Centre for Himalayan Studies
UPR 299
Research Axes
> Politics, conflicts and justice
> Belonging, territories and changes
> History, knowledge and heritage
> Research on borderlands
politics, conflicts and justice

- Political transformations in Nepal - Gérard TOFFIN
- People's war in Nepal: an anthropoligical and historical analysis
- Coordinated by Marie LECOMTE-TILOUINE
- Religious movements and Hindu sects in Nepal - Gérard TOFFIN, Chiara LETIZIA
- Hindu nationalism, forms of resistance, local mediations. Cultural entrenchment of a radical political movement - Daniela BERTI
- Anthropology of justice. Role, interactions and judiciary procedures in India - Daniela BERTI
- Justice and Governance in India and South Asia - ANR Project coodinated by Daniela Berti and Gilles Tarabout


Political transformations in Nepal


Research conducted in the Kathmandu valley has been extended to issues affecting political transformations and the building of democracy in contemporary Nepal, in relation to the Indian experience. The renewal of ethnic identities since 1990 is one of the major events in the recent political and cultural history of Nepal. The demands of ethnic majorities have increased considerably over the last few years, in a most disconcerting manner for long-time observers of Nepal. The Nepalese authorities themselves have implemented a cultural policy more respectful of Nepalese ethnic pluralism than the old assimilationist policy conducted over the previous period (1960-1990). Some militants from ethnic groups go as far as demanding the constitution of a federal State to grant large-scale autonomy to the regions. This study focuses on this type of discourse and on contradictions highlighted with regard to democratic rules and practices. It addresses the difficulties which face democracy in a socially and culturally heterogeneous and multicultural country, and which is still governed by the hierarchical caste system. It provides an anthropological viewpoint on the identity claims of ethnic groups in the hills and their impact on political life.

From 1970 to 2008, the Kathmandu Valley, the political, economic and cultural centre of the Himalayan kingdom, underwent considerable changes. The population increased fourfold, shifting from 500,000 to more than two million. This demographic growth mainly results from the arrival of migrants from the hills and of Indian manpower looking for work. This demographic explosion has not stopped since 2000-2001, with the arrival of peasant populations from the Nepalese hills, fleeing zones where government security forces clash with Maoist guerrillas. At the same time, the Kathmandu Valley has considerably opened onto the outside, its population has become westernised, major problems of atmospheric pollution have emerged due to a rise in road traffic, the price of land has soared, all of a sudden filling the pockets of the old Newar rural landowning population. One particular study focuses on the slums set up along the two rivers, the Bagmati and Vishnumati (urban district of Kathmandu).

People's war in Nepal: an anthropological and historical analysis

Coordinator: Marie LECOMTE-TILOUINE

Participants from UPR 299: Benoît Cailmail, Pustak Ghimire, Satya Shrestha-Schipper. Other participants, see Detailed presentation of the project.

We aim to present an account of the Nepalese People's War by compiling a corpus of ethnographies of the conflict, by presenting it from a historical perspective based on studies of the forms of violence the country has undergone as well as by analysing visual documents produced by the Nepalese Maoist Party.

The French members of the team meet once or twice a month at workshops. In 2007 each member conducted project-funded fieldwork, as will be the case over the two years to come. They will invite their foreign partners to a three-day workshop in July 2008 and at the end of the project to a symposium which will be open to the public.

Detailed presentation of the project

Hindu religious movements


Across the Himalayas, both in India and in Nepal, religious identities today are being redefined, are undergoing significant changes and are often inspired by more global socio-political changes. The example of the revival of Low Vehicule Buddhism (Theravada) in Nepal, the many recent conversions to Christianity in South Asia attest to this. These transformations also involve religious practices and conceptions.

G. Toffin is studying the Krishna Pranami sect in the light of these changes and is following up the main historical stages starting with the foundation of the congregation in the 17th century to the situation today. The manner in which this sect has evolved through the ages deserves particular attention. For example, the Kabir Panths has gone from a Hindu-Muslim syncretic religious group with a real will to reform and strong universalistic tendencies, to a mainly Krishnaite sect denying its partly Muslim origins. Similarly, the reintegration of the sect into the world of castes is well under way and of great interest, recalling many similar events on the sub-continent.

The growing number of sectarian groups in India, the forever wider audience they enjoy among the tribal or Hindu non-sectarian population, are also important phenomena, the extent of which has not yet been fully taken in account by Indian studies. These facts should lead to a broader debate on the opposition sect versus caste, two social institutions with a strong religious basis in Indian and Himalayan society.

Buddhist religious movements

Chiara Letizia

Since 2003, Chiara Letizia has devoted her research to the Theravada Buddhist revival in Nepal. She has particularly chosen to study:
- the genesis of this movement, i.e. in the scope of the Buddhist revival in India and Sri Lanka on the one hand and the contemporary construction of Nepal as a Hindu kingdom on the other hand;
- how it has spread among the Newars, which has implied confrontation between traditional Newar Buddhism and this modern form of Buddhism;
- the recent spread of Theravada Buddhism among Hinduised populations, the Tharus and Magars which she is studying in the political context of the exaltation of ethnic claims after the restoration of democracy in 1990;
- the broader context of conversions to Buddhism in India, including the conversion of untouchables to Buddhism performed by Ambedkar.

More recently she has turned to Tharu and Magar activists who work towards spreading Buddhism within their group using different strategies: the Buddhist identity was politically asserted with collective statements from ethnic associations, proven by new historiographies produced by the group's intellectuals, distributed via camps where the Buddhist doctrine is taught and finally achieved through establishing new rituals and creating/training new specialists to celebrate them.

Hindu nationalism, forms of resistance, local mediations. Cultural entrenchment of a radical political movement

Coordinators: Daniela BERTI and Nicolas JAOUL

Programme ATIP "young researchers" (2005-2007)

This programme set out to analyse the impact of Hindu nationalism in different regional contexts and its influence on a population which does not necessarily share its political vision or its methods. Indeed, although the Hindu nationalists' political and ideological programme and its wide circulation in Indian society has been the subject of numerous studies, few ethnological approaches to the phenomenon exist and hardly any research has been devoted to forms of resistance and mediation.

Beyond any isolated Indian case, it has been a question of studying how, in democratic societies, fundamentalist organisations manage to monitor and organise the activities of people who do not always share their radical ideas, and who even claim to be their political opponents.

Based on intensive fieldwork, which alone is capable of going beyond political leaders' official discourse, this programme, with its strong ethnological content, has also gathered together sociologists, historians, political experts and a certain number of Indian specialists associated with the French research team, with whom discussions were held either during trips to India or during workshops in France. The grant that was awarded in May 2005, as well as funding from the Joint Franco-Indian Social Science Programme at the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, allowed us to subsidise field trips for the eleven members of the team and to invite eight foreign researchers, including three Indians, to present their findings. The data collected on the field were discussed on a regular basis at in-house seminars organised at UPR 299 in Villejuif or at the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme and during two one-day international workshops. All these meetings were open to the public. Besides the researchers in the team, seven foreign (English, American and Indian) researchers contributed to the project.

In 2008, a final extended comparative seminar took place to discuss the specificities or the possible generalisation of the processes highlighted in the Indian case.

List of French and foreign researchers who took part in the series of conferences and workshops within the project:

Gérard Heuzé (CNRS, Centre d'anthropologie de Toulouse); Pralay Kanungo (Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi); Christophe Jaffrelot (Sciences Po, Paris); Daniela Berti (CNRS Centre d'Etudes Himalayennes); Christopher Fuller, (Professeur d'anthropologie à la London School of Economics); Caterina Guenzi (CEIAS); Peggy Froerer (Research Lecturer en anthropologie à l'Université Brunel); David Ludden (Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania); Nandini Chandra (lecturer, Hansraj College, Delhi University); Christine Guillebaud (CNRS, Laboratoire d'Ethnomusicologie); Anne-Cécile Hoyez (Post Doctorant, Université de Rennes); Gérard Toffin (CNRS, UPR 299); Christine Moliner (EHESS); Frédérique Pagani (Université Paris X-Nanterre); Lucia Michelutti (London School of Economics); Amit Desai (London School of Economics); Nicolas Jaoul (CEIAS).

The list of papers presented at the conferences and workshops is given in Part III of the report.

This research programme has already led to three publications:

- Berti D. 2007. "Hindu Nationalists and Local History. From Ideology to Local Lore", Rivista di Studi Sudasiatici.
- Berti D. 2006. "The memory of gods: From a secret autobiography to a nationalistic project", in Folklife, 2006,  no.24, p.15-18. Article en ligne
- Berti D. (in press) "Passé, localité et nationalismes. L'écriture de l'histoire dans la région de Kullu (Himachal Pradesh)" in Gisèle Krauskopff (ed.) Les faiseurs d'histoires, Nanterre, Société d'Ethnologie (publication scheduled for end of December 2007/beginning of January 2008).

A compilation of the contributions made by members of the team is underway and is being co-edited by D. Berti and N. Jaoul, for publication at the end of 2008 by Pearson (New Delhi).

Anthropology of justice. Roles, interactions and judiciary procedures in India

Daniela BERTI

Most anthropological work devoted to studying the working of justice in India has focused on village institutions, whether on the "village council" (panchayat) or on ritual conflict-management agencies. However, the way in which justice is sought and produced inside urban courts has long been neglected. As Fuller (1994) remarks, this field has been entirely left to legislators, whose approach and questions are not those of social anthropologists. Nevertheless, courts may provide a context in which to observe different otherwise inaccessible facets of Indian society (Galanter 1992:3). They provide a privileged observation framework for understanding not only the mechanisms for solving conflicts, but also certain complex social dynamics specific to contemporary India.

Thus, this project sets out to study what happens in Indian courtrooms by adopting an anthropological approach. The method used is similar to that of certain authors working on courts in the United States (Atkinson and Drew 1979) who have paid particular attention to linguistic interactions taking place during the trial, as well as to the need to combine what takes place inside the court with what can be observed outside. With regard to these authors, however, the approach adopted here is unique in that it pays particular attention to the cultural and sociological dimension of the various cases observed.

The project revolves around two complementary lines of research: one, focusing on society, aims at understanding the social dynamics behind the attitude assumed by the different protagonists (witnesses, prosecution, the accused) at the trial during their interactions with legal professionals; the other, centred on the judiciary procedures themselves, consists in analysing the different techniques for developing both sides of the public hearing: examination and cross-examination, written recording of testimonies, production of evidence, defense.

A work group has already been set up including Robert Jacob (Mediaeval law specialist) and other specialists working on these issues. In March 2008, a working day at the Centre d'Étude de l'Inde et de l'Asie du Sud (jointly organised by Catherine Clémentin-Ojha, EHESS-CEIAS), entitled "Say the law, do justice", was devoted to examining roles, interactions and judiciary procedures in South Asia. It involved the participation of two judges (David Annoussamy and Jean-Claude Bonnan) and included a historical section (Denis Matringe, Jean-Claude Bonnan and Catherine Clémentin-Ojha), as well as an anthropological section with the participation of Karine Bates (from Montréal), David Annoussamy and Daniela Berti. In their capacity as guest moderators, during the discussions specialists (for example, Baudouin Dupret an expert on Egyptian courts) drew comparisons with other geographical regions of the world.