A “How to” on Promoting Indigenousness

When the armed conflict between the Maoist rebels and the Government of Nepal ended, certain conditions were put forth by the (then) rebels before they became part of the new government. One of the agreements that were signed entailed the reformation of the country’s governance structure in order to end the prevailing autocratic regime and to better the situation of the indigenous populace. Ethnic federalism became an attractive option to Nepal considering that there are many ethnicities in Nepal and it could provide the mechanisms for protecting the disappearing ethnic heritage. Moreover, given the logic that individuals are likely to identify with and aim for the betterment of the situation of individuals like themselves, this option seemed to fit the bill. However, satisfying the parties who designed the proposal has been a futile effort. Currently, lawmakers and leaders alike are debating on very important issues like the names of the states and the number of states that Nepal would need. Obviously, the most important aspect of any country is the name that is given to the regions where people live. Of course it is impossible to love or work for the benefit of your homeland if you do not love its name first.

Jokes aside, this is arrangement has failed to convince the participating political parties resulting in disagreements and power struggle. Of course, great leaders, you have forgotten what is truly important to us citizens because you are leaders. You have failed to implement the same logic you employed while deciding ethnic federalism: individuals who identify with each other think and conduct activities that benefit each other. You call yourselves leaders and strive to gain the stature of leaders. With your leader-mentality, how can we citizens expect you to identify with our needs? This is probably why you are completely unaware of the fact that indigenous people, in order to preserve their lifestyles and culture, do not need fancy names for the regions they reside in; they need the opportunity to benefit from the existence of such lifestyles and culture. Yes, great leaders, your constant squabbling and bickering have indeed empowered these people who you claim to serve…….NOT!

The existence of economic opportunity from saving one’s culture or the prevalence of benefit from saving ones culture will certainly safeguard cultures and heritage. There are clear examples of how economic opportunities (from conservation rather than exploitation) help protect resources that were once unsustainably consumed. In Nepal, Community Based Conservation practices have shown strong performance in terms of preserving local flora, fauna, and culture. On the flip side, alternative or conventional approaches to meeting the same end, i.e. conservation of local flora, fauna, and wildlife, have failed when the government forcibly stepped in to protect one group, at the expense of another. The example of Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is relevant for a discussion on conservation efforts that have been unsuccessful. The government forcibly took over the land that was once the source of livelihood of the local populace for the conservation and protection of Nepal’s Wild Water Buffalo population. However, the conservation program has had to constantly struggle with the locals accused of encroachment and allowing domestic animals to graze in protected land. On the other hand Annapurna Conservation Area has received much accolade for empowering the locals to conserve the area they reside in; a local, non-political conservation committee by the name of Conservation Area Management Committee (CAMC) collects all the proceedings and uses it for the development of the area. In other words, the Annapurna Conservation Area Project envisioned the local communities as being stakeholders whereas in the case of Koshi Tappu, the local individuals were seen as a threat and, thus, driven out of the land to make room for water buffalo, which fueled resentment among the locals and fostered an environment of “rule breaking.”

What I wish to have highlighted from the above stories is that the willingness to conserve arises when there is benefit tied to the conservation effort. The individuals from the Annapurna Conservation Region have the initiative to actively promote the conservation of the National Park because they have incentives tied to their conservation efforts. The poor inhabitants of the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Region in the other hand were driven out of their land, where they had been grazing livestock for generations, to make room for Wild Water Buffalo who continue to be threatened due to habitat loss and encroachment. To make matters worse, the locals were not even properly compensated for their loss, in other words, they had to forcibly obey a government directive.

In our issue involving the creation of ethnicity based federal states, it is important to realize that this action may very easily create “water buffaloes” and “Koshi Tappu inhabitants” out of many societies and peoples. The politician’s and party leader’s lofty words of enriching cultural diversity and inclusion will do little for actually preserving indigenous language, culture, heritage, and the like if those who engage in conservation practices are not allowed to reap the benefits of their efforts. This proposed system can easily create new autocrats and displace many individuals from their ancestral homelands and do nothing to enrich or conserve indigenous culture and heritage.

It is very easy to provide economic incentives to protect culture, environment, and language and it is very hard to force people to do the same. The ruling parties do not have to continue beating around the same bush, rather, it is time they understood simple economics. People respond to incentives.

Anurag Pant

Anurag holds a Bachelors of Science in Economics and works as a Research Assistant at Samriddhi, the Prosperity Foundation. He also lectures on Economics at Xavier International College.