Working Paper

Cast(e) in Bone: The Perpetuation of Social Hierarchy among Nepalis in Britain

Published 1 January 2011 / By Mitra Pariyar

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A successful Gurkha campaign – not least the Parliament vote of April 2009 that allowed all ex-Gurkhas, and their families, to settle in Britain – prompted the migration of thousands of Nepalis into Britain. One of the central features of their adaptation to the new socio-cultural environment has been an active revival of caste, which is evident in the treatment of Dalits or lower castes (a tiny minority within Nepali groups). By comparing my research findings with the previous studies of diasporic caste, particularly in the Caribbean, I demonstrate a parallel, not least in terms of the history of recruitment policy: those who moved out of the Indian sub-continent to work as indented labourers – where employee’s caste was not important – struggled to revive caste, whereas free migrants were more successful in this effort. This pattern is clearly evident among Gurkha migrants. Backed up by the long-term practice of a highly caste-sensitive recruitment policy of the Brigade of Gurkhas, and the benefit of being allowed to move in en masse, the Gurkha migrants in Britain are rapidly reconstructing their caste. As most of the Gurkhas come from a selection of middle-ranking castes, in Nepalese hills, they are using the newfound opportunity to undermine the traditional authority of the high castes, whilst trying, where they can, to continue to marginalise the lower castes. The article alludes to the need to problematize internal racism – even if not defined as such – like caste discrimination, found within migrant groups.


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