Adivasi Body, Malaria, and the State in Nepal: Perspectives from Indigenous Historical Analysis
The Tarai of Morang, until the early 20th century, was reported to be “the most malarious and unhealthy district” (Oldfield, 1881, p. 61‐622). While outsiders feared the malaria and harsh environmental conditions of the Tarai, the aboriginal inhabitants, the Tarai ādivāsi such as Dhimal, Meche, Tharu, Koch and others who survived malaria, transformed these seemingly “deadly places” into their home. For the 19thcentury Nepali state, the Tarai was a region to be exploited – for land, labor, revenue and political power – and, hence the malarial environment posed a major challenge for its colonizing project. But for the Tarai ādivāsi, the malarial environment, and their ability to survive it, provided them relative autonomy in evading the extractive landlord state. In what ways did malaria – both as an endemic condition and an image – mediate relationships between ādivāsi, outsiders, and the state in the Tarai? The paper attempts to address this question by focusing on Dhimal, one ādivāsi community from Nepal’s easternmost Tarai region of Morang and Jhapa. The primary data for this paper is based on my PhD dissertation research that I undertook between 2007-‐2009 with the Dhimal community in Morang and Jhapa districts.
In this paper, I will discuss how Dhimal understand and analyze their distinctive history of belonging in the Tarai region with reference to the region’s malarial environment in the past. I will foreground Dhimal perspectives and experiences to show how Dhimal cultural capacity and collective agency of thriving in malarial environment shapes their sense of ādivāsi identity and historical belonging in the Tarai. In doing so, this paper highlights the value and importance of indigenous historical analysis as central analytics in studying the changing state‐ādivāsi relationships vis‐à‐vis control of land. Since there is a dearth of scholarly works on social history of malaria in Nepal, this paper also contributes in addressing this knowledge gap.