A Marxian Approach To Ethnic Problems : Dr. Narad Bharadwaj

The problem of forming the correct view on contemporary racial and ethnic relations has presented itself as a unique challenge both in the communist and democratic movements of countries with diverse societies. From the global perspective, the rise of communal assertiveness is generally considered a post World War II phenomenon when different ethnic communities of the world started re-organising themselves along ethnic, regional and religious configuration.  The genocidal ethnic conflicts in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the post World War II period brought the ethnic dimension of political conflict in stark lime light.

Stirring a hornet’s nest

In Nepal’s context, however, the increasing assertiveness of ethnic mobilisation as a political force started after the 1990 People’s Movement. It was the result of the major political parties in the parliament trying to outdo their competitors in mobilising people behind their respective ideological lines by organising every conceivable social, professional cluster with a specific identity tag. The creation of ethnic clusters was the last of such a formation, and it has proved to be stirring a hornet’s nest.

Initially all political parties provided a conducive environment for ethnic organisations to grow as their sister units. It was only after these groups manifested their desire to present themselves as a power constituency to claim proportional representation, inclusive participation and a share in the pie of political privilege did the traditional political parties hasten to downsize these forces, devising different political mechanisms, but it was already too late.

Though there are no concrete evidences of large-scale violent ethnic conflicts taking place in Nepal in its 247 years of post unification history, some minor incidents of disaffection from ethnic military or popular leaders are found in the historical records. But the history of Nepal’s unification and the formulation of the state’s post unification policies by its unifier Prithvi Narayan Shah show that he was the only political statesman of post unification history who had the awareness of the fragile ethnic composition of Nepalese society. It was this realisation which led him to define the Nepalese state as a garden of diverse flowers successfully inculcating a sense of unity among the people of all ethnic groups.

The Rana Oligarchy lasting for one hundred and four years sowed inequality by stressing the caste hierarchy and invoking orthodox Hindu religious ethos of social stratification and untouchability as a tool of political control. The enactment of the Civil Code of 1854 by the first Rana Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana retarded social progress and created deeper social divisions by institutionalising inequality. During that period, we find minor revolts organised by a few ethnic and indigenous leaders. But these revolts were more spearheaded towards the tyrannical state policies of Jung Bahadur Rana rather than consciously organised assertiveness of any ethnic community.

After the overthrow of the autocratic Rana regime in the 1950 Revolution, the unharmonious social superstructure was transformed into a more representative and democratic system. Since then, a number of constitutional and legal measures have been put in place to eliminate unequal social hierarchies. The declaration of the end of untouchability by the Civil Code of 1963 and the constitutional stipulation that all citizens were equal before the law were an epochal leap towards the creation of an equal society.

Despite this, the deep-rooted conservative conventions and practices of the society together with the weak implementation of legal remedies against the infractions of the legal codes regarding untouchability have made the complete elimination of a number of social stigmas like caste and menstrual untouchability, practice of Chaupadi and the consciousness of superiority among some elites of Khas Arya nationality an uphill task.

In a caste-based hierarchal society like ours, a long rule of authoritarianism is found to have stagnated the social values, fostering segregation and seclusion in the outlook of the people. The negative influences of the social conventions fortified during autocratic rule are so deep that even after the establishment of democracy, the deep rooted evil practices of the society continue to gnaw at the  fundamental values of equality and non-discrimination.

The formation of the Communist Party of Nepal in 1849 was the most powerful move towards ending divisiveness based on caste, culture, language, gender and ethnic inequality. Marxism holds that as the core of the productive forces of the society, workers transcend all the boundaries of caste, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and gender inequalities and share common socio-economic conditions and have every reason to unite and organise together. Racism and ethnic divergence are the political tools which are used by the capitalists to drive a wedge between the workers to keep them disunited and reap benefit.

The Communist Party of Nepal has been theoretically committed to building a unified, multi-racial and multi-ethnic working class dedicated to the cause of social liberation of the people.  But the parties representing the capitalist class are still using ethnic and racial division of the society as an effective weapon to divide the working class and prevent them from unleashing their revolutionary potential.

In this situation, it is important for the left political parties to recognise that caste discrimination and domination of majority nationality exist within the realm of left politics also and turning a blind eye towards the complaints of such inequalities will prevent attaining cross-ethnic and cross-racial unity in the working class.

Nepal’s leftist political parties, like the left activists of the western society, have the tendency to operate from extreme class reductionism, which believes class to be the real issue and not caste or ethnicity. This view of looking at social stratification fails to see that even affluent people from the lower caste hierarchy face discrimination, and people considered untouchable and the higher class people do not suffer the same oppression though both of them may share the same economic status.

However, it will be wrong to say that the conflict between cultures and ethnic groups more than class struggle has shaped up human civilisation and that an ethnic-identity based power structure is necessary to provide social justice to all the strata of the society.

The left movement is in a comparatively advantageous position in Nepal than in other non- communist countries of South Asia. The left activists, however, cannot take this situation for granted.  In order to build a cross-ethnic and class-based coalition of the working people, they have to fight caste superiority that lurks among the rank and file of the left organisational structures. 

Marxism is not only a weapon for liberation from economic exploitation, it is also a weapon to fight for liberation from racial and cast discrimination. It has always been a core ideological element in the fight against racism in western countries and possesses the potential of being a great force in galvanising the working people, providing them with ideological guidelines to fight against all kinds of exploitative systems, including caste superiority of the higher caste elites of the society in this part of the world.

Cross-ethnic harmony

Nepal’s left forces, despite being at the forefront of every great social movement, are being blamed for being casteist and racial. For them, the challenge is to prove that  they can play a pioneering role in dousing the burgeoning racial sentiments in the society by inculcating a sense of cross-ethnic harmony and by forming the broadest possible coalition of working people transcending caste, ethnic and cultural  divides for the establishment of a just and equitable society.

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