Cultural Dominance and Women Life in Nepal
Religion is a medium to bond groups of people together. Not only does it keep people united, it keeps them in certain disciplines and boundaries. There are many religions around the world but Hindusium has been always the dominant of all the religions in Nepal. A research report, “Portrait of Nepal” states more than 81% of the total population follows the Hindusium. According to Cline’s “Report on Religious Liberty in Nepal”, Hindusium is not bound by a set of books; it is the unscripted law that people followed from around 1200 B.
C. The lifestyles are bound by the cultural values that the communities possess. But the cultural value relies on superstitious beliefs and has been an ongoing issue and a big problem, especially for the women in Nepalese society. However, dominant values of Nepalese culture are dented in certain ways due to the world wide interaction, education, and western cultural influence.
In the early period and up to the 1980’s, people of Nepal were extensively obsessed with the religious values and cultures.
Most of the people did not have the chance to go to school. In most parts of hilly and remote areas there were no primary schools. With farming being the main occupation, people never thought about educating their children. They were poor and all they would do in the future was farming. So, the only medium of educating people was through the religious values and etiquette. Doing anything beyond the religious boundary was considered offensive towards the family. Especially, women had to face extensive discrimination in the male dominant society. The chance of women getting an education was almost zero. The only thing women were supposed to do was to help their parents in house, farm, and to cook food until they are married and after marriage the only thing women had to do was work as a housewife. An article on literacy states, “Before the sun rises, Nepalese women have already begun to carry water, grind the day’s grain, fetch firewood for the stove, [. . .] wash any leftover dishes, and take care of their infants, as well as the mother-in-law and father-in-law, if it happens to be in a joint Nepalese family” (Manandhar, Leslie). Therefore, women would never have free time from their household jobs and they could not imagine themselves being at school.
Women’s sexual life has always been a social and cultural issue in Nepal. “In Nepal, as in other Asain countries, strong norms persist that prohibit premarital sexual contact between young men and women and the topic of sexuality largely remains a taboo” (Adhikari, Tamang). In early 1980’s and before that period women used to be married at the age of 10-12 and even earlier. Their parents would get them married in the age when they don’t even know what marriage means. The life of the women was vulnerable at those times. Due to the lack of general and sexual education, under-age marriage and cultural dominance, women had to suffer physical and mental pressures.
The caste system of Nepal makes the social life and women’s sexual life very complicated and conflicting. There are hundreds of castes in a small community of Nepal. The early king of 1600’s established the caste system to organize the community. People got their caste according to the work they do in the society. For example, people who used to do the smith work were called “Kami” and considered one of the lowest ranks in society while people who conduct the rituals, worship in temples were called “Brahman” and considered as the highest ranked caste in Nepal. The cast system has been a big issue in Nepal for a long time. However, it is an irony that the king’s family, who were given the highest status and respect in Nepal were lower in rank than Brahman. It was a very tough time for women of the lower ranked castes. Brahmans and other higher ranked people would always dominate the lower ranked people. Women could not get married with men other than their cast. It was against the society and culture for a woman to have sex with any higher or lower ranked men. Because men were the dominant people who usually made the rules for society, it was always the women who had to suffer. Men could manipulate the rules in their favor. Women always had pressure of being a social outcast and had to obey every single rule no matter how harsh it was.
However, things changed with the time. After the Rana ruling was over and democracy was introduced in late 1990’s women got more freedom. They had freedom of speech, education, and equality. Although, it was not an easy task to change the society and give women this freedom, at least their rights were secured by the constitution. It was a step forward for all those women who had been suffering male dominance for so many years. Most importantly freedom of education for both men and women became the pathway to broaden the thinking of both towards the equality. “The national girls school enrolment rate is 36 percent in comparison to 64 percent of boys (Educational statistics of Nepal 1990)” (Leslie, Manandhar). The statistics might not seem to be impressive comparing to those of developed western countries but it is by far impressive and encouraging data if we compare it with 1960’s where girl’s school enrolment was not even 5 percent (Leslie, Manandhar).
With effort from government and various NGO’s the figure is getting better each year. Another reason for the improved sexual equality was the immigration process. Nepalese people started going abroad for education and work since late 1980’s. When they returned they brought the western culture and education into Nepal which helped our society to broaden its thinking about women. Similarly, the huge number of tourists from all around the world came to visit Nepal. In the process they brought their culture and the cultural exchange played a major role in educating our society by seeing what other nation’s values were. Moreover, western music, movies played a supporting role in educating people in a certain way.
Counterculture seems to have much of the positive impact in women’s lives in Nepal. It is not the same case each time. As in Europe and America, counterculture like Punk, Hippie had dented the dominant culture in certain aspects; here in Nepal counterculture also had some negative impact too. Western cultural influence through movies, music and immigrations increased the dominance of western culture in Nepal. The youth of Nepal are forgetting their cultural values and imitating the western cultures. Although we should get rid of the superstitious cultural values, but we still have our own cultural values and they are our assets. We are known by our culture and traditions, and we need to protect them. We want positive thinking and development along with the unique traditions and cultures that we are known for. So, it’s our responsibility to protect them and pave the path for development as well.
Here, in Nepal, education, western cultures, music, movies, the immigration process have played a major role as counterculture to overcome the superstitious old values. People in western countries might hate the dominance of counterculture, but in Nepal counterculture dominating superstitious values of societies has brought the freedom for women. While government is emphasizing on education to counter those superstitious values and establish the equality for women; I would reckon immigration and music can be pivotal to overcome those superstitious beliefs if we can preserve our valuable cultural assets. We should be always careful, if we are forgetting our important norms, values and traditions of our society in the process of fostering the new countercultures.
Adhikari, Ramesh, and JyotsnaTamang. “Premarital Sexual Behavior among male college students of Kathmandu, Nepal.” BMC Public Health. BMC Public Health. July 2009. Web. 12 Oct. 2013. Cline, Austin. “Report on Religious Liberty in Nepal” Agnosticism / Atheism – Skepticism & Atheism for Atheists & Agnostics. N.p, 1991. Web. 17 Oct. 2013. Manandhar, Udaya, and Keith Leslie. “Empowering women and families through literacy in Nepal.” Convergance 27.2/3 (2010): 102. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Oct. 2013. “Portrait of Nepal.” The pluralism project at Harvard University. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2013
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