Caste system in Nepal
The Nepalese caste system is the traditional system of social stratification of Nepal. The Nepalese caste system broadly borrows the classical Hindu Chaturvarnashram model consisting of four broad social classes or varna: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Sudra, and Untouchables.
The caste system defines social classes by a number of hierarchical endogamous groups often termed jaat. This custom was traditionally only prevalent in the Hindu societies of the Khas, Madhesi, and Newars. However, since the unification of Nepal in the 18th century, Nepal's various indigenous "Adivasi" tribes have been incorporated within the caste hierarchy, to varying degrees of success. Despite the forceful integration into the pan-Hindu social structure, the ethnic indigenous groups do not adhere to or fall under the caste system.
Traditional caste system
Caste-origin Hill Parbatiya Hindu groups/Khas
The social structure of caste-origin Hill Hindu or Khas groups is simple, reflecting only three groups in hierarchy, and there is no strict adherence to the four varna categories. The mother tongue of these groups is Nepali. In 2001 the CBS recorded only nine groups in the caste-origin Hill Hindu groups.
|Twice-born: (30.4%)||(Brahmin): Bahun (Purbiya, Kumai, Jaishi)||12.2%|
|Chhetri (formerly Khas)||16.6%|
|Renouncer: (0.88%)||Dashnami Sanyasi and Kanphata Yogi||0.88%|
|Service-castes (previously Untouchable) (8.03%):||Kami (iron-workers)||4.8%|
Caste-origin Madhesh Hindu groups/Madheshi
The social structure of the caste-origin Madhesi 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, Tharu and Awadhi. In 2001 the CBS recorded 43 caste-origin Hindu groups in the Madhesh.
|Twice-born: (1.67%)||(Brahmin): Maithil Brahmin, Bhumihar||0.59%|
|(Kshatriya): Rajput, Rajbhat||0.32%|
|(Vaishya): Baniya and Roniaur||0.56%|
|Other pure castes: (8.5%)||Yadava||4.0%|
|Service-castes (previously Unclean or Untouchable): (3.84%)||Teli (oil-pressers)||1.35%|
|Chamar, Harijan, Ram (leather-workers)||1.3%|
|Paswan, Dusadh (basket-makers)||0.75%|
Caste-origin Nepal Mandala groups/Newārs
The case of Newār is exceptional. This group presents a complicated social structure, not only reflecting the model of four Hindu varna categories, but is also clearly divided into two distinct religious groups: the Hindu and the Buddhist. Newars are divided internally into distinct cultural groups of over 25 occupational caste categories who share a common language (mother-tongue) Nepal Bhasa.
|Newārs (Nepal Mandal)||Population (5.5%)|
|Twice-born Hindus: (1.31%)||(Brahmin): Rajopadhyaya Brahmin||0.11%|
|(Kshatriya): Chatharīya Srēstha||0.5%|
|(Vaishya): Pāñchtharīya Srēstha||0.7%|
|Buddhists: (1.0%)||Vajracharya/Shakya (priests and goldsmiths)||0.6%|
|Urāy (Tuladhars) (traders and craftsmen)||0.4%|
|Other pure castes: (2.7%)||Maharjans/Jyapus (farmers)||2.2%|
|Kumhāh/Prajapati ( potters and farmers)|
|Manandhar/Sāyami (oil-pressers and brewers)||0.22%|
|Karanjit (funeral priests)|
|Service-castes (previously Unclean or Untouchable): (0.5%)||Khadgi, Naye (butchers and musicians)||0.22%|
|Jogi, Kapali, Dhobi, Sangat (descendants of Kanphata Yogi sect, tailors, musicians, washermen)||0.08%|
|Deula and Pode (sweepers, fishermen)||0.18%|
Muluki Ain (1854)
The Nepali civil code Muluki Ain was commissioned by Jung Bahadur Rana after his European tour and enacted in 1854. It was rooted in traditional Hindu Law and codified social practices for several centuries in Nepal. The law also comprised Prāyaścitta (avoidance and removal of sin) and Ācāra (the customary law of different castes and communities).
It was an attempt to include the entire Hindu as well as non-Hindu population of Nepal of that time into a single hierarchic civic code from the perspective of the Khas rulers. Terai and Newar Brahmins and Kshatriyas were officially placed below their equivaent Khas Brahmins and Kshatriya; similarly, serious limitations and oversights of this code include the complete exclusion of the large middle-ranking Terai groups, as well as inclusion of non-caste and non-Hindu tribal "Janajati" groups as well as non-Nepalis including Muslims and Europeans.
Hierarchies of Major Caste/Ethnic Groups in Nepal according to Muluki Ain:
|Caste Division||Caste and Ethnic Groups|
|"Tagadhari" (Wearers of the Holy Thread)||Khas – Brahmin, Thakuri, Chhetri;|
|"Namasinya Matwali" (Non-enslavable Alcohol Drinkers)||Newar – Non thread-wearing Srēstha (Panchthariya), Baré (Vajracharya/Shākya), Urāy (Tuladhar and others), Jyapu, and other smaller pure occupational castes.|
|"Masinya Matwali" (Enslavable Alcohol Drinkers)||Bhote (including Tamang and Sherpa), Thakali, Chepang, Gharti, Hayu, Kumal, and Tharu.|
|"Pani Na Chalne" (Impure but touchable)||Newar lower impure occupational castes – Bha, Manandhar, Dhobi/Kapāli, Khadgi/Kasaĩ, etc.
Muslims and Europeans
|"Impure and untouchable"||Khas occupational castes – Kami, Sarki, Damai, Badi.
Terai occupational castes – Dhobi, Halkhor, Chamar, Dushad, Dom, Musahars, etc.
Newar lowest occupational castes – Kulu, Pode, Chyama:khala, 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. In 1963, Legal Code was replaced by New 1964 Legal Code. The legal recognition to caste and all the discriminatory laws made on the grounds of caste were ceased.
The caste system today
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.
Participation of Khas-Brahmins in Civil Service is 41.3% in spite of its population size of less than 13%. The population of Newars is around 5%, but its occupancy in Civil Service is more than one-thirds (33.2%), the population of Khas-Chhetris constitutes 17.6% but its participation is mere 14.7%. If these major three castes (Khas Brahmin & Chhetris, and Newars) combine together their shares in the Government of Nepal, civil service employment is 89.2% in 1991. Their dominance is reflected in education, administration and economical activities of the nation. Among those 73.8% in higher education belong to higher castes, 22.0% Janajatis and 2.9% Dalit.
They have become major decision makers in the bureaucracy of Nepal has become crystal clear. In terms of earning/income generation, Newars have the highest per capita income of Rs. 38,193. Khas upper 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' 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, and religion.
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% 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% of the total population of the country, has representation of 7.1%. In terms of education, 88.0% of Khas Brahmins & Chhetris, and Newars have access to school, 12.0% have never been to school. More than fifty (52.0%) of Hill Dalits, 47.0% of the Tarai Dalits, 48.0% of the Muslims and 30 percent of the Hill Janajatis have 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 Khas Brahmin and Chhetri 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".
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