Political Ecology of Guthi: Hiding in Plain Sight

Authors: Shangrila Joshi*, The Evergreen State College
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Cultural and Political Ecology, Asia
Keywords: climate resilience, Indigeneity, hegemony, Guthi, commons institutions, Nepal
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 40
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines the 2019 Guthi Bill controversy through the lens of Gramscian hegemony/counterhegemony.

The Indigenous Newars of the Kathmandu Valley vehemently opposed the Bill, seen as continuing a pattern of disenfranchisement of the Newar from their traditional institutions and resources by the dominant ethnic majority Bahun-Chhettri controlled government, emulating a paradigm Bista (1991) has termed ‘Bahunism’ – akin to whiteness in the US. Facing tremendous public opposition the Bill was retracted.

This paper draws on a review of the literature on Nepal’s land tenure in historical context, primarily the works of Regmi; as well as primary sources including texts pertaining to climate agreements, annual reports of Indigenous rights organizations, speeches of movement leaders in the Guthi Bill controversy; to evaluate the extent of Indigenous representation in Nepal’s climate planning/discourse; and the implications of Guthi as an Indigenous institution for climate resilience, given the government’s commitments to climate initiatives that explicitly emphasize the rights and self-determination of Indigenous Peoples.

I argue that the history of land tenure in the Kathmandu Valley, supplemented by contemporary politics, provides evidence of patterns of settler colonialism, where a Bahun-Chhettri political hegemony has been counter-balanced in the cultural realm through the tradition of Guthi. Threats to Guthi as an institution represent threats to Indigenous self-determination for the Newar. Nepal’s engagement with international climate policy and discourse brings consideration of Indigenous rights/representation into focus; while the practice of such discourse in Nepal leaves much to be desired, it provides a productive space for a counterhegemonic politics.

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