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Baking Facts From Fiction
One of the most interesting books that hit the market this year is easily “Breaking Nepal”, edited by Sujit Mainali, with Saurav contributing the prelude. It contains a series of excerpts, occasionally punctuated by telling tales of outrageous comments made by foreign writers on Nepal. The read gives an idea of how sweeping remarks and blatant lies marketed as facts are readily lapped up by the naïve and the prejudiced as sources of substance.
Factual errors might be an outcome of ignorance, but bending facts with persistent consistency is a manifestation of an arrogant lot resorting to academic cannibalism and criminality. The 184-page book portrays how venom-filled and contradictory have been the pens of many foreign writers over the centuries. History dismisses such work with scorn.
Prejudice and shallow statements can be traced in excerpts after excerpts. Saurav, a highly noted Nepali scribe, and the talented sociologist Mainali team up in “Breaking Nepal” to prepare the assemblage of excerpts from various materials and expose the intellectual depravity that these foreigners suffer from.
In a fairly comprehensive preface, Sujit Mainali, who, according to Saurav, did “85 per cent of the work”, notes that Western outrage towards Nepal dates back to the mid-18th century when King Prithvi Narayan Shah expelled the Christian missionaries from Kathmandu Valley. “One of the outraged Padres later wrote about Nepal spitting hatred against the Gorkha dynasty which had devastated their aim of proselytisation in this land.” And other Western writers chose to cite such prejudiced views as Gospel Truth. In his “Nepal and Tibet”, Brian H. Hodgson claims Buddhism to be a “reform heresy, and not an original system.”
Outright academic cannibalism continues well into the recent decades. One writer thinks, “The ‘Father of the Nation’ [Prithvi Narayan] was far from being a multiculturalist celebrating cultural diversity for its own sake as he is being so often depicted. Nor was he really a nationalist in the modern sense…” But the fact, as some of these writers admit, is that Warren Hastings, on behalf of East India Company, was for maintaining a “debilitating” status for Nepal so that it did not turn “troublesome” to the British in India.
The writers, sponsored with certain narrow missions, served their patrons to play proxies, puppets, or both, to what the bosses wanted them to convey. In “Sketches From Nepal”, a wrathful Henry Amborse Oldfield describes Prithvi Narayan as “a cowardly, cunning and inhuman prince”. Another writer in the recent times submits a claim, “Until the end of the Panchayat era [1961-1990] the state decided for its subjects which religion to choose.”
There is an answer to the vile, venom-filled comments. Nagendra Kumar Singh, in “Nepal and the British India”, quotes a number of sources reaffirming that the James Logan mission in 1769 failed in its task of bringing Nepal under British influence “either by inciting anti-Prithvi Narayan groups to rebellion or by winning the friendship of the Gurkha king”.
Control of trade and guiding of Nepal to “Christian truth” were the principal objectives of most writers. One author complained, “The true god is hardly known in this country of Nepal.” Daniel Wright, in “History of Nepal”, asserted, “Together we have a right to force our commerce and civilisation upon people who do not want them.”
Perceval Landon, in “Nepal”, quotes an Italian missionary, thrown out of Nepal, proudly claiming to have “burned 3,000 manuscripts” during his stay of 12 years. In the absurdities galore, Oudh or Ganga Sagaram are given as the birth place of Buddha, and that all Newars, Limboos, Kiratis, and Bhotias are Buddhists whose “religion has been singularly mixed up with Hinduism”. According to Lieut. Col. G.H.D. Gimlette, in “Nepal and the Nepalese”, “If a caste Hindu loses his caste in Nepal, he always becomes a Mussalman.”
Francis Buchanan Hamilton, in “An Account of the Kingdom of Nepal”, says, “The Kiratas [are] very rude”. The “rude” Limbooas “are all Hindus, but of the meanest cast”. Another writer outrageously attributes to Newars “all the other vices of [the] barbarous race”. Landon rates Nepali women as “so ugly that they resemble rather devils than human beings…one would say that they were not human beings but ghouls”.
Kitchener, persuading and finally extracting a go-ahead for recruiting Nepalis in the British army, persistently pointed out to the Nepal government that it was “Eastern Nepal men” he wanted, “which would not be so great a drain”. This contradicts, notes Mainali, comments by some “Nepali scholars with communal fervor, who have either attained higher education in the West or were involved in activities sponsored by the Western countries” but allege the State had made it a policy to allow the youth of indigenous community to be recruited in the British Army and, in effect, cripple this community.
Belittling Nepalis in every way possible, foreign writers go at great length to dart their scorn at Nepalis and things Nepali. In “A Journey to Kathmandu”, Laurance Oliphant assesses the first Rana Prime Minister Jung Bahadur’s house as “a large building, which looked as if a China man had mixed a Birmingham factory and an Italian villa”. Oldfield contributes another piece, “The presence of these European luxuries and ornamental furniture introduced an appearance at least of elegance and comfort into the interiors of the Gorkha sardars, which was never dreamt of, even by royalty, at the time when the Niwar dynasty was on the throne.”
Thomas Bell, in “Kathmandu”, asserts that the British applied caste system in their army in India, rejecting many potential recruits from Nepal for “belonging to the wrong castes”.
Free-wheelers, antique poachers and smugglers whose trade now grace quite a few museum and private collections in the US and other parts of the western world. In the late 1940s, Christian missionaries made a comeback in Nepal, first at Palpa. The initial ploy for entry was to disguise as a birdwatcher/science teacher. In the 1950s and after, Tibet became a hot bed of international intrigue and scheming on account of China embracing communism since 1949, thus creating in Nepal a new but delicate strategic spot.
Documents produced through such agendas cannot carry the weight and recognition of history. Many were mislead, some used it to work as proxies or be accepted as “scholars” and “experts” or invite to Western universities. The approach to people, places and personalities was constructed accordingly. Such materials constitute wet rags in a garbage heap kissed sweltering heat. Writers depending upon these materials uncritically risk presenting themselves as less than serious in their undertaking, devoid of any desire to even scratch the surface for truth.
Questioning the loyalty and integrity of Nepalis, and their cultural values, religion, competence seems to be the prime objective of many of the writers cited in the book.
Statement on survival
There were several hundred principalities under British suzerainty in India on its independence eve. Not that the British did not restrict Nepal’s march to expanding ties with nations beyond the Indian shores. Calcutta was a stranglehold that is maintained even today. They imposed a caste system in the recruitment policy of Gorkhas in the British troops defined as “martial race”. In Kathmandu, Thomas Bell says, “British rejected many of them as belonging to the wrong castes.”
That Nepal withstood the test of the times dominated by an aggressive, trading-minded exploitative empire and its henchmen and that it withstood such situation and survived as an independent nation is a historic treat and tribute to the key players of the age. These writers see everything good with the exploitative and cruelty colonial rule whereby small populations exercised repressive powers over populations scores of times larger their own.
Breaking Nepal is a damning highlight on how fiction is sought to be treated as facts, and how hollow or dishonest pens masquerading as experts can be. It unmasks the hypocrisy, lies, exaggeration and contradictions by a list of arrogant/ignorant writers. The book’s repetitive use of some excerpts at places can be unnecessarily halting. Barring a few typos, the content on the whole is a wholesome read. The compilers have called their work “Breaking Nepal”, whose effect will, hopefully, be “Waking up Nepal”.
Professor Dr Abhi Subedi is a creative giant. He is an essayist, critic, linguist, playwright and poet. Born in Terhathum of eastern Nepal, Subedi received...