Dor Bahadur Bista Awards
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.
2014 Dor Bahadur Bista Prize Winner
The 2014 winner of the Dor Bahadur Bista Prize was Jacob Rinck. Jacob’s innovative paper uses historical and archival material to examine changing political practices around land in the Tarai since 1950. Jacob is a PhD student at Yale University in Anthropology. More information about his research can be found at his webpage.
Jacob Rinck’s abstract
This paper examines aspects of Nepal’s changing political economy by tracing the relationship between political elites and agrarian structures in the central Tarai since the first democratic revolution in 1950. Based on a review of existing literature on land reform and land distribution, as well as ethnographic material from Dhanusha district gathered during 2013 summer research, it tentatively argues that the political importance of land decreased significantly over the three decades of Panchayat rule between 1960 and 1990. In the 1940s and 1950s, land was the major economic and political resource; all top political leaders at the time came from landlord families. After the introduction of a land ceiling in 1964, however, access to patronage resources distributed through the royal palace, and later the democratic government, in Kathmandu seems to have become much more important. This change manifests itself in the social background of national level leaders from Dhanusha in the 1990s, as leaders from middle-caste, middle-peasant backgrounds started successfully challenging candidates from older elites in elections. These observations challenge interpretations of Nepal’s 1964 land reform as unsuccessful; re-distributive effects in the short run may have been limited, but it does seem to have led to a significant decline of the value of land as form of political capital, and may have contributed to the opening up of political space in the long run.