Measuring Caste Discrimination in Urban and Rural Nepal: Some Empirical Approaches
This paper presents two empirical studies that the author has undertaken to try to fill some of the gaps in our knowledge about caste discrimination in Nepal. The aim of the paper is to ask whether caste discrimination still exists, in what forms it exists and whether there are systemic differences between rural and urban forms and prevalence of discrimination. The primary purpose of this paper is methodological – to explore methods that might be used to reveal patterns in discrimination. The secondary purpose is to tentatively propose generalizations about rural-urban differences in the experience of caste discrimination based on the data.
The paper begins by showing how the empirical study of caste discrimination and differential caste outcomes is much more advanced in India than in Nepal, showing how access to government data in India enables sophisticated statistical breakdowns of different caste outcomes (for example on discrimination in labor markets). The paper examines what could be done to access ‘big data’ in Nepal and which institutions might have caste related data available. In the absence of such meta data, the paper shows how micro level studies and surveys might begin to illuminate the problems still faced by lower caste persons in Nepal.
Two original studies, completed by the author over the 2016-2018 period, are then presented and explained. The first is a survey of caste discrimination practices undertaken in selected locations in urban and rural Nepal among around 100 individuals of lower caste background, intended to explore differences between urban and rural experiences of discrimination, including such items as home entry, temple entry, and ostracism in public eating places. The survey results are presented graphically, showing how caste discrimination is prone to very local clustering, while some patterns are more universal. Systemic differences between urban and rural are explored and the sociological implications discussed. The second study of discrimination uses vignettes (short stories to be completed by respondents) to explore subtler patterns of attitude or habitus on caste, again comparing rural and urban locations. This study was performed among 160 class 11 and 12 students of all castes in selected schools, covering a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. A discourse analysis of student completions of the vignettes (about an imagined case of inter-caste love) are examined and general conclusions about caste attitudes are discussed. In particular, the paper focuses on systemic differences between rural and urban and between middle class and lower income groups. The paper concludes by pointing to the limitations of small scale studies for grasping the great geographical diversity of lower caste experience in Nepal, especially between the western hills, central hills and Terai. The paper presents ideas for future collaborative research and for the kinds of data that might reveal patterns of change in discrimination practices and why that data is important for addressing real world outcomes for lower caste persons.