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Prabhat Dawadi is a full stack Web Developer currently working at Gray Sphere Technologies based in Nepal.

Breaking the Ethnic Stereotypes in Nepal - a Challenge

Nepal, in terms of culture and diversity, is one of the richest countries in the world. More than 20 languages, 50+ major festivals, 50+ costumes and diversed ethnicity keep Nepal among some of the most colorful countries. Inspite of its exquisite palette, Culture and Religion based Stereotyping has always been one of the major past-time hobbies among Nepali people.

 

People in Nepal are and were always categorized on the basis of our Culture and Caste since the times of Thakuris, Mallas and Shahs. Class system has always been there. People treated each other on the basis of what they did for a living. Among Hindus in Nepal, there are four Varna [Nepali for Color] - Brahmin, Kshatriya [Chhetri], Vaishya and Sudra and these four were categorized on the basis of what they did for living.

Brahmins were traditionally priests, educators, scholars and preachers. They would be the advisors for the king and performed rituals. Kshstriya [Chhetri] would be soldiers and administrators. Vaishya - mainly merchants, farmers, cattle-herders and artisans. Sudra - mainly laborers, artisans and service providers.

Because of the differences in the way one would serve the kingdom, categorization among the people happened. Caste system came into existence and one's behaviour towards to the other became dependent to what caste the other belongs to.  Untouchability was encouraged, Class of Idlers was created, Opression of Low Caste people started taking place. Ohh, one cannot imagine how inhumane and horrible those scenarios would have been. Sadly, this problem hasn't been completely eradicated to this day. This "history" of ours is one of the reasons for modern day racism, classism and sexism.

 

What is a Stereotype?

 

Stereotype is a preconceived notion, especially about a group of people. Our ancestors defined specific work/s for a group of people [Caste]. Due to which, whenever one thinks of a specific group of people, if that person assumes the nature, behaviour and social skill of the individual belonging to that group, it is known as Stereotyping. Some common Stereotyping in Nepal includes:

 

a. Brahmins are Shrewed but Greedy [Bahun Chalaakh ra lobhi huncha]

Being born in a Brahmin family, I hear friends and sometimes foes mentioning Brahmins are way too clever, have big pointy noses [bahunko chuchho naak huncha], always get a Goverment job [Sarkaari Jaagire] and good in studies [Padhante Bahun]. I do not think this is the case. I have relatives and friends from Brahmin families and they are outgoing, spend money on things they love, love to travel, do not want a Goverment job and have pretty decent size nose. [Not that pointy nose isn't sexy]

 

b. Chhetris are brave and well mannered. [Chhetri ko choro ho, daraaune ta kurai chaina]

If Chhetris were to given an english name, it should be 'Brave' - That's what Nepalese believe. Yes, Chhetris fought in wars, are brave, have never give up attitude and had a vital role in making Nepal one of the countries that was never ruled by foreign rulers. But, isn't it stupidity to pre-assume every Chhetri is brave and every Chhetri NEEDS to be aggressive? One can find lots of calm-headed Chhetris around. Not every Chhetri and Thakuri uses well-mannered languages. You know, Khaaiyos, Garisyos, Aaisyos ra Marisyos. A Chhetri's nature is what he individually is and should not be assumed because of to what his/her ancestors did. Come on people, let's think with our heads.

 

c. Magars are too Naive [Magar haru ta sojhaa hunchan]

This applies to most of the Mongoloids in Nepal - Rai, Limbu, Gurung, Magar, Sherpa. People generally assume they are easy to cheat. They are known to be honest, hardworking, sometimes very poor and can be intimidated by trickery. Gawwwd that sounds irrational. People have this thinking that whenever a Brahmin and Magar become friends, Brahmin takes advantage of Magar's innocence. Seriously, where do these generalizations even come from? Did they read in one of the advertisement boards in Kathmandu? Could be - we have millions of those - who knows for sure. But jokes aside, assuming a person belonging to one caste is cleverer and cheat than the other is pretty ridiculous. I have Gurung friends and I swear they do not think that way. One who does, should be in Nakkhu Jail.

 

d. Damai Kaami are untouchable [Damai Kaami bhanyaa tallo Jaat ho]

Well, in a country where a woman, when on her menstrual cycle, is considered "Untouchable", one could not argue how untouchability is still a thing. If I had to guess, it pretty much started in those times when Damai and Kaamis were labelled as shoemakers and laborers. Thinking about this 'ChuwaChhut' [Untouchability] make me mad and furious. AARGHHHH !!! 

When I visit to rural areas of Nepal, I still see this absolutely rubbish superstition. Brahmins do not allow Dalits inside their houses. Can you believe that?

And now Government pays you 100,000 rupees [1 Lakh] if you are from so called "high caste" and get married to the Dalit family. Personally, I do not think it is a solution. It will keep reminding everyone that there still exists few dissimilarities. Why? Why should I be paid if I marry a Dalit? I married her because I love her. It should be that simple. 

 

e. Baau Dushta ra Newar Ista kahile hudaina

English translation : A father is never Mean and a Newar [Person from Newari Ethnic Group] is never a friend. I guess, this is one of the stupidest stereotypes of all. A Father always thinks for his children - that's right but a Newar can never be a friend? You mean to say, I have to stop considering people an entire Newar Community in order to make a new friend?  You can't be serious. What does one's ability to be a great friend has to do with that person being a Newar? No need of any explanation - I am pretty sure all of you think this is bizzare.

 

How do you know when someone is Stereotyping?

 

I have been in so many awkward situations related to this common generalization and pre-assumption of specific group of people. Here are few:

 

1. I was dating a girl and she was a Chhetrini [Lady from a Chhetri family]. When I told my friends about it, one of them asked, 'Wait, But isn't she is a Chhetri? Why will your family accept it?'. The idea of Brahmin dating a Chhetri seemed unusual and out of the box situation for her [my friend]. The assumption of Brahmin parents not acceping Chhetri as their Daughter-in-Law ? That's Stereotyping.

 

2. This one time, when I was in 5th grade, I tried Dried Buffalo meat 'Chhoyalaa'. It was friggin amazing. When visiting relatives on holidays, I told one of my cousin about this amazing dish called Chhoyalaa and he was furious that I, being a Brahmin, ate a dish made of Buffalo meat. He believed that no Brahmin consumes meat other than that of Chicken and Goat.

'Oh, you're really eating that Pork Chop huh? Aren't you a Brahmin?' - a pretty common thing I hear.

 

3. There are hundreds of stories about others teasing me that Brahmins are Greedy. But this one has to be my favorite. Back in college days, we used to stay late in nearby cafeterias, have some beers and have some fun. One day, for the sake of having fun, few of my friends started teasing about Brahmins being Greedy, not willing to spend any money and are cheap. It continued for a while. In the end, after we had few drinks, when it was the time to pay, me and my other friend [Also a Brahmin] ended up paying for the entire group. No one had any cash on them. IRONY huh ? Later we laughed till we rolled on the floor and from that day onwards, no more Lovi Bahun jokes. This does not make me mad because clearly, my friends were having a go at us Brahmins - having some fun - understandable.

However, I know people who really think this is true - Brahmins are Greedy [Baahun haru lovi hunchan]. NOPE! It depends on that individual Baahun who you are spending your time with. If that person does not want to spend, wants to save money, does not think that drinking a beer is a good way of spending quality time with friends - that's entirely up to him. It's his nature - that's the way he likes it. It has nothing to do with him being a Brahmin or a Newar.

 

4. Kati bolcha yo, baahun na paryo. [This person is talkative. What do you expect, that person is a Brahmin]

Hearing this line is a tuesday for me. Brahmins are talkative and every talkative person is a Brahmin. Its one of the funniest Stereotypes that I face. I am a talkative guy - Right. That's me. I like talking to people - I believe talking is a great way to build up a relationship. I like to be on stage, I do host shows, I did most of our group presentations back in college. It's just the way I am. On the other hand, my younger brother is a shy fellow. He doesn't talk much. You need to ask two questions in order to hear two lines from his mouth - that's the way he is. And you know what, we both are Brahmins. We have different nature and different social behaviours.

Also, I have a Gurung friend who likes to talk a lot [Nepali Stereotype suggests Gurungs are shy people]. No clarification needed there, huh!

 

How to break the Stereotypes?

 

I believe self-educating is the best way to break the stereotype. You do not need to react when people stereoptype about you. It all depends on how you choose to behave when someone does it. If a guy tells me that I am not a Brahmin because I spend money easily, do I need to stop spending because I am a Brahmin? HELL NO. Sure, I would like if people do not pre-assume my caste, religion. But if they do, I do not want to be obssessed with the idea of proving them wrong. I would behave the way I am and when they realize later and talk to me about the matter, I would say 'I would be greatful if you do not stereotype people.'

 

When I was in 9th grade, I visited one of my Newar friend and when he introduced me to his mom, she asked 'Wa Khe khalaa?' [Newari for 'Is he a Brahmin?'] Those were her first words after I greeted, 'Namaste aunty'. And my friend subtly said 'Ale, chu?' ['So, what?']. In that case, he broke the stereotype his mom had in her mind that it's a Taboo that a Newar and a Brahmin were such close friends.

 

Be friendly & kind - If you are kind hearted and friendly to others, people start replacing those idiotic stereotypes about people from your ethnic group with all the qualities you possess. You will be an example to them. If you are a Brahmin and people stereotype that you are not good in sports, you start getting involved in sports related activities [Only if you want to - Forcing yourself is never a good idea]. If you are not good with books but have an excellent business related abilities - go for business related career - who says a Brahmin cannot be a great at business?

 

Kill your aggression : Let's be realistic, Stereotyping isn't going to stop soon. You can only reduce them. When you start being aggressive to what others preassume about you, the situation only gets worst. Keep a calm head - smile and beat it with your experience and your moral code. If your friends call you cheap, treat them with some chocolates. If they say you cannot be trusted - be their most humble and honorable friend. That's the way to do it.

And when some one stereotypes, first thing you need to do is LAUGH !

 

The more you laugh and make fun of yourself - easier it is to cope with this modern day stupidity that is Stereotyping.


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