Social Science Baha
Official

‘Grief Arising Out of Violent Death is Like Swallowing a Hot Chilli’: A Nepali Case

Sujeet K. Karn

This paper seeks to discuss death and bereavement arising from political violence in Nepal. Throughout the paper, an attempt is made to analyse death and bereavement in the context of a post-conflict situation with an emphasis on the people’s engagement with death and their coping mechanisms for grief and loss. In the post-conflict Nepali perspective, when death is discussed in reference to political violence, it is understood in its multifaceted approach. Findings from the field suggest an overarching complexity in which the people of Nepal continue to make meaning out of death and are able to make a judgement to move beyond loss and suffering to continue their life. Moreover, death constitutes an important feature of the Maoist Conflict. When careful attention is paid to visualise the pretext of death during the Maoist conflict, it becomes apparent that death has multiple meanings coinciding with multiple layers.

While the processes of recuperation go hand in hand in various different ways, whether by formulating meaning out of death or engaging practices in return, yet the foremost aspect of death is its immense potential for intense emotional impact on the survivors. Strong reactions such as disbelief, the fear to continue life after the death of a loved one, rage and anger towards those who were involved in the killing, helplessness and acceptance of fate, and questions coupled with submission to the unknown and invisible power were seen as the overriding characteristics of grief and bereavement in regard to death. This was experienced in ‘mana’ (heart-mind) and ‘sarira’ (body) by reflecting through ‘mana’ (heart) and ‘dimag’ (mind) in a framework of ‘dukkha’.

Moreover, in the absence of the traditional ritual practices and social support, along with guidance for dealing with pain and suffering, bereaved members were left to rely on their own conscious efforts to comprehend grief. Violent death fractured the existing processes while constructing new meanings for the bereaved by restricting the bereaved to their confined kinship boundaries. Protection and survival of the rest of the family members surfaced as an utmost concern, which persisted beyond traditional ritual practices and social norms and reflected in subjective terms. This suggests two parallel interpretations in which people had possibly processed subjective states in relation to grief and loss or as Giddens (1991) terms it, ‘double hermeneutics’. At one level, one may note the lack of psychology (discipline, profession, treatment, technology absorbed by all) in Nepal. That might have affected whether and how people process subjective states. On the other, one may argue that it was the religion and philosophy around religion that produced the psychology of the people, by which the bereaved processed their subjective states. This displays a tension between drawing on tradition as a spiritual resource and social framework, and the challenges to those traditional sources of support posed by the type of bereavement experiences resulting from violent death.