Key Findings: Nepal

Overview

Nepal is a diverse country with numerous indigenous groups and minorities. It is home to 125 different caste or ethnic groups that speak 123 recognized languages, follow at least 10 different religions and live in three distinctive ecological zones (Baniya et al, 2017).

Power in Nepal has consistently been allocated according to class, religion, ethnicity and gender (Neelakantan et al, 2016).

Exclusion of and discrimination against almost all of Nepal’s groups, other than the Hindu upper class, from legal and political structures has been at the core of all three of Nepal’s conflicts and associated “People’s Movements” (1950, 1990, and 2006) (Anderson, 2017; Bell, 2017).

During the Civil war (1996-2006) the Maoist adopted the grievances of the individual groups and transformed them into collective grievances against the regime, successfully recruiting marginalized groups to their cause and fighting forces (Anderson, 2017; Bell, 2017).

The end of a decade old Maoist insurgency was marked by the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Act (CPA) which ushered in a ‘post conflict era’ in Nepal (Baniya et al, 2017).

The peace process and the post conflict era center around issues of inclusion and the role of international actors, which we address further below. 

Inclusion & the peace process

As exclusion and discrimination was at the core of the civil war, efforts to improve inclusion has been central to the peace process (Bell, 2017).

Inclusion is closely connected the post-war debate around federalism in Nepal, and political alliances have mapped on to this disagreement (Ramsbotham and Thapa, 2017).

Bell (2017) shows that The Comprehensive Peace Act and the Interim Constitution included measures to include marginalized groups at the structural level, including:
– transformation from autocratic monarchy to democratic republic;
– the introduction of proportional representation for election to the Constituent Assembly;
– inclusion reforms for the civil service and Nepalese Army;
– and, a formal constitution making progress.

However, many of the initial measures for inclusion included in the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the 2007 Interim Constitution were short-lived. Since the Constituent Assembly 2013 elections, the inclusion of excluded groups has reduced both in the Legislature-Parliament and the Nepalese civil service, and many groups, including women, today struggle for recognition of their rights (Anderson, 2017; Bell, 2017; Baniya et al, 2017).

The first Constituent Assembly was unable to finish the work of producing a Final Constitution due to paralysis among the political parties over key issues such as federalism and inclusion. This led to disillusionment with the political parties among the electorate and eventually as return of the old order (as the NC and CPN (UML) gained enough seats in the new Constituent Assembly to form a coalition government, leaving new identity based parties side lines) (Bell, 2017).

The 2015 earthquake saw the Final Constitution being “fast-tracked” by the major political parties. In this process of “fast-tracking” – in reality the major political parties making backroom deals and allowing little time for public consultation – key issues of inclusion were left unsolved and many of the rights protections afforded to include groups were restricted or removed (Anderson, 2017; Bell, 2017).

PSRP research finds that whilst progress towards inclusion has been made in Nepal, inclusion has really only been stretched to a small number of power contenders (Bell, 2017).

Bell (2017) notes that whilst the peace process in Nepal managed to create horizontal inclusion between the traditional political parties and the Maoists – the Maoist entered the political mainstream via the peace process – it failed to create the more vertical inclusion promised to a broad range of marginalized groups.

Politics in Nepal continue to be conducted through patronage networks and backroom deals, and the elite continues to subvert attempts at greater inclusion for marginalized groups (Anderson, 2017; Bell, 2017)

Despite a reoccurring pattern of political actors proclaiming their intention to create more inclusive state and this is followed by concession of inclusive language in various agreements, this is done order to secure progress and stability rather than representing sincere commitment to inclusive change (Bell, 2017).

Bell (2017) finds that three major issues of inclusion are outstanding:
1. Full proportionality of representation in state institution – a goal that is likely to take years to achieve.
2. Recognizing identity as major principle behind federal delineation
3. Delivery of social justice, particularly to local communities

Whilst Nepal has seen social movements accompany significant instances of social and political change, NGO-based movements have emerged to advance a number of issues and non-elite actors have used a variety of campaigning tools to raise their concerns, these actors and tactics have has limited impact on formal politics and structures (Neelakantan et al , 2016).

At the same time, the lack of public consultation and lack of broad based acceptance of the constitutional processes has continued to sustain the key role of informal or ‘street’ politics in Nepal, including mass protest (Neelakantan et al, 2016; Ramsbotham and Thapa, 2017).

Gender

Whilst measures for inclusion have faced significant setbacks since the 2006 peace agreement and the Interim Constitution, the post war era has brought clear gains for women in terms of formal political representation and inclusion (Baniya et al, 2017).

PSRP research shows that recourse to international agreements and framework, as well as significant international engagement with the issue, has played a key role in the struggle for these gains (Baniya et al, 2017; Close, 2018).

Significantly, the post-conflict area has seen remarkable progress on sexual and gender minority rights, a long-overlooked issue in Nepal (Baniya et al, 2017).

However, many challenges remain, gains often being offset by a continuing deeply rooted patriarchal mentality in Nepalese society. Formal and representation and inclusion has yet to translate into substantial equality for women (Baniya et al, 2017; Close, 2018).

The 2015 Final Constitution re-instated discriminatory citizenship rights which have especially affected Madhesi women, among which inter-marriage across the open border to India is common (Close, 2018).

There is a clear need for an intersectional approach to the challenges faced by women as gender interacts with other power systems in complex ways and women from more marginalized ethnical groups continues to face multiple forms of discrimination (Baniya et al, 2017; Close 2018).

Opportunities for inclusion remain. Women and other excluded groups are active in community level decision making, and whilst there is a lack of women amongst the political elite, women play a prominent and strong role in social movements (Close, 2018).

Going forward, Close (2018) argues international actors need to understand the local sensitivities around gender and international gender frameworks and contextualize their approach accordingly in order to avoid backlash.

International actors

International actors – primarily India, the US and the UN – have played key roles in the Nepalese peace process and ‘post-conflict’ era (Adhikari, 2018).

Whilst international donor partners referred frequently to language of social inclusion between 2012 and 2006, Neelakantan et al (2016) finds that donors as a whole have been unhelpfully inconsistent on whether or not they support inclusion.

Adhikari (2018) suggests that the inconsistence among donors were in part a result of the differing interest between ‘Western’ donors – such as the EU – and regional powers – primarily India – who also played a key role in providing post-conflict support.

Adhikari (2018) argues that whilst the pressures of India and the UNMIN’s presence in the early stages of the peace process was crucial in avoiding spoilers and for the parties to uphold the ceasefire agreement, the need for international support turned into resentment as the parties became more secure in their positions.

Nepal has seen a significant push back against international involvement since the end of the first Constituent Assembly in 2012. The Nepali elite has used arguments about the uniqueness of the Nepali context, explained donor commitment to inclusion in terms of support for the Maoist agenda and argued the need to defend Nepali sovereignty (Neelakantan et al, 2016).