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Nepal - SOCIETY
NEPAL IS OFTEN CHARACTERIZED as a country caught in two different worlds, having one leg in the sixteenth century and another in the twentieth century. Entrenched in a feudalistic social structure, the deeply tradition-bound society increasingly was experiencing the pervasive influence of Western material culture. Most affected were the parts of the population that came in regular contact with Westerners. Nowhere was this juxtaposition of local traditional values and Western material culture more pronounced than in the Kathmandu Valley--the country's most urbanized region.
In the Kathmandu Valley in 1991, hordes of people took ritual baths in the highly polluted Baghmati River, especially near the temple of Pashupatinath, and walked to temples that dotted the valley's landscape. Numerous peasants carried their produce to the market on bicycles or on what is locally called a kharpan, a device that resembles a large weighing balance and is carried on the shoulder. Yet, young boys wore T-shirts emblazoned with Michael Jackson or other Hollywood celebrities and watched "Miami Vice" or other American television shows. The skyline of urban areas such as Kathmandu, Siddhartha Nagar, and Pokhara was interrupted by television antennas. Copying Western popular culture and values had become the thing to do. Nepalese youth even took drugs, and the number of drug addicts had increased significantly in the 1980s.
The adoption of Western popular cultural values has not, however, translated into much-needed technological and economic progress and a consequent reduction in pervasive poverty. Although youths, especially those living in and around urban centers, readily adopted Western consumer habits, they appeared to have little knowledge about more productive habits that the West exemplifies. Entranced by the tide of consumerism, Nepalese youths seemed poorly prepared or unwilling to do hard work and make sacrifices that were imperative for establishing dynamic economic production and development. As a result, consumerism outpaced productive capacity--a process that was clearly contrary to sustained socioeconomic progress--and the country remained in a state of economic backwardness.
Despite Nepal's increasing contact with the West since liberation from Rana rule in 1951, the feudalistic yoke has not been broken. Even after thirty-five years of economic development planning, poverty remained throughout the country. Government intervention in economic development under the rubric of planning has led to a breakdown in the traditional patron-client relations. In the past, this relationship provided some security of survival--or what Karl Polyani termed in 1957 "the absence of the threat of individual starvation"--for the clients, although they were placed in a subservient position. In 1991 such patron-client relations had been replaced by wage relations, but planned development had not been able to create enough employment opportunities to gainfully absorb the clients who no longer could rely on their patrons.
There was no doubt among observers that only an increasing flow of foreign aid and loans had kept Nepal from bankruptcy. Yet there seemed to be little evidence suggesting that the aid had, despite good intentions, alleviated mass poverty and uplifted the society as a whole. Unemployment among the educated was partially addressed through the continued expansion of government jobs, but such expansion resulted in bureaucratic redundancy and, in fact, hindered economic development. Furthermore, such a strategy had only a limited ability to reduce the mass unemployment and underemployment that typified Nepal's society. Widespread unemployment and underemployment, which fueled poverty, further were exacerbated by continued rapid population growth. Despite a long-term and vigorous family planning program, the population had been growing at an increasing rate. Such population growth contributed to increasing environmental deterioration, given the frailty of the country's mountainous environment.
<> SOCIAL SYSTEM AND VALUES
At the time of the 1981 census, the total population of Nepal was 15,022,839, the average family was made up of 5.8 persons, and life expectancy at birth was close to fifty years. As of July 1990, the population was estimated at 19,145,800 persons. The annual population growth rate increased from less than 2 percent during the 1950s to more than 2.6 percent in 1990, suggesting that despite a trend toward increasing acceptance of family planning, the program did not have much influence on reducing the population growth rate. The Central Bureau of Statistics forecast that the total population would increase to 23.6 million by 2001.
The 1981 census reveals a significant variation in regional growth rates. Although the Tarai Region's annual growth rate of 4.2 percent was much higher than the national average, the Hill and Mountain regions, respectively, posted growth rates of 1.7 and 1.4 percent. In terms of regional distribution, 43.6 percent (6,556,828 persons) of the country's population resided in the Tarai, whereas the shares of the Hill and Mountain regions totaled 7,163,115 (47.7 percent) and 1,302,896 (8.7 percent), respectively.
About 70 percent of the total population was of working age, or between the ages of fifteen and fifty-nine years. More than 65 percent of this segment of the population was considered economically active in 1981. In terms of employment structure, more than 91 percent of the economically active population was engaged in agriculture and allied activities, and the rest in the secondary (industrial) and tertiary (service) sectors, including government employment. In 1981 males and females who were widowed or separated constituted only a tiny fragment of the population--0.4 percent for each sex.
The dependency ratio is defined as the ratio of the population in the birth to fourteen age-group, and those sixty years and older to the population in the productive age-group, that is, fifteen to fifty-nine years of age. In 1981 this ratio stood at eighty to nine. The temporal increase in the number of those in the young population group has depressed the median age of the population from 21.1 years in the mid-1950s to 19.9 years in 1981. The sex ratio in 1981, defined as the number of males to 100 females, was 105 males to every 100 females.
According to the estimates made by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 1985, the crude birthrate was 44 per 1,000, and the crude death rate was almost 14 per 1,000. The total fertility rate, defined as the average number of children a woman might bear, was 6.3 children, with a variation between rural and urban fertility rates. The rural total fertility rate was 6.4, compared with 5.8 for urban areas. Both the crude birthrate and the total fertility rate have remained high and fairly constant for the past several decades, whereas the crude death rate has been declining consistently, thereby contributing to rapid population growth.
The most significant category of deaths was the infant mortality rate. Varying techniques for calculating infant mortality, however, have led to discrepant estimations. They ranged from more than 147 deaths per 1,000 in 1985 to between 101 and 128 per 1,000 in 1989. Infant mortality rates also varied widely among the three geographic regions, which may have been partly because of differing rates of migration and the expectancy that higher mortality rates are found in migrant families. Nonetheless, infant mortality was almost twice as high in rural areas as urban areas, a clear indication of the lack of health services in rural areas, and was high compared to many other Asian countries.
One of the major consequences of rapid population growth was the progressive deterioration of the ratio of people to land. This land shortage greatly affected Nepal's predominantly agrarian society, where land was the most important source of livelihood and social status, and it was most evident in terms of population density. In 1981 the population density was 102 persons per square kilometer of total land. Although the ratio appears to suggest a fairly low density, the figures are misleading. When density is measured in terms of persons per hectare of cultivatable land (that is agricultural density), the true nature of the human-land ratio emerges. The agricultural density in 1981 was 6.1 persons per hectare (or almost 0.2 hectare per person), which represents a very high density, especially given that the country's production technology remains in a backward state. Nepal's ability to reclaim more land in order to accommodate a rapidly growing population already had reached a maximum threshold.
<> Caste and Ethnicity
Urbanization, defined as the percentage of total population living in settlements designated as urban areas, generally was viewed as closely related to economic development. If the correlation between urbanization and economic development-- historically based on the experience of the industrialized nations- -is accepted, then Nepal has a long way to go before it becomes economically advanced. Nepal was one of the least urbanized countries in the world, with only 6.3 percent of its total population residing in urban areas in 1981. Yet it appears that the 1971-81 decade experienced a major spurt in urban population, increasing by approximately 108 percent, at an annual rate of more than 8.4 percent. The urbanization rate in the early 1990s was around 8 percent. Nevertheless, only twenty-three settlements were designated as urban areas, and only one of these settlements had a population above 100,000--the capital city of Kathmandu, which had a total population of slightly more than 235,000. Together with the other two major urban settlements--Patan (also called Lalitpur), which had about 79,800 people, and Bhadgaon (also called Bhaktapur), with about 48,500 people--the Kathmandu Valley in the Hill Region had the largest concentration of the total urban population--almost 40 percent.
In terms of the regional distribution of these urban settlements, the pattern was skewed in favor of the Tarai. Fourteen of the twenty-three settlements were found there, the majority located in eastern and central Tarai. The Mountain Region had no urban settlements. This situation clearly demonstrated that Nepal not only remained predominantly rural, but also that the existing urban areas were neither well developed nor well connected in terms of their geographical distribution. The only real urban network was found in the central section--the quadrangle consisting of Kathmandu, Pokhara, Butawal (and Siddhartha Nagar), and Hetauda.
Nepal was once a sanctuary for waves of migrants from north and south of its borders. The early migration from the north was largely of nomadic Mongoloid people from Tibet (the Bhote groups), followed by waves of Indo-Aryans from India. Some of the migrants from the south, especially the Brahmans and Rajputs, were fleeing the religious crusades of invading Mughals (or Indian Muslims) and their suppression of Hindus; others (especially those from Bihar and West Bengal), were lured by the possibilities of the Tarai land. As of 1991, a large number of Indians from Bihar and other neighboring areas still crossed the border into Nepal. Most of those recent migrants were found in towns and cities, where they were engaged in semiskilled labor and mercantile activities.
Since at least the late nineteenth century, the migration trend has reversed its course. In the early 1990s, there was a massive and persistent outflow of people from the hills, the areas that once served as a refuge for migrants. In addition, the volume of migration has been increasing over time. There have been two major types of migration. Permanent or lifetime migration occurred primarily within the national boundary, particularly from the highlands to the Tarai Region; it was motivated by the search for land. Circular migration included seasonal migrants, who moved to wage-labor sites, such as urban centers and construction areas, during the agricultural slack season (November to February). These circular or absentee migrants included long-term (but not permanent) migrants, who moved in search of long-term salaried employment, such as army, government, chaukidar (doorman or guard) services, or factory jobs. Once these migrants succeeded in landing a relatively permanent job, they normally visited their families and villages once every two to three years; if they did not secure such a job, they might return in a few months. Unlike permanent migration, circular migration was both internal (within the country) as well as external (outside the country). Although internal circular migrants ultimately might become permanent migrants, the vast majority of external circular migrants, most of whom went to India, returned to Nepal upon their retirement and discharge from service. Increasing numbers of these external migrants settled in the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam, and they have been filtering into Bhutan since the late nineteenth century.
Until the mid-1950s, the volume of permanent migration within the country was very small. Since then, however, there has been increased permanent internal migration, mainly because of population pressures, paucity of land resources in the hills, and the implementation of land resettlement programs in the Tarai Region. This form of migration was identified in the 1981 census as lifetime internal migration.
The total volume of lifetime internal migration in 1981 was close to 1,272,300 persons, a figure that represented 8.5 percent of the total population. The vast majority of lifetime internal migrants originated in the Hill and Mountain regions and moved to the Tarai Region in search of land in a movement that can be called frontier migration. These findings confirmed that the north-south (highland-lowland) flows of migration have made a substantial contribution--both directly and indirectly--to the rapid population growth of the Tarai Region.
One of the major variables responsible for this trend was the Hill residents' quest for land. About half of the male Hill migrants to the Tarai mentioned "agriculture" as their reason for migrating. The "not stated and others" category also constituted a high percentage, probably because most family members who moved with their parents or household heads had no specific reason for their migration.
A high score for trade and commerce among the mountain migrants might reflect the fact that they historically were deeply engaged in interregional as well as cross-border trade with Tibet as their principal economic activity. Because their traditional trade and commercial relations with Tibet had been largely cut off because of political changes after 1950, they might have moved to the Tarai, where such opportunities were expanding, particularly in urban areas.
The pattern for female migrants was generally consistent with the pattern for male migrants. The exception was female migrants for whom marriage as a reason for geographical mobility ranked quite high. This pattern generally reflected the commonly observed reality that female mobility in Nepal was largely tied to family mobility (that is, husbands or parents). Although individual (unmarried) female migration seemed to be gradually on the rise, it still was quite limited.
Circular migrants, both internal and external, were classified as absentee population in the 1981 census. The major difference between the two groups was that the internal absentee population generally consisted of short-term or seasonal migrants. Such migrants left the hills in search of temporary jobs in nearby towns or at construction sites and generally returned to their villages after the winter season to resume farming. On the other hand, the external absentee population was largely composed of long-term migrants. In the cases of both types, most migrants were adult males although some husbands periodically took their wives with them after they were well established in their jobs.
The volume of circular migration, or absentee population, has been rising. In the mid-1950s, such migration totaled almost 217,000 persons, most coming from the hills. More than 90 percent, or more than 198,000 people, were external migrants; the vast majority went to India. In 1981 the absentee population totaled almost 591,000 people. Of these, 188,000 people, or 32 percent, were internal migrants, and approximately 403,000 people, or 68 percent, were external migrants. Even though the percentage of external migrants in the total absentee population had declined from 90 percent in the mid-1950s to 68 percent in 1981, their absolute number had increased by 205,000 people. Whereas the increasing number of absentee population from the hills was an unmistakable indicator of the region's deteriorating economic and environmental conditions, the decreasing percentage of external migration in the total volume was largely the result of the emergence of the Tarai as an alternative, internal destination.
The vast majority of migrants came from the Hill and Mountain regions. Together, they made up 141,200 (85 percent) of the total of internal migrants and about 365,000 (91 percent) of total external migrants. Unlike in the Hill and Mountain regions, the majority of the Tarai's 82,650 absentees were found within the country.
An analysis of reasons for absence from home revealed quite a contrast between lifetime internal migration and circular migration. Service, which included a variety of jobs, surfaced as the most dominant reason for being absent from home in both internal and external cases of circular migration. On the average, 64 percent of external migrants mentioned service as their reason for migration, the highest rate being posted by the Hill migrants; 28 percent gave no reasons, or other reasons.
Nepalese society was ethnically diverse and complex in the early 1990s, ranging in phenotype (physical characteristics) and culture from the Indian to the Tibetan. Except for the sizable population of those of Indian birth or ancestry concentrated in the Tarai bordering India, the varied ethnic groups had evolved into distinct patterns over time.
Political scientists Joshi and Rose broadly classify the Nepalese population into three major ethnic groups in terms of their origin: Indo-Nepalese, Tibeto-Nepalese, and indigenous Nepalese. In the case of the first two groups, the direction if their migration and Nepal's landscapes appeared to have led to their vertical distribution; most ethnic groups were found at particular altitudes. The first group, comprising those of Indo- Nepalese origin, inhabited the more fertile lower hills, river valleys, and Tarai plains. The second major group consisted of communities of Tibeto-Mongol origin occupying the higher hills from the west to the east. The third and much smaller group comprised a number of tribal communities, such as the Tharus and the Dhimals of the Tarai; they may be remnants of indigenous communities whose habitation predates the advent of Indo-Nepalese and Tibeto-Mongol elements.
Even though Indo-Nepalese migrants were latecomers to Nepal relative to the migrants from the north, they have come to dominate the country not only numerically, but also socially, politically, and economically. They managed to achieve early dominance over the native and northern migrant populations, largely because of the superior formal educational and technological systems they brought with them. Consequently, their overall domination has had tremendous significance in terms of ethnic power structure.
Within the Indo-Nepalese group, at least two distinct categories can be discerned. The first category includes those who fled India and moved to the safe sanctuaries of the Nepal hills several hundred years ago, in the wake of the Muslim invasions of northern India. The hill group of Indian origin primarily was composed of descendants of high-caste Hindu families. According to Joshi and Rose, "These families, mostly of Brahman and Kshatriya status, have spread through the whole of Nepal with the exception of the areas immediately adjacent to the northern border. They usually constitute a significant portion of the local elites and are frequently the largest landowners in an area." This segment of the Indo-Nepalese population, at the apex of which stands the nation's royal family, has played the most dominant role in the country. Other ethnic groups, including those of Indian origin that settled in the Tarai, have been peripheral to the political power structure.
The second group of Indo-Nepalese migrants includes the inhabitants of the Tarai. Many of them are relatively recent migrants, who were encouraged by the government of Nepal or its agents to move into the Tarai for settlement during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the early 1990s, this group mostly consisted of landless tenants and peasants from northern India's border states of Bihar and Bengal. Some of these Indian migrants later became large landowners.
The north Indian antecedents of a number of caste groups in the hills (that is, the first group of Indo-Nepalese migrants), which, in the early 1990s, made up more than 50 percent of the total population, are evident in their language, religion, social organization, and physical appearance. All of these features, however, have been modified in the Nepalese environment. These groups--several castes of Brahmans, the high-ranking Thakuri and Chhetri (the Nepalese derivative of the Kshatriya) castes, and an untouchable category--generally are classified as Pahari, or Parbate. However, in most parts of Nepal (except in the Tarai), the term pahari has only a limited use in that the Paharis generally are known by their individual caste names.
Nepali, the native tongue of the Paharis and the national language of Nepal, is closely related to, but by no means identical with, Hindi. Both are rooted in Sanskrit. The Hinduism of the Pahari has been influenced by Buddhism and indigenous folk belief. The Paharis' caste system was neither as elaborately graded nor as all embracing in its sanctions as that of the Indians; physically, many of the Paharis showed the results of racial intermixture with the various Mongoloid groups of the region. Similarly, the Bhote or Bhotia groups inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas--among whom the Sherpas have attracted the most attention in the mountaineering world--have developed regional distinctions among themselves, although clearly related physically as well as culturally to the Tibetans. The term Bhote literally means inhabitant of Bhot, a Sanskrit term for the trans-Himalayan region of Nepal, or the Tibetan region. However, Bhote is also a generic term, often applied to people of Tibetan culture or Mongoloid phenotype. As used by the Paharis and the Newars, it often had a pejorative connotation and could be applied to any non-Hindu of Mongoloid appearance.
An extraordinarily complex terrain also affected the geographic distribution and interaction among various ethnic groups. Within the general latitudinal sorting of Indo-Nepalese (lower hills) and Tibeto-Nepalese (higher hills and mountains) groups, there was a lateral (longitudinal) pattern, in which various ethnic populations were concentrated in specific geographic pockets. The deeply cut valleys and high ridges tended to divide ethnic groups into many small, relatively isolated, and more or less self- contained communities. This pattern was especially prominent among the Tibeto-Nepalese population. For example, the Bhote group was found in the far north, trans-Himalayan section of the Mountain Region, close to the Tibetan border. The Sherpas, a subgroup within the Bhote, were concentrated in the northeast, around the Mount Everest area. To the south of their areas were other Tibeto- Nepalese ethnic groups--the Gurung in the west-central hills and the Tamang and Rai in the east-central hills--particularly close to and east of the Kathmandu Valley. The Magar group, found largely in the central hills, was much more widely distributed than the Gurung, Tamang, and Rai. In the areas occupied by the Limbu and Rai peoples, the Limbu domain was located farther east in the hills, just beyond the Rai zone. The Tharu group was found in the Tarai, and the Paharis were scattered throughout Nepal. Newars largely were concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley. However, because of their past migration as traders and merchants, they also were found in virtually all the market centers, especially in the hills, and as far away as Lhasa in Tibet.
This geographically concentrated ethnic distribution pattern generally remained in effect in the early 1990s, despite a trend toward increasing spatial mobility and relocating ethnic populations. For example, a large number of Bhotes (also called Mananges from the Manang District) in the central section of the Mountain Region, Tamangs, and Sherpas have moved to the Kathmandu Valley. Similarly, Thakalis from the Mustang District adjacent to Manang have moved to Pokhara, a major urban center in the hills about 160 kilometers west of Kathmandu, and to Butawal and Siddhartha Nagar, two important urban areas in the central part of the Tarai, directly south of Pokhara. Gurungs, Magars, and Rais also have become increasingly dispersed.
Most of the Indo-Nepalese peoples--both Paharis and Tarai dwellers (commonly known among the Paharis as madhesis, meaning midlanders)--were primarily agriculturalists, although a majority of them also relied on other activities to produce supplementary income. They generally raised some farm animals, particularly water buffalo, cows, goats, and sheep, for domestic purposes. The Paharis traditionally have occupied the vast majority of civil service positions. As a result, they have managed to dominate and to control Nepal's bureaucracy to their advantage. It was not until the 1980s that a prime minister came from the non- Pahari segment of the population. Despite some loosening of the total Pahari domination of the bureaucracy in recent years, a 1991 newspaper report, summarized in the Nepal Press Digest, revealed that 80 percent of the posts in the civil service, the army, and the police still were held by the Brahmans and Chhetris of the hills, who comprised less than 50 percent of the population; 13 percent were held by Kathmandu Valley Newars, whose share of the total population was merely 3 percent. The report added that even in 1991, the eleven-member Council of Ministers in 1991 had six Brahmans and three Newars. Furthermore, six of the nine-member Constitution Recommendation Commission, which drafted the new constitution in 1990, were hill Brahmans. In spite of the increasing number of Newars holding government jobs, they traditionally were recognized as a commercial merchant and handicraft class. It was no exaggeration that they historically have been the prime agents of Nepalese culture and art. A significant number of them also were engaged in farming. In that sense, they can be described as agro-commercialists.
Most of the Tibeto-Nepalese groups traditionally could be considered agro-pastoralists. Because their physical environment offered only limited land and agricultural possibilities, the Tibeto-Nepalese groups who occupied the high mountainous areas, such as the Bhote and particularly the Sherpa, were almost forced to rely more on herding and pastoral activities than on crop farming. They also participated in seasonal trading activity to supplement their income and food supply. However, those peoples inhabiting the medium and low hills south of the high mountains-- particularly the Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Rai, and Limbu groups-- depended on farming and herding in relatively equal amounts because their environment was relatively more suitable for agriculture. Among these groups, the Gurung, Magar, and Rai historically have supplied the bulk of the famous Gurkha contingents to the British and Indian armies, although their ranks have been augmented from the Thakuri and Chhetri castes of the Indo-Nepalese Paharis. The term Gurkha was derived from the name of the former principality of Gorkha, about seventy kilometers west of Kathmandu, and was not an ethnic designation.
One integral aspect of Nepalese society is the existence of the Hindu caste system, modeled after the ancient and orthodox Brahmanic system of the Indian plains. The caste system did not exist prior to the arrival of Indo-Aryans. Its establishment became the basis of the emergence of the feudalistic economic structure of Nepal: the high-caste Hindus began to appropriate lands-- particularly lowlands that were more easily accessible, more cultivatable, and more productive--including those belonging to the existing tribal people, and introduced the system of individual ownership. Even though the cultural and religious rigidity of the caste system slowly has been eroding, its introduction into Nepal was one of the most significant influences stemming from the migration of the Indo-Aryan people into the hills. The migrants from the north later were incorporated into the Hindu caste system, as defined by Indo-Aryan migrants, who quickly controlled the positions of power and authority. Tibetan migrants did not practice private ownership; their system was based on communal ownership.
No single, widely acceptable definition can be advanced for the caste system. Bishop and others, however, view caste as a multifaceted status hierarchy composed of all members of society, with each individual ranked within the broad, fourfold Hindu class (varna, or color) divisions, or within the fifth class of untouchables--outcastes and the socially polluted. The fourfold caste divisions are Brahman (priests and scholars), Kshatriya or Chhetri (rulers and warriors), Vaisya (or Vaisaya, merchants and traders), and Sudra (farmers, artisans, and laborers). These Pahari caste divisions based on the Hindu system are not strictly upheld by the Newars. They have their own caste hierarchy, which, they claim, is parallel in caste divisions to the Pahari Hindu system. In each system, each caste (jati) is ideally an endogamous group in which membership is both hereditary and permanent. The only way to change caste status is to undergo Sanskritization. Sanskritization can be achieved by migrating to a new area and by changing one's caste status and/or marrying across the caste line, which can lead to the upgrading or downgrading of caste, depending on the spouse's caste. However, given the rigidity of the caste system, intercaste marriage carries a social stigma, especially when it takes place between two castes at the extreme ends of the social spectrum.
As Bishop further asserts, at the core of the caste structure is a rank order of values bound up in concepts of ritual status, purity, and pollution. Furthermore, caste determines an individual's behavior, obligations, and expectations. All the social, economic, religious, legal, and political activities of a caste society are prescribed by sanctions that determine and limit access to land, position of political power, and command of human labor. Within such a constrictive system, wealth, political power, high rank, and privilege converge; hereditary occupational specialization is a common feature. Nevertheless, caste is functionally significant only when viewed in a regional or local context and at a particular time. The assumed correlation between the caste hierarchy and the socioeconomic class hierarchy does not always hold. Because of numerous institutional changes over the years and increased dilution (or expansion) of the caste hierarchy stemming from intercaste marriages, many poor high-caste and rich low-caste households could be found in the society in 1991.
Although Paharis, especially those in rural areas, were generally quite conscious of their caste status, the question of caste did not usually arise for Tibeto-Nepalese communities unless they were aware of the Hindu caste status arbitrarily assigned to them. Insofar as they accepted caste-based notions of social rank, the Tibeto-Nepalese tended not only to see themselves at a higher level than did the Hindu Pahari and Newar, but also differed as to ranking among themselves. Thus, it was doubtful that the reported Rai caste's assumption of rank superiority over the Magar and Gurung castes was accepted by the two latter groups. Moreover, the status of a particular group was apt to vary from place to place, depending on its relative demographic size, wealth, and local power.
Even though Nepali (written in Devanagari script, the same as Sanskrit and Hindi) was the national language and was mentioned as the mother tongue by approximately 58 percent of the population, there were several other languages and dialects. Other languages included Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tharu, Tamang, Newari, and Abadhi. Non-Nepali languages and dialects rarely were spoken outside their ethnic enclaves. In order to estimate the numerical distribution of different ethnic groups, the census data indicating various mother tongues spoken in the country must be used.
In terms of linguistic roots, Nepali, Maithili, and Bhojpuri belonged to the Indo-European family; the mother tongues of the Tibeto-Nepalese groups, including Newari, belonged predominantly to the Tibeto-Burman family. The Pahari, whose mother tongue was Nepali, was the largest ethnic group. If the Maithili- and Bhojpuri-speaking populations of the Tarai were included, more than 75 percent of the population belonged to the Indo-Nepalese ethnic group. Only three other ethnic groups--the Tamang, the Tharu, and the Newar--approached or slightly exceeded the one-half million population mark. Most of those non-Nepali linguistic and ethnic population groups were closely knit by bonds of nationalism and cultural harmony, and they were concentrated in certain areas.
In the mid-twentieth century, Nepal remained gripped in a feudalistic socioeconomic structure despite the influence of Western popular culture, growing commercialization, and some penetration of capitalism. The first challenge to this feudalistic power structure came in 1950-51, when the Rana autocracy was overthrown by the popular democratic movement that restored the authority of the monarchy.
There was no popularly elected government until 1959. During his reign, King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev frequently changed the government, pitting one ruling clan against another in a manner clearly reminiscent of Shah politics prior to the rise of Rana rule. He also reconstituted the system of palace patronage, replacing the system of Rana patronage. The Ranas, however, firmly controlled the armed forces.
In December 1960, King Mahendra launched a palace coup against the popularly elected government of Prime Minister Bishweshwar Prasad (B.P.) Koirala and reestablished his absolute monarchical rule under the banner of the partyless panchayat system. Until early 1990, the panchayat system, strictly controlled by the palace, remained firmly in place. The transition to a new social order was stymied; society remained entrenched in a feudalistic structure.
There was, however, a tide of Western popular culture and commercialization sweeping over Nepal. In the 1960s and 1970s, many Westerners, so-called hippies, were attracted to Nepal, looking for inexpensive marijuana and hashish. Nepal suddenly emerged as a "hippie Shangri-la." There were no laws or legal restrictions on the sale and purchase of such drugs, and they could be used openly. In fact, some Westerners thought the Nepalese were generally happy and content because they were always high. Although this view was a distortion, nonetheless it was very common to see elderly Nepalese men smoking marijuana, invariably mixed with tobacco, in public. Marijuana plants grew almost everywhere; sometimes they were found growing even along main streets. Locally produced hashish also was widely consumed, particularly during festivals celebrated by some ethnic groups and tribes. It was, however, very unusual for a Nepalese to develop a marijuana or hashish habit until reaching about forty years of age.
By the late 1980s, the situation had changed dramatically. There was an emerging drug subculture in the urban areas, and a number of youths, including college and high school students, sold and consumed drugs. Many of these youths had gone beyond using marijuana and hashish to more potent drugs, such as "crack" and cocaine--drugs unheard of in the past. In the 1960s, Westerners had sought release from the overbearing materialism of developed countries; they copied the Nepalese (and other Easterners) who smoked marijuana and hashish. Ironically, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was Nepalese youths who were enchanted by the North American material and drug culture. There were an estimated 20,000 heroin addicts in 1989. In response to the drug situation in the country, in the late 1980s the government initiated antinarcotics measures and narcotics training, and King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev directed extensive media attention to narcotics abuse. The effectiveness of the battle against narcotics, however, was limited by the lack of an official government body to target drug abuse.
Nepal in the early 1990s was predominantly a rural-agricultural society, where more than 90 percent of the people lived in rural areas and depended on farming as a source of livelihood. Even in settlements designated as urban areas, the rural-urban distinction easily was blurred; approximately 50 percent of urbanites outside the three cities in the Kathmandu Valley were engaged in farming for their livelihood. Even in the Kathmandu Valley cities, 30 to 40 percent of city dwellers were agriculturalists. In this sense, most urban areas were economic extensions of rural areas, but with an urban manifestation and a commercial component. Farming was the dominant order of society and the mainstay of the economy, a situation that was unlikely to change, given the extremely sluggish pace of economic transformation.
The basic social unit in a village was the family, or paribar, consisting of a patrilineally extended household. The extended family system should not, however, be construed as a necessarily harmonious form of village life. Many extended families broke apart as sons separated from parents and brothers from each other. At the time of separation, the family property was equally divided among the sons. If parents were alive, they each received a share. Family separation generally occurred in cases where the head of the household was less assertive and domineering, when the father died, or when all the sons married. Unmarried sons normally did not separate from their parents; if the parents were deceased, unmarried sons usually stayed with their older brothers. Because family separation always resulted in a division of family landholdings, landholdings were extremely fragmented, both geographically and socially. Sometimes, family separation and resulting land fragmentation turned into a bitter feud and led to legal disputes.
Beyond the immediate family, there existed a larger kinship network that occasionally involved sharing food. This network also was an important means of meeting farm labor needs, especially during the planting and harvesting seasons, when labor shortages were common.
Above the kinship network was the village, which functioned as a broader unit of social existence. Some villages were no more than hamlets made up of just a few houses; others were sizable communities of several neighboring hamlets. In more populous villages, the caste groups contained occupational low (untouchable) caste groups, such as the Kami (ironsmiths who make tools), the Sarki (leathersmiths), and the Damai (tailors and musicians), who fulfilled the vital basic needs of the village as a fairly selfcontained production unit.
Villagers occasionally pooled their resources and labored together to implement village-level projects, such as building irrigation ditches or channels, or facilities for drinking water. If a household could afford to hire farm labor, it usually relied on the mutual labor-sharing system called parma, which allowed villagers to exchange labor for labor at times of need.
Although farming traditionally ranked among the most desirable occupations, villagers frequently encouraged some of their children to leave in search of civil service, army, and other employment opportunities. Individual migration was often the result of a family decision and an important economic strategy; it not only served as a safety valve for growing population pressures but also generated cash incomes, thereby averting any undue economic crises in the family. Well-to-do village families usually pushed their children to obtain civil service jobs as a means of climbing the bureaucratic ladder and of developing valuable connections with the elite political structure.
Farming was the most important source of livelihood in rural areas, but the scarcity of land placed severe constraints on agricultural development. Landholding was the most important basis for, or criterion of, socioeconomic stratification. The 1981 agricultural census data identifies five classes of peasantry: landless and nearly landless, people with no land or less than half a hectare; subsistence, those with half a hectare to one hectare; small, holders of one to three hectares; medium, people with three to five hectares; and large, farmers of more than five hectares.
In terms of production relations, the first two classes were dependent on large landowners for survival. Small landowners, on the other hand, were relatively independent; they did not have to depend on the large landowning class for survival, especially if they were involved in circular migration as a source of supplementary cash income. Nor did they regularly employ members of the first two classes. Landowners of medium-sized plots were independent of large landowners. Their engagement in wage laboring or tenancy farming was sporadic, if present at all. In some cases, they employed others during peak farming seasons. The large landowning class regularly employed farm workers and benefited from the existence of excess labor, which kept wages low. In general, the situation of landholders was exacerbated by the archaic nature of farming technology and the absence of other resources. It was not surprising that rural poverty was widespread.
The United Nations has defined the status of women in the context of their access to knowledge, economic resources, and political power, as well as their personal autonomy in the process of decision making. When Nepalese women's status is analyzed in this light, the picture is generally bleak. In the early 1990s, Nepal was a rigidly patriarchical society. In virtually every aspect of life, women were generally subordinate to men.
Women's relative status, however, varied from one ethnic group to another. The status of women in Tibeto-Nepalese communities generally, was relatively better than that of Pahari and Newari women. Women from the low caste groups also enjoyed relatively more autonomy and freedom than Pahari and Newari women.
The senior female member played a commanding role within the family by controlling resources, making crucial planting and harvesting decisions, and determining the expenses and budget allocations. Yet women's lives remained centered on their traditional roles--taking care of most household chores, fetching water and animal fodder, and doing farm work. Their standing in society was mostly contingent on their husbands' and parents' social and economic positions. They had limited access to markets, productive services, education, health care, and local government. Malnutrition and poverty hit women hardest. Female children usually were given less food than male children, especially when the family experienced food shortages. Women usually worked harder and longer than men. By contrast, women from high-class families had maids to take care of most household chores and other menial work and thus worked far less than men or women in lower socioeconomic groups.
The economic contribution of women was substantial, but largely unnoticed because their traditional role was taken for granted. When employed, their wages normally were 25 percent less than those paid to men. In most rural areas, their employment outside the household generally was limited to planting, weeding, and harvesting. In urban areas, they were employed in domestic and traditional jobs, as well as in the government sector, mostly in low-level positions.
One tangible measure of women's status was their educational attainment. Although the constitution offers women equal educational opportunities, many social, economic, and cultural factors contributed to lower enrollment and higher dropout rates for girls. Illiteracy imposed the greatest hindrance to enhancing equal opportunity and status for women. They were caught in a vicious circle imposed by the patriarchical society. Their lower status hindered their education, and the lack of education, in turn, constricted their status and position. Although the female literacy rate has improved noticeably over the years, the level in the early 1990s fell far short of the male level.
The level of educational attainment among female children of wealthy and educated families was much higher than that among female children of poor families. This class disparity in educational attainment was also true for boys. In Nepal, as in many societies, education was heavily class-biased.
In the early 1990s, a direct correlation existed between the level of education and status. Educated women had access to relatively high-status positions in the government and private service sectors, and they had a much higher status than uneducated women. This general rule was more applicable at the societal level than at the household level. Within the family, an educated woman did not necessarily hold a higher status than her uneducated counterpart. Also within the family, a woman's status, especially a daughter-in-law's status, was more closely tied to her husband's authority and to her parental family's wealth and status than anything else.
In terms of differences in wealth and access to political power, Nepalese society could be divided into a small ruling elite; a growing, intermediate-sized group of government officials, large landholders, and merchants; and the vast majority of the population, consisting of a peasant base. These divisions are descriptive, functional class categories rather than social class entities based on the Marxian concept of the social relations of production. In a way, all three classes were a long continuum in Nepal's social structure because most members of the ruling elite and government functionaries had their direct roots in the rural landed class, which was one stratum of the farming population.
Even though the agricultural sector as a whole faced similar economic and technological circumstances, it was diverse and contained several strata in landholding, relative economic dependence, and independence. The numerically small intermediate stratum of the farmers was only slightly less diverse than the rest of the rural population in terms of members' ethnic and geographical backgrounds. The relative economic and educational advantages of this group and its occupational activities, however, made its members relatively homogeneous in terms of shared interest. They generally aspired to achieve a middle- or elite-class status.
The smallest and least diverse of the three categories was the ruling elite, largely composed of high-caste, educated Paharis, namely different strata of Brahmans and Chhetris. At the zenith of this class was the monarch, whose authority was derived from the orthodox Hindu contention that the king was the reincarnation of Vishnu, whose assigned role in the Hindu trinity is protection. The monarch's authority was not based on electoral support.
The continued expansion of the bureaucracy was a direct response to a consistent increase in the educated population. Because of the lack of development, a large number of educated people failed to find gainful employment upon graduation. Because they constituted the most potent revolutionary force, and happened to be geographically concentrated in urban centers, the ruling class was almost compelled to absorb them into an already bloated bureaucracy in order to neutralize any sociopolitical disturbance they might cause.
In the 1980s, a significant number of college- and universityeducated people residing in Kathmandu Valley cities discovered a second employment outlet. Development consultant firms and associated services have emerged throughout Kathmandu. Because of the growing pressure on foreign donors to hire Nepalese consultants for development feasibility and evaluation projects, these firms were able to tap into the large pool of foreign aid money and have generated a significant number of jobs. This opportunity has allowed many of the more educated to attain middle class status.
Religion occupies an integral position in Nepalese life and society. In the early 1990s, Nepal was the only constitutionally declared Hindu state in the world; there was, however, a great deal of intermingling of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Many of the people regarded as Hindus in the 1981 census could, with as much justification, be called Buddhists. The fact that Hindus worshipped at Buddhist temples and Buddhists worshipped at Hindu temples has been one of the principal reasons adherents of the two dominant groups in Nepal have never engaged in any overt religious conflicts. Because of such dual faith practices (or mutual respect), the differences between Hindus and Buddhists have been in general very subtle and academic in nature. However, in 1991, approximately 89.5 percent of the Nepalese people identified themselves as Hindus. Buddhists and Muslims comprised only 5.3 and 2.7 percent, respectively. The remainder followed other religions, including Christianity.
The geographical distribution of religious groups revealed a preponderance of Hindus, accounting for at least 87 percent of the population in every region. The largest concentrations of Buddhists were found in the eastern hills, the Kathmandu Valley, and the central Tarai; in each area about 10 percent of the people were Buddhist. Buddhism was relatively more common among the Newar and Tibeto-Nepalese groups. Among the Tibeto-Nepalese, those most influenced by Hinduism were the Magar, Sunwar, and Rai peoples. Hindu influence was less prominent among the Gurung, Limbu, Bhote, and Thakali groups, who continued to employ Buddhist monks for their religious ceremonies.
Hinduism generally is regarded as the oldest formal religion in the world. The origins of Hinduism go back to the pastoral Aryan tribes, spilling over the Hindu Kush from Inner Asia, and mixing with the urban civilization of the Indus Valley and with the tribal cultures of hunting and gathering peoples in the area. Unlike other world religions, Hinduism had no single founder and has never been missionary in orientation. It is believed that about 1200 B.C., or even earlier by some accounts, the Vedas, a body of hymns originating in northern India were produced; these texts form the theological and philosophical precepts of Hinduism.
Hindus believe that the absolute (the totality of existence, including God, man, and universe) is too vast to be contained within a single set of beliefs. A highly diverse and complex religion, Hinduism embraces six philosophical doctrines (darshanas). From these doctrines, individuals select one that is congenial, or conduct their worship simply on a convenient level of morality and observance. Religious practices differ from group to group. The average Hindu does not need any systematic formal creed in order to practice his or her religion Hindus only to comply with the customs of their family and social groups.
One basic concept in Hinduism is that of dharma, natural law and the social and religious obligations it imposes. It holds that individuals should play their proper role in society as determined or prescribed by their dharma. The caste system, although not essential to philosophical Hinduism, has become an integral part of its social or dharmic expression. Under this system, each person is born into a particular caste, whose traditional occupation-- although members do not necessarily practice it--is graded according to the degree of purity and impurity inherent in it.
Other fundamental ideas common to all Hindus concern the nature and destiny of the soul, and the basic forces of the universe. The souls of human beings are seen as separated portions of an allembracing world soul (brahma); man's ultimate goal is reunion with this absolute.
Karma (universal justice) is the belief that the consequence of every good or bad action must be fully realized. Another basic concept is that of samsara, the transmigration of souls; rebirth is required by karma in order that the consequences of action be fulfilled. The role an individual must play throughout his or her life is fixed by his or her good and evil actions in previous existences. It is only when the individual soul sees beyond the veil of maya (illusion or earthly desires)--the forces leading to belief in the appearances of things--that it is able to realize its identity with the impersonal, transcendental reality (world soul) and to escape from the otherwise endless cycle of rebirth to be absorbed into the world soul. This release is known as moksha.
Veneration for the cow has come to be intimately associated with all orthodox Hindu sects. Because the cow is regarded as the symbol of motherhood and fruitfulness, the killing of a cow, even accidentally, is regarded as one of the most serious of religious transgressions.
Hinduism is polytheistic. It incorporates many gods and goddesses with different functions and powers; but in the most important and widely held doctrine, the Vedanta (end of the Vedas), gods and goddesses are considered merely different manifestations or aspects of a single underlying divinity. This single divinity is expressed as a Hindu triad comprising the religion's three major gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, personifying creation, preservation, and destruction, respectively. Vishnu and Shiva, or some of their numerous avatars (incarnations), are most widely followed.
Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is regarded as the ninth avatar of Vishnu. Some Hindus identify Christ as the tenth avatar; others regard Kalki as the final avatar who is yet to come. These avatars are believed to descend upon earth to restore peace, order, and justice, or to save humanity from injustice. The Mahabharata (compiled by the sage Vyasa, probably before A.D. 400), describes the great civil war between the Pandavas (the good) and the Kauravas (the bad)--two factions of the same clan. It is believed that the war was created by Krishna. Perhaps the flashiest and craftiest avatar of Vishnu, Krishna, as a part of his lila (sport or act), is believed motivated to restore justice--the good over the bad.
Buddhism had its origin in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, a Kshatriya caste prince of the Sakya clan; he was born in Lumbini, in the central Tarai Region, about 563 B.C. His father was the ruler of a minor principality in the region. Born a Hindu and educated in the Hindu tradition, Siddhartha Gautama renounced worldly life at about the age of twenty-nine and spent the next six years in meditation. At the end of this time, he attained enlightenment; thereafter, known as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One, he devoted the remainder of his life to preaching his doctrine.
The Buddha accepted or reinterpreted the basic concepts of Hinduism, such as karma, samsara, dharma, and moksha, but he generally refused to commit himself to specific metaphysical theories. He said they were essentially irrelevant to his teachings and could only distract attention from them. He was interested in restoring a concern with morality to religious life, which he believed had become stifled in details of ritual, external observances, and legalisms.
The Four Noble Truths summarize the Buddha's analysis of the human situation and the solution he found for the problems of life. The first truth is that life, in a world of unceasing change, is inherently imperfect and sorrowful, and that misery is not merely a result of occasional frustration of desire or misfortune, but is a quality permeating all experience. The second truth is that the cause of sorrow is desire, the emotional involvement with existence that led from rebirth to rebirth through the operation of karma. The third truth is that the sorrow can be ended by eliminating desire. The fourth truth sets forth the Eightfold Path leading to elimination of desire, rebirth, and sorrow, and to the attainment of nirvana or nibbana, a state of bliss and selfless enlightment. It rejoins right or perfect understanding, aspiration, speech, action, livelihood, effort, thought, and contemplation.
The Rana rulers, who placed Nepal under their feudal yoke for about 100 years until the beginning of the 1950s, feared an educated public. This fear also was held by Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Rana, who established Tri-Chandra College in 1918 and named it after himself. During the inauguration of the college, Chandra Shamsher lamented that its opening was the ultimate death knell to Rana rule. He personally felt responsible for the downfall of Rana rule, and his words became prophetic for the crumbling of Rana political power in 1950-51.
The privileged access of members of the higher castes and wealthier economic strata to education was for centuries a distinguishing feature of society. The Ranas kept education the exclusive prerogative of the ruling elite; the rest of the population remained largely illiterate. The Ranas were opposed to any form of public schooling for the people, although they emphasized formal instruction for their own children to prepare them for a place in the government.
The founder of the Rana regime, Jang Bahadur Kunwar, later known as Jang Bahadur Rana, decided to give his children an English education rather than the traditional religiously oriented training. In 1854 Jang Bahadur engaged an English tutor to hold classes for his children in the Rana palace. This act tipped the balance in favor of English education and established its supremacy over the traditional type of Sanskrit-based education. In 1991 English education still carried a higher status and prestige than did traditional education.
Jang Bahadur's successor opened these classes to all Rana children and formally organized them into Durbar High School. A brief shift in government education policy came in 1901, when Prime Minister Dev Shamsher Rana took office and called for sweeping education reforms. He proposed a system of universal public primary education, using Nepali as the language of instruction, and opening Durbar High School to children who were not members of the Rana clan. Dev Shamsher's policies were so unpopular that he was deposed within a few months. His call for reforms did not entirely disappear, however. A few Nepali-language primary schools in the Kathmandu Valley, the Hill Region, and the Tarai remained open, and the practice of admitting a few middle- and low-caste children to Durbar High School continued.
Before World War II (1939-45), several new English middle and high schools were founded in Patan, Biratnagar, and elsewhere, and a girls' high school was opened in Kathmandu. In the villages, public respect for education was increasing, largely as a result of the influence of returning Gurkha soldiers, many of whom had learned to read and write while serving in the British army. Some retired soldiers began giving rudimentary education to children in their villages. Some members of the high-caste, elite families sent their children to Patna University, Banaras Hindu University, or other universities in India for higher academic or technical training. It was in fact, some of these students, having realized how oppressive the policies of Rana rule were, who initiated antiRana movements, provided revolutionary cadres, and finally began the revolution that ultimately led to the overthrow of Rana rule in 1951.
Before the 1950-51 revolution, Nepal had 310 primary and middle schools, eleven high schools, two colleges, one normal school, and one special technical school. In the early 1950s, the average literacy rate was 5 percent. Literacy among males was 10 percent and among females less than 1 percent. Only 1 child in 100 attended school.
After the 1951 revolution, efforts were made to establish an education system. The National Education Planning Commission was founded in 1954, the All Round National Education Committee in 1961, and the National Education Advisory Board in 1968 in order to implement and to refine the education system. In 1971 the New Education System came into operation as an integral part of the Fourth Five-Year Plan (1970-75); it was designed to address individual, as well as societal, needs in concert with the goals of national development.
Formal schooling in modern times was still constrained by the economy and culture. Children were generally needed to work in the fields and at home. Many students began school late (at ages nine or ten); more than half left school after completing only one year. Educating females was viewed as unnecessary; as a consequence, their enrollment levels were far lower than those of males. Regional variations often hindered the effectiveness of uniform text materials and teacher training. Although the government was relatively successful in establishing new schools, the quality of education remained low, particularly in remote regions where the majority of the population lived. Terrain further inhibited management and supervision of schools.
Most schools operated for ten months of the year, five and onehalf days a week. In the warmer regions, June and July were vacation months; in the northern regions, mid-December through midFebruary were vacation months. All schools in Kathmandu closed for winter vacation.
In 1975 primary education was made free, and the government became responsible for providing school facilities, teachers, and educational materials. Primary schooling was compulsory; it began at age six and lasted for five years. Secondary education began at age eleven and lasted another five years in two cycles--two years (lower) and three years (higher). Total school enrollment was approximately 52 percent of school-age children (approximately 70 percent of school-age boys, 30 percent of school-age girls) in 1984. Secondary school enrollment was only 18 percent of the relevant age-group (27 percent of the total boys, 9 percent of the total girls). About 72 percent of all students were male. The Ministry of Education supervised the finance, administration, staffing, and inspection of government schools. It also inspected private schools that received government subsidies.
As of 1987, Nepal had 12,491 primary schools, 3,824 lowersecondary schools, and 1,501 higher-secondary schools. There were 55,207 primary, 11,744 lower-secondary, and 8,918 higher-secondary school teachers. Primary school enrollments totaled 1,952,504 persons; lower-secondary and higher-secondary enrollment figures stood at 289,594 and 289,923 persons, respectively.
Curriculum was greatly influenced by United States models, and it was developed with assistance from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. The National Education Plan established a framework for universal education. The goal of primary education was to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, and to instill discipline and hygiene. Lower-secondary education emphasized character formation, a positive attitude toward manual labor, and perseverance. Higher-secondary education stressed manpower requirements and preparation for higher education. National development goals were emphasized through the curriculum.
The School Leaving Certificate examination, a nationally administered and monitored high-school-matriculation examination, was given after completion of the higher-secondary level. Those who passed this examination were eligible for college. In addition, some communities had adult education schools.
In the early 1980s, approximately 60 percent of the primary school teachers and 35 percent of secondary school teachers were untrained, despite the institution of a uniform method of training in 1951. The Institute of Education, part of Tribhuvan University, was responsible for inservice and preservice teacher training programs. Beginning in 1976, the institute organized a distancelearning program--electronic links between distant locations--for prospective teachers. Developments in telecommunications will provide new educational options.
At the higher education level, there was only one doctoral degree-granting institution in Nepal, Tribhuvan University. It was named after King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah, the grandfather of King Birendra, and was chartered in 1959. All public colleges fell under Tribhuvan University. Private colleges were operated independently, although they also were required to meet the requirements and standards set by Tribhuvan University. The total number of colleges increased significantly, from 8 in 1958 to 132 in 1988 (69 under Tribhuvan University and 63 private colleges). In terms of subjects, these colleges covered a wide range of disciplines, such as social sciences; humanities; commerce (business); physical sciences, including some medical sciences; engineering; education; forestry; law; and Sanskrit. The number of students enrolled in higher education institutions totaled almost 83,000 in 1987; the largest percentage was in humanities and social sciences (40 percent), followed by commerce (31 percent), science and technology (11 percent), and education (6 percent). Approximately 20 percent of the students enrolled in Tribhuvan University were females.
The 1981 census found 24 percent of the population to be literate; as of 1990, the literacy rate was estimated to be 33 percent. There still was a big gap between male and female literacy rates. About 35 percent of the male population was literate in 1981, but only 11.5 percent of the female population was. A gulf also existed in literacy rates between rural and urban areas. In rural areas, the literacy rates for males and females were 33 percent and 9 percent, respectively; in urban areas, they were significantly higher, 62 percent and 37 percent, respectively. The higher literacy rates in urban areas were largely attributed to the availability of more and better educational opportunities, a greater awareness of the need for education for employment and socioeconomic mobility, and the exodus of educated people from rural to urban areas. Nepal launched a twelve-year literacy program in 1990, targeting 8 million people between the ages of six and forty-five.
There was little doubt among observers that the historical monopoly of educational opportunity by members of the wealthier and higher caste groups gradually was diminishing. Schools and colleges were open to all, and enrollment figures were rising rapidly. The long-standing prejudice against the education of women seemed to be very slowly breaking down, as attested to by increasing enrollments of girls in schools and colleges. Yet two distinct biases--social class and geography--remained pronounced in educational attainment.
Despite general accessibility, education still nonetheless primarily served children of landlords, businessmen, government leaders, or other elite members of the society, for they were the only ones who could easily afford to continue beyond primary school. They also were far more able to afford, and likely to continue, education beyond the high school level. Many students in the general population dropped out before they took the School Leaving Certificate examination. There was an even more important ingredient for success after leaving school: if the quality of available higher education was considered inadequate or inferior, higher caste families could afford to send their children overseas to obtain necessary degrees. Foreign educational degrees, especially those obtained from American and West European institutions, carried greater prestige than degrees from Nepal. Higher caste families also had the necessary connections to receive government scholorships to study abroad.
Further, education remained largely urban-biased. The majority of education institutions, particularly better quality institutions, were found in urban areas. In rural areas where schools were set up, the quality of instruction was inferior, facilities were very poor, and educational materials were either difficult to find or virtually unavailable. Consequently, if rural families were serious about the education of their children, they were forced to send them to urban areas, a very expensive proposition that the vast majority of rural households could not afford.
Although there has been a remarkable numerical growth in the literacy rates, as well as the number of education institutions over the years, the quality of education has not necessarily improved. There were few top-notch teachers and professors, and their morale was low. At the higher educational level, the research focus or tradition was virtually absent, largely because there were few research facilities available for professors. There were some excellent private schools, mostly located in the Kathmandu Valley, but many appeared to be merely money-making ventures rather than serious, devoted educational enterprises. The large majority of schools and colleges were run by poorly prepared and poorly trained teachers and professors. Schools and colleges frequently were closed because of strikes. Students had little respect for teachers and professors and were concerned with obtaining a certificate rather than a quality education. Cheating was rampant during examinations at all levels.
Health-care problems were varied and enormous. Health and health-care facilities were generally poor and directly reflected the mode of life. The majority of people lived in mass poverty and deprivation, while the nation's small wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few. Deprivation was apparent in the pervasiveness of poor nutrition and sanitation, inadequate housing for most families, and the general absence of modern medical care and other social services, especially in rural areas. The rich lived comparatively well but also shared such common problems as the lack of an abundant and clean water supply, and the prevalence of disease.
Poor health conditions were evident in the high rate of infant mortality and a short life expectancy. In the mid-1960s, a national health survey was conducted. In 1991 that survey was still considered the major comprehensive published source of information on the national public health situation.
A number of diseases and chronic infections were prevalent. Goiter, a disease directly associated with iodine deficiency, was endemic in certain villages in the hills and mountains. In most of the villages surveyed, more than half of the population had goiter, and in these same villages the incidence of deafness and mental retardation was much higher than in other villages. Leprosy also was a serious problem. Foreign assistance, specifically through Christian missions, was responsible for setting up leprosy treatment centers in different parts of the country. Tuberculosis has been a chronic problem and was more common in urban areas. During the 1970s, the Tuberculosis Control Project was established to provide immunizations to all children younger than fifteen, and it is likely that this project has reduced tuberculosis. Other chronic, widespread problems were intestinal parasites, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal disorders. Some polio and typhoid infections were common but not severe.
Malnutrition was a chronic problem, especially in rural areas. More than 50 percent of the children surveyed were reported to have stunted growth. "Wasting," defined as a condition in which a child has very low weight for his or her height, was also evident. These conditions were particularly bad in the Hill and Mountain regions, both of which suffered from food shortages. The country's public health program, however, has essentially eliminated smallpox and has been able to control malaria, which used to be endemic to the Tarai Region and other lowlands.
The health-care delivery network in Nepal was poorly developed. Health-care practices in the country could be classified into three major categories: popular folk medical care, which relied on a jhankri (medicine man or shaman); Ayurvedic treatment; and allopathic (modern) medicine. These practices were not necessarily exclusive; most people used all three, depending on the type of illness and the availability of services, sometimes even simultaneously.
Popular folk medicine derived from a large body of commonly held assumptions about magical and supernatural causes of illness. Sickness and death often were attributed to ghosts, demons, and evil spirits, or they were thought to result from the evil eye, planetary influences, or the displeasures of ancestors. Many precautions against these dangers were taken, including the wearing of charms or certain ornaments, the avoidance of certain foods and sights, and the propitiation of ghosts and gods with sacrificial gifts. When illness struck or an epidemic threatened, people went to see a jhankri for treatment. Such pseudomedical practices were ubiquitous; in many parts of Nepal, a jhankri was the only source of medical care available. Nepalese also regularly saw jotishi (Brahman astrologers) for counseling because they believed in planetary influence on their lives, resulting from disalignments of certain planetary signs. Jotishi were commonly relied on even in urban areas, and even by those who were well educated and frequently used modern medicine. And, virtually no arranged marital union was proposed and concluded without first consulting a jotishi.
The Ayurvedic system of medicine was believed to have evolved among the Hindus about 2,000 years ago. It originally was based on the Ayur-Veda (the Veda of Long Life), but a vast literature since has accumulated around this original text. According to the Ayurvedic theory, the body, like the universe, consists of three forces--phlegm, bile, and wind--and physical and spiritual wellbeing rests on maintaining the proper balance among these three internal forces. A harmonious existence between body and mind results. Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia--based on medicinal plants, plant roots, and herbs--remained a major source of medical treatment in Nepal. This school of medical practice also applies the hot-and- cold concept of foods and diets. In the late 1980s, there were nearly 280 practicing Ayurvedic physicians, popularly known as vaidhya, 145 Ayurvedic dispensaries, and a national college of Ayurvedic medicine in Kathmandu.
In 1991 the most commonly used form of medical treatment, especially for major health problems, was modern medicine whenever and wherever accessible. Within the domain of modern medicine, providing public health-care facilities was largely the responsibility of the government. Private facilities also existed in various regions. Modern medical service generally was provided by trained doctors, paramedics, nurses, and other community health workers. The government-operated health-care delivery system consisted of hospitals and health centers, including health posts in rural areas.
Hospitals were located mostly in urban areas and provided a much wider range of medical services than health centers. They were attended by doctors, as well as by nurses, and equipped with basic laboratory facilities. Small health centers and posts in rural areas--most of them staffed by paramedical personnel, health aides, and other minimally trained community health workers--served the needs of the scattered population. Even though these rural facilities were more accessible than urban hospitals, they generally failed to provide necessary services on a regular and consistent basis. The majority of them were barely functional because of such problems as inadequate funding; lack of trained staff; absenteeism; and chronic shortages of equipment, medicines, and vaccines.
Nepal had a total of 123 hospitals, eighteen health centers, and 816 health posts in 1990. There was one hospital bed for every 4,283 persons, an improvement since 1977, when there was one hospital bed for every 6,489 persons. The number of doctors totaled 879 in 1988, or one physician available for about 20,000 people. For the same period, other medical personnel included 601 nurses, 2,062 assistant nurses and midwives, 2,790 senior and assistant auxiliary health workers and health assistants, and 6,808 villagebased health workers.
There was no doubt in the late 1980s that considerable progress had been made in health care, but the available facilities were still inadequate to meet the growing medical needs of the population. The majority of people lacked easy access to modern medical centers, partly because of the absence of such facilities in nearby locations and partly because of the physical barrier posed by the country's rugged terrain. Because there were very few modern means of transportation in rural areas, particularly in the hills and mountains, people had to walk on average about half a day to get to health posts. Such a long walk was not only difficult (especially when the patient needed medical attention), but also meant economic hardship for the majority who rarely could afford to be absent for the whole day from their daily work. As a result, many minor illnesses went untreated, and some of them later developed into major illnesses.
In the early 1990s, Nepal's geographical limitations continued to play a large part in the country's social and economic problems. Moreover, despite twenty-five years of family planning programs, the population growth rate continued to outpace agricultural production and parts of the country continued to be food deficit areas. The educational base was also limited; only one-third of the population was literate. The generally poor health of the population and a lack of adequate health-care facilities also hindered social and economic improvements.