Dor Bahadur Bista Awards

2017 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize Winner

The winner of the 2017 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize for best graduate student paper is Samuele Poletti, for his paper titled, “Horoscopic knowledge and existential narratives: Predetermination and freedom in the Sinja Valley of Jumla District, Nepal”. Samuele is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. This year’s competition yielded five strong papers in five different fields (Social Sciences, Linguistic Anthropology, Social Anthropology, Developmental Studies, and, for the first time as far as we know, Art History), and came from near and far (1 US, 1 Canada, 1 India, and 2 Europe).

Samuele Poletti’s Abstract:

Nepalese people are rarely satisfied by pure coincidence, and astrological divination aims precisely at providing access to the “hidden motifs” attained to determine life events. This brings to the fore a rough account of someone’s future personality, along with the major events that will characterise that particular life. Moreover, it expands the individual drama by assuring the existence of a cosmological design behind the apparently random unfolding of existence. Hindu astrology appears therefore as a form sense-making, taming the wilderness of the world and the irreducibility of the experience in it by providing existential narratives. Conveying yet a beacon of hope to act upon what is initially approached as a hopeless fate, astrological divination forwards the perception that troubling events apparently out of control are liable not only to be endured but also to be acted upon, revealing thus a permanent tension between “determinism” and “freedom”. From an existential perspective, this is a form of resistance against the simple unfolding of life, which here takes the form of an attempt to gain partial control upon the obscure machinations of fate. In light of that, an absolutistic rendering of fatalism in Nepal will not do justice to its people, for, at a closer look, few are those who entirely surrender to their fate. Consequently, divinatory practices may be seen as a sort of “freedom in disguise”.

2016 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize Winner

The winner of the 2016 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize for best graduate student paper is Shae Frydenlund, a PhD candidate in Geography at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Her paper, “Labor Racialization and Territory in Nepal’s Indigenous Nationalities Discourse: moving beyond “tribal” vs “peasant” categories,” introduces material that is theoretically and ethnographically new and engaging. Frydenlund’s was one of five submissions considered in this year’s competition. In addition to Geography, the applicants (1 Masters student, 4 PhD students) represented the fields of Anthropology, Ethnomusicology, and International Development Studies, and are enrolled at universities in the US and the Netherlands. The applicants included one Nepali, one South Korean, and three American students.

Shae Frydenlund’s Abstract
In Nepal, Khaling indigenous nationalities discourse draws our attention to the way tribal and peasant categories blur in articulations of indigeneity, rather than working as separate strategies for gaining greater political rights. Through their oral histories, territorial claims, and most importantly their stories about labor in the Khumbu, activists within the Khaling indigenous nationalities movement advocate for government recognition and fuller political rights. While labor is often left out of definitions of indigeneity, Khaling activists make claims to being indigenous people with their own territory specifically because of their position in the mountain labor hierarchy. This paper examines the emergence of a distinct Khaling indigeneity in the context of broader historical, political and economic processes, specifically Nepal’s racialized ethnic hierarchies, to disrupt bifurcated understandings of “tribal” vs “peasant” trajectories of activism. In understanding the contextual formation of Khaling land claims and indigenous identity, this research sheds new light on the role of racialized labor hierarchies in shaping local and regional articulations of indigeneity, and offers a fresh perspective on indigeneity as concept and political practice in Nepal and elsewhere.

2015 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize Winner


The winner of the 2015 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize for best graduate student paper is Uma Pradhan, a PhD candidate in International Development at the University of Oxford. Her paper, “The New Languages of Schooling: Ethnicity, Education and Equality in Nepal,” is an original, well written, and timely piece on the current dynamics of mother tongue education in Nepal that is based on recent ethnographic research. Pradhan’s was one of five submissions considered in this year’s competition. In addition to International Development, the applicants (2 MA students, 3 PhD students) represented the fields of Political Science, Geography, Sociology, and Environment and Business, and are enrolled at universities in the US (3), Canada (1), and England (1). All but one of the applicants was a Nepali national.
Uma Pradhan’s Abstract
Mother-tongue education has remained a controversial issue in Nepal. Scholars, activists and policy-makers have, on the one hand, favored mother-tongue education from the standpoint of social justice. Against these views, others have identified this as predominantly groupist in its orientation and not helpful in an imagination of a unified national community. Taking this contention as a point of inquiry, this paper aims to explore the contested space of mother-tongue education to understand the ways in which people position themselves within the polarizing debates of ethnicity-based claims on education in Nepal. Drawing from the ethnographic fieldwork in mother-tongue education school, in this paper, I illustrate that the students made meaning in their everyday world by maintaining the multilingual repertoire that included their mother tongue, Nepali and some English; multilingualism was used as a strategy for mother-tongue education. I propose a notion of simultaneity to explain this attempt to seek membership into multiple groups and display of apparently contradictory dynamics. The practices in these schools, on the one hand, display inward-looking characteristics through the everyday use of mother tongue, the construction of unified ethnic identity and cultural practices. On the other hand, there were outward-looking dynamics of making claims in the universal spaces of national education and public places. The salience of these processes is the simultaneous membership to multiple groups, claims over public spaces and in the spaces of nationalism, hitherto associated with Nepali. This paper illustrates that contrary to the essentialist categories espoused in both nationalist discourse and ethnic activism, students in these school display affiliation to multiple languages and identities that were seen as neither incompatible nor binary opposites.


Contact Info

1300 University Avenue
B488 Medical Sciences Center
Madison, WI 53706
Phone: 608-261-1194

ANHS Kathmandu Research Center
54 Kantishree Marg, Baluwatar
Kathmandu, Nepal.
Phone: 01-4425797