Caste system in Nepal

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The Nepalese caste system is complex and continues the traditional system of social stratification of Nepal. The caste system defines social classes by a number of hierarchical endogamous groups often termed as Jāt. This custom was previously only prevalent in the societies of the Khas, Newar, Madhesi. However, since the unification of Nepal in the 18th century, Nepal's various indigenous tribes have been incorporated within the caste hierarchy level. Nepalese caste system broadly borrows the classical Chaturvarnashram model consisting of four broad social classes or varna: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra. The ethnic indigenous groups do not belong to this caste system.

Traditional Caste System[edit]

Caste - Origin Hill Hindu Groups / Khas or Parbatiyas[edit]

The social structure of caste-origin Hill Hindu or Khas groups is simple, reflecting only three groups in hierarchy and there is no four Varna (color) within this category. The mother tongue of these groups is Nepali. The CBS, 2001 recorded only 9 groups in the caste-origin Hill Hindu groups.[1]

High caste Hindu groups: Bahun, Thakuri and Chhetri
Middle caste Hindu group: Sanyasi
Low caste Hindu groups or Dalits: Kami, Sarki, Damai, Badi and Gaine

Caste - Origin Terai Hindu Groups / Madhesiyas[edit]

The social structure of the caste-origin Tarai Hindu groups is complex, reflecting four Varna groups with distinct hierarchical structure within them. These various cultural groups belong to four distinct language groups: Maithili, Bajika, Bhojpuri, and Awadhi. The CBS, 2001 recorded 43 caste-origin Hindu groups in the Tarai.[1]

Brahmin (Maithil Brahmin, Bhumihar)
Rajput (including Kayastha)
Vaisya (Yadav, Halwai, Hajam, Sunar, Lohar, Rajbhar and others)
Sudra or untouchable (Tatma, Bantar, Musahar, Chamar, Dom and others)

Nepal Mandala or Newars[edit]

The case of Newar is exceptional. This group not only presents the complicated social structure among all groups in Nepal, truly reflecting the model of four Hindu Varna categories and is clearly divided into two distinct religious groups: the Hindu and the Buddhist. Newars are divided internally into distinct cultural groups of over 30 occupational caste categories, though they share a common language (mother-tongue) Nepal Bhasa.[1]

Hindu Buddhist
Priestly caste: Rajopadhyaya Brahmans Bajracharya/Gubhaju or Shakya
Nobility/High-caste: Chhathariya Srēṣṭhas
Traders/High-caste: Pāñcthariya (Shrestha and others) Uray (Tuladhar and others)
Occupational-caste: Jyapu and other castes Manandhar and other small castes
Low-caste or untouchable: Jogi, Khadgi, Pode, Chama:khala

Muluki Ain (1854)[edit]

The Nepali civil code Muluki Ain (1854) was written by Jang Bahadur Rana after his European tour. It codified social codes in practice for several centuries in Nepal that was rooted in Vyavahāra (traditional Hindu legal procedure), Prāyaścitta (avoidance and removal of sin) and Ācāra (the customary law of different castes and communities). A traditional Hindu king was duty-bound to put these precepts into practice.[2]

Hierarchies of Major Caste/Ethnic Groups in Nepal according to Muluki Ain (1854):

Caste Division Caste and Ethnic Groups
"Tagadhari" (Wearers of the Holy Thread) Khas - Brahmin, Thakuri, Chhetri; Newar - Brahman and Chathariya Srēṣṭhas; Terai - Brahmin and Kshatriya castes.
"Namasinya Matwali" (Non-enslavable Alcohol Drinkers) various Newar castes, and 'Gurkha' tribes - Magar, Gurung, Rai, Sunuwar, Limbu.
"Masinya Matwali" (Enslavable Alcohol Drinkers) Tamang, Chepang, Kumal, Sherpa, Thakali, Tharu, Gharti, etc.
"Pani Na Chalne" (Impure but touchable) Newar lower occupational castes - Jogi, Kasain, Khadgi, etc.

Muslims and Europeans.

"Untouchable" Khas occupational castes - Kami, Sarki, Damai, Badi, Gaine, etc.

Terai occupational castes - Dhobi, Halkhor, Chamar, Dushad, Dom, Musahars, etc.

Newar lowest occupational castes - Kulu, Pode, Chyame, etc.

The social values preached by the Muluki Ain, however, were providing restrictive, anachronic and out of step with the spirit of times. These values were seen as a potent instrument of Rana political repression. After the Rana regime, caste rules relating to food, drink and intercaste marriage were openly louted but the Muluki Ain had not been abrogated.[3] In 1963, Legal Code was replaced by New 1954 Legal Code. The legal recognition to caste and all the discriminatory laws made on the grounds of caste were ceased.

Four Varnas in Nepal[edit]

Brahmin[edit]

Brahman is a colloquial Khas language Brahmin caste, who are traditionally priests, educators, scholars and preachers of Hinduism. By tradition and by civil law until 1962— they represented the highest of the four Hindu varna or castes.

यज्ञवेदी

This 1st varna includes Maithil Brahmin, Khas Brahmins or 'Bahuns' and Rajopadhyaya or 'Dhyo Brahman' people forming the Brahmin varna of the Hindu varna system वर्णराश्रम पद्धति, consisting of people who were traditionally Vedic priests, scholars and educators.[4]

The Brahmin castes may be broadly divided into two regional groups: Pancha-Gauda Brahmins and Pancha-Dravida Brahmins as per the shloka, however this shloka is from Rajatarangini of Kalhana which was composed only in 11th CE and many communities find their traces from sages mentioned in much older Vedas and puranas.

कर्णाटकाश्च तैलंगा द्राविडा महाराष्ट्रकाः,
गुर्जराश्चेति पञ्चैव द्राविडा विन्ध्यदक्षिणे

सारस्वताः कान्यकुब्जा गौडा उत्कलमैथिलाः,
पन्चगौडा इति ख्याता विन्ध्स्योत्तरवासि

The Khas-Brahmin community form a major chunk of the community of Nepal. They moved eastward along Xinxiang province of China, the Western Tibet, the himalayan foothills from Kashmir and Kumaon/Garwal. They settled first in the Karnali River basin, then the Gandaki. finally the Kosi basin as well as into Sikkim and Bhutan

Family names of the Khas Brahmin[edit]

  • A अ - Acharya (आचार्य), Arjel (अर्जेल)/Arjyal (अर्ज्याल)/Aryal (अर्याल), Awasthi(अवस्थी), Adhikari(अधिकारी) by caste and not title (some with last name Adhikari are Chettris)
  • Ā आ - Atreya (आत्रेय), Arya(आर्या)
  • B ब - Banskota (बास्कोटा), Bidari, Baral
  • Be बे - Belbase (बेलबासे)
  • Bh भ - Bhatta (भट्ट), Bhattarai (भट्टराई), Bhusal (भुसाल), Bhurtel (भुर्तेल), Bhandari
  • Ch च - Chalise (चालिसे), Chapagain (चापगाईँ), Chamlagain (चम्लगाँई )
  • D द - Dawadi (दवाडी), Dahal (दाहाल),Devkota (देवकोटा), Dev (देव)
  • Dh ढ - Dhakal (ढकाल), Dhungel (ढुंगेल)
  • G ग - Gaudel (गौडेल), Gautam (गौतम), Guragain/Gurangain (गुरागाईँ), Gyanwali (ज्ञवाली), Gaire (गैरे), Giri
  • Gh घ - Ghimire (घिमिरे)
  • H ह - Humagai (हुमागाई)
  • J ज - Joshi(जोशी), Jha
  • K क - Kafle (कफ्ले/काफ्ले), Koirala (कोइराला)
  • Kh ख - Khanal (खनाल), Khatiwada (खतिवडा), Khakurel (खकुरेल)
  • L ल- Lamsal(लम्साल), Lohani (लोहनी), Lamichhane(लामिछाने)
  • M म- Mainali(मैनाली)
  • N न- Nepal (नेपाल), Nyaupane (न्यौपाने), Neupane (नेउपाने), Niraula (निरौला)
  • P प - Parajuli(पराजुली), Pageni (पंगेनी),Pandey, Pandit (पण्डित), Pant (पन्त), Pathak (पाठक), Pokhrel/Pokharel (पोखरेल), Phuyal, Paudyal (पौड्याल)/Poudyal/Paudel (पौडेल), Pudasiani (पुडासैनी), Panthee, Paneru, Pyakuryal (प्याकुर्‍याल)
  • R र - Regmi (रेग्मी), Rijal (रिजाल), Rimal (रिमाल), Risal
  • S स - Silwal, Sapkota (सापकोटा), Subedi (सुवेदी), Sharma (शर्मा)
  • T त - Timilsina (तिमल्सेना), Tiwari (तिवारी), Tripathi (त्रिपाठी), Thatal(ठटाल)
  • U उ - Upadhyaya (उपाध्याय), Uprety (उप्रेती)

Very often, Khas Bahuns can be identified by their middle names being Dev (देव), Nath (नाथ), Mani (मणि), Raj (राज), Prasad (प्रसाद), Devi (देवी). They never use bahadur (बहादुर) as their middle names because it is associated mainly with Chhetris (Kshatriya) and "martial tribes".

Kshatriya[edit]

The 2nd varna includes Khas-Chhetri people, mainly traditional soldiers and administrators.

The 'Chathariya Shrēṣṭha' are the descendants of Malla rulers, nobles, and courtiers, considered as Kshatriyas of Newar community.

There are many Kshatriya castes living in the Nepalese Terai, including Rajputs, Thakur, Kayastha, etc.

Vaishya[edit]

The 3rd varna includes people from the Vaishya varna, mainly merchants, farmers, cattle-herders and artisans.

Khas ethnicity does not have Vaishya castes.

Newar community's various Vaishya castes include hereditary commercial, mercantile, and crafts castes.

Terai community's various Vaishya castes include hereditary castes including, Yadav, Halwai, Sahu, etc.

Sudra[edit]

The 4th varna includes people from the Sudradamai varna, mainly laborers, artisans and service providers.

Traditional musical instruments played at weddings

The caste engaged in sewing clothing is called Suchikar (सुचिकार)or Sujikar (सुजिकार). Those who play musical instruments like damau (damaha, दमाहा), hudko, and devbaja[5] – particularly in wedding processions—are referred to as damai (दमाइ), dholi ढोली, hudke (हुड्के), nagarchi (नगर्ची) and nagdi. Originally they were called different names according to which instruments they played. Someone employed in sewing is now called darji (दर्जी), tailor, master, or tailor-master. Darji was once used only for tailors, but now it is used for all tailors as well as musicians. Similarly, damai or damahi has also undergone extension of its meaning. Initially it only meant someone who played the damaha. Now it is used for the entire caste. Surnames Pariyar, Nepali, Darji and others have come in vogue recently.

The Caste System Today[edit]

The caste system is still intact today but the rules are not as rigid as they were in the past. In 1962, a law was passed making it illegal to discriminate against other castes led all castes to be equally treated by the law. Education is free and open to all castes.

The caste system conjoints a structural class divide which persists, in which lower castes/ethnicities are generally socio-economically are not equal like those of higher castes/ethnicities. Recent research has also shown that when it comes to Nepali people's impressions of social change, "Poverty, Human Resources and Region" explain more of the variation than "Ethnicity, Caste or Religious belonging" - i.e. people's perception of their own social situation has more to do with geography and objective social class, than with their association with the groups that the state has based its internal social policy on.[6]

Participation of Khas-Brahmins in Civil Service is 41.3 percent in spite of its population size of less than thirteen percent. The population of Newar is around six percent, but its occupancy in Civil Service is more than one-thirds (33.2 percent), the population of Chhetris and Thakuri constitutes 17.6 percent but its participation is 14.7 percent. If the major three castes (Brahmin, Chhetris and Newars) combine together their shares in the Government of Nepal Civil Service Employment is 89.2 percent in 1991. Their dominance is reflected in education, administration and economical activities of the nation. Among those 73.8 percent in higher education belong to higher castes, 22.0 percent Janajatis and 2.9 percent Dalit.[7] The Brahmins and Chhetris have become major decision makers in the bureaucracy of Nepal has become crystal clear. In terms of earning/income generation, Newar has the highest per capita income of Rs. 38,193. The Hill high castes come next with an average income of Rs. 24,399, Janajatis ranks third with an average income of Rs. 15,630, Dalit Rs. 12,114 and Muslim ranks the lowest, Rs.11,014' [8] Need of Social Integration The democratic transitions also failed to be inclusive management and functioning governance mainly because government was unable to understand and articulate the spirit of all Nepalese people irrespective of their caste, gender, ethnicity, religion etc. In this process the left outs were oppressed class (Dalits), women, the poorest of the poor, powerless and the second class citizen and indigenous nationalities (Janajatis). In Nepal, high castes dominate 91.2 percent among the prominent position in politics and bureaucracy. The Dalits who constitute 12.8 percent of the total population of the country have no representation in the higher echelons of power' (Gurung, H. 2006). Similarly, the Janajati has 36.0 percent of the total population of the country, has representation of 7.1 percent.[9] In terms of education, 88.0 percent of Brahmins, Chhetris and Newars have access to school, 12.0 percent are never been to school. More than fifty (52.0 percent) percent of Hill Dalits, 47.0 percent of the Tarai Dalits, 48.0 percent of the Muslims and 30 percent of the Hill Janajaties are never been to school.(Census, 2001)

In recent times, following the overthrow of the Nepali monarchy and move towards a federal republic, ethnicity and caste have taken center stage - the indigenous peoples (Adivasi janajati) who make up a third of the country having been guaranteed rights that have not yet been fulfilled. There is an observable reaction to this among certain Brahmin and Chetri groups, seeking to prevent group-based rights from becoming an important factor in the country that earlier had a political system associated with group-based discrimination. Certain outside analysts have suggested that "seeking a balance in approach requires addressing both specific indigenous historical injustices while creating a common citizenship for all marginalised citizens regardless of identity, which remains a particularly challenging issue for Nepal."[10]

Additional reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c MOPE (2002). Nepal Population Report, 2002. Kathmandu: Ministry of Population and Environment, HMG, Nepal.
  2. ^ http://www.southasianmedia.net/Magazine/Journal/Nepal%20confronting%20hindu.htm[dead link]
  3. ^ Sharma 2004
  4. ^ Saraswati, Swami Sahajanand (2003). Swami Sahajanand Saraswati Rachnawali in Six volumes (in Volume 1). Delhi: Prakashan Sansthan. pp. 519 (Volume 1). ISBN 81-7714-097-3. 
  5. ^ http://www.spinybabbler.org/traditional_arts/music/instruments.php Damai instruments
  6. ^ Aasland, Aadne and Marit Haug: Class, Caste or Location? How Do Different People Assess Social Change In Nepal? The NIBR International Blog, 27.05.2011
  7. ^ Dr. Gurung, H. 2006
  8. ^ NLSS II, 2004
  9. ^ G.Neupane, 2000
  10. ^ Jones, Peris S.: Deepening Democracy: International Labour Organisation Convention 169 and Nepal's Democratic Transition The NIBR International Blog, 11.06.2011

External links[edit]