Castaway Man

Kesang Tseten

You can always be injured if you are fighting for justice and truth. I am willing to be hurt, bear stones hurled at me.

-Dor Bahadur Bista, speaking in 1995 in what turned out to be his last public speech.

Dor Bahadur Bista, one of Nepal’s most controversial intellectuals in modern times, disappeared without trace in 1996.  Beginning as a field assistant to well-known Austrian anthropologist Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf, with whom he later had strained relations, he was largely self-trained.  He wrote several books, among them People of Nepal (1964) and the controversial Fatalism and Development: Nepal’s Struggle to Modernise (1990). 

Fatalism and Development, written in English, argued that Nepal could not develop because of Bahunbaad or Brahminism, by which he meant the values of fatalism and hierarchy, imported from India’s caste culture, which had eclipsed local, more egalitarian value systems. Himself of high caste, his views created acrimony, particularly among other high castes. He moved to the remote western district of Jumla, where he established the Karnali Institute to put into practice his beliefs and challenge the Kathmandu elite. 

His development activities in education, agriculture, electrification, road building, and espousal of his views won local hearts, but also some enemies. Speculation over his disappearance, or death, has been attributed to high-caste villagers; his alleged affair with a young woman he was mentoring; or his having gone to Haridwar, by the Ganges River in North India, to become a sadhu or renunciate.