One of the major challenges around state restructuring in Nepal is to address the aspirations of movements demanding so-called identity-based federal states. This paper provides one example to show how current claims about history and federal states are situating themselves in a shared understanding of territory and land.

I will look into the current Limbuwan movement’s demand for an autonomous Limbuwan federal state, through an analysis of the Limbuwan movement’s territorial claims based on readings of history. I will reference the recent history of Limbus related to land – in particular the kipat system that legally existed until the 1960s and practically until the completion of cadastral survey in 1990s. I argue that kipat is important to the movement because it denotes continuity of the groups’ autonomy over their ancestral land. It connects what existed before Limbu territory was incorporated into the Gorkha kingdom, and also that which survived to an extent as kipat until the latter’s abolishment. Therefore, I will attempt to show that kipat is more than a relic of their customary system of land management and that the Limbuwan movement has attempted to re-establish the community’s link with their territory, though in a different form.

This paper will focus on the existence of kipat and its political use today while also taking into consideration the wider debates on kipat [e.g.  Caplan (1970), Sagant (2008), Chemjong (1967)], acknowledging that the system underwent changes by the time of its abolishment. In the paper, I will try to explore such questions as: How and why has the Limbuwan movement built a case for the need to use history? How does the kipat, particularly when it has reportedly been an issue of conflict among the settlers of the territorial group, affect the projection of history itself in the movement? How do Limbuwan leaders consider the history of kipat as having affected their movement, their demands, claims, and strength?

Because the paper focuses on the history of territory and autonomy and its connection with the present claims that entwines the two, I plan to test the applicability of Maurice Godelier’s theory in the Nepali context. He suggested territory to be the basis of society formation and he explains the importance of laying claim and control over resources within a territory. He argues that when a group residing in a territory has sovereignty over it, forming an overarching identity, a society is formed. I intend to build on my previous research on the impact of kipat abolishment on the Limbus. In addition, I will use interviews with leaders of current major Limbuwan political parties and incorporate an analysis of their manifestos as well as activities. I will also consider the Interim Statute of Limbuwan prepared by the Samyukta Limbuwan Morcha (forum of Limbuwan political organisations) and the proposed sketch of the Limbuwan Autonomous State prepared by Kirat Yakthung Chumlung (a Limbu cultural organization).