views updated


POPULATION: 30 million (2008 estimate)
LANGUAGE: Nepālī (Gorkhali) is official language; over 36 other languages and dialects
RELIGION: Hindu majority (86.2%); Buddhist; Muslim; Christian; Jain


The term "Nepālī" (also "Nepalese") describes the peoples of the mountain kingdom of Nepal. It includes a number of distinct ethnic and caste groups that have their own separate identities and customs, but who also share certain common cultural attributes and an historical association with Nepal. Of the modern nations of South Asia, Nepal is unique in that it is the only country of any size to have maintained its independence during the period of British colonial rule.

The Kathmandu Valley is the political and historical heart-land of Nepal, and evidence points to cultures centered here as early as the 8th or 7th century bc. Indian inscriptions dated to the 4th century ad refer to a kingdom called "Nepala" in the Himalayan Mountains. Dynasties such as the Licchavis, Thakuris, and Mallas ruled the region at various times, but the birth of modern Nepal can to be traced to the rise of the Gurkhas in the 18th century. The ancestors of the Gurkha rulers are thought to have been Rajput princes fleeing from Muslim persecution in Rajasthan in western India. They established themselves in the mountains of what is now western Nepal in the mid-16th century. In 1768, Prithvi Narayan Shah, the ninth king in the Gurkha dynasty, conquered the Kathmandu Valley and moved his seat of power there.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the kingdom of Nepal extended along the Himalayas from Kashmir to Sikkim. However, disputes over its southern border led Nepal into conflict with the British in India. Defeat during the Anglo-Gurkha wars (1814–1816) saw Nepal's expansion halted and its borders fixed in their present locations. Sikkim, to the east, became a British protectorate. Much of the western part of the kingdom, and some territory in the productive lowlands in the south, were lost to British India. Following 1816, Nepal closed its borders to foreigners and did not reopen them until 1951.

In 1846, a young general named Jung Bahadur Rana seized power in Kathmandu. He appointed himself prime minister and made the office hereditary. For the next century, the kings remained nominal figureheads, but the Ranas were the real rulers in the country. Some instituted social changes, such as abolishing slavery and banning satī (suttee), which is the custom of wives burning themselves alive on their dead husband's funeral pyre. Most of the wealthy and autocratic Ranas, however, did little to improve the lot of the commoners and ruled very much as feudal overlords.

By the mid-20th century, the winds of political change sweeping across India were beginning to be felt in Nepal. The Indian National Congress, the nationalist political party that fought for India's independence from Britain, had its counterpart in the Nepālī National Congress. This organization became the focus of opposition to the Ranas. The powerless king, a virtual captive in his palace, emerged as a symbol of the democratic hopes of his subjects. In 1950, the King of Nepal managed to escape to India. At this point, the Nepālī National Congress called for the overthrow of the Rana and proclaimed its own provisional government. After some inconclusive fighting, a compromise between the two rival parties was mediated by India. King Tribhuvan was restored to power and returned from exile in 1951, committed to establishing democracy in Nepal.

Although a representative form of government was instituted in 1959, within two years King Mahendra, Tribhuvan's successor, dismissed the parliament and banned political parties. He introduced a system of indirect government in which the prime minister and cabinet were chosen by the king. This system continued under King Birendra, who succeeded to the throne in 1972. Following two decades of periodic political unrest, a new constitution was proclaimed in 1990. This created a true parliamentary democracy, legalized political parties, and made provisions for a popularly elected legislature. The first general election under the new system was held in May 1991. King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev continued to rule as a constitutional monarch, although his former powers had been severely curtailed.

On 1 June 2001 however, Crown Prince Dipendra was officially reported to have shot and killed his father, King Birendra; his mother, Queen Aishwarya; his brother; his sister; his father's younger brother, Prince Dhirendra; and several aunts, before turning the gun on himself. Gyanendra, Birendra's brother, succeeded as King. However, on 1 February 2005 suspended the Parliament, appointed a government led by himself, and enforced martial law. The King argued that civilian politicians were unfit to handle the Maoist insurgency current in Nepal at the time. Telephone lines were cut, and several high-profile political leaders were detained. Other opposition leaders fled to India and regrouped there. A broad coalition called the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) was formed in opposition to the royal takeover, encompassing the seven parliamentary parties who held about 90% of the seats in the old, dissolved parliament. A countrywide uprising began in April 2006, resulting in massive and spontaneous demonstrations and rallies held across Nepal against King Gyanendra's autocratic rule. Eventually, an agreement was made for the monarchy to be abolished, which it was on 25 May 2008, therefore ending 240 years of royal rule. Nepal became a Federal Democratic Republic with the prime minister becoming head of state.

The last decade of the monarchy was marked by the "Nepalese People's War," fought between Maoist insurgents and the Nepalese police and, later, the Royal Nepal Army. More than 12,800 people were killed during this conflict and an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 people were internally displaced during this time. The conflict disrupted the majority of rural development activities and led to the emergence of a deep and complex Left Front which, together with the Nepali Congress, was the backbone of the broadbased movement for democratic change in Nepal. In 1994 the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) split, with the militant faction later renaming itself as the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). The war was started by the CPN (M) on 13 February 1996, with the aim of establishing the "People's Republic of Nepal." For 10 years the country was in the grip of civil war, with the Maoist insurgency initially commencing in the districts of Rolpa, Rukum, and Jajarkot in western Nepal and eventually spreading to 68 of the country's 75 districts. At first, the insurgency as seen as a police matter, but after Maoists attacked an army barracks in western Nepal in 2002 following failure of peace talks, the Army was called in to fight the insurgents. A considerable number of retired Gurkha soldiers of the British and the Indian Army inhabit many of the Maoist-affected areas and Nepalese security agencies suspected that these former soldiers along with retired soldiers and deserters from the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) were involved in training the insurgents. Government estimates provided in early 2003 on the CPN-M strength indicated that there were approximately 15,500 combatants, 18,000 militia, 24,500 active cadres, 33,000 hard core followers, and 800,000 sympathizers, with Brahmans and Chhetris providing the political and military leadership. The war ended with a Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on 21 November 2006.

As a result of the civil war, Nepal's greatest source of foreign exchange, its tourism industry, suffered considerably. A travel company, which published rankings of the popularity of tourist destinations based on sales, indicated that Nepal had gone from being the tenth most popular destination among adventure travelers, to 27th. The conflict also forced the young and able to seek work abroad in order to avoid the Human Rights Violations committed by the Government forces and the crimes committed by the Maoists.


Nepal is a landlocked state on the northern mountain rim of South Asia. Its inhabitants number 29.5 million people (2008 estimate), living in an area of 145,391 sq km (56,139 sq mi), which is roughly the size of Iowa. Nepal extends 800 km (500 mi) in a generally east–west direction, but its north–south dimensions vary between only 125 and 225 km (approximately 80–140 mi). The country is surrounded on the east, south, and west by Indian territory, while China lies to the north.

Nepal is truly a mountain kingdom, with a quarter of its land over 3,000 m (9,843 ft) in altitude. The only lowland of note lies in the extreme south, where the country extends into the Ganges plains. A narrow belt, rarely exceeding 40 km (25 mi) in width and at one time a swampy, malaria-infested jungle, is known as the Terai. Over a third of Nepal's population and much of its agriculture and industry are found in this part of the country. The Terai is also the richest wildlife zone in Nepal and the home of several government wildlife reserves. The best-known of these is the Royal Chitawan National Park (now Chitawan National Park), designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, which is a sanctuary for the endangered Bengal tiger and one-horned rhinoceros.

North of the Terai, the land rises to the Shiwalik Hills (750– 1,500 m or 2,450–4,900 ft in elevation), before descending to a series of east–west running valleys known as dūns. From the dūns, the terrain rises steadily northwards through the Mahabharat Lekh, the Pahar (hill) zone, and the imposing main ranges of the Himalayas. The Nepal Himalayas contain eight peaks over 8,000 m (26,247 ft), including Mt. Everest, the world's highest mountain at 8,848 m (29,028 ft). Kanchenjunga, Dhaulagiri, and Annapurna are among the better-known peaks of this group.

The Kathmandu Valley lies north of the Mahabharat Lekh ranges at around 1,300 m (4,300 ft) above sea level. Formed by an old lake-bed, it is intensively cultivated and supports a dense population. It is the cultural and historical heart of Nepal, containing the modern capital of Kathmandu, as well as the medieval cities of Patan and Bhaktapur.

Nepal's climate and vegetation reflect the country's wide range of elevations. The Terai experiences conditions typical of the middle Ganges Valley. The mean temperature in June, the warmest month, exceeds 35°c (95°f), while winter temperatures drop to 10°c (50°f). Rainfall is received during the summer monsoon, with amounts varying from 200 cm (approximately 80 in) in the east to 100 cm (approximately 40 in) in the west. The natural vegetation consists of grasslands and sāl(Shorea robusta) forests. As one moves northwards into the mountains, temperatures decrease and rainfall increases. Vegetation changes to temperate pine and mixed forests. Above 4,000 m (13,100 ft), the climate is alpine, with short summers and long, severe winters. The higher elevations are under perpetual snow.

The ethnic composition of Nepal reflects its location between South Asia and Central Asia. The peoples of the Terai and southern Nepal are little different from their Indian neighbors. Caste remains the prime factor in social relations, and there is considerable freedom of movement and intermarriage across the border between Nepal and India. The mix of peoples in this area is typical of the Ganges plains. Brahmans, Rajputs, and Kayasths are the main land-owning castes. They are served by occupational castes such as the Nuniyar (traders and shopkeepers), Ahir (cattle-keepers), Dhobi (launderers) and Chamar (leatherworkers). In addition, there are Muslims and tribal populations (e.g., Tharu, Majhi, and Bodo) in the area.

Nepal's Pahar zone is an area where the Caucasoid populations of South Asia mingle with the Mongoloid physical type of Central Asia. The former category is represented by the Brah-mans and Chhetris, upper castes who have dominated Nepālī political and cultural life. The powerful Ranas were drawn from the Chhetri (i.e., ksatriya or warrior) caste. The term "Newar" is used to describe the inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley regardless of their ethnic origin. Peoples of Mongoloid descent in this Pahar region include the Gurung, Magar, Rai, Limbu, and other groups who traditionally have served as Gurkha soldiers. (Technically, there is no single ethnic group called Gurkha, the name being derived from soldiers of the Kingdom of Gorkha whose ruler conquered the Kathmandu Valley in the 18th century.) Other ethnic groups in the middle hills include the Tamang and the Thakalis.

The northern mountain belt is inhabited by peoples such as the Sherpas and Bhutia who are physically and culturally closely related to the Tibetans.


Nepal's ethnic diversity is accompanied by linguistic diversity, with over 36 languages and dialects currently spoken by the Nepālī people. Groups in the northern mountain belt speak languages belonging to the Tibeto-Burmese branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. These include Tamang, Magar, Rai, and Limbu. Sherpa and Thakal are Bhutia dialects virtually indistinguishable from Tibetan. Newari, a Tibeto-Burman language written in the Devanagari (Hindi) script, is spoken in the Kathmandu Valley. Nepālī, also known as Gorkhali, is spoken by 49% of the population (2001 census) and is the country's official language. It is the lingua-franca of Nepal and the Indian state of Sikkim, has official language status in West Bengal's Darjeeling district, and is also one of India's 23 official languages. An Indo-Aryan language related to Hindi, it, too, is written in the Devanagari script. Hindi, Bhojpuri, and Maithili, which are languages prevalent in adjacent areas of India, are widely spoken in the Terai. Also in the Terai are groups such as the Tharu and Danawar whose language shows elements of the Austro-Asiatic tongues widely associated with tribal groups in India.


While each ethnic group has its own folk traditions, all Nepālīs share in the mythology of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Himalayas, for example, are regarded as the home of the gods. Here, in the "snow-abode" (hima-ālaya), is Gauri-Shankar, the peak where the god Shiva and his consort, Parvati, dwell. Annapurna, with her many peaks, is goddess of plenty. Ganesh Himal is named for Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of Hinduism. In Indian legend, every rishi, or yogi, who possesses divine power has a retreat in the mountain fastness of the Himalayas.

Another legend has it that, at the beginning of time, the Valley of Kathmandu was a beautiful turquoise lake. On this lake floated a lotus flower, from which shone a magnificent blue light. This was a manifestation of Swayambhu or Adi-Buddha, the first incarnation of Buddha. The lake was so beautiful, and the flame so sacred, that the devout came from far and wide to live along its shores, to meditate, and to worship. One such devotee was the sage Manjusri, who came from Central Asia to worship the flame. Wishing to approach the flame more closely, he sliced open the valley wall with his sword of wisdom. The waters of the lake drained away and the lotus settled on the valley floor. At this site, Manjusri built a shrine that was to become the sacred site of Swayambhunath.


Nepal used to be the only Hindu kingdom in the world, before it was declared a "secular state" in 2006. However, although Hinduism is the dominant religion in the state, Nepālīs are highly tolerant of other religious beliefs. Freedom of religion is enshrined in law, which makes it illegal to proselytize (i.e., actively try to make converts) in the country. According to the 2001 Census of Nepal, the religious makeup of the population is: Hindu (80.6%), Buddhist (10.7%), Muslim (4.2%), Christian (0.5%), Jain (0.1%), and others, mainly adherents of local religions (3.9%).

Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal have so influenced each other that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two religions. Both Hindus and Buddhists, for example, worship at the Buddhist shrine of Swayambhunath. In addition, religion in Nepal has absorbed other elements that give it a unique character. These include Tantric beliefs, aspects of the pre-Buddhist religion of Bon, and local animistic cults. Animal sacrifice accompanies almost every ritual and ceremonial event in Nepālī life. Nepālīs also worship Kumārī, the "living goddess," a young girl believed to be an incarnation of the Hindu goddess Parvati.

Swayambhunath and Bodhnath are major Buddhist shrines and centers of worship. The temple of Pashupatinath in Kathmandu, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, is viewed as one of the most sacred in all of South Asia. It is one of the few Hindu temples from which non-Hindus are barred.


Nepal is a land of festivals. All the major Hindu and Buddhist celebrations are observed, as well as many that have their origins in ancient animistic cults. At the Seto Machhendranath festival held in Kathmandu in March, the image of the deity Seto Macchendra is placed in a towering chariot (rath) and pulled through the streets by hundreds of young boys. Gai Jatra is a festival when cows are decorated and led through the streets in procession. At Indra Jatra, the Kumārī (living goddess) is worshiped and carried through the streets in a special chariot. Many of the Buddhist festivals, such as the Mani Rimdu of the Sherpas, are accompanied by masked monks performing devil-dances.

One of the major celebrations of the Nepālī festival year is Dasain, which is the Nepālī name for Dasahara. It celebrates fertility and the victory of good over evil in the form of the goddess Durga's slaying of the buffalo-demon Mahisha. The festival lasts 10 days, with numerous rituals and offerings to the gods. The ninth day of the festival is marked by the sacrifice of animals (chickens, ducks, goats, and buffalo) by every household and by organizations such as the police force and military.

In March 2008 the Government of Nepal announced a new line up of public holidays, canceling former holidays such as the King's birthday and National Unity Day, and adding some such as Christmas, the Muslim "Ids," and the two Lhosars (Tamu and Sonam). The holiday situation is very much in a state of flux.


Nepālīs practice the rituals and ceremonies of their respective communities, with Hindu and Buddhist customs predominating. High-caste Hindu boys, for example, undergo the sacred thread ceremony as an initiation into adulthood. Among Buddhists, on the other hand, this initiation consists of boys adopting the saffron clothes and lifestyle of the novice monk for a short period. Both Hindus and Buddhists cremate their dead, except for important lāmās (Buddhist spiritual leaders), who are buried. Some groups at higher elevations where wood is not available dispose of their dead by exposing the corpses to be consumed by vultures and wild animals.


Nepālīs have a reputation of being an open and friendly people. The normal Nepālī form of greeting is the "Namaste," said while joining one's own hands together, palms touching, in front of the body. A common greeting on the mountain trails is "Khana Khaiyo," literally, "Have you eaten?" This is an indication of the difficulties in obtaining the most basic necessities in the country.


Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world, a fact that is reflected in the nation's health and vital statistics. The average life expectancy at birth is just under 61 years. The leading causes of death are infectious and parasitic diseases and respiratory problems. Infant mortality rates are high, amounting to 62 deaths per 1,000 live births. Fertility rates are also high, with 3.9 average births per childbearing woman in the population. The natural increase of population is over 2% per year.

Nepālīs are a rural people, with over 90% living in villages. These are usually clusters of houses sited on a hilltop or hillside, surrounded by agricultural land, and located near a source of water. Terracing of hillsides is quite common. Typical houses in the Pahar zone are two-story, mud-brick structures with thatched or tin roofs. Stone and wood are the main construction materials in the mountain belt. Creature comforts vary, though standards of living are generally quite low. Per capita income stands at us $1,630 per year (2008 estimate), considerably less than India's $3,800 per year.

Nepal's mountainous terrain makes for difficult transportation and communications. Goods are often transported by pack animals or carried by porters over mountain trails. Highways total a mere 17,280 km (10,800 mi), of which only 9,829 km (6,142 mi) are paved. The rail system has only 59 km (37 mi) of track and is of little economic significance. Nepal Airlines, formerly Royal Nepal Airlines, the country's air carrier, operates a schedule of domestic and international flights. Of interest is Nepal Airline's daily mountain flight (weather permitting) from Kathmandu to view Mt. Everest. Regional Airlines include Gorkha Airlines and Yeti Airlines.


Social organization and family life differ among the various ethnic groups of Nepal. However, all practice some form of clan exogamy, with descent most commonly traced though the male line. Hindus follow typical practices in terms of arranged marriages and the extended family structure. Monogamy is the norm, although some Tibetan-speaking peoples practice fraternal polyandry (i.e., two brothers may marry the same woman). Wife-capture is a practice among Tibetan-speaking groups. Customs concerning divorce and remarriage vary according to the community.


Nepālī clothing reflects the variety of peoples and cultures in the country. Each community has its own particular style of dress, although certain broad patterns can be seen. Peoples of the Terai are virtually indistinguishable from their Indian neighbors. Groups in the northern mountain belt wear Tibetan-style clothes. The traditional Nepālī dress is typically worn in the middle hills region. For men, this comprises trousers that taper from the waist to tight-fitting legs. Over this is worn a blouse-type shirt that reaches to mid-thigh and is tied at the waist with a belt and a Western-style jacket. The Nepālī cap, with its peak offset from the center, giving it a slightly lopsided look, completes the outfit. Ex-soldiers wear the badges of their former regiments with much pride. Women wear blouses and sārīs, and they adorn themselves with gold ornaments and jewelry.


Nepālī food is generally similar to Indian cuisine. Rice, the staple cereal, is boiled and eaten with lentils (dāl) and spiced vegetables. Beef, of course, is not available, but poultry, goat, and buffalo meat are consumed. Meat is consumed mainly on special occasions and at festival times. Rice, too, is often out of the reach of the average rural Nepālī family. It is replaced by a dough made by mixing flour with boiling water, which is eaten with one's fingers just like rice. A flat bread (chapātī), which is dry-roasted on a hot skillet, is a staple of the diet in the Terai. Milk products such as ghī (clarified butter) and curd form part of the diet, and hot, sweet tea made with milk and water is drunk everywhere. Sweets such as jalebīs and laddūs are popular.

In the mountains, a ground cereal known as tsampa takes the place of rice. It is sometimes eaten dry, or sometimes mixed with milk or water into a gruel. In the higher elevations, yak meat is consumed. Among the Sherpas, potatoes have replaced rice as the staple food starch. Tibetan foods include momos, a boiled or fried stuffed dumpling, and thukba, a thick soup. Tibetans drink their tea with butter and salt added.


Education levels in Nepal are low, with over a third of the adult population having no formal schooling. Although primary education is free, government schools are often inadequate and overcrowded. Many schools in remote areas are very basic and sometimes unsafe, and many communities have cultural inhibitions against sending children, especially girls, who often leave school by the age of 12, to school. Enrollment in secondary schools is less than 35%. Literacy among the adult population is low (53.7%) with that for the male population over 15 years being 65.1%, and the figure for females dropping to 34.5% (2001 Census of Nepal). Kathmandu is the site of the Tribhuvan University, until 1985 the only doctoral-granting institution in the country, but since then another five universities, such as Mahendra Sanskrit University and the National Academy of Medical Sciences, have been established.


Past cultures in the Kathmandu Valley have left behind a rich artistic heritage. The magnificent religious stone sculptures of the Licchavi period (4th to 9th century ad) are matched by the elaborate wooden carvings of the early medieval period. The distinctive multi-tiered, pagoda-style roofs so typical of East Asia have their origins with Newar architects of the late 13th century. Nepālī painting encompasses illuminated manuscripts of the 11th century to more recent Tibetan-style thankas. Traditions of music range from the sonorous chanting and huge horns, thigh-bone flutes, and conch shells of Tibetan sacred music to the songs and folk music of wandering professional troubadours. Dance forms include the classical kumārī of the Newars and the masked devil-dances performed at Tibetan Buddhist festivals to scare off devils and demons.


Nepālīs are overwhelmingly agricultural, with 93% of the labor force engaged in this sector of the economy. Subsistence cultivation dominates, although pastoralism based on the yak, a hybrid bovine, is important in higher altitudes. One unique tradition in Nepal, however, is military service in the Gurkha regiments of the British and Indian armies. The fighting abilities of the Gurkhas were recognized during the Anglo-Gurkha war of 1814–1816, after which they were recruited into the army of the East India Company. The Gurkha regiments of the British Indian Army were divided between Britain and India in 1947. Famous for their curved knives or khukhrīs, the Gurkhas have fought with distinction in campaigns around the world.

Historically, trade between India and China was important for the Nepālī economy. Another group that has carved out an occupational niche for itself is the Sherpas, who are well known as guides and porters for mountain-climbing expeditions. It was a Sherpa, Norgay Tenzing, who accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953 to become the first climbers to scale Mt. Everest. Tourism, trekking, and mountain expeditions are major earners of foreign exchange in Nepal.


Modern sports popular among Nepālīs include soccer, cricket, basketball, table tennis, and badminton. Despite the mountainous nature of the country, altitude and the rugged terrain make skiing impractical.


Most Nepālīs are restricted to traditional forms of entertainment and recreation, such as festivals, folk dances, and folk music. Radio Nepal broadcasts news and music, and for those who can afford television sets, Nepal Television commenced service in 1985. The cinema is popular in the cities, with most movies being supplied by India. Occasionally, Western films are shown. There is an ancient tradition of theater in Kathmandu.


Many of the traditional arts of Nepal are practiced today, though often the goods are of lesser quality and are manufactured for the tourist market. These items include woodcarvings, folk objects such as khukhrīs (curved knives), prayer wheels, thankas, musical instruments, and dance masks. Some of the Tibetan-speaking peoples are known for their weaving and make colorful clothes, bags, and carpets.


Many of Nepal's social problems are related to poverty, over-population, and the nature of the country's environment. Only 17% of the country's land area is arable land, and Nepal has to import food to feed its population. Much of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture, but the numbers of farmers unable to meet their basic food requirements is growing rapidly. More than 40% of the population is undernourished. An expanding population, and the added pressure this places on agricultural resources, is likely to increase levels of poverty in the next few decades. Poor transportation and natural hazards, such as flooding, landslides, and drought, intensify the problems of agricultural production.

Low levels of industrialization, lack of mineral resources, a severe shortage of skilled labor, and heavy reliance on foreign aid imposes restrictions on future economic expansion. Even existing resources are being threatened. Reliance on wood for fuel and construction has led to extensive deforestation, which in turn has resulted in widespread soil erosion and severe flooding. The country's important tourism industry may suffer if environmental degradation along trekking routes and at tourist centers continues unchecked. The Kathmandu Valley, for example, is currently experiencing major problems with air and water pollution.

Among Nepal's assets are its magnificent scenery and its newfound tradition of democratic government. However, the country is still dealing with the aftermath of 10 years of civil war, with the resultant decline in the tourist dollar and the associated decline in agricultural production in rural areas. It remains to be seen how the new government will deal with the serious social, economic, and ecological problems facing the peoples of Nepal today.


Gender problems in Nepal differ considerably according to community in Nepal. However, with over 80% of the population of the country professing Hinduism, the problems of women in Hindu society are common to most women in Nepal. Most societies in Nepal are patriarchal, and males dominate. Nepalese women do all the house work, feed the children, clean the house, take care of the livestock, wash dishes, and do laundry. Men don't do dishes and don't do laundry. Girls are usually limited in their access to education and are kept home to help in the house and in the fields. Child marriages are common, with some girls being married before they reach 10 years of age, dowry giving is the norm (incidents of dowry death are occasionally reported, especially from the terai), and widow remarriage is prohibited. Low caste women are subjected to sexual and domestic violence and trafficking of young Nepali girls as young as 11 years to the red light districts in Indian cities is common. Many such victims remain until they get sick or contract diseases like HIV; then, they are dumped out of the brothels with nowhere to go. Most commit suicide, though some return back to Nepal to get help from some social organizations, such as the Women Foundation of Nepal, which helps with education, child labor, prostitution, and abuse resulting from witch hunting. In some cases, largely because of poverty, young girls are sold as wives in Indian states, such as the Punjab, where the imbalance between sexes makes finding a suitable wife difficult.

Nonetheless, women have been prominently involved in the recent civil war in Nepal. Available reports indicate that one-fifth to one-third of the insurgents' cadre and combatants may be women. Reportedly, every village had a revolutionary women's organization. According to a Jane's Intelligence Review report of October 2001, there were usually at least two women in each unit of 35–40 men, and they were used to gather intelligence and act as couriers. Durgha Pokhrel, Chairman of the National Women's Commission, who visited more than 25 Maoist districts, stated on 3 July 2003 during a talk delivered at the Nepal Council of World Affairs that the percentage of women among insurgent cadres could be as high as 40. A women's group, the All Nepal Women's Association (Revolutionary), was alleged to be a front for the CPN (M).

In addition to the recently ended civil war, Nepalese women have to deal with poverty, illiteracy, lack of access to medical facilities, poor nutrition, poor education, discrimination, and casteism.


Annamanthodo, Priscilla, ed. Red Light Traffic: The Trade in Nepali Girls. Kathmandu: ABC/Nepal, 1992.

Bhattarai, Govind Raj, trans. Selected Nepali Essays. Kathmandu: Jiba Lamichhane, 2003.

Bista, Dor Bahadur. People of Nepal. 2nd ed. Kathmandu: Ratna Pustak Bhandar, 1972.

Karan, Pradyumna P. Nepal: A Cultural and Physical Geography. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1960.

Maslak, Mary Anne. Daughters of the Tharu: Gender, Ethnicity, Religion, and the Education of Nepali Girls. New York: Rout-ledge Falmer, 2003.

Rose, Leo E., and John T. Scholz. Nepal: Profile of a Himalayan Kingdom. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1980.

—by D. O. Lodrick