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Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit


Figures of their time: what ‘convict officers’ in a rural district prison can tell us about state-making in Nepal

In the short span of fifteen years, Nepal went from being a Hindu kingdom to a democratic republic, passing through a country-wide Maoist-inspired revolution. This has resulted in the coexistence of fundamentally different ideas of state-making, leadership, and social organisation. Based on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in and around a district prison in western Nepal, this paper argues that an enquiry into the daily life of a rural prison and the stories of those bound to it can provide a focused lens onto the transformations and stubborn persistence of historical forms of inequality in Nepal today. It does so by introducing the figures of three convict officers (naikes) at the same prison. The way in which they conceived and performed their roles was informed by their personality as well as their life experiences, which in turn were informed by the country’s recent history. Each embodied values and principles that characterise one of the three distinct models (feudal, communist, democratic) of social organisation that Nepal has seen over the past few decades. These three portraits also serve  to provide a textured understanding of the exercise of power in a prison, as determined by circumstance and relationships as much as by institutional structures.

Tuesday, 23 January, 2024 - 16:30 to 18:00
Event location: 
Mond Building Seminar Room