An edited version of this article was published in Republica national daily
At a time when ultra-nationalism is plaguing the world, it’s no surprise that a person who led the conspiracy theories became the US president. Europe is struggling with the emergence of extremists that are starting to not just win elections but undermine or destroy democratic norms in the interest of ethno-nationalist groups. In Nepal, we see emerging strifes among ethnic communities, increasing intolerance in the mainstream, and hateful rhetoric about Nepalese who live and work abroad even among the learned class.
With rapid globalization, our society and our identity as Nepalis are becoming more complex. So, it is not just that we left our hills/mountains and plains to go to major cities like Biratnagar or Nepalgunj and then to the capital city–with each move vehemently criticized by our families and communities–many of us have also moved abroad. I, for instance, am currently engaged in research, teaching, and academic leadership, all of which is primarily directed by the desire to contribute to change and improvement in higher education in Nepal. I certainly spend my days working for an American university not far away from Washington D.C., but I haven’t really left Surkhet and Kathmandu behind. I am a Nepali citizen on paper and in my heart and I have not only dedicated my first six years for this society but will dedicate everything I possibly can for the rest of my life.
But the above is my perspective. From the perspective of many, including the most educated who directly and substantially benefit from the globalization of our economic, social, and professional lives, what I am doing is just plain wrong. If it was wrong for my uncle when I moved to Kathmandu, I have further transgressed and committed cardinal sins for the professor who writes his rants (in verse, no less) about how people like me have no right to say they serve or love Nepal. I haven’t touched the third rail of accepting a permanent residency or citizenship of another country, but I “wasted” six years of my prime time in studying abroad and a few more since then to seek experience and opportunity to do the research I want, the experience I need. I don’t have the security of a government or university job in Nepal, and I cannot afford to write the rant that I might have if I was of the same mindset.
What is citizenship?
Nationality is the most powerful way that humans identify themselves and come together for a common clause. We need to understand the fractal complexities of citizenship. There are millions of stateless citizens around the world simply because they are denied citizenship for various reasons. Many millions may many have dual citizenships. Why do the intellectuals ask for your “official identity card” before loving your home country? I think official “citizenship” is an artificial contract or compromise because you would be denied social services without having one. But love for country is different and it should not be pegged on a document which has political implications.
When do people lose citizenship? Is it when they get the Gurkha medal? Or is it when they accept an official document (e.g. green card) from another political structure known as a nation? Or do they lose it when they stop giving back to their homeland?
I am a Nepali citizen, currently residing in the USA. I lead an organization called the Society of Transnational Academic Researchers (STAR). STAR is a network of scholars advancing global social mobility by creating and sharing scholarly research focused on international education and by facilitating academic exchange across nations. STAR is attracting educators and academic researchers from around the world, and one of its mission is to connect experts for academic programs that make impact by inspiring young men and women. In the coming years, we will be using it as a platform through which academic experts will be seeking to support Tribhuvan University and other academic institutions in Nepal. We have been putting all our efforts to garner support for Nepal. As the country is re-emerging from the rubble, Nepal has a great deal of potential, which I see in two major aspects a) the extraordinarily resilient people and formidable young population, b) the outstanding Nepal folks around the world who have proven the Nepali identify of friendly and hardworking people. I work closely with Nepali diaspora communities in USA and many professional associations mostly of people of Nepali origin.
The transgression of moving to, working in, or even permanently settling in another country is certainly understandable. But that is one perspective. What is hard to understand is how people manage to just pick one lens, find their artificial red lines, judge and outright tell others what they are and aren’t, can and cannot. Of course, nations are the most powerful markers of identity, unit of analysis, ways of organizing the human universe. But to pretend that this is the only one way to identify oneself is to become an extremist. How about all the entrepreneurs of Nepalese origin in countries like Russia, Japan, Australia, UAE, and USA who are making major contributions to the economy back home? How about the Britain-born children of those who have settled in Britain who not just celebrate Nepali traditions but are involved in impactful philanthropy in Nepal? How are we to tell all the people who are Nepalis by extension of their documents, their traditions and language, their heart and investment of life and assets that they don’t have a claim to that extended identity?
Perspectives for our Own Time
One person could stick to one document (citizenship or passport), one milestone (leaving home, or buying one abroad), one action (revealing a new identity on social media) as the transgression. Another might not even tolerate any of the above, so even going abroad for a degree would be a violation of the sacred commitment to be physically at home. But what if the person’s family is already abroad? What if that abroad is just across the border in Darjeeling? Or Gorakhpur? How are we to tell the child born while parents are in the United States? What wrong has she or he done? Are these children to be welcomed or to be treated with disdain? Who has the right to be judgmental of innocent children, the worker who decides that he’s found better economic opportunities for him and better education for his children?
Having seen Nepalis in many different circumstances in different countries, and having seen their love and commitment for Nepal, I always seek to reach out to them for collaboration and network, hoping to be able to channel the love of county for nation building. I know that most Nepali who lives anywhere in the world loves Nepal wholeheartedly. But I also know that not everyone needs to be in the same box, adopt the same view, do the same things, at the same time. Everyone’s time and place and potential and interest is unique.
I am puzzled by the fear of “bideshi,” and I wonder where it comes from. The average person may have something to say about it, for instance, because he may see people leaving home as being irresponsible, selfish, or elitist. But then it is the average citizens who have been leaving the country by the thousands. So, there must be more acceptance among those who know obligation and hurdles of living and working abroad. I am afraid that it is more significantly perpetuated by demagogues and intellectually dishonest people who think they can elevate themselves by denigrating others. The demagogues seem to see be less sympathetic toward others, unlike the common person. They also have the privilege to do well at home (if not a level of envy as well).
Of course, brain drain is a real and serious challenge for most developing countries. But cursing the fire doesn’t put one out. What we need in place of all the demagoguery and hatred is social policy, robust intellectual discourse, economic opportunity, and a more realistic understanding and appreciation of global human mobility.
We also need an appreciation of the fact that from scientists to engineers and humanists to economists, Nepali intellectuals are advancing an image for Nepal. It is certainly not just our still mountain and ancient knowledge that is doing this job. And we certainly don’t just want to be in the news when our brothers and sisters die under conditions of bonded labor. We can use quite a bit of open-minded and broad thinking about our nation’s place in the world.
The danger about hateful rhetoric about Nepali diaspora among intellectuals is that their narrow-minded arguments could be as easily applied to other areas. The veneers of their logic (or their poetry) will not hide the complex reality of global economic forces, local lack of opportunity, the human drive to find the best for their future and their children. The same types of arguments could simply be made about region or ethnicity, class or education, gender or ability. If you live in the city, it could be argued, you have discarded the village, for that is what real Nepal is. Indeed, this was the argument the demagogues probably advanced in the past. If your children go to college in India, you are a traitor, it could be said. But the question that very intellectual ought to ask, as an intellectual, is why do families make that decision.
Need for New Discourses
If a young growing professional is writing a poem with a protective narrative, it is somehow understandable that the person is fearful of losing his or her own power, position, or privilege. What can explain the same if the divisive remarks are made by a senior professional, who seemingly loves his country? Wouldn’t the nation-building endeavor seriously discounted if intellectuals themselves start creating divisive narrative?
Nepali people from around the world are showing love for the country in many ways. May are sending their hard-earned savings back home, others are gaining procious resources such as social, political, technical, or economic capital. Many may have not been able to directly help, but they also have their love for the country in their hearts as they struggle to settle in a foreign country.
The kind of divisive narrative flowing social media recently is alienating Nepali diaspora and it is so disheartening for individuals who have love Nepal. For general public, family members residing in foreign countries are hope, charity, and pride. For whom are they “bideshi”, “bhagauda”, or “bhasiyeka” prani?
Paradox is that the very popular intellectuals who flood social media with agonistic narratives could dispel those misconception. Intellectuals must join hands to create a mechanism that promotes positivity, that dispels conspiracy theories, and builds bridges. Nepali people do have the courage, intellect, and resilience. We will not buy the ultra-nationalist divisive poems. We will rise.