The South Asian Studies Council Brown Bag Series presents:
Luke Wanger, Department of Sociology, Yale University: “Defining Secularism: Hindu Nationalism and the Production of Nepal’s 2015 Constitution.”
On September 20, 2015, the state of Nepal promulgated its new constitution. One of the most consequential features of the new constitution is that it formally defines the state as “secular” (dharma nirapeksha), indicating a significant departure from the state’s previous forms. The same article that defines the state as secular, however, includes an explanatory clause that mandates that the state protect Nepal’s religious traditions.
A key term in that clause - sanātana - is drawn from the self-referential vocabulary of Hindu nationalists in Nepal, who appeared as an ascendant force in the months leading up to the promulgation of the constitution. In this paper, I explain the key features of the contemporary Hindu nationalist movement in Nepal, focusing in particular on its central discourse that characterizes secularism as part of a foreign conspiracy and a threat to Nepal’s sovereignty. Understanding this discourse is critical to understanding why Nepal’s Constituent Assembly codified an ambiguous secularism, and I argue that the Hindu nationalist movement succeeded in propagating its narrative widely enough to make such a settlement acceptable if not necessary.