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Contents:
  1. Pilgrims Book House
  2. Writing/Freelance Tips & Inspiration
  3. A View of Nepal
  4. 5 Books About Nepal That You Must Read

The love letters Ahearn discusses are forms of intimate recognition through which young Nepali villagers come to see themselves and become who they are by addressing another. This form of address recalls Habermas's discussion of the development of an "audience-oriented subjectivity" in modern Europe that initially took shape through the "private" exchange of letters within a conjugal family In Habermas's argument, modern forms of domestic intimacy consider love to be a judgment of the individual, radically separated from any instrumental consideration.

Intimate recognition, Elizabeth Povinelli b points out, became a way to refuse utilitarian domestic relations in modern Europe.

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Such domestic relations, in turn, make possible aesthetic and political considerations in the public sphere, where, as I discuss in the chapters on FM radio, a similar form of intimate subject emerges that is always already oriented toward an audience, addressing another through the representation of self. While activists used ideas of romantic love to support their campaign, it is important to recognize that these modern forms of intimacy do not replace genealogical and familial attachments.

Love provides the means of linking genealogy with emergent notions of national citizenship Povinelli b. The Nepali property reform movement aimed to keep a traditional form of Hindu patrimony and simultaneously transform the gender relations upon which this genealogy is based. As Nepali activists proposed, this legal change not only would change familial intimacies but also would realize a national citizenship based on individual equality, as prescribed by the constitution of Similarly, as Ahearn points out, individuals work hard to confirm the interests of their families even as they profess their own love for another that may oppose the family in their love letters.

What is striking here is that the activists do not imagine a new form of family that is, nuclear family or a legal doctrine founded upon ideals of individual choice. Instead, by including daughters as rightful heirs to property that traditionally marks a Hindu patriline, the activists reimagined the lines of Hindu genealogy.

The Hindu Succession Act of in India ultimately failed Basu ; Majumdar because it did not maintain the birthright within a joint family, creating "loopholes" in the form of wills ensuring that the male patriline remain intact Basu Summarizing conflict in the Indian reform, Srimati Basu states, "Those who wanted to retain male privilege in joint family property were thus reassured that legal loopholes had been left to ensure that the status quo would not be unduly disturbed, and that wills could be written to disinherit women if so desired" Parashar , cited in Basu The more radical challenge the Nepali reform posed to the genealogy was revealed in the changing relations of love this new law would entail.

The love between brothers and sisters-a love described as based upon daughters' unequal relation to their father's property and genealogy-comes under stress with this proposed shift, and emerges as a central feature of the Nepali legal debate. These two forms of love took shape through two different formations of voice that I mentioned briefly above.

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Interestingly, in much of the activists' work on this reform the familial and the democratic forms of voice overlapped. On the one hand, they challenged both the state and the family patriarchal order upon which state law is based; on the other hand, in refusing a liberal will system, they confirmed existing family and state ideals of traditional Hindu property. It is important to state explicitly that part of the reasoning behind the activists' policy suggestions was their own anticipation that parents that is, fathers would not make choices based on equality, should they adopt a will system.

By keeping ancestral property within the family through state law, activists reasoned, daughters would be granted more equality and "voice" within the family than if they completely liberalized the law with a will system. By maintaining a nonliberal system, in other words, they would enable liberal ideals of equality to be realized and would encourage a "woman's voice" to surface in the family and in public.

Opponents-many of them women-rejected these claims and argued that such a change would eradicate the platform on which they were called to speak, through their brother's hailings. By focusing on the figure of voice in this property reform, we encounter broad questions about the relationship between speaking and subjectivity as they connect to gender and class.

All of these relations take on new meanings as Nepal bears witness to dramatic reforms that seek to restructure the state, the public, and the idea of a personal and political voice. This emphasis on the voice and its mediation of intimacy articulates the broader stakes of this debate, which goes far beyond the question of "women's rights" and ultimately raises questions about the relationship between property and personhood, sentiment, law, and subjectivity.

Angsa produces specific material and affective relations between kin that, over the past forty years, became a national model that stood for the "Nepali family," despite the ethnic diversity of Nepal.


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For men, angsa has been a declaration of ownership and a material mark of their name. For daughters, who usually leave their parent's home in marriage, angsa has been their father's family property from which they were excluded, unless they never marry. For married women, it has been the property their husband has or will inherit, to which they also have a legal claim as wives.

Angsa has been a legal regulator of women's sexuality and a defining feature of masculinity: a mark of what all men possess at birth and what women only tentatively acquire when they marry. Precisely because of this birthright to parental property, sons are the keepers and active agents in a public display of family memory. It is because of angsa, many people said, that sons care for their parents in their old age though this is a subject of much debate , perform the death rituals for their parents when they die, and invite their sisters home.

Many anthropologists have discussed the significance of inalienable possessions like angsa as powerful because they are things that can never be lost and they transcend the permanence of death Weiner Inalienable possessions, Paul Kockelman has argued, are "almost a necessary and sufficient condition for being fully and prototypically human" Across a range of domains, from grammatical categories to discursive objects and life-cycle rituals, Kockelman shows that the category of inalienable possession is tied to things that are inherent in being a person.

At the same time, they are also uniquely identified with particular persons in all stages of their life, as is the case with angsa and its association with brothers and sons. While much more could be said about inalienables, these links between personhood and inalienable possessions that Kockelman identifies suggest the deeper stakes of the angsa reform movement. Put simply: to inherit angsa is to be a full human being in Nepal. The roots of the angsa reform movement go back at least to , when various customary inheritance practices were replaced by a uniform code of state law Gilbert ; Hoefer Prior to this time, during the century-long Rana oligarchy , laws of inheritance were considered matters of custom, practiced differently among the diverse ethnic groups that populated the hills, the plains, and the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal.


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In place of caste, the laws inscribed the individual, and the individual family member Gilbert As Kate Gilbert writes on the laws of "All individuals are free to act in accordance with the national law, and are acting legally so long as they comply with it, regardless of the customs appropriate to their kul [kin group]" 7. Authority over rules of inheritance thus shifted from the power of the kin group to the power of the state, just as the legal identity of Nepalis shifted from an ethnic or caste identity to individual citizenship.

Changes in these and other laws were part of the creation of a national, citizen subject. The property laws of responded to these national aspirations. At the same time, the new legal individual in the revised legal code also supported a state nationalism that promoted the idea that to be Nepali was to be Hindu. The property laws of , for example, substantiated a specifically Hindu patriarchy, based on patrilineal lines of descent and a strict regulation of women's sexuality. This system of inheritance, which grants all sons a birthright to angsa, became a nationally mandated practice, potentially affecting even Nepalis who do not consider themselves to be Hindu.

Even though these laws were only thirty years old, conservative opponents of the legal reform in the s appealed to them as embodiments of "Nepali tradition and custom from time immemorial. In the context of the debates around this reform, it is important to keep in mind that these practices and laws do have a history, and in this case, a national history that is not that old. In the first incarnation of the new national inheritance laws, unmarried daughters only had rights to half of an inheritor's share of the angsa property, which they had to relinquish should they marry.

In , during the International Year of the Woman, Queen Aishwarya made sure that some changes were made to the constitution that reflected well on Nepal from the eyes of the international community.

The amendment of might be seen as a precursor to the recent change in the angsa laws. Many of the same activists were involved in both attempts at legal reform, and it was after these changes that several women lawyers first suggested a change to daughters' inheritance rights. These amendments, like the law of , defined a state-sanctioned idea about the proper sphere of women's sexuality.

A wife who slept with her husband and bore him children had rights to her husband's property should he die. But if this widow remarried, or was even seen with another man whom others find suspicious, she lost her rights to her former husband's property. Similarly, an unmarried woman who was over thirty-five and presumably a virgin had rights to her father's property, but should she marry after thirty-five she would lose these rights Gilbert Activists working in the s implicitly aimed to shift the significance of angsa away from being a sign of women's sanctioned sexual activity or virginal status to a provocative sign of her inclusion in the father's genealogy vangsa.

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In , there were certain subtle but important legal adjustments to the laws of angsa that responded to and encouraged critical economic changes occurring at the time. A bill was passed that enabled an easy, practical separation between brothers who, as members of a joint family, often shared both earnings and inherited property. This was the first time the word niji personal, individual was used in the law code, reflecting its significance as a viable legal and social category. Privately earned money was obviously becoming an important form of wealth, particularly for men, as the professional class in Kathmandu grew.

Men who advocated for this slight change viewed it as "their law" and acknowledged the radical shift this amendment posed. One businessman explained the change to me in practical terms, "Men were earning but their brothers were claiming it. So they were getting fed up. Strikingly, the reform of passed without a peep, with no public controversy. No doubt this silence has to do with the fact that it did not disturb the existing gender hegemonies inscribed in angsa laws. Most notably, married daughters no longer had to return property after their marriage as was the case when King Gyanendra passed the daughter's birthright bill in and thus angsa was effectively granted to both married and unmarried daughters.

But when I was in Nepal in the winter of , very few people I talked with knew that all daughters now have birthrights to their parents' angsa.

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The reasons for this may have to do with the fact that the bill was passed in the midst of heated political debates about when the elections would be held for a constituent assembly. People's attention was occupied elsewhere. It may also be related to the fact that few women wanted to exercise this right, and it certainly was not culturally sanctioned to do so. The question of the effect of these legal changes on the actual practices of inheritance thus remains to be seen. How one relates to angsa in the contemporary moment is a mark of how one has adjusted to the demands of global modernity; it has become a key marker of class distinction in today's Kathmandu.

Class and gender, like all social categories, are discursive and performed social constructs, that is, they emerge through specific styles of talk and practices that index class and gender Bourdieu [] ; Liechty One of the key performances of class is in how one narrates one's relation to property. The property reform movement was a crucial site for examining such narrations because it got everyone talking about the proper and ideal relation to property.

It got everyone talking about how property was essential in creating crucial distinctions between people with different access to the market and resources. It got everyone talking about the subtle and not so subtle differences between men and women. Though "class" was rarely a category explicitly invoked in discussions of the angsa reform bill, it was implicit in most of my conversations and most articles about the campaign.

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Instead of referring directly to the madhyam barga middle class , people used other markers of class: the movement was really for and about "standard" people, some said, or professionals, or simply "the lawyers. There are several different and sometimes conflicting currents of the debate that all relate to the emerging transformations of the middle class.

Indira Rana, Silu Singh, Shanta Thapaliya, and the other early activists began their work on the angsa reform for women in the mids, when there was a general shift in middle-class Kathmandu residents' relation to material possessions and to angsa specifically. As more and more people became engaged in salaried labor, angsa was no longer simply a means to live-a field on which to grow rice or a house in which to dwell.

One's relation to angsa became a statement of how one lived. For male entrepreneurs seeking their fortune or education in Kathmandu, attachment to one's family land became a statement of sentiment, not of need. Thus the symbolic and affective significance of angsa remained the same, or may even have begun to swell, precisely in a moment when landed property was becoming less important for middle-class families to actually survive. The angsa reform bill was initiated by a group of lawyers who were part of this emerging professional class.

While they were certainly arguing for material and political benefits for daughters, they were also tapping into the changing semantics of angsa in contemporary times.