Accepted Paper:

Making sense of ethnic politics: ethnic experience and expressions in a multi-ethnic Tarai town in eastern Tarai  


Chudamani Basnet (South Asian University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines local people’s identity choices and political preferences in a multiethnic town in eastern Nepal and argues that local people’s identity politics and political preferences are qualitatively different from those of urban ethnic activists and leaders.

Paper long abstract:

Ethnic debate in Nepal has taken a polarizing turn in the aftermath of the recent political change that ushered in a republican order. Types and nature of federal states, in particular, have become the major bone of contention among the ethnic activists and political party leaders. Despite voluminous scholarly as well as activist publications on national and macro issues, little has been said about the ordinary citizens' engagement in ethnic politics in local settings. Based on filed research in a multi-ethnic emerging Tarai town in eastern Nepal, this paper examines how the people a bit far off the national capital make sense of the latest phase of ethnic politics, particularly of the debate surrounding ethnic identity and its derivative ethnic vs. non-ethnic ethnic federal states. It argues that the local people actively use the tropes and idioms of inclusion available in the national politics to make sense out of the current ethnic debate, but the people's ethnic identity expressions and political preferences are powerfully shaped and informed by their lived experience and history. This calls for a greater attention to local power structures and lived experience in analyzing Nepal's contemporary ethnic politics. This paper underscores the fact that in local settings both "ethnic" and "non-ethnic" local leaders from all political persuasions shun polarizing positions and that their positions are qualitatively different from most activist and scholarly accounts of ethnic debate in Nepal.

Panel P037
Comparative ethnography of 'inclusion' in Nepal: discourses, activities, and life-worlds