Hegemonic Gender (In)egalitarianism, Multiple Patriarchies, and Exclusion: Gender Relations among Indigenous-nationalities in Nepal
It is widely believed by many Nepalis as well as Nepali and foreign scholars, e.g. Joanna Watkins (1996) and Kathryn March (2002),that the indigenous-nationalities (adivasi-janajatis) are more egalitarian, including in their gender relations, than other communities, especially the notoriously hierarchical and inegalitarian Hindus. It is thus possible to speak of hegemonic inegalitarianism and hegemonic egalitarianism among these different communities. At the same time, however, anthropologists have demonstrated a wide variety of gender relations and patriarchy among the indigenous-nationalities and that these relations have changed over the past two centuries due to international, national as well as local causes. Following Seira Tamang, it is therefore more accurate to characterize these diverse communities not in terms of single patriarchy but multiple and changing patriarchies. From a different register, it could be argued that there are different forms of inclusion and exclusion of women in these communities.
In this paper, I explore the nature of gender relations among some selected indigenous-nationalities, based on published sources and on-going research, to question the common perception of gender egalitarianism among adivasi-janajatis. By way of contrast, I will also discuss gender relations among Brahmins. More specifically, I will attempt to address the issue of hegemonic gender egalitarianism and inegalitarianism by examining gender relations in different domains or spheres such as politics, economy and religion on the one hand and marriage, love, sex and control over the body on the other. I will also discuss the different forms of gender exclusion and inclusion and the degree of agency and autonomy of women in these different domains or spheres. Finally, I will locate gender relations among these communities within the wider local, national and international as well as historical context.
I will argue that while in general it could be said that most indigenous-nationalities are more egalitarian than Hindus, especially in their gender relations, and that women do have more agency and autonomy, we can nevertheless discern different forms of gender inequality and exclusions of women among these communities. This is especially so when we examine gender relations in the spheres of politics, religion and to some extent, economy. I will also argue that we need to pay attention to the intersection of gender with ethnicity/caste as well as class and other vectors such geographical location and generation while discussing gender relations. I will emphasize that we must not assume that gender relations among the adivasi-janajatis as well as Hindus have remained the same throughout history but that they have changed over time in response to local, national and international forces.