Nostalgic Memories: Sociology and Anthropology in Nepal – Rashmi Sheila

I have always been nostalgic about the times I have spent in Tribhuvan University (TU) as a student of Anthropology. This nostalgia is highly linked with the Professors—like Chaitanya Mishra, Ram Bahadur Chhetri, Krishna Bahadur Bhattachan, Padam Lal Devkota, Om Gurung and Phanindreshwor Paudel—who are the prominent Sociologists and Anthropologists of Nepal contributing in different sectors of Sociological/Anthropological knowledge production. I remember them mostly because they were among the ones without whom the Department of Sociology and Anthropology would not have come in existence in TU. And studying under them was not only about reading (Eurocentric) books and theories but also knowing about the Sociology and Anthropology of Nepal. As they were the initial figures in the development of this field, they had a lot to tell. Their stories would take us to the past when everything had just begun.

As Nepal was not under direct influence of colonization and as it was a closed country until 1950, Nepalis encountered with different social sciences and its theories some half a century back. However, it does not mean Nepal did not have schools and colleges. We had different colleges pre-1950, but the education was limited to a few groups of people like the Royal family members, Ranas and their relatives. The internal policy of barring citizens from education had left many Nepalis illiterate and unaware about the world outside. Nepal’s struggle and revolution for democracy ended the 103 years of autocratic Rana regime in 1951, with which, many doors of opportunities were opened up for Nepalis, and at the same time for the foreigners.

Sociology and Anthropology were institutionalized much later in 1980s, however, soon after 1950s, Rural Sociology was introduced in Nepal as a part of trainings under the Village Development Program (VDP). After this, a different program with focus on Sociology and Anthropology was introduced by Institute of Nepal and Asian Studies (INAS; presently known as Center for Nepal and Asian Studies  [CNAS]) in Tribhuvan University. With the help of British Council Professor Earnest Gellner was called from London School of Economics (LSE) to train the interested graduates and teachers. However, due to different internal issues, the institute decided to limit itself to research works, which meant it could no more grant degrees. The discontinuation of the program in INAS became a departure point that led to the new beginning. TU decided to begin a new department of Sociology and Anthropology under the faculty of Humanities and Social Science. With this motive, TU offered scholarships to five students (the professors I mentioned in the beginning of essay except Chaitanya Mishra) interested in Sociology and Anthropology in 1977 and they were send to Banaras Hindu University and University of Pune for the Masters Degree. The separate Department of Sociology and Anthropology began in TU in 1981, with these people as the faculty members (including some others) and it provided Masters Degrees in Sociology. Chaitanya Mishra who held a PhD degree in Sociology from the University of Florida, USA was the one leading the department in the initial phase in early 1980s. Sociology and Anthropology was included in a course of Bachelors (in some colleges) somewhere during mid-1980s. Some of these Professors are still serving in the University (along with the new recruitments) while others have retired in a last few years.

The curriculum and courses they began with has been modified quite a few times since then. It was last updated in 2009 and is considered one of the most updated curriculum in Nepal compared to other Social Sciences. Apart from this, the growing popularity of the subject has led many colleges and universities to include it in both Bachelors and Masters in 1990s. After 2000, many private colleges affiliated to (TU, Purbanchal Univeristy [PU] and Kathmandu University [KU]) are also offering the course in both the Bachelors and Masters.

 

Presently, some of the maladies I see in the Sociology/Anthropology teaching in Nepal are:

  1. Despite the gaining popularity, the subject is not taken as a prestigious subject and there is a growing misconceptions, both among the parents and students, that Sociology/Anthropology comes under the easiest subjects.
  2. These subjects are also considered the subjects-in-demand in development sectors. This idea might be linked with its history in some way as it was [Rural] Sociology that was first introduced in Nepal (as a part of a Village Development Project). Also somehow, NGOs and INGOs mostly look for the consultants and researchers/ethnographers who can provide them with a good report and details of the field and people, Sociology/Anthropology comes under the preference.
  3. The growing demand of Sociology/Anthropology graduates and post-graduates in the job market and the youth perception and selection of subject as such has reduced the aesthetics and values linked with the subjects.
  4. Mushrooming of the private colleges, high competition and business motives with which the colleges are opened has made them the institutions for producing laborers rather than knowledge (as said by Prof. Ravi Kumar) changed the meaning of colleges being the place of knowledge production. In this process, teachers as present laborers produce the future laborers. Recently, this topic has been much in debate and been the topic of criticism.

 

For more information on Sociology/Anthropology in Nepal, check the following readings:

Bhandari, Bishnu. 1990. The Past and Future of Sociology in Nepal. Occasional Papers in Sociology and Anthropology 2: 13–23.

Bhattachan, Krishna B. 1987. Sociology and Anthropology Curriculum and the needs of Nepal. Occasional Papers in Sociology and Anthropology 1:  11–28.

Bista, Dor Bahadur. 1987. Nepal School of Sociology/Anthropology. Occasional Papers in Sociology and Anthropology 1: 6–10.

Devkota, Padam Lal. 2001. Anthropology, society and development in Nepal: A native perspective. Occasional Papers in Sociology and Anthropology 7: 26–40.

Gurung, Om. 1990. Sociology and Anthropology: An Emerging Field of Study in Nepal. Occasional Papers in Sociology and Anthropology 2: 4–12.

Subedi, Madhusudan and Devendra Uprety. 2014. The State of Sociology and Anthropology: Teaching and Research in Nepal. Kathmandu: Martin Chautari.

Rashmi Sheila has completed her MA Sociology from South Asian University in 2015.

 

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