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Nepal - People

Perched on the southern slopes of the Himalayan Mountains, Nepal is as ethnically diverse as its terrain. The Nepalese are descendants of three major migrations from India, Tibet, and central Asia. Among the earliest inhabitants were the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley and aboriginal Tharus in the southern Tarai region. The ancestors of the Brahman and Chetri caste groups came from India, while other ethnic groups trace their origins to central Asia and Tibet, including the Gurungs and Magars in the west, Rais and Limbus in the east, and Sherpas and Bhotias in the north.

The Tarai, a part of the Ganges Basin with 20% of Nepal's land, is the country's main rice-growing region. Much of the population is physically and culturally similar to the Indo-Aryan people of northern India. People of Indo-Aryan and Mongoloid origin live in the hill regions. The mountainous highlands are sparsely populated. The Kathmandu Valley, in the middle hill region, constitutes a small fraction of the nation's area but is the most densely populated, with over 7% of the population.

Religion is important in Nepal; the Kathmandu Valley alone has more than 2,700 religious shrines. According to the 2001 census, Nepal is roughly 81% Hindu. Buddhists account for about 11% of the population. The interim constitution, promulgated on January 15, 2007, declared the country a "secular state." Buddhist and Hindu shrines and festivals are respected and celebrated by many. The government celebrates most Hindu and some Buddhist holidays. Nepal also has small Muslim and Christian minorities. Certain animistic practices of old indigenous religions also survive.

As per the 2011 census, 123 languages are spoken in Nepal. Nepals linguistic heritage has evolved from three major language groups: Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman, and indigenous. The major languages of Nepal (percent spoken as mother tongue) are Nepali (44.6%), Maithili (11.7%), Bhojpuri (6%), Tharu (5.8%), Tamang (5.1%), Nepal Bhasa (3.2%), Magar (3%) and Bajjika (3%).

Nepali is the official language, although over 100 regional and indigenous languages are spoken throughout the country. Nepali, written in Devanagari script, is the official national language and serves as lingua franca among Nepalese ethno-linguistic groups. Maithili language that was originated in Mithila region of Nepal is the de facto official language of Nepal and Madhesh as a whole. The key to civil service, manufacturing, and other urban jobs is command of the Nepali language and education; but only half the population speaks Nepali as their native tongue, and opportunities for education are limited for many ethnic and low-caste groups. Maithili is spoken in Nepal as a second language. Extinct languages of Nepal include Kusunda, Madhesiya and Waling. Derived from Sanskrit, Nepali is similar to Hindi and is spoken by about 90% of the population (although often as a second or third language). Many Nepalese in government and business also speak Hindi and English.

Bhutanese Government policies in the early 1990s caused tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalese to leave Bhutan. As a result, by 2006 over 100,000 ethnic Nepalese refugees from Bhutan had been living in seven camps in southeastern Nepal. Despite fifteen years and fifteen rounds of formal negotiations between Bhutan and Nepal, no refugees had been permitted to return to Bhutan. As the situation facing the refugees in the camps grew more tenuous, there was a clear and immediate need to provide durable solutions. The international community was encouraged by Bhutan's fall 2005 agreement to allow the voluntary return of 640 individuals in Khudunabari Camp. This could be an important first step to break the current impasse.

Nepal is highly Kathmandu-centric with all major civil, military, economic, and government positions being dominated by upper-caste Nepalese, who focus of political and economic operations in Kathmandu. In the countryside, a large portion of the population consists of ethnic hill-tribes who are not Nepali and speak Tibeto-Burman languages, and who are outside the official castehierarchy. In addition, the lower castes (Dalits or untouchables, but also other local lower-caste groups) are generally excluded from any kind of leadership role and from most economic opportunities. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, women have traditionally been relegated to entirely subservient roles in Nepali society and thus excluded from political life. When one combines Nepals women, hill-tribes, and lower castes, more than three-quarters of the population were essentially excluded from an active role in political participation for reasons of gender, ethnicity, caste, social class, or regional origin. The Maoist insurgency has drawn its active supporters from the ranks of women and the hill-tribes in particular.

Nepals population increased by over twenty-five percent in the 1990s, from under 20 million in 1990 to 26.5 million in 2003. This increase has offset the macro-economic growth, so that real GDI per capita has remained unchanged in the last decade. Moreover, most of the population growth, but not the income growth, has been rural, so that poverty has remained high. The absolute number of poor (living on less than $1 US per day) has increased since the mid-1980s, and remained at approximately 40% of Nepals population. Population growth slowed to moderate a 2.3% annually, from the higher rates that prevailed in the 1980s, but population is still expected to exceed 40 million by 2030. This presents a major challenge for the provision of education, social services, and especially jobs for the growing population. Nepal had a considerable youth bulge approximately 28% of the population is between 15 and 29 years of age and finding employment for them is difficult.

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Page last modified: 18-08-2016 15:48:30 ZULU