Marx Supplants Manu: ‘Manifesto’ of an Activist in the Late Rana Nepal
Nepal is often times portrayed as a territory that was “secluded” from the outside world, and was in “slumber” before 1951 when the Rana regime (1846-1951) fell down. This narrative however has not gone unchallenged—some have called it a “selective exclusion,” and others have shown it as part of the “globalized economy” already in the Rana era. By looking at both intellectual trajectory of an author based in Pokhara, and at the ideas ingrained in his book this paper argues that the Rana rulers, despite “controlling education” and “censuring publications,” were not able to block the global flow of ideas of equality and justice, and science. This paper further shows that the country (and even the local activists) was “wide awake” and was striving to be a “modern” one much before the downfall of the Ranas.
The focus of this paper is Muktinath Timisina, a government employee turned translator turned teacher turned author/activist, and his book Matritwa ra Dharma Pustak (MRDP). Timisina is better known for his latter book “Ko Achhut?,” one of the first books to challenge the very foundation of caste based hierarchical system in Nepal. MRDP, Timisina’s first “original” and equally radical book, a manifesto of the sort, was published in 1950, i.e., towards the penultimate days of the Rana rule. All thousand copies of the first edition were sold out and the book had to be reprinted in just over a year.
Timisina wrote “realistic revolutionary social stories,” as the author calls them, in the late 1940s when he was teaching at a basic school, and also at the same time was involved in underground political activities in Pokhara. When the government issued an arrest warrant in 1950 he fled to India and joined the Nepali Congress party, and also got MRDP published the same year. Not only the leaders of the Congress party encouraged him to publish the book that unequivocally praises Marx but they also bore publication cost. The party’s involvement however was concealed, for it would have made it difficult for the book to enter and circulate within Nepali territory.
MRDP contains two stories, Matritwa and Dharma Pustak. In Matritwa, Timisina questions the patriarchal society which discriminates, oppresses women. The protagonist of the story, a child widow, challenges male hegemony, becomes pregnant by a person of her choice, and gives her son not his father’s but her own name.
In the second story, the author seeks to destroy all existing scriptures and to replace them by a new scripture, by a new religion, manav dharma (lit. human-religion), which is to serve the entire humanity. The author believes in science—he heaps praises on Darwin, and in the principles of evolution, of science lie the “truth” for him. He seeks to replace the codes of Manu by that of Marx, and also elevates the latter to the position of god’s deputy.