Development and Shifting Identities of Nepal’s Marginalized Communities

Isha Gharti

Development projects’ have been studied for their potentialities to assimilate into existing cultural concepts, social orders, moral imperatives, history beliefs, narratives and practices (Pigg 1992, Shrestha 2002) and subsequently into the periphery of individual identity, instilling new values, habits, and choices, and influencing the remaking of society from the bottom up. In doing so, developmental interventions actively or indirectly create suitable development subjects in accordance to neoliberal ideology and practice (Li 2007, Leve 2001) by producing and reproducing knowledge and practice regarding and relating to these subjects. Consequently, the complex meeting of the discourse and narrative of developmental programs with heterogeneous development subjects and the dialectic relationship thus formed, varyingly influences individual and collective dispositions. These shifts in dispositions may lead to wide ranging transformations among developmental subjects that ranges from changes in mundane everyday activities to subtle changes in their consciousness that might influence or trigger changes within and outside of their community. Based on a research conducted on Tamang community of two rural municipalities of Sindupalchok conducted in 2017 and 2018, the article tries to unearth these possible links between discourse and practices of developmental interventions with the shifting identities among developmental subjects. Drawing on Michel Foucault’s concept of governmentality and Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, the article argues that developmental interventions intentionally and unintentionally become a powerful medium to shift individual and collective dispositions that influences the emergence of knowledge regarding the self and other which in turn has potential to incite significant changes at individual, communal and national levels.

The article demonstrates that in the research area, the developmental interventions that have conceptualized and reconceptualized ‘marginalized communities’ and ‘inclusion’ in line to the neoliberal values like equality and indigenous right have amalgamated with the Tamangs’ centuries old discontent with the ruling class and its apparatus and practices.  Simultaneously, these discourses and narratives relating to Tamangs especially Tamang women as marginalized community and the importance of their inclusion in mainstream politico-economic arenas have been assimilated not only into Tamang’s practice of everyday life but also into the individual and collective Tamang consciousness. This in turn informs their respective identity, precisely their ethnic identity which has led not only to an emergence of often conflicting sense of self among individuals but also a contradictory collective ‘common sense’ regarding Tamangs in relationship to other caste.  Simultaneously, this has helped the competitive element embedded in various castes come to the fore as manifested in almost a passive aggressive or subdued conflict among the various castes in the municipalities. By showing how development, while striving for equality produces opportunities where it not only solidifies or institutionalizes existing inequalities but also alters individual and communal identities that lead to significant changes in the community and beyond, this article contributes to the growing literature on identity, particularly ethnic identity and development.

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