Wednesday, 29 May, 2024

A Forgotten Scholar


Shreeram Prasad Upadhyay

With time, people start to forget the departed souls. When a renowned person disappears suddenly, it becomes a shocking and painful experience for the family, neighbours and the whole nation. The same thing happened in the case of Professor Dor Bahadur Bista, the father and founder of Nepali Sociology and Anthropology.
Years ago, I had visited Jumla for a supervision exercise and wanted to meet Prof. Bista. Unfortunately, I could not meet him as he had gone to Kathmandu at that time. I still regret having missed the opportunity to meet him, as shortly thereafter, he disappeared without leaving a trace.

I have many memories of Prof. Dor Bahadur Bista and his thoughts about Sociology and Anthropology. I was teaching Nepal Parichaya, History and Education Psychology at PN Campus, Pokhara at a time when Professor Richard Phou of Oregon University suggested reading Prof. Bista's book entitled People of Nepal (1967). I had then read all his books including Fatalism and Development (Calcutta, Orient Longman), Sabai Jatko Phulbari, Dor Bahadur Bista Ka Kathaharu, The Political Innovators of Upper Karnali, Report from Lhasa, Kathmandu, Sajha Prakashan.

Professor Bista had undertaken detailed research and extensive field visits in Solukhumbu throughout 1957, in Sherpa village, in Eastern Hills, all the way to the border into Darjeeling and also in the Kaski Lamjung area, among the Gurungs and the Chhetris of the Southern Parts of Kathmandu Valley. In 1960, professor Bista went to London to teach Nepali at the School of Oriental and African Studies under the Department of Linguistics, he was recommended by Professor Christoph to work as an assistant in the Linguistic Department with Dr T.W. Clark. However, he joined the Department of Anthropology under Graduate in Indian Ethnography. On June 11, 1967, Professor Dor Bahadur Bista had his first book published as the People of Nepal at the age of 39.

Chitra Bahadur KC, Secretary at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting congratulated him for his success in the field of research on the Ethnicity of Nepal. He was Headmaster and Nepalese Consul General in Tibet in 1972. In an interview on 22 May 1991 with James F. Fisher, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Cartention College, Northfield, Minnesota, Prof. Bista replied that he was motivated towards Anthropology by the work of Professor Christoph Von Furer –Haimendorf from London University.

Prof. Bista's book, the People of Nepal, has been divided into three chapters based on the Geographical Region of Nepal. The first chapter of the book includes Mid Hill and Valley people such as Brahmans, Chhetris, Newars, Kirata Tribes (Rais and Limbus), Tamangs, Magars, Sunwars and Jirels, Gurungs, Thakalis, Pachgaules and Chepangs. The hilly region has more population and land than other regions of Nepal.

The southern parts of Nepal adjoining the Indian border from east to west and south (1,690 km / 1,050 miles), Terai Madhesh, also called the Granary of Nepal occupies 17 per cent of the total area of Nepal. Professor Bista described the origins and habits of the people of Terai Madhesh including the Brahmin, Rajput, Danuwar, Majhi, Darais, Rajbansi, Satar, Dhimal, Bodo, Dhangar and Musalman (Muslim). In the northern part of Nepal, adjoining Tibet, the autonomous Republic of China, a thinly populated part of the Nepali Himalayan Region is inhabited by the Sherpa, Lhomi, Luke and others studied extensively by Professor Bista.

He has mentioned 26 Ethnic Groups and languages spoken in different regions of Nepal, which is highlighted in his book "Sabai Jatko Phulbari." Professor Bista has another thought-provoking book entitled Fatalism and Development - Nepal's Struggle for Modernization, published by Orient Longman Ltd ( 1990 Govind Mitra Road, Patna). The book deals with chapters such as the Caste system of Nepal, Family Structure and Childhood Socialisation, Values and Personality Factors, Politics and Government, Education, Foreign Aid and Development.

A Great Scholar
In his general background, he has mentioned the history of Nepal from the ancient period to Rana Period. Analysing Dharma as duty, ethics, morality, rule, merit and pious acts in the context of Nepal as a Hindu state has now changed into Secular State. He holds Jang Bahadur responsible for perpetuating the discrimination of people based on caste to a much greater degree than the Malla Kings four hundred years before him.

Regarding the psychology of the high caste Hindus, Professor Bista wrote that they worried more about their next life than about old age. He has also highlighted gender bias in the Nepalese society where girl children are deprived of education and are forced to look after younger siblings or cattle at the age of four or five, bereft of maternal care at a very young age.
Regarding fatalism, he writes that it greatly affects purposeful problem solving and goal achievement. He had reposed great faith in peasants and their human power and potential in Nepal and had recommended skill-based education for all. He further elaborates that Nepal has historically been self-sufficient and the idea of foreign assistance is a new one.

Professor Dor Bahadur had published many articles in different national and international journals and some of his articles attracted controversy due to the uncompromising stand that he took on the issues. Despite the controversies, he is regarded and respected among the most accomplished intellectual. He has a daughter and three sons unfortunately, his wife Narayani died soon after his disappearance in 1995. His sons and daughter are highly qualified and his son, Keshar Bahadur Bista was Minister of Education during the Panchayat system.

I last met the Professor Bista in the house of famous historian Puroshotam Shamsher Rana. Shortly thereafter, Professor Bista was last seen boarding a bus to Chisapani/ Dhangadhi, before he disappeared in 1995. Many attempts were made to locate him but in vain. The government of Nepal should make all possible efforts to locate him. He is still in my heart and mind. His memory storms my mind whenever I see any of his books in my collection and outside.

(The author is a scholar of Nepali history)