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Being Khambu & Internalized Racism

Written by Pradeep Rai
November 10, 2019

Ever since I’ve volunteered to work for Kirati Khambu Rai Sanskritik Sansthan (KKRSS) and added “Khambu” as my middle name on Facebook, my non-Khambu friends have somehow become appalled. They call me either racist or communal. I have also met a fairly large amount of Khambu friends who talk about “globalization” and “liberalism” and that what we follow are actions based on bigotry and are so primitive that we should do away with barbaric customs and evolve along with the rest of the world. After heated arguments with such people, these days when I am asked if I am a racist, I’ve started to answer, “Perhaps, yes”. The truth is, I think, everyone is a racist. But while I might be called racist for following my own traditions; a girl who dyes her hair blonde, a boy who gets a Korean boy-band haircut, or a man who wants to look like Bradley Cooper, well, they are racists too!

The only difference is that while some of us are external racists, the others are internal racists as they consider the other races superior to us. I have seen Khambus revere the Hindu Gods. If that is not racism, what is? I have seen young Khambu girls and boys learning Kathak and B-Boying who laugh the instant they hear that a Rai dance form is called the Sili. They keep repeating, Sili, Silly? Isn’t that racism too? I have seen Khambu parents trying to learn Bantawa but educating their children in English. I am not against education but if I am called a racist, how can they be called liberal? For if it is racism to undermine other races, what is heralding the superiority of one race over another, called? Nazism mixed with Racism perhaps! Without even knowing it, they simply reject their own culture to accept someone else’s. That is neither Globalization nor is it Liberalism.

Pic: Youngsters participating in Sakela worship ritual.

Many of our languages are dying. Our Mundhum (oral narrative), culture, traditions, religion are in shambles. And while we have studied Shakespeare and Aristotle in college, we shall not be able to save some of our languages which are already on the verge of extinction. We shall not be able to excavate upon encroached lands and our languages and history shall remain buried before our future generations. It is a shame we have to carry but we can save the rest. By being racists and by fighting racism! I know that in today’s times when we are asked to be politically correct, Racism is a very strong word. But it is also a media-fed word. The same media that tells us that it’s okay to eat chicken, to cook the chicken using various recipes, but to kill a Rooster for a ritual, is horrific. And so we start believing that we are barbaric and primitive. And to pray in glorious temples and cathedrals is liberal and modern but to pray before kindled sanctums is primitive. Racism, not liberalism, once again!

Some of the perspectives and opinions put up by some Khambus on social media are seen by other Khambus as extremist, hard-liner opinions that are borderline fascist ideology. Before such accusations are made, one must understand how extremism and fundamental ideologies take root. They are born from resentment and identity crisis. We cannot deny that Kirati Khambus are suffering from a major identity crisis today. We are surrounded by idealistic “Gorkha‘’ accountability as well as Hinduism-induced cultural transitions. So what is the actual culture of the Kirati Khambus is the question or rather a more poignant one is-what religion and philosophy do we adhere to? No matter how hard we try, we cannot draw a line between culture and religion. Somehow, they seem to have amalgamated perfectly, thanks to the organized Abrahamic religions of the world i.e. Christianity and Islam. While Hinduism still believes in “Ekam satya vipra bahuda vadanti” (there are many ways but the truth is one), most of what we read, see, and are indoctrinated by, are the amalgamation of culture and religion in an inseparable bundle.

Pic: Traditional Sili Dance being performed.

A majority of the so-called extreme opinions only point to one fundamental ideology and that is, should we denounce the core values of our culture and preserve only a few? This brings up a pertinent question of whether we should give up Hindu festivals or what some ignorant ones would call “Gorkha” festivals. The idea is, that we should read our history. And we must read our history because what we are doing right now, is also going to be in the pages of history someday. If we do not preserve our own culture, our inherent right to express our lifestyle in a free world, what use is liberalism? We must first cure our identity crisis by accepting and understanding our identity as Kiratis. And that can only happen if we get rid of all the traces of imperialist exploitations that our people faced in the name of foreign religion and culture. Those festivals have merely been symbols of oppression and we cannot celebrate them without first saving our own traditions. That is the central idea.

Remember, as many of us blame our older generations for not preserving our culture and traditions, the generations to come will similarly question us with similar enthusiasm and aggression. They will probably face a much greater identity crisis than we do. They will be resentful. And they will become extremists. We can stop that, if we think and act, right now. We must embrace the idea that we are different. Not superior or inferior to any race or creed but just different. A difference that must be acknowledged and preserved. We are one among the many cultures of the world who proudly enjoy the enriching diversity of humanity without any bigotry or prejudice. But first, we must redefine our culture by separating the real from the influences.

There are many Khambus who admire the Japanese who follow Bushido and wear Kimono, but when we wear a “Sayabung” or “Fenga”, they think that we are being communal. They enjoy a Japanese Samurai movie or a Chinese Kungfu movie but the minute we show them a Bantawa film, it gets to their nerves. Such is the irony of being with the Khambus. Isn’t that racism too? That you would listen to Pearl Jam and Led Zeppelin but you would not be caught dead listening to a Sakela song? When we strip ourselves of the lie that modern and foreign is to be worshipped, we can start to see ourselves in a different light. If the internal racism stops and our culture is saved, perhaps then we can start becoming liberal. Until then, you can call me what you want!

Pradeep Rai

Pradeep Rai is a writer and researcher studying the ethnic culture and history of the Himalayan Tribes.

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