland of Nepal


Michael Hoffmann (ZIRS/University of Halle)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses history and activist practices of the freed Kamaiya movement, a large landless-movement in the western lowlands of Nepal.

Paper long abstract:

Long gone before the occupy movement, former bonded labourers occupied and squatted en masse public terrain in urban centres of the western lowland of Nepal in the shadow of the Maoist Revolution. This paper examines the history and activist practices of this Kamaiya movement, paying close attention to Maoist attitudes towards different Kamaiya organizations. I argue that the Maoists' policy regarding such organizations provided political conditions that benefitted the growth of ist current frontrunner FKS (Freed Kamaiya Society) but were detrimental to its previous movement leader BASE (Backward Education Society). As a result, the Freed Kamaiya Society emerged as a powerful grassroots movement among ex-debt bonded labourers. I further examine the FKS's organizational practices and structure, before giving detailed ethnographic descriptions of two mass protests undertaken by the FKS in 2009. I go on to argue that these represent rituals of confrontation with the state that are intended to make the local government more responsive to the demands of the FKS. As I further explain, however, they are also emblematic of a struggle for visibility. I further show how this struggle against the state is experienced and comprehended by its participants. Finally, I suggest that the FKS confrontation with local state bodies resonates with the broader CPN Maoist aim of reforming the local state, but while there is an overlap of interests, both struggles discussed here are seen as operating separately.

panel P084
The worldwide urban mobilizations: conundrums of 'democracy', 'the middle class' and 'the people'. Supported by Focaal and the IUAES Commission on Global Transformation and Marxian Anthropology