Updated: August 22, 2017 05:44 AM GMT
A Nepalese bonded laborer works on land owned by her landlord in Baraunsi village northwest of Kathmandu. (Photo by Prakash Mathema/AFP)
Fatalism, including acceptance of harmful traditions, exacerbates poverty in Nepal.
However, a lack of spiritual awareness and fatalism are also impediments to progress among educated, well-to-do families.
Karma, the idea that a person's fate results from their deeds in a past life, can constitute an escapist mentality.
Fatalism, that can be reflected in traditional plays and folk songs dealing with day-to-day struggles and sorrows, needs to also be subject to intellectual reflection. Nepalese society is still trapped by cultural malpractices and superstitions.
There has been a huge gap between Nepal and developed nations in terms of social development. Notwithstanding the sharing of some modern technologies, including social media, Nepal's lack of sequential development has widened a generation gap.
For example, children in the 1990s still played with clay and stone. However, the newest generation jumped to smartphones. More positive aspects of Nepalese socio-cultural and religious values have been degraded and confused. Spirituality and social education have been usurped by militancy and street vandalism in support of political demands.
Memories are still fresh in my mind of my mother sending me to buy a kilo of rice every evening out of money she made working the whole day. We never thought there would be a better tomorrow.
The Nepalese government has recognized that establishing cooperatives is the best way of reaching out to the rural poor. However, there are many constraints on such development initiatives reaching the lowest levels of society. Poor casual workers, constituting one quarter of the population, live day to day with little hope for the future.
The world we live in today is totally different from one corner to another. In sharing Nepal's story to the people of the world, it may not seem real to many. An elderly lady in Switzerland, after I gave a speech, said it sounded like a "fairy tale" to her.
However, just how many Nepalese still live in a dark-age can be illustrated by a human sacrifice in southern Nepal in recent years. A man kidnapped and murdered a 10-year-old-boy as a sacrifice to a deity to ensure good health for his sick 18-year-old son. In another case, a 16-year-old girl managed to escape after being held hostage for 17 days in the capital Kathmandu. The reported motive was to perform a human sacrifice as part of a black magic ritual to obtain wealth.
More broadly, girls and women have lost their lives due to Chaupadi, a superstitious practice where females, during their monthly menstruation, are not allowed to enter houses. They have to work and sleep outside.
The National Planning Commission aims to upgrade Nepal from least developed status to a developing nation by 2022. But it is hard to see attitudes changing sufficiently in such a time frame to allow that goal to be achieved.
It is my understanding that fatalism, leading to silent acceptance of social evils and neo-feudalism, is rooted in a lack of economic development.
Since planned national development started in 1956, poverty has been reduced from 42 percent to 23.8 percent. However, much more needs to be done given the setback of a decade of internal political conflict between 1996 and 2006 that claimed thousands of lives.
To make things worse, Nepal struggles to manage foreign aid due to systematic corruption. That includes both social and economic malpractices as well as abuse of authority. This has given plenty of space to top down development practices where some foreign groups have their own vested interests.
Nepalese social stratification has more to do with the Hindu caste system than economics. As a result, there has been a trend to religious conversion, especially among excluded elements of society.
Development sector issues involving Tagadhari (people of the Indo-Aryan ethno-linguistic community) and Matawali (Tibeto-Burman) people may have been influenced by the outside perspective of western funding agencies.
Tagadhari, who often do not share the wealth and privileges of the ruling class, can be less cooperative with each other compared to Matawali. But caste has created dominant and marginalized classes within both Tagadhari and Matawali apart from caste based discrimination against the Dalit population.
Most Matawali settlements are on the top of the hills, mountains or in nearby forests and along rivers. Tagadhari are mostly settled in fertile valleys. This state of affairs has limited social interaction between these two ethnic groups. Even in a good family, members often end up in conflict over inheritance issues. Domestic violence against women and children, and family disintegration, are examples of a low level of family spirituality.
Many Nepalese become migrant workers around the world, hoping to shape their own existence. However, at home in Nepal, superstitious behavior still predominates, holding back both individuals and the nation.
Prakash Khadka is a peace and human rights activist as well as the Nepal representative of Pax Romana, the international Catholic movement for intellectual and cultural affairs.
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