While the ‘burkini ban’ in parts of France created a furore around the world, Nepal's tourism ministry caused uproar among the country's indigenous community when it issued a directive banning the use of foreign-made khada, which is a scarf considered to be holy.
Khada is a traditional ceremonial scarf with its origins in Tibet, and it symbolizes purity and compassion. It is used widely in Nepal to honour people at special occasions and ceremonies, but has its roots among the Sherpa community, an indigenous people from the northern part of Nepal.
At the end of August, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation announced it had banned its subordinate offices from using imported khada. The ministry's secretary, Prem Kumar Rai, said millions of rupees were spent in importing khada and it was causing environment pollution.
However, the ministry has since asked that officers not implement the directive after it led to a huge hue and cry in Nepal.
To understand the uproar, you have to understand Nepal's caste system — the traditional hierarchy of social groups. ‘Bahun’ or Brahmin are at the top, and most of the political parties are led and run by Bahuns. Khas are also high in the hierarchy. The many groups below them, including Sherpa, have historically been discriminated against and marginalised. Through this lens, restrictions ordered by a government led by a Bahun majority on a sacred Sherpa garment was seen as more maltreatment of a caste placed lower in the hierarchy.
Rabin Man Shakya blogged about the khada ban:
Today, Nepal is a secular country. This kind of irrational and not logical demands about ban on Khadas were not brought up even when Nepal was a Hindu Kingdom. The Bahunbadi parties and their stalwarts have forgotten that Nepal is a multi-linguistic, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country.
If the Bahuns and Khas people are allowed to freely use imported dhotis, janai, Teej sarees and lots of other imported things, why should there be any ban only on the Khada. The intention is very clear.
I totally agree if the ban is imposed on all unnecessary imported goods, but taking a target only on Khada is outrageous and unacceptable.
Dhoti is a white wraparound worn by men; janai is a sacred thread worn by Bahun and Khas people; Teej is a festival celebrated by women from Bahun and Khas communities; and saree or sari is a type of dress worn by women in South Asia.
Twitter user @Tutulke wrote:
हिजो : विदेशी खादा प्रयोगमा रोक लगाउने मन्त्रालयको निर्णय
आज : उक्त निर्णय कार्यान्वयन नगर्न मन्त्रीको आदेश
हाक्क थुक्क सर्कारका मन्त्री !
— टुटुल्के™ (@Tutulke) August 30, 2016
Yesterday: Ministry’s decision to ban the use of foreign khada.
Today: Minister’s order not to implement the decision. Spit on the government’s minister.
Freelance writer Dil Nisani Magar tweeted:
बिदेशबाट दाल, चिनी, चामल, अण्डा, मासु ल्याएर खाँदा केहि नहुने तर बुद्ध धर्मको पवित्र चिज ‘खादा’ ल्याउँदा चाहिँ घाटा भयो रे नश्लबादीहरूलाई ।
— Dil Nisani Magar (@dil_nisani) August 29, 2016
Nothing happens while importing lentils, sugar, rice, eggs and meat for consumption but importing khadas, a sacred material in Buddhism, led to loss for the racists.
आखिरीमा नश्लबादीहरुले खादा लगाउन नि नदिने भए । खादा शेर्पा समुदायको पवित्र चिज हो जस्तो कि, ब्रमाहणको लागी तुलसि ।
— Dil Nisani Magar (@dil_nisani) August 29, 2016
In the end, the racists won’t allow khadas to be worn. Khada is a sacred material for the Sherpa community like basil is for Brahmin.
Another Twitter user wrote:
How would Hindus feel if putting tika on forehead is banned? That's equivalent to banning khada for us. Next on ban list: Momo and Thukpa!!!
— Karsang Sherpa (@KarsangS) August 29, 2016
Momo is a dumpling, and Thukpa is a popular soup in Nepal.
Some opined that people were misunderstanding the scope of the decision:
— हामी नेपाली (@NEPALPOLiCY2016) August 31, 2016
While others supported the ministry's directive ordering not to use imported khadas:
१पटक प्रयोगमा पछि पुन प्रयोगमा ल्याउन नमिल्ने र नष्ट गर्दा पनि वातावरण प्रदुषित हुने खादाको प्रयोग रोक्न निर्देशन दिएको छ रे
— #RT®™© (@rajuthapa) August 29, 2016
Learned that it has been instructed to stop using khadas that cannot be reused after first use and that pollute the environment while being destroyed. I am happy.
According to writer Aahuti, many didn’t know about khada until a decade ago. After the Maoist Rebellion ended in 2006 and the peace process began in Nepal, the use of khada grew. Khada is easy to carry, cheap, easily available and works as an equivalent of a garland of flowers. Because of this, communities beyond the Sherpa started using it.
But it still remains special for the Sherpa community, and any misuse of the khada isn't taken lightly. Earlier this year, Nepali actress Suvekshya Thapa wore khadas as a bikini and drew the ire of Sherpa community. She was suspended by Nepal Cine Artistes’ Association from being involved in any film related activities for six months for hurting the sentiments of Buddhists.
The indigenous communities are indeed hurt by the directive even if it spoke only of the foreign-made khadas. They are also not buying into the government's suggestion of using khadas made of Nepali fabric called dhaka:
नाईटो ढाक्ने पछयौरी र मुख चुटेर हात पुछ्ने गलबन्दीलाई पबित्र “खादा” को उपनाम दिने गल्ती नगरौं । :)
— लोडसेडिङ (@it_sashi) August 31, 2016
Let's not commit the mistake of giving the sacred title of “khada” to a shawl covering the navel and a muffler used for drying hands after washing face.
In Nepal, people in rural areas wear mufflers, often made of dhaka, around their neck to keep warm and might use them as well as to dry their hands after washing them.
Although the minister has ordered not to implement the directive, the debate continues.
“खादा” नेपाली होइन ।
यस्लाई तुरुन्तै हटाउँ ।
त्यस्तै मोमो,आलु,मकै,सयपत्री, जिन्स,कोट,ढाका यिन्लाई पनि बाटो लगाउने काम गरौँ !
— Khanal (@Gckhanal) August 28, 2016
Khada is not Nepali. Dislodge it immediately. Likewise, momo, potato, maize, marigold, jeans, dhaka, get rid of them as well.