The politics of bravery: A history of Nepali nationalism

Pratyoush Raj Onta, University of Pennsylvania


Gurkhas are known all over the world for their bravery and skills as the finest soldiers in the world. However in the country of their origin, Nepal, their existence has hardly been officially acknowledged. This dissertation begins by asking what one needs to know of the Nepali past to be able to make sense of this apparent discrepancy. By covering historical territories that are somewhat different from the killing fields visited by the Gurkhas and the playing fields of their erstwhile historians, I argue that a particular understanding of the history of Nepali nationalism is necessary to explain the Gurkha non-appearance in Nepal. This study is based on a close reading of sources from government archives and on published works in the Nepali language. The makers of official Nepali nationalism--Nepalis from class and community backgrounds other that those from which the men who have gone to serve in the Gurkha regiments originated--left the Gurkhas out of the Nepal they actively constructed as an "imagined community." This Nepal, first molded by middle class Nepali men in British India in the early part of this century through the particular promotion of a high-culture Nepali language and the writing of a bir (brave) national history of Nepal based on the warrior personalities of the "unification era" (1740s-1816) was later improvised by cultural producers inside Nepal. After the demise of the Rana state in Nepal in 1951, the various goverments of the 1950s and the Pachayat system (1962-1990) further reified this particular combination of the national imagining of Nepal through a nationalized education system. In the post-1990 scenario in Nepal, various ethnic activists are claiming a place for the Gurkhas in the national pantheon of brave heroes even as members of the latter are being re-ethnicized. Bir history thus remains the dominant national history of Nepal even as its constitution is being challenged.

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Recommended Citation

Onta, Pratyoush Raj, "The politics of bravery: A history of Nepali nationalism" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9636193.