This panel will explore three histories of public (school) education in the Nepali cultural world during the mid-20th century decades. Given the dominance of the state-centric approach in the existing writings on the subject, we propose a different approach to this history. While the particular characteristics of the various political regimes and their policies for school education are important background to our inquiries (and about which we have written in our previous publications), our focus in the papers in this panel will be on the agency of common people who marshalled their ideas, energy, and collective resources to augment educational access to members of various groups, communities, and solidarities that had hitherto little access to schools. Their work happened by negotiating the restricting dynamics of the various regimes and by taking risks that pushed the borders of the socially possible at any given moment of time. Hence, the three papers jointly contribute to enhance our knowledge about the histories of public education in the Nepali cultural world, one in which access to mass school education came rather late.

Chair/Convener: Lokranjan Parajuli, Senior Researcher, Martin Chautari
Discussant: (TBC)

Paper 1.1:
Author: Rukh Gurung
Affiliation: Assistant Researcher, Martin Chautari
Paper Title: The Access of Gurungs to Formal Education through the Lahure Highway: A Case Study of Thaman Hostel, Dehradun

The Gurungs have a short formal educational history compared to that of the dominant castes and ethnic groups in Nepal. Before 1951, Gurungs achieved access to formal education basically through one of three highways. First, some Gurungs who migrated from Nepal to India, Bhutan, and Burma during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, had the opportunity to study in schools in those places (Chalmers 2003). Second, Gurung lahures got first-hand opportunities to interact with letters in their paltans after being recruited in the British Indian Army. After being exposed to the importance of education while in service, these lahures secured educational opportunities for their sons and in some cases their daughters. Third, those few Gurungs who worked closely with powerful Rana officeholders also got an opportunity to study in Nepal (A. Gurung 2079 v.s.).   

This paper aims to understand how some Gurungs had access to formal education through the lahure highwayduring later decades of the 20th century. This research applies a qualitative research method by doing a case study of the Thaman Hostelestablished in 1948 in Dehradun, the capital of the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Named to honor the memory of Thaman Gurung who was awarded the VC for his bravery during World War II, Thaman Hostel was established to provide accommodation for students of Gorkha School which had been previously established in Dehradun in 1925. This school and hostel were founded by the British Indian Army with the primary aim of providing education exclusively to the children of lahures.

By providing a close reading of the published documents, particularly the archival documents, souvenirs, and available memoirs of graduates as well as interviews with some alumni of Thaman Hostel and Gorkha School, this paper narrates the story of how the lahure relationship with British-India played a role in shaping the formal educational trajectory of some Gurungs. Alumni from Thaman Hostel and Gurkha School have achieved success across a range of professional sectors including the Nepal Army, Nepal Police, sports, administration, education, and academia. Furthermore, several alumni have established private boarding schools in Pokhara, Birgunj, and Kathmandu (D. Gurung 2079 v.s.). Hence a study of the Thaman Hostel and Gorkha School is important to enhance our understanding of how Gurungs have accessed formal education.

Paper 1.2:
Author: Pratyoush Onta
Affiliation: Research Director, Martin Chautari
Paper Title: Gopal Pandey and the ‘Rastrabhasa Shiksha Pranali’ Run by the Nepal Shiksha Parishad (1951-1973)

The end of the Rana regime in February 1951 was an important rupture in the history of public life in Nepal. In a famous essay on intellectuals in Nepali society, first published in 1970, the scholar of literature and history Kamal P. Malla (1936-2018) characterised the decade of the 1950s as one of “extroversion” in which there were an “explosion of all manner of ideas, activities, and organised efforts” (1973[1970]: 277). The political and civil freedoms that became available to Nepali citizens after the end of Rana rule allowed for many experiments in the domains of ideas and organisational activities. Hence, during the 1950s, there was a noticeable growth in the number of intermediate organisations and entities in Nepal focused on various themes. A full history of these initiatives will enhance our understanding of the mid-20th century decades of Nepali history and in particular bring into focus the lives and work of several individuals who chose to realize projects and activities that all claimed to contribute toward the cultural and nationalistic revival of Nepal after the ‘dark’ Rana century.

In this paper, I will discuss one such initiative, Nepal Shiksha Parishad, founded in August 1951 by Gopal Pandey. Claiming that Nepal needed a ‘Rastrabhasa Shiksha Pranali’ (an education system based on the national language, i.e., Nepali) for its development, Pandey proposed a whole system of school and higher education based on the Nepali language. This system was approved by the Nepal government in 1952 and was subsequently institutionalised in the form of schools. Students could opt for this system in place of the mainstream school system that ended with the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exam which included curricula in English. This system was in place for just over 20 years and was scrapped when the New Education System Plan was fully implemented in the country in 2030 v.s. (1973-1974). Nevertheless, Nepal Shiksha Parishad’s other activities focusing mostly on the literary field continue to this day.

The main questions whose answers I seek in this paper are these: What was the vision of Pandey who founded this initiative and what were the historical and contemporary influences on him at work? How was the proposed system planned, socially approved, and realized? What were the contents of its curricula? Was the case for the Nepali-based education system one in which simply the medium was the Nepali language and the curricula could contain ‘foreign’ elements or was it an effort to realise an education system with a nativist ‘Nepali’ core, both in its contents and medium? Answers to these questions have been provisionally provided on the basis of a thorough reading of the published literature, some archival research, and some interviews.

Paper 1.3:
Author: Lokranjan Parajuli
Affiliation: Senior Researcher, Martin Chautari
Paper Title: The Early Discourses of Co-education in Nepal

The Rana regime that lasted more than a century (1846-1951) in Nepal did not, in general, make any genuine effort to promote public education. There, however, were a few exceptions. In fact, after the penultimate Rana ruler Padma Shamsher assumed office in November 1945, there was a policy turnaround. From the existing policy of controlling public access to education, the new policy sought to control the minds of the masses by providing them ‘appropriate’ knowledge (Parajuli 2012). Addressing ‘countrymen’ via the assembly of ‘noblemen’, Padma said: ‘It is essential that measures should be taken for propagating education among the people so that they acquire knowledge about political matters as well as their duties. Only when this is done will the people be able to cooperate with the government and take part in the development work of the country by properly exercising the rights available to them’ (quoted in Pandey 2039 v.s.: 233-234, italics added). In another speech Padma also said, ‘Girls’ schools too shall be opened, but they must be run in such a way that the modesty and good character of Nepali women is not adversely impacted’ (Gorkhapatra 2004 v.s.: 4). Thus, in principle, Nepali women/girls could as well get access to formal education. And when the government subsequently opened a girls’ school in Kathmandu, the possibility became a reality. And gradually other schools too opened their doors to girl-children. Bhim Bahadur Pandey wrote, ‘If there was any significant progress in Nepal during the mid-1940s, it was in the women’s education front’ (Pandey 2039 v.s.: ADD).

Along with the policy changes, we see debates and discussion around stri-shiksha (female education) in the then controlled and limited public sphere. Mostly men and some women participated in the discourse via their writings—letters to the editor, opinion pieces, articles, and short stories—in the only newspaper of the time Gorkhapatra and other magazines, e.g., Nepal Shiksha, Sharada, Udyog, etc. Such a discourse revolved around three major questions: 1) should girls be taught together with boys? 2) should girls be taught the same course as boys? and 3) should girls (and also the Dalits) be allowed to study the Vedas?

Based largely on the printed archive, this paper focuses on the first question, i.e., on the discourse of co-education (elsewhere I’ve looked at the second question; see Parajuli 2022). As expected, there was no consensus on the issue of co-education. While a few supported co-education at all levels, a large majority preferred segregated education. A section of these people preferred co-education at primary level and at higher education (MA or above), but segregated education from teenage to BA level or so. This paper not only looks at the rationales of each of these arguments, but it also elucidates the factors that led to the gradual acceptance of co-education in Nepal.