SOAS University of London

South Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics

Culture and Conflict in Nepal

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1

The module introduces students to recent and contemporary debates on political change and conflict in Nepal, with particular reference to the aftermaths of the 1996-2006 ‘People’s War’ and the devastating earthquakes of 2015.

Although it focuses on a specific context, the module also offers insights into broader issues, including the relationship between ethnic,
linguistic and national identities; processes of nation building; the relationship between dominant elites and marginalised minorities; tensions between tradition and modernity; and the underlying causes of social and political conflict in a resource-poor environment.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will:

  • Gain a critical understanding of texts and the ability to situate source material in social, political
    and cultural contexts
  • Gain an understanding of ways in which public culture impacts political decision making
  • Gain an understanding of issues related to knowledge production and manipulation
  • Gain greater knowledge of key texts and debates within Nepal studies
  • Demonstrate the ability to develop research, verbal and written expression as part of transferable skills
    across academic disciplines.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

  • Module introduction: civil war, earthquake, aftermath
  • Ethnicity, caste and language
  • Rule, authority and dominance
  • Migrants, Gurkhas and the Diaspora
  • The monarchy and political parties
  • Identity politics: Janajatis, Madhesis and Dalits
  • Development, NGOs and civil society
  • The Maoist ‘People’s War’ and its aftermath
  • The 2015 earthquakes and their aftermath
  • Twenty-five years, three constitutions
  • Nepal’s internal conversation: literary and media practices


Method of assessment

  • Three Reaction papers (700 words each) to be submitted in term 1 (60%)
  • One essay (2000 words) to be submitted on day 5, week 1, term 2 (40%)

Suggested reading

Core Reading

Additional Reading

Nepal: Historical Overview

  • Aris, Michael, The Raven Crown. 
  • Stiller, Ludwig 1968. Prithvi Narayan Shah in the Light of Dibya Upadesh. Kathmandu
  • Onta, Pratyoush 1996. 'Ambivalence Denied: the Making of Rastriya Itihas in Panchayat Era Textbooks' Contributions to Nepalese Studies 23: 1, pp. 213-254.
  • Hoftun, Martin and William Raeper 1992. Spring Awakening: An Account of the 1990 Revolution in Nepal. New Delhi

Cultural and political identity in Nepal 

  • Clarke, Graham E. 1996.  ‘Blood, territory and national identity in Himalayan states’ in Asian Forms of the Nation, edited by Stein Tonneson and Hans Antløv.  Richmond: Curzon.Whelpton, John 2008.  ‘Political identity in Nepal: state, nation and community’ in Gellner et al (eds) Nationalism and Ethnicity in Nepal.  Kathmandu: Vajra Books, pp. 39-78.
  • Pradhan, Rajendra. ‘Ethnicity, caste and a pluralist society’ in Dixit, Kanak Mani and Shastri Ramachandaran (eds)  State of Nepal, pp. 1-21.
  • Sharma, Pitamber 2008.  Unravelling the Mosaic: spatial aspects of ethnicity in Nepal. Kathmandu: Social Science Baha. Levine, Nancy 1987. ‘Caste, State, and Ethnic Boundaries in Nepal’, Journal of Asian Studies 46: 71-88.
  • Rose, Leo E. and John T. Scholz 1980.  Nepal: Profile of a Himalayan Kingdom, chap. 1, ‘Environment and History’, pp. 1-15.
  • Whelpton, John 2005.  A History of Nepal, Ch. 1: ‘Environment, state and society in the central Himalayas to 1743’Sonntag, Selma K. 1995. ‘Ethnolinguistic identity and language policy in Nepal’  Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 1 (4):108-20.
  • Yapp, Malcolm 1979. ‘Language, Religion and Identity: A General Framework’ in Political Identity in South Asia, David Taylor and Malcolm Yapp (eds.), pp. 1-33. London: Curzon Press.

Resistance, the state and conflict in Nepal

  • Mathema, Kalyan Bhakta 2011.  Madheshi Uprising: the resurgence of ethnicity. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point.
  • International Crisis Group. Nepal's Troubled Tarai Region, Asia Report N°136, 9 Jul 2007
  • Sijapati, Bandita 2013.  'In pursuit of recognition: regionalism, Madhesi identity and the Madhes andolan' in Mahendra Lawoti and Susan Hangen (eds) Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nepal: Identities and mobilization after 1990.  Routledge, pp. 145-72.
  • Yadav, Ramawatar 2011.  ‘On being Madhesi’ in Guneratne, Arjun (ed.)The Tarai: History, Society, Environment.  Kathmandu: Himal Books, pp. 150-160.
  • Hangen, Susan 2005.  ‘Boycotting Dasain: history, memory and ethnic politics in Nepal’ Studies in Nepali History and Society 10(1): 105-34
  • Fisher, William 2003. ‘The politics of difference and the reach of modernity: reflections on the state and civil society in central Nepal’ in Gellner, David N. (ed.) Resistance and the State: Nepalese Experiences.  New Delhi: Social Science Press, pp. 113-32.
  • Hangen, Susan 2010.  The Rise of Ethnic Politics in Nepal. London and New York: Routledge, chs. 1 and 2.
  • Onta, Pratyoush 2006.  ‘The growth of the adivasi janajati movement in Nepal after 1990: the non-political institutional agents’Studies in Nepali History and Society 11(2): 303-54.

 From Hindu kingdom to secular republic                                                                      

  • Joshi, Bhuvan L. and Leo E. Rose 1966. Democratic Innovations in Nepal. Berkeley: University of California Press [Chapter on the Ranas].
  • Baral, L.S. 2012.  Autocratic Monarchy: politics in Panchayat Nepal. Kathmandu: Martin Chautari.  Ch. 3 'King Mahendra's coup of December 1960 and its implications for Nepal'. pp. 123-59.
  • Burghart, Richard 1993. ‘The Political Culture of Panchayat Democracy’, in Nepal in the Nineties: Versions of the Past, Visions of the Future, Michael Hutt (ed.), pp. 1-13.
  • Gaige, Frederick 1975.  Regionalism and National Unity in Nepal, Ch. 8, ‘Politics in the Nepalese Tradition’, pp. 136-70.
  • Onta, Pratyoush 1996. ‘Ambivalence Denied: The Making of Rashtriya Itihas  in Panchayat Era Textbooks.’ Contributions to Nepalese Studies 23(1).
  • Whelpton, John 2005. A History of Nepal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Chapter 4 – The monarchy in ascendance, pp. 86-121]

Ethnic politics and federalism

  • Dipendra Jha 2017 Federal Nepal: Trials and Tribulations.
  • Malagodi, Mara 2013 Constitutional Nationalism and Legal Exclusion: Equality, Identity Politics and Democray in Nepal 1990-2007 (ebook via soas library or hard copy for example chapter 4)
  • Burghart, Richard, 'The Formation of the Concept of Nation-State in Nepal' Journal of Asian
  • Middletown, Townsend and Sara Shneidferman 2008.  'Reservations, federalism and the politics of recgnition in Nepal'.  Economic and Political Weekly, 10 May: 39-45

Nepali media, NGOs and civil society

  • Hutt , Michael. 2006. 'Things that should not be said: censorship and self-censorship in the Nepali press media, 2001-2' The Journal of Asian Studies, 65.2, pp. 361-92. (see below)
  • Lecompte-Tilouine, Marie 2017 The Royal Massacre, Rumours and the Print Media in Nepal. In Hutt and Onta. Political Change and Public Culture in Post 1990 Nepal. (ebook at Soas library)
  • Shakya, Mallika 2017 Country of Rumours: Making Sense of a Bollywood Controversy. In Hutt and Onta Political Change and Public Culture in Post 1990 Nepal. (ebook at Soas library)
  • Onta,, Pratyoush. 2002. 'Critiquing the media boom' in State of Nepal, eds Dixit and Ramachandaran, pp. 253-269.

Nepali identity in India

  • Chettri, Mona 2017. Ethnicity and Democracy in the Eastern Himalayan Borderland. Amsterdam University Press.
  • Dhakal, R.P., 2009. The urge to belong: an identity in waiting’. In T. Subba &, eds. Indian Nepalis: Issues and Perspectives. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, pp. 148-167. 
  • Ganguly, Rajat 2005. 'Poverty, malgovernance and ethnopolitical mobilization: Gorkha nationalism and the Gorkhaland agitation in India' in Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 11(4): 467-502.
  • Golay, B., 2006. 'Rethinking Gorkha Identity: Outside the Imperium of Discourse, Imperium and Hegemony’. Peace and Democracy in South Asia, 2(1 and 2), 23-49.
  • Middleton, Townsend: ‘Across the interface of state ethnography: Rethinking ethnography and its subjects in multi-cultural India’. American Ethnology 38.2.
  • Chakraborty, C., 2008. The Gorkhaland movement: an enquiry into the social background of the crisis’. In R. Bhadra & M. Bhadra, eds. Ethnicity, Movement and Social Structure. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, pp. 287-308. 
  • Subba, T.B. ‘Nepal and the Indian Nepalis’ in Dixit, Kanak Mani and Shastri Ramachandaran (eds),  State of Nepal, pp. 119-36.
  • Subba, T.B.,  Ethnicity, State and Development.  A case-study of the Gorkhaland Movement in Darjeeling.  Chapter 3 (pp. 51-75)
  • Arora, Vibha. 2006. “Roots and Route of Secularism in Sikkim.” Economic and Political Weekly 41 (38): 4063–4071.
  • Shneiderman, Sara and Mark Turin 2006.  ‘Seeking the tribe: ethno-politics in Sikkim and Darjeeling’ Himal South Asian 19(2): 54-8 (
  • Dorjee, Pema Wangchuk, and Alex McKay. 2012. “Some Issues in the Early British Construction of Sikkimese History.” In Buddhist Himalaya: Studies in Religion, History and Culture, ed. Anna Balikci-Denjongpa, 63–72. Gangtok: Namgyal Institute of Tibetotology.
  • Gupta, Ranjan. 1975. “Sikkim: The Merger with India.” Asian Survey 15 (9): 786–798.

Bhutanese Refugees

  • Hoellerer, Nicole. ‘Refugee Resettlement in the UK: Bhutanese refugees in Greater Manchester, UK.’ In: European Bulletin of Himalayan Research 43 Winter/Spring 2013/14
  • Hutt, M. Unbecoming Citizens, chs. 14, 15.
  • Hutt, Michael 2005, ‘The Bhutanese Refugees: Between Verification, Repatriation and Royal Realpolitik’ Journal of Peace and Democracy in South Asia  1: 1
  • Adhikari, Deepak. 2007. Red Army in the Dragon Kingdom. eKantipur. Kathmandu,
  • AHURA Bhutan: Bhutan: a Shangri-la without Human Rights.
  • Amnesty International 1992. Bhutan: human rights violations against the Nepali-speaking population in the south[ASA14/04/92] (Dec.)
  • Amnesty International 1994. Bhutan: forcible exile [ASA 14/04/94], (August).

Nepali labour migration

  • Caplan, Lionel 1995. Warrior Gentlemen.“Gurkhas” in the western imagination. Chapter 1, pp. 1-28.
  • Des Chene, Mary: ‘Loyalty versus equality’ in Himal South Asia Vol. 10 No. 4 (July/August 1997), pp. 15-23.
  • Hutt, Michael 1989.  ‘A hero or a traitor?  The Gurkha soldier in Nepali literature’.  South Asia Research vol. 9 no. 1, May 1989, pp. 21-32.  Also in Arnold, David and Peter Robb (eds.), Institutions and Ideologies: a SOAS South Asia Reader pp. 91-103.
  • Thapa, Deepak: ‘Mercenary Position’ in Himal South Asia Vol. 10 No. 4 (July/August 1997), pp. 24-6.
  • Bruslé, Tristan 2010.  'Who's in a labour camp?  A  socio-economic analysis of Nepalese migrants in Qatar'.  European Bulletin of Himalayan Research 35-36: 154-70.
  • Brusle, T. (2008). "Choosing a destination and work migration: Strategies of Nepalese workers in Uttarakhand, northern India." Mountain Research and Development 28(3-4): 240-247
  • Pettigrew, Judith ‘Gurkhas in the town: migration, language and healing’ in European Bulletin of Himalayan Research 19 (2000): 7-40.
  • Seddon, David  (2001) The New Lahures: foreign labour migration and the remittance economy of Nepal. Institute for Development Studies, Kathmandu.
  • Sharma, Jeevan Raj. 2008. ‘Practices of Male Labor Migration from the Hills of Nepal to India in Development Discourses: Which Pathology?’ Gender, Technology and Development 12(3): 303-23.
  • Sharma, J. R. 2011. "Culture of migration in the middle hills in Nepal", Labor Migration: Opportunities and challenges for mountain livelihoods, ICIMOD Periodical, No. 59, October 2011. 18-20

Gender and power

  • Seira Tamang 2009 The politics of conflict anddifference or the difference of conflict in politics: the women's movement in Nepal. Feminist Review. 0141-7789/09
  • Seira Tamang (2000) Legalizing State Patriarchy in Nepal. Studies in Nepali History and Society 5(1): 127-156.
  • Seira Tamang (2015) ‘Mainstream’ feminism. Kathmandu Post 10/3/2015
  • Yadav, Punam 2014 Social Transformation in Post-Conflict Nepal: A Gender Perspective

The 2015 earthquake and its aftermath

  • Raj, Yogesh and Bhaskar Gautam. 2015. Courage in Chaos: Early Rescue and Relief after the April Earthquake. Kathmandu: Martin Chautari.
  • Tseten, Kesang 2017 Trembling Mountain. (film)
  • Bennike, Rune Bolding 2017 Aftershock: Reflections on the Politics of Reconstruction in Northern Gorkha
  • In Himalaya, the Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies
  • March, Kathryn S. 2015. My Village in Nepal is Gone. Cornell Chronicle: Ithaca, NY. April 30, 2015.
  • Nelson, Andrew. 2015. Classquake: What the Global Media Missed in Nepal Earthquake Coverage. The Conversation, May 4, 2015. < what-the-global-media-missed-in-nepal-earthquake- coverage-41063> (accessed on November 30, 2016).
  • Schuller, Mark. 2014. Being an Insider Without: Activist Anthropological Engagement in Haiti after the Earthquake. American Anthropologist 116 (2): 409-412.



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