Nepalis both in Nepal and abroad use the Internet, a “Western” invention. We also use all kinds of other technologies, such as smartphones, computers, advanced scientific and medical instruments, highly advanced machines most of which are also Western inventions. Take every modern technology that Nepalis within the country or outside use: I am willing to bet most will be Western inventions too.
There are life-saving medical procedures and medicines that I am sure Nepalis avail themselves of even within the borders of the country. Nepalis, for instance, have been vaccinated as children for years now, which, I am sure, have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, if not millions. The West invented vaccines! The West discovered chemotherapy as well as radiotherapy, a highly developed medical treatment. Penicillin, one of the most widely used medicines, I am sure, Nepalis use as well. Guess what? The West discovered it too!
A significant percentage of the Nepali population have been enjoying satellite TV for about the last thirty years. They have also been able to consume numerous and wide range of Western media, Western books, Western movies, food, music so much so that many Western popular cultural practices have become part of Nepali culture, such as celebrating birthdays with a cake (but mounted with roman candle(s) –YES, ROMAN CANDLE(S) — instead of wax candles, which I’ll never understand), wearing mortar boards at college graduations, running a number of different beauty pageants, using excessive sex in advertising, making hip-hop and rap music to name just a few.
I have rarely heard urban Nepalis complain about consuming all those Western things and adopting Western practices saying, “But those are Western inventions or Western products or Western practices! We cannot use or consume them in Nepal or by us Nepalis.”
I know thousands of Nepalis go to the West for studies every year. I also know Nepalis want to send their children to the West for studies! I have yet to hear urban Nepalis complaining or objecting to that saying, “No we (they) shouldn’t because we’ll (or they’ll) get a Western education!” As a matter of fact, if you were to ask people to vote between Western and Nepali education, the former will most likely win hands-down! Education in the West provides the opportunity for one to become an independent and critical thinker. Whether someone does become one is a different question all together.
Now, discuss or bring up anything that Nepalis might perceive as critical of Nepali culture or Nepali people or what a Nepali might view as an inalienable part of their identity, that’s a whole different ball game. I have had people I know personally as well as those I don’t counter that — both in person and on social media — with something like, “But that logic or argument or reason or view is based on Western ethics/value system/morality/culture etc. It/they are should NOT be used to judge our culture, or our people, or our beliefs, or our practices etc. It/they should NOT be used to assess or evaluate our views/attitudes/behaviors/actions/systems etc.”
Anyway, almost two months ago, something of that sort happened on Facebook with two Nepali (Xaverian) school friends under the following Facebook post. (Incidentally, I haven’t seen them objecting to or taking issue with their Xaverian education, a Jesuit education, a partially Western education!)
Incidentally, the names have all been redacted not only to protect their privacy but also because my intention is NOT to embarrass or humiliate them.
Here are the exchanges with the first friend (yellow). In addition to me, an international FB friend (blue) also engaged with him.
Again, he didn’t respond to that either, so I went ahead and commented on his last point. My international FB friend also asked for clarification. And finally, he came back with something that didn’t make any sense to me.
In response, I just commented saying I didn’t understand and added what casual sexism, such as this, might be contributing to in our society.
Here are the exchanges with the second friend (red) who lives in the US.
I next shared links to the blog post about corporal punishments we received at St. Xavier’s School (STX) and what I have discovered about it from talking to young adults.
His response was to thank me for the links instead of responding to my questions, which was just as well because we would have probably gone round and round in circles! Another international Facebook friend (light blue) also commented this time!
All that was also followed by an exchange with a very good Nepali friend of mine, also a Xaverian, who pointed out the issue with this whole discussion. Click here for an image of my exchanges with him. It’s a little long!
So, here’s the question: what makes Nepalis, especially and mostly men, think or reason (certain) cultural beliefs and practices should be exempted from scrutiny and criticism? (I have had other Nepalis defend violence against children in schools and against children and women in homes as our culture.)
Does the objection just boil down to a feeling of a threat to their identity? If a person’s identity is tied pretty exclusively to a culture and/or people, I can see him/her getting defensive when it’s challenged in some way. But when it’s NOT, when the person in question has clearly benefited from, have participated in, and have endorsed Western products, practices, ideas and concepts, how is it that they still object?
Is the problem may be one of a difference between consuming Western products and “consuming” Western values and beliefs? Or one of a difference between “consuming” some Western values and beliefs and others?
Or, given that such Nepalis have been overwhelmingly men, are they just displaying their incredible insecurities?
Could the problem be that of logic? Nepalis struggle with making logical arguments, which you probably noticed if you read the whole exchange. I have encountered that often and have even blogged about some of those instances, once even arguing that we should teach philosophy in Nepali schools. (Click here, here, and here for some others.)
Apart from not wanting their identity, or what is part of their identity, be questioned, is the reason behind that a lack of quality education? I mean, is this an indication of the success of the education we were provided in the seventies and eighties by a system that deliberately limited “content and ideas from the broader chain of Western intellectual thought” as Sujeev Shakya contends in Unleashing Nepal?
Or something else entirely?
I have however observed that those who should be, and stand to benefit the most from being, most open to challenges to their personal, religious, social, cultural or traditional beliefs, values and practices are the least.
Having said all that, I am NOT saying there’s no aspect of Nepali culture (or any other non-western culture) that should be preserved. There ARE aspects of Nepali culture worth preserving and being passed on from one generation to another.
Oh, additionally, these exchanges added weight to my statement in the original post that I may have been one of the few at the restaurant to have been gobsmacked by the comments of the MC!
What do you think?
Added after the publication of the blog post because of relevance.
The New York Times (Nov. 27, 2018). The Fallacy of the ‘I Turned Out Fine’ Argument. “You didn’t use seatbelts when you were growing up and you lived to tell about it? That doesn’t make it a good parenting strategy.” [Added on Nov. 29, 2018.]
BrownGirlMagazine (March 21, 2016). Privileged Freedom: Lives of Kathmandu’s Traditional Modern Women. [Added on Feb. 11, 2019.]