There is no denying that Nepal is a country of social harmony. Despite some exceptions in periods of violence, Nepali society has maintained social harmony for generations. People of different ethnicities, religions, and cultures have an understanding of peacefully living together and sharing each other’s culture. While people of different castes within the Hindu community inhabit the same place, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians are also living in perfect harmony. We have not witnessed any unfortunate feuds between people of different castes and religions. Only in a few countries can people live in such social harmony. It is certainly a matter of great pride for all Nepalis.
Not very far away from our native land, we have seen age-long conflict between the peoples within a nation. The serious wounds caused by Hindu-Muslim riots, the Tamil-Singhalese war, and the community conflict between people in Afghanistan have not yet healed despite intermittent ceasefires. We can still see fierce ethnic conflicts between different tribes of African people. Surprisingly, even the most champion proponents of democracy in the Western world dominated by whites are still intolerant of the people of non-white communities. Not long ago, America underwent a tremendous civil war in the 1860s when Abraham Lincoln, who advocated for the abolition of slavery, was elected the President of the United States. The unfortunate feud ensued between the Union (the North) and Confederacy (the South), killing countless innocent people and destroying huge property.
In ancient times also, there were fierce battles between Athens and Sparta and later between different states of the Roman Empire. Several instances of state wars can be traced where civilians were forcibly involved in wars that caused civil conflict. Later Crusades at different times in different places destroyed life and property irreparable in the history of humankind. It looks like human evolution has always undergone war and peace intermittently.
Everybody knows conflict is a vice, and harmony is a virtue. But they have not been able to put theory into practice. There are several reasons for this. Among others, racial conflict is the most vicious. There are many cases of black subjugation by the white. The blacks have been slaves to the white and severely tortured. They are segregated in many social activities. The whites also hate in their heart the other non-whites, if not openly. Even in Eastern societies, the so-called lower caste people are socially excluded. This has been the practice in many conflict-ridden societies both in the West and the East. Compared to Western society, there are fewer instances of conflict in the Eastern world.
In South Asia, we have witnessed some instances of violence in the previous century after the independence of India from British colonisation. Even today there are sporadic incidents of violence between India and Pakistan in the name of religion. Yet there is peace and order on the whole. Even in our country, a decade-long Maoist insurgency gave birth to an ethnic conflict, although the Maoist Party had announced what it called a “people’s war” guided by the Maoist ideology. This movement was said to be based on Marxism, which is often understood as the class war between haves and have-nots. About 17,000 people lost their dear lives leaving alone their loved ones. Fortunately, however, this conflict ended with the 12-point comprehensive agreement promising to establish a system of peace and order permanently.
Since when the decade-long war ended, we have been living in peace. With the promulgation of the constitution in 2015, all people of different castes, religions, and languages have been hailed as equal. In the eye of the law, therefore, all Nepalis are one. It states there will be no discrimination in terms of caste, class, gender, and regionality. If what the constitution says is truly implementable in our context, it is very likely that ours will be really an egalitarian society.
However, things have not gone as they are expected to go. There is still inequality among people of different castes, classes, and ethnicities. Despite less discrepancy between the Brahmans and Chhetris, there is immense discrimination against the Dalits in this country. Until recently, the Dalits were not allowed to enter the temples where Brahmans were the priests. Even today, the Dalits are excluded from many social activities, mostly in marriage affairs.
It may be impractical to imagine an ideal city as envisaged by Plato. In modern states, there can be no rulers who would be most reluctant to rule. Nor do some enlightened citizens would believe in the divine idea and would discard the pleasure of material comfort. Nor can there be Ramarajya, where everyone would be happy, and no one would be unhappy. Social life has been more complicated in modern times due to rapid population growth and excessive exploitation of natural and economic resources. Even in modern times, some ideal democratic leaders have dreamt of ideal states. As Thomas Jefferson (1776) in the Declaration of American Independence suggests, every citizen must have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In this sense, the state should guarantee the rights of people and offer the possibility of freedom, equality, and justice. Social harmony is not an exotic thing that can be transplanted from other planets. This is a practice that has to be done by people of all castes and creeds. The argument that the oppressors should be lenient to the oppressed is only an ideal that cannot be put into practice in the real sense. Both oppressors and the oppressed should be tolerant of each other. Every citizen should think of other citizens as those with similar blood and flesh; thus, they are equal in every sense. Therefore, ideal social harmony may not exist in modern societies soon. Yet there can be exemplary social harmony free of conflict between people of socio-culturally constructed hierarchy if we try hard in true spirit.
(The author is the chairman of Molung Foundation. firstname.lastname@example.org)