In Defence Of Khas:Ritu Raj Subedi
The headline of this write-up may taste unsavoury for the self-claimed champion of ethnic liberation. This is because the term ‘Khas’ denotes a broader ethnic community and in the history of Nepal, it is only the Khas Empire that gives a smell of ethnic state. Otherwise, there was no any ethnic state in Nepal before its unification or during ancient and medieval periods. For example, when Yaksha Malla and his sons ruled the Kathmandu Valley, the state was known as ‘Nepalmandal’, not a Newa state. As the ‘Nepalmandal’ was divided into three states in the Valley following the demise of Yaksha Malla, they were known as Kantipur, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. The language the people used to speak was called Nepal Bhasa, not Newa and the calendar was based on Nepal Sambat. The Malla rulers were Newar but the name of states, languages and Sambat did not bear the ethnic appellation. This line of argument also applied to other states that rose and fell in the hills and southern plain land.
Let’s us return to the Khas discourse and history. Prior to the influence of Hindu religion on the Khas state and people, they were a single community. When the Khas kings and people converted to Hinduism from Buddhism, the Hindu caste system divided Khas into Bahuns, Khetris, Thakuris, Damais, Kamis and others social groups. They were tribal warriors and lived in the Himalayan foothills that had spread from Kashmir to Bhutan. They were the early Caucasians and migrated into the Himalayas from Eurasia about 3,500 years ago. There has been a misconception that today’s Bahuns and Chhetris had come from different parts of India when it was attacked by the Muslim rulers from the 10th to the 12th century. The fact is that these Khas were different from the Vedic Aryan people. They came here before the invasion of Aryans in India.
The Mahabharata epic, composed in around 400 BC, narrates the war of Kuruchhetra that was fought before 1,500 BC. The Khas had participated in one of the greatest wars of the ancient history on behalf of Kauravs. That time the Khas lived in Balhik province located between the Sindhu River now in Pakistan and Trishuli River in Dhading of Nepal. The ancient epic is full of references to the Khas warriors. In the Karna Parba, it is said that the Khas soldiers, who came on horses from Balhik, were destroyed by Pandavs.
According to professor Dr Dil Bahadur Chhetri, the term ‘Khas’ is the derivative form of ‘Caucasian’ ‘caucus’ and ‘kas’. In Babylonia that lies in the western Asia, Khas people were called ‘Kas’. The Caspian Sea, which is located in that region, is considered to be associated with the Khas race. Noted historian Surya Mani Adhikari, writes: “In order to trace the footprints of the ancient journey of Khas, we have to look towards the west beyond the borders - Kumau-Gadhawal-Kashmir-Balhi (Badakhasan or Hindkush) to the Khuzistan situated between the borders of Iraq and Iran to the Kassite Empire in Babylonia. The Khas is not any specific ethnic group but a community under which comes Brahmin, Chhetri, Thakuri, Kami, Damai, Sarki, Gaine, (dalit), Sanyasi, Badi, Jogi, Gharti and Bhat, among others. As these people share similar history, religion, culture and settlement areas, they are commonly identified as Khas. But, a group of Khas, who refused to adopt Hindu religion, still bear ethnic character in some parts of Karnali zone. Their life style resembles other ethnic groups of Nepal. They do not invite priests to conduct religious functions and also rear pigs to scratch a living.
Although the Khas were the earliest settlers of this land, it took many hundred years for them to reach the corridor of power. The Khas Empire was established in the early 12th century in the west Nepal. Nagaraj was the first Khas king and began to rule Karnali province that is also known as Khasan. Khas state was expanded from north and spread to the whole Gandak province. Many Khas kings tried to take the Kathmandu Valley into its fold but in vain. By the early 15th century, the Khas Empire became weak and broke into small principalities. Hence, the baise (twenty-two) and chaubise (twenty-four) rajyas (states) emerged.
Before the dissolution of the first Constituent Assembly (CA), the streets of the Kathmandu Valley were filled with extremist ethnic slogans. The local Aryan-Khas was on the target. The UCPN-Maoist instigated them by floating a diabolic discourse- the Khas have been the exploiters of ethnic and indigenous people for thousands of years. Of course, many kings and prime ministers of Nepal came from the Khas community but it is blatant lie to argue that the Khas were the oppressor class. They represent both classes – the rulers and ruled and exploiters and exploited. A vast number of Khas people are still living in an appalling condition in the Karnali province that has been neglected by every successive regime in the past. The UCPN-Maoist, Madhesi forces and Janjatis have joined hands to vilify the Khas community. This false consciousness also got its way to the first CA that categorised the Khas as ‘the other group’ in its document. The nation’s largest population group was treated as if they were aliens in their own land. This was an underestimate of their catalytic role in advancing the Nepali civilisation in the last more than 3,000 years.
The UCPN-Maoist is still digging their heels in. It refused to learn from the past and still seems hell-bent on repeating the dreadful scenario seen in the run-up to the collapse of the first CA. It is again collaborating with the ethnic forces to carve out ethnic states under new federal design. This is a recipe for an ethnic fighting, an alien notion for Nepal where communal harmony and goodwill has been a norm since the ancient time. The UCPN-Maoist must stop pouring scorn on the Khas community and go for common socio-cultural values acceptable to all Nepalese.