SAI Kathmandu Office Lecture Series -- April 2015
“Democracy” and “justice” are popular words used everywhere from macro political debate to a daily social discourse in recent decades. The word “democracy” represents the widely accepted formal political system or an ideology developed in Europe and spread throughout the world after the downfall of the Soviet Union. Democracy imagines an inclusive and participatory state with full of choices, freedom, human rights and justice. Democracy and justice are inter-related concepts as democracy without justice and justice without democracy is impossible.
If we look at the history of the concept, it emerged in Western Europe as a result of the enlightenment movement (14-17th centuries) as an alternative ideology against the King’s dictatorship. As an ideology, it also represents capitalism, market economy, development of science and technology, and physical advancement of the West. At present democracy is taken as a symbol of advancement and pride of development. On the other hand, history shows that democracy and social justice are traditional practices of stateless societies. Such societies are organized under a simple political organization led by an elected leadership. Their political organization exercises democracy and justice under the formal political system of the state.
The Kisans have been living in the Jhapa District for centuries. They have a political organization known as Baiga system, which runs by elected authorities: the king, minister and police. The Baiga system has a community court that settles all cases of the community. None of the community members have been reporting a feeling of injustice due to the court's decisions so far.
This lecture examines whether democracy and justice are concepts primarily developed in the West or rather represent traditional/indigenous practices of simple societies. It gives a case study of the Kisans, which know democratic practices and exercise justice in day-to-day life.
Shambhu Prasad Kattel is lecturer at the Central Department of Sociology / Anthropology at Tribhuvan University. After receiving his M.Phil in Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen, Norway, he completed his PhD in Political Anthropology at Tribhuvan University in 2011. Kattel has spent about a year in the Kisan community in 2008/9. Since then, he has visited the Kisans several times. Moreover, Kattel has been gaining experience in social-economic development, social justice and inclusion, knowledge management, and gender issues for the past twenty years.