Social Injustice and Emerging Subaltern Religiosity Nepal
Nepal has witnessed dramatic changes in the field of religiosity in the recent decades. One significant change is the flourishing of new religious and faith-based organizations, especially in urban areas. While most of the faith-based organizations have remained “elitists,” which appeal and serve the educated, middle-class, high-caste, and men, there is now an emergence of a distinct form of faith-based organization that appeals and serves the most marginalized sections of society such as women, the poor, and Dalits. Often characterized in the public discourse as irrational and superstitious and as Christianization for mere economic gains, subaltern religiosity hasn’t got serious attention in scholarly works in Nepal. The question of how subaltern religiosity reveals and addresses caste, gender, and economic inequalities and advocates equality and social justice, remains to be explored.
In this paper, I pursue this question through a case of a popular, faith-based organization, called Sachchai (meaning truth). Established by a young, not-well-educated inter-caste couple (Dalit man and Chhetri woman) seven years ago in Pokhara, Sachchai now has more than three dozen branches, some as far away as Kathmandu and Butwal. Women, mainly from Dalits and Janjatis, comprise more than ninety percent of the memberships of the organization. Sachchai fulfills the day-to-day needs of these marginalized individuals through the medium of Bible study, testimonials, and bhajans (singing and dancing). Although Sachchai requires its members to study the Bible—which temps one to label them as Christians—they claim that they are not Christians. Moreover, they claim that they are non-religious organization and that they respect all religions equally. Although the members study the Bible, they can continue to remain Hindus.
I will demonstrate, in my paper, that Sachchai attracts the marginalized people because it gives them a hope for their life; confidence and courage to tackle their every-day problems; knowledge and skills about how to live a good life; and a symbolic power, the power that comes from being associated the powerful text, the Bible, and from being the child of God. I will also demonstrate that in addition to solving the day-to-day problems and sufferings of these otherwise helpless individuals, which arise mostly because of their gender, caste, and poverty, Sachchai advocates an equal and just society, if not the society in which the oppressed people are favored more than others. In so doing, Sachchai borrows the ideas about equality and social justice from both the current Nepali public discourse and from the Bible.
My overall aim is to raise a larger question as to why this form of subaltern religiosity is emerging in Nepal, especially at this moment of time, when the country has just passed through big social and political movements and has made commitments to equality, social justice, and the upliftment of marginalized groups. The alternative vision and initiative for equality and social justice, I suspect, is the consequence of their frustration with the failures to meet the promises of the recent political and social movements.