Returning to the country as I did after spending most of my adult life abroad, I have found adapting to many aspects of Nepali society, culture, and people a real struggle and a challenge.
There’s the incredible level to which Nepalis are discriminatory, prejudiced, and misogynistic against their own people. There’s also the level to which they are violent against their own kind. There’s also the level to which they are judgemental of fellow citizens.
Then there are the very restrictive and suffocating social stigmas, though we are a country with some of the most progressive laws!
Here are a number of them:
- anything and everything to do with mental health (Mental health is a major issue in the country! Click here for some details about the extent to which Nepali population suffer from mental health issues and here for an example of the level of insensitivity we display towards psycho-social issues faced by fellow citizens.)
- being a victim of domestic violence — NOT against being a perpetrator (Domestic violence, no different from mental health, is a major social problem in the country. Click here for a blog post about the attitudes of Nepali women towards abusive behavior by their mothers-in-law, and here for a blog post about the their attitudes towards wife-beating. Click here for the story of a courageous survivor of domestic violence.)
- being a victim of other forms of gender-based violence, apart from the above (click here and here for more on that), sexual harassment/violence (click here for more) and/or rape (click here for the story of a courageous survivor) — again NOT against being a perpetrator
- being a victim, as a child, of violence at home or school (Click here for a blog post about the violence Nepali children suffer from at home and here about violence at school.)
- birth as a low caste (click here for how I struggled), especially a Dalit, an untouchable (click here for more on that)
- being married and childless or not giving birth to a son, especially as a woman (click here for more on that)
- being a widow, but NOT a widower
- giving birth to an intersex (click here for more on that)
- women suffering from pregnancy-related complications (miscarriage, abortion, infertility, and just the general inability to get pregnant for whatever reason)
- suffering, as a girl or woman, from marriage issues
- divorce (and a girl/woman divorcee suffers more)
- being poor
- suffering from physical or mental disability
Notice how conveniently there are considerably more social stigmas against that which women and children suffer from than against that which men suffer from.
I believe it’s partly because of that and other reasons — like valuing the life of a female less than that of a male, the society being incredibly misogynistic etc. — that life as a female in Nepal is such a struggle leading to their biggest killer being suicide! It doesn’t help that victim-blaming is rampant, whether the victim is one of general violence in the hands of people the victim knows or domestic violence or sexual harassment in public places or even rape etc. One of the main reasons for that is, of course, the very low-level — of very poor quality — education of the population.
On the flip side, in the nineties of Kathmandu, I discovered having a mistress was a status symbol. From what I understand, that’s still the case. Though having more than one wife is illegal, that, I have been told, is also common. Dol Bahadur Khadga, who died in Qatar and whose children’s education we supported, was survived by two wives. A friend of a cousin talking about his father having two wives kind of bragged about it! Even a third grade book had an entry, a stimulus, about a man with two wives — “One was young and the other was old.”
Of course, also very conveniently, talking about pretty much everything we have a social stigma against is taboo. What’s more, there are additional subjects which are taboo.
Here are some:
- a lot of things to do with sex — both the act and anatomical feature that determines it, as well as sexuality, puberty, human reproduction, and girls/women enjoying it
- poverty (but talking about money and who is wealthy etc. among the wealthy and well off isn’t)
- the caste system
- conversations about discrimination/prejudice/bigotry (Click here, here, here, here, and here for more on the subject. If you are interested in assessing how prejudiced a group of fellow Nepalis are, try this game with them.)
- female anatomy, anatomy-related issues faced by them, and even some of their natural biological processes (e.g. menstruation)
- talking about emotions and feelings
- structural privilege and issues surrounding that (click here, here, here, here, here and here for more on that) and social capital
By no means are the two lists exhaustive. As a matter of fact, I may even be mistaken with some of them. Please feel free to suggest addendum or corrections to the list as you see fit in the comments below. Thank you!
Finally, given the kind of reactions I have gotten in the past from fellow Nepalis to characterizations/observations such as these, I feel the need to state two things.
Firstly, the failure to recognize and admit these as issues is a major hurdle to social progress. Most of us Nepalis live in denial. We keep shoving them under the rug so that we can pretend that they don’t exist. But as long as we refuse to have honest conversations and discourses about them in the open — like around a dinner table at home or at a restaurant or a bar, or at education institutions etc. — we will not find solutions to them. We will just continue to suffer as a society. We will continue being a 20th century society in the 21st century.
Secondly, I am NOT suggesting that our social stigmas and socially taboo subjects are ONY ours and no other nationalities have them! Of course not!
What do you think?