Essay on Ethnicity: Analysis of Ethnic Movements in Nepal

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Background of the Study

The term 'society' came from the Latin word societas, which in turn was derived from the noun socius ('comrade, friend, ally'; adjectival form socialis) used to describe a bond or interaction between parties that are friendly, or at least civil. Without an article, the term can refer to the entirety of humanity (also: 'society in general, 'society at large, etc.), although those who are unfriendly or uncivil to the remainder of society in this sense may be deemed to be 'antisocial. In abstract terms, society is defined as a network of relationships between people or between groups of people. Maclver(1937) defined it in more or less the same terms as the “web of social relations which is always changing”( Maclver, 1937). Furthermore, Scottish economist, Adam Smith describes society as 'may subsist among different men, as among different merchants, from a sense of its utility without any mutual love or affection, if only they refrain from doing injury to each other” (Briggs,2014). Human society is, as Comte declared, an extremely complex phenomenon. The scientific study of social phenomena is impossible without specialization. But it seems more difficult than in the study of the natural world to arrive at a satisfactory division of the subject's easily perceptible features; e.g. political, economic, religious, and family institutions. With the advent of sociology, this division was implicitly challenged, but it has nevertheless been reproduced to some extent within sociology itself (Bottomore,2010).

The concept of ethnicity is the reflections on the nature of ethnic groups are twofold: Firstly, what characteristics are markers of ethnic groups, and secondly, are those characteristics relatively fixed, i.e. primordial, or subject to human agency, i.e. constructed (Cartrite,2003) Ethnic identity and ethnic movements are not new phenomena. Developed and developing countries are equally sensing the challenges of ethnic political movements..The term ethnicity is derived from the Greek word 'ethnos' normally translated as 'people' or 'tribe' (Yadav, 2009). The dominant sociological approach to ethnicity has long taken the form of straight-line theory, in which acculturation and assimilation of social and cultural attributes such as language, religion, custom, food, music and beliefs are viewed as secular trends that culminate in the eventual absorption of the ethnic group into the larger culture and general population(Gans, 1979). Ethnicity is an important means of identifying people. There is no common understanding on what ethnicity is about and what are the distinct differences among ethnicity, race and communalism.

The definition of ethnicity has been used in different ways, depending on the context, in both academic and practical levels. Many Scholars follow wider usage in considering ethnic groups to be minorities (Gellner, 1997). However Max Weber (1961), previously elaborated the term 'ethnicity'withimplicationofseveraldimensions. These include a common sense of descent that extends beyond family background, political solidarity with other groups, common customs, language, religion, values, morality, and etiquette. However, empirical operationalizations do not appear related to this and other explications; in addition, only single rather than multiple indicators are used(Weber,1961 ). Further than Weber, Barth stressed the constructed nature of ethnicity and elaborated it in subtly. Using the variety of indicators he defines ethnicity may indicate a number of disagreements about the nature of ethnicity. A basic disagreement is between an 'objectivist' and a 'subjectivist' perspective. (Barth,1998). Yinger (1997) believed that an ethical group is a segment of a larger society whose members are believed to have a common origin, share important segments of a common culture, and participate in shared activities in which the common origin and culture are important ingredients. Looking at the above points, we might say that ethnic identity refers to the ethnic group with which an individual is most closely associated through culture, origin, language, and other partners. Ethnic identity is a complex and multifaceted part of the development of an individual. Ethnicity refers not only to physical characteristics but also to cultural characteristics. Varshney (2002) discusses the two distinct ways in which the term “ethnic” is used. He argues

In its narrow sense, “ethnic means “racial” or “linguistic.” This is the sense in which the term is widely understood in popular discourse, both in India and elsewhere. For example, for politics and conflict based on religious groupings, such as Hindus and Muslims, Indian scholars, as well as bureaucrats and politicians since the British days, have used the term “communal,” not ethnic. There is however a second sense in which ethnic groups are defined in the social sciences. This usage is broader in its implication. As Horowitz argues, all conflicts based on accretive group identities- race, language, religion, tribe, or caste- can be called ethnic. In this umbrella usage, ethnic conflicts range from 1) the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland and Hindu –the Muslim conflict in India to 2) black white conflict in the United States and South Africa, 3) Tamil- the Sinhala conflict in Sri Lanka, and 4) Shia-Sunni troubles in Pakistan. In the narrower construction of term, 1) is religious, 2) racial, 3) linguistic, (4) sectarian. The term “ethnic” often in the past would have been reserved for the second and third but not extended to the first and the fourth (p. 4).

The larger meaning is increasingly becoming the standard meaning in social science even if it is still not agreed on in activism and politics. Ethnicity is simply the larger set of subsets to which religion, race, language and sect belong (Varshney, 2002).

Jonathan M. Hall observes World War II was a turning point in ethnic studies. The consequences of Nazi racism discouraged essentialist interpretations of ethnic groups and race. Ethnic groups came to be defined as social rather than as biological entities. Their consistency was attributed to shared myths, descent, kinship, common origin, language, religion, customs, and national character. Ethnic groups are therefore conceived as being mutable rather than stable, built in discursive practices rather than in genes (Hall, 2002).

Different approaches have been used by different scholars in defining ethnicity. Different social scientists when trying to understand the nature of ethnicity as a factor in human life and society, different approaches have come. In their opinion, many scholars are divided on how ethnic identity is formed and why it persists. Anthropological theories of ethnicity can be grouped into three basic categories: Primordialist theories, Instrumentalist theories, and Constructivist theories. These theories broadly reflect changes in anthropology approach over the past 20 years, i.e. the shift from theories of cultural evolution to structural-functional theories, to theories of conflict, and finally to postmodern theories.

Table 1 - Three Basic Approaches to Understanding Ethnicity

  • Perspective
  • Description
  • Primordialist Theories
  • Ethnic identity is a biologically given or natural phenomenon. ethnicity is fixed at birth and permanent
  • Instrumental Theories
  • Ethnicity relies on the purely instrumental use of ethnic identity for political or economic purposes.
  • Constructivist Theories

It holds that ethnic groups are only products of human social interaction, maintained only in so far as they are maintained as valid social constructs in societies. It is therefore fluid and subjective.

Source: Modified from (Phadnis & Ganguly, 2001; Yadav, 2009).

Ethnic movements and Social Inclusion

Any launched campaign and movement aimed at bringing about changes in the existing status of ethnic groups and communities is called an ethnic movement. An ethnic movement's target may vary depending on its objectives, which may include improving minority group status, influencing policy, or demanding independence. In any area of ethnic communities such as language, the anticipated change in the ethnic movement would be; culture; identity; representation. Methods of ethnic movements also vary from place to place. Whereas, social inclusion is the act of making all groups of people within a society feel valued and important. It can be taken as the process of improving the term for individuals and groups to take part in society. Social inclusion is aimed at empowering poor and marginalized people to exploit the rapidly growing opportunities of the world. It ensures that individuals have a voice in decisions that affect their lives and enjoy equal access to markets, services, and political, social, and physical spacesSocial inclusion refers to removing institutional barriers and enhancing incentives to increase access to development opportunities for various individuals and groups. Social inclusion requires changes in policies, rules and social practices and shifts in the perspectives and behavior of people toward excluded groups (Aditya, 2007). The key areas to be prepared in this regard are: the inclusion of friendly administrative structures, laws and policies, political engagement along with changes in the thinking process from self-centered to equity and rights-based (Aditya, 2007).

Social inclusion is a broad term and encompasses several concepts. According to a definition given by the World Bank, social inclusion “is the process of improving the terms on which individuals and groups take part in society—improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged on the basis of their identity” ( Das, 2013).

Alternatively, Social exclusion is the process in which individuals or people are systematically blocked from (or denied full access to) various rights, opportunities, and resources that are normally available to members of a different group, and which are fundamental to social integration and observance of human rights within that particular group (Walsh, 2006).

Social inclusion is a process through which efforts are made to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities. The multidimensional process aimed at creating conditions that enable every member of society to participate fully and actively in all aspects of life, including civic, social, economic and political activities, as well as participation in decision-making processes. Social inclusion can also be seen as the process through which societies are fighting poverty and social exclusion. Social inclusion is aimed at empowering poor and marginalized people to exploit the burgeoning opportunities of the world. It ensures that individuals have a voice in decisions affecting their lives and enjoy equal access to markets, services and political, social and physical spaces (ICT, 2015)

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In ethnicity discourse, ethnicity and social inclusion often come together. There are different arguments about what social inclusion is and how it relates to ethnicity. The purpose of promoting or resisting social change is to enact ethnic movements. An ethnic movement's target may vary depending on its objectives, which may include improving minority group status, influencing policy, or demanding independence. According to some scholars, social inclusion is multidimensional and addressing one aspect does not necessarily address the essence of social inclusion. It is a meaningful and institutional arrangement to integrate marginalized and unheard sections of society into the decision-making process at the national level. It is therefore closely related to decision-making, power practices and resource access and control. Aditya (2007) considered that inclusiveness essentially means creating opportunities in the governance system for a section of society. It also means creating opportunities for social and economic development, especially for the deprived class (Aditya, 2007). Bhattacharya (2007) viewed that symbolic representation and one time appointments don’t carry the essence of inclusion though it has been referred and pointed out accordingly in the context of Nepal. Close relationships have been found across the world between social inclusion and ethnic movements (Yadav, 2009). In the case of Nepal, too, most ethnic movements are closely linked to social inclusion issues.

1.2. Statement of the problem

There is a quite unique history of the construction of ethnicity in Nepal. The ruling class always tended toward some other ethnic groups, and thus there was internal colonization that built race as an ethnicity based on the Hindu caste system dominant in Hinduism (Pokhrel, 2011). The culture of people is transmitted from one generation to another through the means of language however language of ethnic groups has been ignored by the state itself. As per the 2001 census, 92 languages are spoken in Nepal. These languages belong to four language families: The Dravidian language family; The Austroasiatic language family; The Sino- Tibetan language family; Indo-European language family (Kunwar, 1996). Language has also played a crucial role in the formation of ethnicity as Nepalisation of the language i.e. one nation one language Nepali, and people having another mother tongue than Nepali deprived from the opportunities and corners as an ethnic group.

With the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990, ethnic groups and Dalits aspired to a democratic and plural society. The 1990 Constitution declared Nepal a multi-ethnic and multilingual Hindu constitutional monarchical kingdom, granted all citizens equal rights, and banned all forms of discrimination based on religion, sex, race, caste, or ethnicity.It also recognized other languages of different communities as national languages. But democratic participation discourses contrast sharply with existing disparities (Upadhyaya, 2013). Nepalese ethnic movements have been tilted toward instrumentalism, according to scholars, in contemporary Nepali society, ethnic racialization has a political purpose, and psychological and cultural strategies have been adopted to accommodate and resist differences (Pokhrel, 2011).

The active involvement of ethnic organizations in the 1990 people's movement showed their concern not only about the political system but also about socio-political changes and economic participation. As noted above, the 1990 political movement and the political changes it brought with it cultivated awareness among ethnic groups and thus formed organizations 'to preserve their cultural identity and fight for equal rights and participation in the state of Nepal' (Kraemer, 2007). Following the formation of Nepal as a republic state, ethnic groups are aware of their rights and are active in reinterpreting and rewriting history based on the idea of race, language, religion and territory. There is a great role of many scholars as they create awareness on ethnic communities and mobilization of ethnic leaders for the inclusion of ethnic communities. Increased political participation of ethnic communities in newly restored democratic systems in 1990 and post-1990 and self-conscious ethnic community forced the state to bring about changes in the structure of the state, thus making the structure of the state inclusive. The global concept of human rights, media, democratic values, and civil society system and role compel the state to provide positive action to marginalized individuals and groups excluded. However, most ethnic leaders still claim that ethnic groups are discriminated against, marginalized, and excluded. This study focused on how Nepal's ethical movements contributed to institutionalizing social inclusion practices in Nepal in this context.

1.3. Research Questions

The following research questions will guide this study

  • What are the agendas of ethnic movements in Nepal?
  • How have the ethnic movements influenced social inclusion practices?
  • How do ethnic movements contribute in institutionalizing social inclusion practices?

1.4. Objectives of the study

  • General Objective

The overall objective of the research is to assess the relationship between Nepalese ethnic movements and their impact on institutionalizing social inclusion practices in Nepal.

  • Specific objectives

The specific objectives are;

  • To assess the issues and agendas of ethnic movements in Nepal in respect to social inclusion.
  • To analyze the role of ethnic movements in social inclusion at the policy and practice levels.

1.5. Justification of the Study

The idea to do a thesis on this topic came into being due to the ongoing interest of the researcher to understand Nepal's ethnic issues and beyond. Particularly after 2006, caste and ethnic polarization increased. Given the circumstances of so-called high caste people, the exclusion and marginalization of ethnic communities have been blamed, whereas so-called high caste people have not accepted it, thereby contributing to the widening of animosity between different castes, communities, and ethnic groups. Ethnic/communal violence is likely to erupt in the near future if the current growing trend of ethnic / caste polarization continues to be the same and ethnicity politicization continues. Against this background, this research creates an opportunity to assess whether ethnic movements are intended solely to address ethnic issues or are intended to capitalize on ethnic sentiments for other purposes. Therefore, the research may provide a new direction in addressing long-standing ethnic issues and movements.

1.6. Conceptual Framework

Ethnic movements and activism will be taken as a point of view for research during the period from 1990 to 2012. The inclusion perspective will evaluate ethnic activism and movements on it and the major milestone set out thereafter. To be precise, how ethnic movements have contributed to institutionalizing the country's practice of social inclusion; what are the main agendas of ethnic movements; what the contributing factors in Nepal's ethnic movements will be evaluated and interpreted within the scope of the research goal.

(Ethnic Movements in Nepal

-Agendas of ethnic movements

-Key factors contributing to social inclusion practices

How ethnic movements contributed to institutionalizing social inclusion practices)

Source: Modified from (Tamang, 2015; Varshney, 2002; Aditya, 2007)

1.7. Organization of the Study

The report is organized into various chapters altogether five. The first chapter basically contains the background of the study, a statement of the problem, research questions, objectives, justification of the study, and the conceptual framework of the study. The second chapter deals with the available literature on the concerned topic by scholars, institutions, and organizations. The third chapter discusses the research methodology followed to carry out the study. The fourth chapter presents the interpretation and analysis of the data. The final chapter contains the findings and summary of the study.

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Essay on Ethnicity: Analysis of Ethnic Movements in Nepal. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
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