“Sikkimization” and Gendered Anxieties of Nepali Sovereignty
Discussions about women in Nepal, especially in tracing contributions to the nation and democracy, almost always emphasize women’s participation in democracy movements, opposition politics and various leadership positions. Thus for example, there are numerous histories that trace the role of various women from Yog Maya Neupane onwards. These histories are very important contributions because they are rarely covered by mainstream histories which are usually written by men. However, they leave untouched the important relationship between gender, nation and nationalism. The use of gender here refers not to biological differences between males and females, but to a set of culturally shaped and defined characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity. Feminist scholarship has shown how gendered power politics underlie ideas of nations and the politics of nation-building and how nationalist movements and nationalism rely on patriarchal ideas of masculinity and femininity for their success.
In an attempt to begin a conversation on understanding the gendered aspects of the nation and nationalism in Nepal, this paper seeks to situate recurrent nationalist cries of political parties in Nepal from across the ideological spectrum to the threat of “Sikkimization” in the larger historical nationalist project. By focusing on Nepali media coverage and other analyses of the 1975 annexation of Sikkim by India of that period, this paper will trace the gendered stakes and anxieties underlying Nepal’s quest for other government’s recognition of its claims to sovereignty as it operates in the international arena.
While nationalism in Nepal has long relied on anti-Indian posturing, the focus on “Sikkimization” is instructive in the light of Nepal claims to be exceptional in South Asia for being “never- colonized.” The claims of “exceptionalism” holds some empirical grounds, but nationalist discourses of “independence” and “sovereignty” masks an actual subordination repressed in national narratives of a great “bir” (brave) history of warriors and war campaigns that enabled Nepal to remain independent even while the rest of South Asia suffered from colonialism. As historian Pratyoush Onta has noted, “Claiming this bir history allowed high-case state male elites to present Nepal as an independent country, along with the other countries of the world, even as Nepal acknowledged that it was economically poor and in need of foreign aid.”
Certain ideas of masculinized dignity underwrite Nepal’s sense of autonomous nationhood, engendered in Panchayat nationalism. Its impact on Nepali politics and culture is clear, reflected in the continued anxieties of the political elite on questions of Nepal’s sovereign status. Understanding these gendered narratives, tensions and ambiguities enables a larger understanding of how gendered representations, hierarchies and narratives are politically used in the service of a particular usage of national identity.