Class Systems

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It has already been a month since I arrived in Nepal.
This week, I had an introductory meeting, with the Ministry of Education in Singha Durbhar – literally meaning Lion Palace (which turns out to be the largest palace in Asia),  The entire seat of Nepal government is located in the palace – a super impressive ‘Whitehall’, housing all the Nepal ministries and government offices. A bit more about that when I formally start my job, probably in about a month’s time

Today’s blog post has no photos but is a bit about the culture lessons that I am getting as part of my VSO in-country training.
I wonder how the class system here differs to that in the UK
Nepal has 125 Ethnic groups and 123 languages are spoken.  There are four main caste groups, which are linked to Hunduisms:
  1. Brahmin (High caste as Hinduism say that they are created from the mouth)  Their main occupation are priests and cerebral type of occupations.  They tend to have long pointed noses….is that why I keep being asked if I am Brahmin?
  2. Chhetrin (Created from the arm).  They tend to be warriors and tend to join the military.
  3. Baisya (Created from the stomach)  They tend to work in agriculture and trade.  Proof that the stomach (and eating) is pivotal!
  4. Sudra or Dalits (Lowest caste as Hinduism says that they are created from the feet.)  Touching anything with your legs or feet is seen as offensive, and this caste are sadly seen as the untouchables.  Their main occupations are tailors, cobblers and blacksmiths.  Surely valued artist and craftspeople?
The castes are further divided into Ethnic Groups; predominantly Newar (indigenous to Kathmandu valley, usually craftspeople); Gurung (belong to Mongolian family, Buddhists and predominantly serve in British and Indian army); Magar (akin to Gurungs); Rai; Tamang (practise Buddhism and Shamanism, predominantly farmers); Thakali (Buddhist restaurateurs, serving some of the tastiest Nepali dishes); Tharua; Tibetan; Sherpa and Muslim.
Each of the Nepali castes have unique clan surnames, which means that your background caste can always identified, despite your profession and current circumstances.
Interestingly, when I opened a bank account in Kathmandu this week, for the first time (I think in my life), I was specifically asked to complete a form with a section about what my paternal grandfather’s surname is.
Now my question to you.  Is the transparency of the class system a good thing or not?
And not to disappoint those of you who have registered on my blog for the pictures, can you spot Laliltpur district’s most famous resident?
Look who was crossing the road this morning

Look who was crossing the road this morning

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4 responses »

  1. Hi Daphne, Caste system doesn’t seem to give much room for manoeuver – at least the coalman’s son can become a doctor (or a poet) in the west 🙂 I like the pictures of “The World in ?UAE? Lv D

    On Sun, 9 Mar 2014 09:03:31 +0000 Daphne

    • Hi David, I don’t think the caste system is a complete barrier to a having a profession outside the norm. Just that your surname will always identify your background. Is that such a bad thing? Well spotted on the pics from the plane. Dx

  2. Interesting! I assume it doesn’t mean an individual has to remain in their own class system ‘professionally’ if they have the money and opportunity to break Away?
    keep well. Love from Wiebke

    • Hi A)Wiebke thank you for the comments. Hope you are well and do keep the comments coming. I have met lots of amazing people here who have broken through their normal class professions, So it is indeed possible. Hope you get to come and see the place. Dx

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