This book is based on a report that was itself based on research undertaken during 2014 and 2015 in collaboration with the Nepal Madhesh Foundation (NEMAF) and funded by the US –Based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). The report combined a review of the secondary data available in published and unpublished sources with the analysis of the findings of fieldwork undertaken by a NEMAF team during May –July 2015, in Kathmandu and in the districts of Banke and Dhanusha in the terai. The book now also contains addtional material collected and/or analysed during 2015 -2017.
Although the Muslim community as a whole constitute one of the larger groups in Nepal (accounting for some 4-5 per cent of the total population, and ranking ninth in the order of the largest groups), there has been relatively little effort to –date to assess in a comprehensive fashion the distinctive economic, social and cultural traditions. And beliefs and practices of this distinctive economic, social and culutral traditions, beliefs and practices of this distinctive and disadvantaged community, or to identify the aspirations, needs and capablities of its members. Male and female, young and old, Despite the contribution made by earlier research, there is still relatively little in the way of up-to-date information and analysis easily available in one place about the Muslim communities of Nepal who together constitute a significant –and distinctive –minority. It is hoped that this book will remedy this situation.
Formerly Professor of Development Studios at the University of East Anglia, Dr David Seddan took early retirement to operate as an independent free –lance researcher and consultant. He has lived and worked in Nepal for more than four decades and has authored, co –authored or edited a number of books on Nepali politics, economy and society, including Nepal in Crisis, Peasnats and Workers in Nepal, The Struggle for Basic Needs in Nepal, Nepal –A State of Poverty, the People's War in Nepal: left perpectives, and in Hope and in Fear: living through the People's War in Nepal. He has also written widely on a variety of issues in the Nepali press as well as in professional and academic journals.
In recent years, he has become interested in the significance of the decision to identify Nepal as a 'secular' state and in the various responses to this decision by different religious and political groups in Nepal. He has written a pamphlet for the Nepal Humanists' Association (SOCH) on 'Maintaining Secularism –an uphill struggle in Nepal' and is currently writing a book with three Nepali colleagues on 'The Challenge of Conversation'. The same issue is addressed in this book on 'the Muslim Communities of Nepal', which also attempts to provide a comprehensive historical and contemporary overview of the Muslim minority as a whole.
This book is based on a report that was itself based on research undertaken by myself during 2014 and 2015 in collaboration with the Nepal Madhesh Foundation (NEMAF) and the US –based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). The report combined a review and analysis of the secondary data available in published and unpublished sources undertaken over a period from 2014 to 2015 with the analysis of the findings of fieldwork undertaken by a NEMAF team during May –July 2015, in Kathmandu and in the districts of Banke and Dhanusha in the terai. The book now also contains additional material collected and/ or analysed during 2015 -2017.
My thanks to all of those at NEMAF involved in the research, notably its Director, Tula Shah, and also to Mohna Ansari, a leading human rights activist now with the Nepal Human Rights Commission, for encouraging this work at the outset and providing the link with IDEA. My thanks also are due to all those at IDEA NEPAL for their support and to IDEA for funding the original research.
Although the Muslim community as a whole constitutes one of the larger groups in Nepal (accounting for some 4-5 per cent of the total population, and ranking ninth in the order of the largest groups), there has been realtively little effort to date to asses in a comprehensive fashion the distinctive economic, social and cultural tradtions, beliefs and practices of this distinctive and disadvantaged community, or to identify the aspirations, needs and capablities of its members, male and female, young and old.
Despite the contribution made by earlier research (see biblography), there is still realtively little in the way of up –to –date information and analysis easily available in one place about the Muslim communities of Nepal who together a significant and distinctive minority. It is hoped that this book will remedy this situation.
This work by Dr. David Seddon, based on research undertaken over several years in collaborations with the Nepal Madhesh Foundation (NEMAF) and with support from the International Institute for Democratic Alternatives (IDEA), provides an overview of the issues facing the Muslim community –and the various Muslim communities of Nepal, together with an account of their historical development and contemporary economic, social, cultural and political characters.
I first met David when I was working with the Women's Commisions, and encouraged him to take his interest in the Muslim minority further, putting him in contact with IDEA (with whom I had previously worked). This proved very successful and led to his initial collaboration with IDEA and with NEMAF during 2014 and 2015. Since then, I have moved on to work with Nepal's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and he has taken the initial report for IDEA considerably further; but we have maintained contact, and I have agreed to provide this short foreword to this work.
Although there are other studies of Muslims in Nepal, this is the first attempt to provide a coherent and comprehensive consideration of the Muslims Communities of Nepal. It also identifies area for further consideration and research, which the author hopes will be undertaken in close collaboration with representatives of the Muslim communities, and the various institutions and NGOs that devote themselves to improving the spiritual, social and economic condition of men, women and children of Muslim faith.
As a long –term human rights activist, as a member of the Muslim Community, and as a woman, I welcome the publication of this book, and hope sincerly that it will be read by a wide range of Nepalis both Muslim and non –Muslims, including politicians, policy –makers academics and intellectuals, and above all by activists concerned with the welfare of Muslims in Nepal and by all those commited to making a difference for, and in collaboration with, disadvantaged people across the country.
I also hope it will be read by non –Nepalis, both by people of influence in the international and foreign agencies and also by those in other institutions in Nepal indeed by all those concerned with helping to improve the economic, social and political conditions of Nepalis and particularly those from disadvantaged communities.
If only some readers are better informed or are moved to action by this study, then it will have acheived its objective. It might also lead on in various ways, to further collaboration with the Muslim communities of Nepal and to a more concrete agenda or programme for future activities and interventions.
The status of the Muslim minority communities in Nepal is undoubtly one of economic and social disadvantage and political marginality and we understand but cannot full agree with the view of Mohammed Mozammil Haque, who argued in December 2009 that 'there is no need of any reserch work to be done to know the sectors of exclusion of Muslim communities in Nepal'. He suggested that 'a (rapid review) is enough to see that a rapid review reveals the disadvantaged status and situation of the deprivation and political marginalisation of many local Muslim communities; but the precise determinates or causes and consequences of this situation and the implications for action by the Muslim communities themselves require, in our view, more investigation and analysis. This book is an outcome of the action research programme mentioned above, involving a collaboration between IDEA, NEMAF and the author, and is intended not to be definative, but to build the basis for a discussion, and debate regarding the challenge facing Muslim communities in Nepal and the potential for economic, social and cultural development among the Muslim communities of Nepal. Our starting point is the observation that the Muslim community as a whole is both distinctive and generally disadvantaged, economically, socially and politically and that, despite some specific invlovement through official elected reperesentatives and through lobbying by Muslim groups and associations, the various Muslims communities as a whole have been largely marginalised in the political process that has taken place over the last few years (2008 -2017) following the replacement of the monarchy by a republic and the election of a first Constituent Assembly.
This does not mean that there has been no opportunity at all to make representations and to express the views of the Muslim community as a whole. Firstly, there have been politicians in various parties, including Muslim members of the two Cosntituent Assembles, who have worked hard to make the voice of Muslims heard. Secondly, there is a network of associations and organisations that claim to represent the Muslim communities of Nepal and their interests in a variety of ways, some of which intervene in order to improve the status and conditions of Muslims, in different parts of the country as well as across Nepal as a whole (many of these are listed in Appendix 1).
Indeed a clear statement was produced prior to the passing of the new Constitution in September 2015 which identified the 'special issues' into the draft (see Appendix 2). This document effectively listed the perceived key issues deriving from the distinctiveness and general disadvantage of the Muslim community and provided a framework within status and circumstances, in the Medium and longer term future. This specific and comprehensive intervention was of considerable significances; so too was the fact that there were now more Muslim representatives than ever before in a position to put forword these demands.
It is important, however, to recognise various other intiatives, both within the Muslim community as a whole and among the different Muslim communities, by civil society groups and NGOs, in response to the ongoing political process and indeed to the wider social and economic changes taking place in recent years across Nepal, Many of these relate to education, which is widely identified, both by Muslim leaders and by many others, as key issue for action, given the remarkably poor level of education of Muslims in general and of girls and women in particular, Other relate to other dimensions of distinctiveness and disadvantages and to the discrimination.
In this book we shall consider the history, as well as the present situation and status of Muslims in the wider context of Nepal, and the situation and status of the different Muslim communities within the Muslim community as a whole, in terms of a range of different social, economic and political characteristics. We shall also explore the responses of Muslim communities and, in so far as possible, Muslim individuals interviewed by NEMAF in the field as part of the IDEA supported project, to external forces, with particular reference to changing gender relations inside and outside the family, relations of social difference and differentiation (e.g. of caste, religious and other affiliation, association and desision making) within the local community and in wider social networks, economic relations and differences of wealth and income (class) in local communities and beyond, and education and skills acquisition as a key to social mobility and advancement. We shall also review the history of Muslim involment in Nepali politics over recent decades and consider a number of key themes and issues.
We hope the book will, perhaps by its very deficiencies and 'gaps', encourage others to examine the situation on the ground paritcularly as regards the initiatives being undertaken by Muslim civil soceity, through NGOs and associations and organisations of various kinds across the country. We have not been able, in this particular projects, to identify and examine as we have liked to do, the full range of these NGOs and their activities, although we were able through the fieldwork to gain some idea of what is being doen in at least two particular localities in the terai, in Janakpur and in Nepalganj, through key infromant interviews and focus group discussions.
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