Shifts in the Strategy of Caste-Representation: Links between Commercial Negotiations in the Meat Markets and Identity Politics
This paper analyzes shifts in the strategy of caste representation during the democratization movements of 1950s, 1990s, and 2000s in Nepal by focusing on the Khaḍgī caste who have been engaged in slaughtering, processing and trading of livestock as a caste-based role in Newar society.
I will investigate how Khaḍgī formed their networks in the meat markets, and what kind of identity politics they engaged. I will describe the shifts in strategies in Khaḍgī’s caste representation by three periods, the first period (1951-1990), the second period (1990-2006), and the third period (since 2006).
On the first period, Khaḍgī formed“samaj sudar sewa”with Deula, Kusule , Dhobi who were excluded from schools because of their ‘water-unacceptable’ status, and formed their own schools. Khaḍgī also engaged in ‘mandir pravash movement’, which intends to protest against their exclusion from temples together with Damai, Kusule, Deula. They move as ‘sano jati’ or ‘communist’ and identify their belongings depending on their demand. Sometimes, they joined together even beyond their caste, and ethnicity. In 1973 Khaḍgī formed their caste association Nepal Khadgi Sewa Samiti (NKSS) mainly to negotiate with Muslims brokers in meat markets collectively. Since the political activities were prohibited, NKSS started their activities as social service. The activities by NKSS focused on the grass-rooted social welfare activities such as donating drinking water tanks and holding blood donation programs.
On the second period, they focused on their individual commercial activities to catch up the expansion of the meat markets. During that period, many non- Khaḍgī people joined the meat business in chicken, goat, pork markets, but Khaḍgī still occupy the buffalo markets. They collect buffalo skins within caste which profits their communities. Thus, during the second period, they involved in the competition individually in the meat markets, but they utilized caste memberships collectively to keep their commercial advantage.
On the third period, they again act collectively and involve in identity politics to be categorized as indigenous group. In March 2008, NKSS requested National Dalit Human Right Council to remove them from the Dalit list. In addition to these activities as ‘indigenous Newar’, they are engaging in the campaign to change their registered surname of Kasāī in the nāgarikatā (citizenship) into Khaḍgī or Śāhī, which is the term of their mother tongue, by insisting that Kasāī is not an original term, but foreign derogatory term means ‘butcher’.
The caste representation is usually regarded as an example of identity politics, centering on public meetings and agitations by caste associations. In contrast, I will examine how people’s everyday-life practices in public health, income generation are linked to the caste representations.