Nepal, one of the smallest countries in the world, proudly thriving between giant powers like India, China, and Tibet throughout history, has lots of secrets. The secrecy of Nepal lies in its emergence, establishment, prosperity, existence, and sustenance. One amongst its secrecy is the question of why Nepal was never colonized? Asking this question at this point in time, when the diplomatic relationship between Nepal and India and other neighboring countries is rife with political interest and deeper neocolonial interest, might invite one to go back to the mazy history which was never recognized and told from the positionality of Nepal and Nepali people. Given that international media is hugely oriented and aligned with the power and politics of power, an authentic Nepali voice is hard to trace in order to answer the questions in and around it.
In this article, I am talking about the really amazing, undiscussed, untold, and hazy history of the emergence of present Nepal.
I am articulating my experience of living outside Nepal, where the experience of introducing myself as Nepali in most of situations is intervened by the question like “Are you an Indian?”, “You look like one?”. This might not be my personal experience only. Every Nepali living outside Nepal struggles while one has to “explain” to people that they are not Indian. On the other hand, most Indian people would not be hesitant in asking, “Oh, you are Nepali…why you do not have chinky eyes?”. These kinds of questions tell a lot about the politics of how the media, academic theory, philosophy, cultural politics, and discourse of international power and transnational politics has not been treated the way Nepal should be.
One of the junctures in history where Nepal was misrepresented by neighboring countries, international power, and its own history is the Anglo-Nepal war. The anglo-Nepal war was the war fought by Nepal against British India from 1 November 1814 to 4 March 1816. This war is also known for Sunguali Sandhi- a pact between British India and Nepal where Nepal lost a most portion of its territory including, Kalang, Sikkim, Tista, and other. But the pact of Sunguali has a murky history which has led the present history of Nepal to be unempathetically and unjustifiably interpretable by the foreign powers in the way they wanted. For example, one gets to hear that the Ango-Nepalese war was successful at the end of British India? Some would even go to the point to argue that Nepal is one of the states of India. Or a number of other rumors which signify the narrations from the vantage point of someone who gets to write the history, not from the point of others who were stripped off from the power of writing their history.
First, before the Anglo-Nepalese war, Nepal was the country that stood up fiercely against the British Raj. At that period, Nepal was already extended up to Kangara in the North East where the Nepalese army would wage war against the Sheikh. It was a threat to British Raj to see a small country with no power weapons emerging as a power. Leo E. Rose, scholars who had researched extensively on ancient Nepal, remembering the pre-Anglo-Nepal war in Nepal: Strategy for Survival writes,
“…Nepal had taken lead in a recent effort to reunite Indian states into anti-British alliances. The Gorkhali conquest in the hills had given some Indian rulers an exaggerated view of Nepali military strength, thus reviving their hopes for eventual expulsion of the company from India. The success with which Nepali had resisted the British since 1769 had contributed greatly to the Gorkhas’ reputation in the plains and also hypersensitivity displayed by some company officials on this question (p.83).
However, this murky history has not yet been described from the perspective of Nepal and the Nepalese people. In fact, for the Nepalese Anglo-Nepal war was an opportunity to demonstrate the valor, resilience, and perseverance of Nepal as an independent nation and Nepalese as a prestigious people. If one wants to know about Nepal, one needs to start from the angle of curiosity rather than be judgemental —-provoked, sometimes, through the angle of how the media portray Nepal.
Anglo Nepal war is the critical juncture in history that established Nepal by renarrating the critical history of Nepal. It is the point in history that marks that Nepal was never ruled by a foreign power—more so, never colonized. Nepal has always been proud to be a separate sovereign power in the world in its entire history.
The Anglo-Nepal war is a war not only between Nepal and British India, it was a war between the modern weapons of the British and the ancient Kukhuri of Nepal. Nepali soldiers waged the war against the guns and modern munitions which could be targeted from miles away with Kukuri which requires an enemy to be at handshake distance to be hurt or killed. Fighting the attack with such a dire lack of resources, Nepali soldiers were able to mark their identity as BRAVE Nepali to the British people. So, before asking any questions in regard to the history of Nepal and Nepali and interpreting it in a way one will favor power discourse, one needs to understand that Nepal as having an entirely different and powerful history.
Secondly, the Anglo-Nepal war was the war fought by the Nepali women too (as seen on featured photo). Never in the history of Nepal and the history of British India has ever been mentioned that the Anglo-Nepal war was fought by Nepali women. However, there is the local narrative told by the people in Nepal in a very mythic way that Nepali women have also fought the war with the British at Kangra and Tista. They fought with Kukuri like that their fellow Nepali. For example in the songs like “Gaucha Geet Nepali Joyti ko Pankha Uchali…” which would be the anthem in most of the schools in Nepal, every Nepali knows that Nepali women had fought the Anglo-Nepal war alongside the Nepali men. People valorizing the performances of the Nepali in the Anglo-Nepal war recall and remember that there were a corps of Nepali women too on the battlefield of Kangara and Tista. However, the women who fought and died in the Anglo-Nepal war have not yet been named and recognized.
Finally, when India was ruled by the British, during the late twentieth century, Nepal was still a separate country. Nepal, the smallest of all the kingdoms in entire South Asia, had a very strong and strategic diplomatic strategy that had kept the English power at the door at bay. For example, in the Anglo-Nepal war which was fought between British India and Nepal, although Nepal lost a major portion of its land to the British, it was recognized for its bravery and its strength in the history of the British Empire too. After the Anglo-Nepal war where Nepal was technically defeated, it was forced to sign up for recruiting the Nepalese soldiers in the British-Indian armed forces. Some historians like to describe that Nepali would join the armed forces in India and Britain because they are poor. Of course, Nepal is not as rich as Britain. However, this fact does not blur the history that originally Nepali were forced to join the army because of their skills and knowledge on the battlefield.
Nepal has a very proud history! So do Nepalese!
- Rose, Leo E. Nepal; strategy for survival. Univ of California Press, 1971.