Thursday, August 29, 2013

Telling the whole story

Book Review: Badlindo Nepali Samaaj by Chaitanya Mishra

Nepali society has become a cauldron of rapid changes, currently going through a political, economic and cultural transformation. Everyone subscribes to the current state of the Nepali polity, but very few realise the historical settings that have made this transformation possible. In trying to understand Nepali society, intellectuals, students, political leaders and their cadres have been oriented in two ways—they are either taught to see things from the very narrow perspective of immediate change or offered an over-generalised, largely sweeping, and extremely theorised perception. Both of these lenses have blurred the reality of Nepali society.
Realising the dearth in proper understanding of Nepal and Nepali society, acclaimed sociologist Chaitanya Mishra, through his articles, academic papers, and interviews, has been attempting to provide a scientific standpoint from which to view Nepali society. Now, his sincere attempts to clarify the misperceptions of Nepali society have taken the shape of a book. Badlindo Nepali Samaaj (Changing Nepali Society) is a commendable collection of Mishra’s articles, essays, and interviews. Edited by Rajendra Maharjan, a renowned political analyst and writer, the selection of articles and appropriate categorisation has made Mishra’s collection a complete book. It deals with almost all components of society, thus giving a comprehensive picture of the entire Nepali polity.
The book begins with an essay providing a detailed explanation of the political transformation recently seen in Nepal.  Debunking the general notion of taking recent events as the sole reason for the present political changes, Mishra explains that the consensus among the parliamentary political parties and the Maoists is only one more recent addition to the entire story.
Elaborating further, he includes information about other social and political changes that have provided the grounds to make this transformation possible. He then goes on to explain other serious issues like social re-integration, the decreasing dichotomy and distance between urban and rural settings and changing family relationships, which contributed to the foundation of the present transformation. His other essays talk about the conditions in Nepali society being heralded by these changes.
Mishra, popularly known as a Marxist thinker, has initiated a debate to focus the Nepali political current towards social democracy. In his academic papers, he has explained that to long for the establishment of complete socialism or communism in Nepal is to do no more than lose oneself in an illusion. Likewise, according to Mishra, to celebrate the victory of world-capitalist bourgeois democracy is to deny a basic understanding of the dialectics of history. The objective realities of Nepali society and the “world-historical context” do not allow one to blindly advocate for socialism, “worker-led-capitalism”, or state capitalism. Mishra, in his academic paper titled Why Social Democracy in Nepal Now?, writes, “Social democracy is, at least for the present, the only possible common political ground both in relation to political parties as well as the electoral distribution across the right-left-communist divide. The rightist political forces are at the weakest ever, even though there are rightist elements in all political parties. Monarchist, religious fundamentalist, militarist, etc tendencies are the weakest ever. The centre-left and communist alliance, in turn, is potentially the strongest ever. And this is the period in which a new constitution is being drafted. This is the time when key elements of the social democratic elements will have to be enshrined in the constitution.”
Though this academic essay is not included in this collection, Mishra’s thesis of social democracy is illuminated by the deliberations brought together in the book. The essays on the issues of social transformation in Nepal, poverty, the politics of development, the politics of education and health, and other cultural aspects implicitly foster his idea of social democracy. While explaining each component of Nepali society in his book, he clarifies the changes in the methods of livelihood generation. Likewise, he also eloquently talks about the social and economic mobility of Nepali society made possible by the involvement of the youth in both internal and external labour migration. These reflections subtly make a point to convince readers that Nepali society has already become a capitalist society. In so doing, he thwarts the widely accepted notion that Nepal is still a semi-feudal society, an idea formally subscribed to by the communist parties of Nepal. But for Mishra, social democracy “which can provide a mechanism of resolving contradictions within capitalist democracy” is fit for Nepali society.
Written in simple language, the book is useful for academics as well as non-academic readers. The last section that deals with the development of sociology in Nepal is a must-read for Nepali students of the field.
The entire book is about transformation, which encourages us to accept change and prepare for the changes that time has in store. But, unfortunately, it ends with a dismal note that depicts the failure of the education system that is pivotal for the progress that we are striving for: “In the sociology department, we make students mug up Western ideas as if they are never-changing religious hymns. We are producing students who cannot explain the historicity of things which they are memorising.”   

Posted on: 2011-03-05 09:23 (The Kathmandu Post)


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