Against Kuire Worship

- Pratyoush Onta | 2021-09-24

On December 2, 1996, the then Prime Minister of Nepal, Sher Bahadur Deuba, launched Living Martyr Individuals and Revolution in Nepal amidst a big ceremony at Kathmandu's City Hall. The 'author ' of this book is the American anthropologist James F Fisher who has two previous books on Nepal to his credit. I have put single quotations, around the word author in the previous sentence because the present book, in the main, is a set of edited oral narratives of the late Tanka Prasad Acharya and his wife Rewanta Kumari Acharya. In addition to doing this editing work, Fisher has provided some introductory remarks on Nepal and Nepali history. He has also included a short chapter called "Anthropology, Life Histories, and Social Theory" and a conclusion entitled "Practitioners and Practice."

At the function, speaker after speaker rightly praised the contributions of the late Tanka Prasad Acharya toward the establishment of democracy in Nepal. But they wrongly stated that Nepali scholars had failed to highlight this contribution. Many, including Deuba, praised Fisher for doing what "no Nepali had done" by "writing" this book. Based on what was said on that occasion, it seemed as though Fisher was the first to pen anything related to Tanka Prasad and the Praja Parishad Party. As a historian who had a chance to read the manuscript of this book before it had been accepted for publication, I was appalled by the level of ignorance shown by speakers regarding the field of Nepali historiography. Moreover, it was quite apparent that those who spoke on that occasion has no idea of the actual contents of the book.

I acknowledge that Living Martyrs reveals many aspects of Acharya 's political and personal lives not covered in previous works. But it is not the first piece of writing on Tanka Prasad. As should be evident to any reader of the corpus of Nepali history, much has been written about the political movement leading to the demise of the Ranas. In addition to coverage included in various books on this movement, Tanka Prasad and the Praja Parishad Party have been the subject of an excellent monograph, Nepalko Prajatantric Andolanma Nepal Praja Parishadko Bhumika (2046 BS), by historian Rajesh Gautam.

Gautam 's work is largely based on the oral history he recorded from members of the Parishad, including the late Tanka Prasad Acharya, Ganeshman Singh and others. In this sense, the research method adopted by Gautam is similar to that adopted by Fisher although they have chosen to present their materials in different ways. Gautam's is a work of descriptive history in which Acharya's early politics has been highlighted; Fisher's is an "interactive biography" of the Acharyas.

Gautam's book was the subject of much discussion amongst Nepali scholars when it was first published. It was also given the Madan Puraskar for the year 2046 BS. Nobody who spoke at the City Hall referred to this work. Fisher lists Gautam's book in his bibliography but does not engage with its contents academically in the sections that he has authored. Nor does he use it as a source for his interviews with the Acharyas.

Hence the praise bestowed on Fisher by Deuba and other Nepalis was excessive. All in all, the programme at the City Hall was a telling evidence of Nepali and kuire ignorance regarding the state of Nepali historiography. It was also a testimony of how Nepalis are too willing to praise writings on Nepal by kurie scholars before assessing their quality.

Source: The Kathmandu Post, 12 June 1997

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