Social Science Baha

Park, Hill Migration, and the Changes of Gender Relations of Rana Tharus in Far-western Nepal

Christie Lai Ming Lam

The main theme of this paper is to focus on how gender relations of Rana Tharu society were changing to reflect the new material conditions and cultural ideology. The key question I intend to answer is: did these changes have any implications for the status of Rana Tharu women?

The labour arrangement between men and women has been widely recognised as a unit of critical analysis by social scientists in understanding gender relations and its role in the transformation of a society (Beneria 1982; Harris 1981; Mies 1986). Gender division of labour does not only reflect the social values of men and women but it is also shaped, recreated, transformed, and reinforced by social and economic changes taking place (Deere 1990; Moore 1988). Bear in mind, despite the fact that gender division of labour allows me to understand the gender relations of a society, it is also problematic to adopt gender division of labour as an unquestionable variable when analysing the status of women (Cameron 2005; Mukhopadhyay & Higgins 1988; Whyte 1978). Therefore, in this paper, I see Rana women as social actors and the lived stories of Rana women are used to tell us their changes in livelihoods and the implications of these changes on gender relations.

Based on my year-long anthropological study of Rana Tharu community, my ethnographic data clearly show that recent social changes, including the establishment of Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve and the hill migration, have shaped Rana gender labour arrangements significantly. Rising poverty and the Park policies resulted in Rana women working more in agricultural activities and fuel wood collection. On the other hand, their increasing workload was constantly underestimated and treated as ‘informal productive work’ compared to men’s work. As a result there was a tendency of growth of the level of economic dependency of Rana women on men. Furthermore, the hill people’s cultural ideology resulted in stricter control being exerted by Rana men over their women. It was noted that the traditional gender division of labour practices had been transformed and reinforced as Rana men’s weapons to ‘reclaim’ their dominant position at the domestic level and in the wider society; it was also the strategy for them to attain higher social status.