| May 28, 2018

The missing link

The missing link
The tendency to prioritize American and British sociologists has led to the marginalization of noted scholars from other countries
The beginning of Sociology and Anthropology as disciplines in Nepal is often attributed to the likes of Christoph Von Furer Haimendorf, John Hitchcock, Alexander Macdonald and Ernest Gellner, among others. Thus at the outset the respective disciplines were influenced by Anglo-American scholars. Gellner and Macdonald, for instance, greatly influenced the early years of the discipline of sociology and anthropology at Tribhuwan University back in 1970s. And the trend has continued.

However, scholars closer to home had already started doing what these aforementioned gentlemen intended long ago. For example, an Indian scholar, K P Chattopadhyaya, had written about the Newars of Kathmandu Valley, way back in 1923, in The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 19(10). Similarly, writings of KP Jayaswal are also missing in our discourses in Nepali sociology and anthropology. Jayaswal deals with varied themes such as caste among the Guptas in Nepal (1936). Likewise, the writing of Kanchanmoy Majumdar in the 1930s dealt with the Sena Kings of Nepal.

Along with these themes, it is interesting to note that the idea of modernization of Nepal was already being written about in the late 1930s, in works like KP Mitra’s Modernisation of Nepal. Similarly, the writing of Suniti Kumar Chatterji dealt with the Kirats, especially the Rais, and their Indo-Mongoloid categories in 1950s. This is a missing reference in recent works on Rais.  

So why aren’t these works part and parcel of disciplinary discourses in Nepali sociology and anthropology including classroom teaching in universities?  The answer may be our tendency to ape Western scholars and to ignore intellectuals closer home.

How many in Nepal would have heard of Indian (or other fellow South Asian) anthropologists and sociologists beyond the likes of MN Srinivas or GS Ghurey? These two were also only sporadically mentioned when referring to their ideas such as sanskritisation or while dealing with distinctions between castes and tribes.

The tendency to prioritize American and British sociologists have led to the marginalization of not only Indian scholars but also scholars of other nationalities like Danish (Michael Vinding), Japanese (Kawakita Jiro) French (Marc Gaborieau), Italian (Giuseppe Tucci ) and German (Friedrich Funke) among others.

This is not to suggest that the Anglo-American writings should be discarded. But the thrust is to give more diversity to the writings on Nepali society. In this process, one could go for comparative analysis and look at different ways in which Nepali society has been portrayed. For example many scholars have contributed on the cultural entity of Newars. A critical comparative analysis of the writings of KP Chattopadhyaya, Collin Rosser, Gopal Singh Nepali, and Gerard Toffin would bring out many facets of this cultural group.

Further, the absence of regional scholarship in the South Asian academic horizon is an issue of concern. Except for South Asia University (SAU) based in New Delhi, no other university in the region seems devoted to studying South Asia. The sociology department of SAU offers course titled Sociology of South Asia wherein one gets to read about India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. This course refers to a handful of Nepali scholars such as Prayag Raj Sharma, Jagganath Adhikari, Mahendra Lawoti and Ganesh Gurung. The list could be made longer by incorporating more themes including the debate on disciplinary history. Nonetheless this is a good beginning.
But even so the evidence of Nepalis scholars pursuing research in India or for that matter in any other South Asian university is scant. The temptation is to conduct research into one’s native country. However, a look at the records— bibliography complied by Shak Bahadur Budhathoki, Pratyoush Onta and Ramita Maharjan at Martin Chautari, for instance—suggests that scholars from Nepal and India were studying each other in 1970s and 1980s, with some starting even before that.

With this we arrive at the point of interdisciplinary approach to studying Nepali society through regional lenses and those regional scholars making their way into the syllabus of Nepali universities. For instance the writings of TB Subba and Kumar Pradhan could enrich our understanding of being a Nepali even in a de-territorialized context. Also it would be interesting to borrow ideas of regional scholars on various issues from other disciplinary locations. For instance citing the works of Imtiaz Ahmed and Ayesha Siddiqa could help further the idea of development and state.

Therefore, a regional approach (and by extension a non Anglo-American lens) to studying Nepali society and enhancing exchanges among practitioners would help with the institutional growth of sociology and anthropology in Nepal.

The authors are assistant professors at Kathmandu School of Law
Pranab Kharel

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