Ethnocultural Governance

A Brief Introduction

Society as we know today, comprises of various ethnic, cultural, and religious groups and belief systems and in a diverse society that is composed through processes of migrations, urbanization, displacements, rehabilitations, etc., and societal harmony among these diverse groups exists only when their ethnocultural differences are acknowledged, conflicting views are endured, and identities are celebrated. However, achieving social harmony in a diverse society is not simple, it is a complex and constant process.

In case of Nepal, it is a highly diversified country with 126 caste/ethnic groups, 63 Indigenous Peoples, 123 languages, and 10 religions. This diversity can be perceived as an asset for a country. However, in Nepal, a relatively young federal nation, diversity has been characterized by widespread discrimination, inequalities, and disparities, with existence of strong animosity among diverse groups based on ethnicity, gender, region, language etc. and this animosity only  exacerbates, when the governance structures, institutions, and processes exploit these variances and favor benefits of one group over another.

Federal governance structure amid diverse societies in Nepal

Nepal’s civil war, a 10-year long arm conflict (1996-2006), had strong traces of ethnocultural aspects that emerged from deep grievances stemming from systematic exclusion and marginalization of large sections of the population based on class, caste, gender, ethnicity, religion, language, and geographical isolation. The gross inequalities and continuous social, economic, political, and cultural exclusion combined with  high level of poverty has had serious repercussions in multi-ethnic Nepali societies.

However, with promulgation of the new Constitution (2015), many were optimistic for affirmative change. The constitution ensured elimination of all forms of discriminations and provision of equal rights to all citizens. In relevance to which, the policies and governance systems promoted inclusion in governance processes, particularly advocating for the rights of women and historically marginalized groups. Alongside, Nepal adopted three tiered federal structure and state formation. This territorial dispersal of powers and authority from the previously centralized model was important for protecting ethnic identities, maintaining integrity in multicultural societies and providing support to minority and marginalized groups.

Nonetheless, the country is still adapting to the new constitution and federalism as a governance model and as a downside, the cultural, ethnic, and religious groups haven’t been able to comprehend  or utilize the constitutional provisions to its full potentials.

Ethnocultural conflicts and existing laws and policies

At present, seven years after the promulgation of the constitution and conduction of three tier elections (2017 & 2022), the discrimination practices experienced by marginalized and historically subordinate groups is still existent. Moving forward, we will specifically look at the state’s role in marginalization of women, state’s role in Indigenous people’s displacement and deprivation of cultural and traditional land and state’s role in halting discriminations in terms of caste, language, religion and region and Dalit marginalization.  

Therefore, to understand the ethnocultural governance conflicts arising in societies, we must look into how and if the governance system is playing a role to create disparities vs harmony and how and if grievances of these groups  are being addressed. Furthermore, the existing policies, laws and acts related to ethno-cultural aspects in the country need to be reviewed that can help to draw concrete evidence-based recommendations to assist lawmakers and policymakers in the country.

With supporting laws, acts and policies in existence, ethnocultural rights of minority and marginalized groups can be assumed as ensured by the constitution. However, the actual scenario at the grassroots and gaps in governance systems, effectiveness of the existing conflict resolution mechanisms need to be understood to avoid ethnocultural based governance conflicts and conflicts in the communities. 

National Level Policy Year
Good Governance (Management and Operation) Act
2006 A.D.
National Dalit Commission Act
2017 A.D.
National Women Commission Act
2017 A.D.
National Inclusion Commission Act
2017 A.D.
Madhesi Commission Act
2017 A.D.
Muslim Commission Act
2017 A.D.
Tharu Commission Act
2017 A.D.
The Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offence and Punishment) Act
2011 A.D.
Gender Equality Policy
2077 B.S.
Sexual Harassment at Workplace Prevention Act
2014 A.D.
Nepal Citizenship Act
2006 A.D.
National Forestry Policy
2018 A.D.
Language Commission Act
2017 A.D.
National Indigenous Nationalities Commission Act
2017 A.D.

Table: Policies relevant to ethnocultural matters and issues in the country.