Intimate Callings and Voices of Reform
Law, Property, and Familial Love
We believe that feelings are immutable, but every sentiment, particularly the noblest and most disinterested, has a history.
Michel Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History"
A son's property is angsa (family property); a daughter's property is māyā (love).
Common Nepali saying
On a spring afternoon in 1998, I witnessed a small event in Nepal that was a common sight at the time. Several young women, dressed in saris and sandals, were standing at the central Palace Square of Patan (a city adjacent to Kathmandu). Behind them lay a white sheet draped across the palace stones and decorated with hundreds of signatures scribbled in thick magic marker that they later paraded around the city. This was one of the numerous demonstrations organized around the hotly debated legal movement that argued for a daughter's birthright to her parent's ancestral property or angsa. Angsa literally means "share" or "portion," and it refers to the share of joint property of land or houses passed from grandfather to father to son. Until recently, all sons and their mother had equal inheritance rights to a share of angsa from the father's family. Daughters only received angsa through marriage or from their parents if they remained unmarried until age thirty-five. While the activists stood at the Palace Square and as they walked through the city, they yelled into a microphone at pedestrians who passed by on the street: "Women should have equal rights to property! Women of Nepal are also citizens! We deserve our equal rights! Sign here for freedom and equality! Raise your voices for women!"
In this chapter, I discuss the invocation of voice by contemporary activists of the property reform movement alongside a competing formation of voice, linked to intimacies of home, that emerged within debates about this reform. Divergent birthrights to angsa not only create material divisions of wealth between sons and daughter, I argue, but also produce gendered divisions of speech and action, which are particularly evident in this second formation of voice. To trace the different meanings of voice at play in this angsa reform movement is to trace the links between class and gender subjectivities, both of which are inseparable from property relations and different ideologies of intimacy. In my analysis, I pay close attention not only to the arguments of liberal reformers, but also to the words of people who opposed the introduction of a new right for daughters. It is here where we begin to see the links between voice, subjectivity, and angsa unfold.
The angsa campaign highlights several social issues that have characterized the period of democratic reforms after 1990. The reform movement was one of the early examples of an attempt to destabilize the center and the foundation of the state, albeit an attempt undertaken from within the state apparatus, the law. It also resonates with other attempts to reimagine a New Nepal today, from those of the Maoists to those of the southern Madeshi separatists, which are also contests about property relations. In these other attempts as well, people in Nepal are imagined as "raising their voices." While clearly a national issue, there are many Nepalis, such as sukumbāsī (squatter communities), kamaiyā (former bonded laborers), and many dalit (low-caste) families, who do not have property to inherit or to pass down. Their relationship to landed property involves complex interfamily relations within villages or in the urban center, which differ considerably from the middle- and lower-middle-class urbanities I discuss here. While I do not address the specific ways in which this law affects such groups, it is worth noting that people without property still share certain key cultural concepts, such as māitī (married woman's natal home), that figured centrally in the debates about angsa reforms.
The debates this reform movement generated resemble the debates that raged around the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 in India, which similarly sought to give women an equal share to their parent's property (Agarwal 1994; Basu 1999, 2001; Majumdar 2009). Yet, the Nepali solution differed significantly from the Indian one several decades earlier. In India, "the Hindu law debates made it clear that property inhered in the family, identified by its male lineage" (Majumdar 2009: 237). The angsa reform movement in Nepal, by contrast, was felt at the time to be one of the more radical challenges to Hindu hegemony in that it posed genuine threats to the gender relations that were a foundation of Hindu national patrimony rooted in a Hindu state. It is no surprise, then, that the law granting full and equal rights to angsa for daughters from birth, before and after marriage, was passed in November 2006, after the interim constitution declared Nepal a secular state. Here I focus on the imagined possibilities and debates at the time about what could happen if this reform bill were passed, which tell us something important about deep cultural tensions around questions of class, gendered subjectivity, and voice during this period in Kathmandu.
Voices of Reform
Debate about this proposed property reform was a public affair. It was not secluded to bureaucratic offices nor confined to courtroom dramas. Rallies were organized. Banners of signatures in support of the reform were paraded around the city. Piles of newspaper articles and opinion pieces were written. TV serials were broadcast. Informal and staged conversations about the proposed bill could be heard on buses, in rickshaw rides, and in heated discussions on the street or in homes. The furious debates that erupted in response to the proposal for daughter's property rights forged deep clefts between religious purists and those arguing for novel democratic reforms, between conservative ideologues arguing against a shift in property relations deemed to be an "authentic and timeless Nepali tradition" and those embracing liberal paradigms who felt the existing angsa system hindered individual agency. All of these practices invoked the figure of voice.
There are two distinct understandings of voice that emerged in the property reform movement. First, the notion of āwāj uṭhāune (raising voice) is associated with democratic participation and political consciousness, and implies a common parallel between voice and collective or individual agency. In relation to this particular reform, āwāj uṭhāune resembles feminist scholars' frequently invoked "voice," a metonym that stands for women's agency and desire for freedom. Within this terminology is the supposition that the voice directly channels subjectivity, and that a "subject with a voice" is a universal liberal subject who always, even in small, subversive ways, seeks freedom and autonomy from cultural, social, religious, and other traditional constraints (Mahmood 2005). Activists supporting the property law reforms frequently invoked this liberal form of voice, such that āwāj uṭhāune became a metaphor for "empowerment."
But those defending Nepali "tradition" appealed to a different discourse of voice. This second formation of voice emerges in the hailing practices of brothers, who call their married sisters back to the place of their birth. These practices support family intimacies and gender divisions within the family, and regulate who speaks and who replies. The two forms of voice invoked through the property law debate both suggest a close relation between voice and subjectivity, but they represent distinctions between liberal and nonliberal subjectivities in Nepal. In both cases, the figure of voice and the politics of speaking (or being hailed) constitute different subject positions that are implicated in the debate about daughter's inheritance of angsa. By attending ethnographically to these different invocations of voice, rather than using them uncritically in our own scholarship, we avoid occluding the intimacies, affects, and subjectivities at stake in these legal reforms.
Activists and opponents alike viewed the angsa reform movement as a realization of democratic ideals and, therefore, as an effective form of āwāj uṭhāune: the movement worked both to engage a largely nonpolitical public sphere and to promote the first political challenges to the constitution in a multiparty democracy. Activists had attempted to reform the law in two primary ways: by submitting several bills designed by NGOs and the Government's Ministry of Women to change the law, and by filing a Supreme Court case against the government. In their register associated with democratic speech, āwāj uṭhāune practices often seek to challenge the state at its deepest level. The lawyers involved in the campaign were proud to claim that this legal reform was the first constitutional challenge since the rewriting of the constitution in 1990. They used the new constitution's statement of equality to declare the existing angsa laws unconstitutional, providing precedent for future constitutional challenges. The way the campaign and controversy were staged also provided examples of different forms of voicing as political expression, from the public marches with signature banners, to the planned loud conversations on buses in which activists discussed the proposed bill with strangers and set the discourse about the reform in motion, to the ample media coverage.
Finally and most poignantly, the phrase āwāj uṭhāune implies a connection between voice and agency that relates explicitly to the final aim of this campaign. Giving daughters equal rights to property, activists argued, would empower women by giving them a voice in the family to resist oppression; they would be able to act on their own and feel themselves to be members of their family and, more profoundly, citizens of the state. "Angsa is one's own property, right?" one of my friends shouted to her father, during a heated argument on the subject. "If a person has something of one's own, that person can do something." This ability to act is embedded within the material relations of angsa, and having property, like "having a voice," is deemed to be directly linked to women's agency in relation to the family and the state. Such an ability to act when given angsa is quite striking when we look at the biographies of the prominent women activists and lawyers involved in this campaign. Nearly all of them had received a portion of land or house from their family in the form of an icchā patra. Icchā patra, or "document of wish," functions much like a liberal will system; it is a legal category of inheritance law that enables a person to give away a portion of their personal property to anyone they wish. As Daniel Karpowitz (1998) shows, the significance of icchā patra grew when niji ārjan (individual or privately earned money) became a more clearly identifiable legal category in 1977. Significantly, the activists did not argue for angsa to be abolished and replaced with the category of niji ārjan, which could be willed away by an individual, as is the case in a liberal model of property law. Despite their seemingly liberal rhetoric of voice, the activists sought to retain an illiberal, Hindu form of inheritance that kept property within the family.
The alternative formation of voice invoked by those opposing the bill is tied to familial intimacies, particularly the intimate relations between brothers and sisters. When I talked to Nepalis living in Kathmandu about the bitter controversy surrounding this legal reform, most would try to explain what they thought I did not understand. The essential but implicit meanings of angsa needed to be spelled out to someone like myself, since I might be partial to the international groups supporting this reform. Without hesitation, many would sum up their objections with the following pithy statement: "A son's property is angsa, and a daughter's property is love" (Chorāko sampatī angsa, chorīko sampatī māyā ho).
Māyā (family love)is expressed most poignantly in the common practice of a brother calling his married sister back to the home of her birth. A son's inheritance and possession of angsa, most people told me, requires him to invite his married sisters home. Such visits are described using a common Nepali word, bolāune. Bolāune is often translated with the innocuous "inviting" or "addressing," but I prefer a more pointed English gloss that captures the social relations embedded in the word: "summoning," "calling," or "hailing." Inheritance of angsa is, they suggest, intimately intertwined with a daughter's frequent visits home: indeed, this is where the power of angsa circulates. Though undocumented in the actual laws, women's frequent movement back and forth might be seen as an inscription of the written law in daily habits, marking a daughter's dislocation from her parents' home, while including her, temporarily, within a home she has left behind. Translated literally into English, bolāune means "to make someone else speak," and it generates a different form of recognition, speech, and agency than the activists' vision. Practices of bolāune are, then, constitutive of gendered subjectivities; they are the means by which people come to think of what makes a man into "a man" and a woman into "a woman." The practice of bolāune, as everyday as it is, emerged so frequently in conversation about the reform because, I gradually learned, it reveals and defines the hierarchies of gender that the activists sought to change with the proposed new law.
Property, Kinship, and "Women's Voice": Challenges to Feminist Interpretation
My analysis of these competing formations of voice uses crucial insights generated by anthropological studies of property and feminist analyses of kinship and family intimacy. While I draw upon many feminist theories of kinship and intimacy, from the outset this campaign poses important challenges to the standard feminist analysis that would interpret the activists as "empowering women" through the law and thereby representing a "women's voice." Such arguments do not offer a deeper understanding of the different subjectivities at stake in this campaign, and are rooted in a common feminist concern for women's agency. In the early 1990s, Saba Mahmood points out, this attention to women's agency among feminist theorists was often articulated through the rhetoric of "resistance" to structures of male dominance (2005: 10). Even among writers who problematized the notion of "resistance" as a simplistic understanding of power relations (Abu-Lughod 1990; Ahearn 2001; MacLeod 1992; Ortner 1995), feminist scholars typically remain committed to a liberal notion that all women (or all people for that matter) desire freedom from relations of subordination (culture, tradition, male dominance) (Mahmood 2005: 10-17).
Saba Mahmood's book on reimagining the feminist subject provides a model for understanding other modern subjectivities that do not fit the liberal model. As Mahmood argues, feminist analyses make certain "normative liberal assumptions about human nature" (2005: 5); feminism is, after all, a liberal discourse. These assumptions include that there is an innate desire for freedom, that all human beings assert autonomy when they can, and that human agency is exerted in acts that challenge the norms rather than uphold them (5). From Mahmood's perspective, these assumptions occlude any deep analysis of nonliberal subjectivity, such as the religious Islamic women in Egypt with whom she works who adhere to "feminine virtues" (modesty, humility, shyness) as a condition for their place in religious and political life. Religious Egyptian women, then, challenge many of the feminist assumptions about human nature. This chapter expands upon Mahmood's insights by thinking ethnographically about the various forms of voicing used in the property reform, and the different subjectivities they assume.
To begin, we must consider the question of what is property and what it does. Anthropological studies of property emphasize the social relations embedded in all property relations (Verdery and Humphrey 2004). Complicating the writings of John Locke, who saw property as a particular relation between citizen and state, anthropologists have questioned the assumed notion of personhood embedded in Euro-American concepts of private property. In her study of the shift from collective farms in Transylvania to individual family farms, for example, Katherine Verdery argues that a focus on "rights" obscures a more significant change occurring in the kinds of person constituted by different forms of property: "Rights terminology creates only one kind of person, who has or does not have rights. Deemphasizing such language helps to reveal more clearly the different kinds of persons that property restitution creates: the efficient 'master of the land' on the one hand, and those ground down by accountability, risk, and debt on the other" (Verdery 2004: 16). In a similar vein, I argue here that the social relations and especially the intimate sentiments that inform specific subjectivities and ideas of personhood cannot be fully accounted for as a relationship between citizen and state (cf. Tamang 2000). Clearly, the national codification of property relations produces a legal subject and citizen, but relations of property are much broader than this. They also shape affective and moral subjects associated with practices of speech and recognition like bolāune and āwāj uṭhāune.
Despite the rhetoric of some lawyers, change in the inheritance law does not do away with sentiment in favor of a more rationalized legal structure.Feminist anthropologists have long underscored the centrality of sentiment in understanding broader political and economic agendas of the state and beyond. Much of state knowledge and rule depends on what Ann Stoler refers to as a "calculus of sentiments and on interventions that would cultivate compassion, contempt and disdain" (2002: 93).The state laws of angsa support feelings of attachment between brother and sister, as well as husband and wife, and patterns of care and compassion among particular family members. While it may be obvious why opponents framed their arguments around issues of sentiment, it is important to recognize that many activists did as well. Rather than celebrate the love relationship between brother and sister, however, activists focused on the ideal bonds of romantic love between husband and wife. Sentiments of love, care, and compassion lie at the core of political debates about the angsa and they reveal what is at stake for both activists and their opponents alike. It is here that we see some of the pervasive and subtle means by which angsa exerts its most powerful cultural effects.
Debates about property are bound up with debates about changing relations of love. Nepal's first woman lawyer, Silu Singh, wrote the first polemic against the existing angsa system in 1975, in which she argued that reform in angsa would engender a more "genuine" love between husbands and wives. This more "genuine" love would flourish with a reform of the angsa laws, she wrote, and would be the kind of love presumably unaffected by differences in wealth (Singh n.d.b). Silu Singh imagines authentic love to be the love of an equal, companionate marriage, in which husbands and wives grow to think about themselves primarily in affectionate rather than instrumental terms. But this notion of "genuine love" is not divorced from material concerns, for according to Silu Singh it is the fact that women will come to the marriage with property that provides the conditions for "genuine love" to flourish.
Silu Singh's invocation of "genuine love" bears a striking resemblance to the connection between love and inheritance that Fredrick Engels made, almost a century earlier, in industrial Germany. Engels was arguing against the common perception that modern marriages were consensual, that is, based primarily on the love between two individuals rather than a contract between families. As Engels argued, the choice implied in love marriage or marriage by consent is never completely free, particularly when matters of inheritance are at stake. Even in countries that pride themselves on marriage by "free consent," property and children's inheritance nevertheless shape the choices children make. "Full freedom of marriage can therefore only be generally established when the abolition of capitalist production and of property relations created by it has removed all the accompanying economic considerations which still exert such a powerful influence on the choice of a marriage partner" ( 1891: 144). In contrast to Silu Singh's confidence in liberal capitalism eradicating familial gender hierarchies, Engels argued that a true love marriage could only take place among the proletariat. The notion of "genuine love" that Silu Singh espouses entails a particular intimate subject who is imagined to be unencumbered by social pressures, a person who can love without restraint and who has access to "their own voice," a freedom ostensibly made possible by capitalist accumulation and an equal inheritance of property.
The category of "genuine love" that activists like Silu Singh declared would result from a change in property law must be seen as a socially constituted form of affection closely tied to bourgeois material interests, the growth in capitalism, and liberal democratic ideals. And this is not all that surprising. As Rochona Majumdar (2009) has argued, the question of romantic love and companionate marriage has been at the center of marriage debates in India since the early part of the twentieth century, as the joint family persists as an ideal alongside the romantic couple. Rejecting the idea that arranged marriage is a sign of tradition, backwardness, or lack of consent in Indian marriages, Majumdar points out that this view is "a byproduct of the coupling of love marriage with progress, choice, agency, and modernity" in much literature about modern European marriage (2009: 7). Feminists scholars, anthropologists, and social historians have worked hard to show that gender relations acquire novel forms of inequality in modernity, and that romantic love or intimacy itself is not separate from material interests and social forces that create the conditions for individual choice (for example, Ahearn 2001; Berlant 1998; Illouz 1997; Jankowiak 1995; Povinelli 2002). The move from "instrumental" love to "consensual" love, ostensibly based on authentic, individual feeling, is itself an ideological effect of modernity that obscures the historical links between romantic love and the political economy of modernity.
The property law reform movement's advocacy of a more equal, companionate marriage invokes the same kind of intimate subject as that presumed and produced via the FM radio programs discussed in later chapters. At the same time, as I show throughout this book, ideas of romantic love exist alongside other forms of familial love (between parent and child, between brother and sister) that appear to challenge the ideals of parity implicit in companionate marriage. But to simply tag this form of love as "instrumental" is to confine it to a liberal model that does not fully recognize the richness of the matrix of social relations that emerge in practices like bolāune. These various modes of love and their attendant variations of intimacies are simultaneously (re)produced in the property laws and debates about angsa I discuss here and in rituals of "seeing face" that I discuss in the next chapter. As contested transformations of the intimate subject within a Nepali public sphere, they both appear as practices that reveal, alter, and call into being a voicing subject, the subject with a voice, or a subject called to speak.
The importance of sentiment and desire in many feminist analyses has also reshaped anthropological studies of kinship. While there was little concern for intimate domestic arrangements or emotions in mid-twentieth-century studies of kinship (Carston 2004), early feminist anthropologists sought to revise theories of kinship by showing the broader political, economic, and social significance of family, domesticity, intimacy, and sentiment, areas of social life then deemed "feminine" and thereby considered "private" and peripheral to more central aspects of social life (Carston 2004; cf. Ortner 1974; Rosaldo 1980; Rubin 1975; Yanagisako and Collier 1987). Attention to gendered sentiments, as they relate to property, capital, and kinship, enables a more subtle understanding of people's desires and investment in the continuity of their family line. In Sylvia Yanagisako's (2002) work on family firms in Italy, for instance, she criticizes kinship studies for privileging law over sentiment, and turns her attention to the gendered sentiments and forms of patriarchical desire that shape capitalist families' vision of family continuity. Sentiments, for Yanagisako, "operate as a force of production and reproduction in family firms" (2002: 85). For theoretical as well as ethnographic reasons, Yanagisako separates the sphere of law and sentiment, claiming that while law provides important means to help families maintain security in changing political-legal contexts, law is not the basis of family continuity, contrary to early kinship studies (2002: 84). In the context of the Nepali legal reform, we see clearly that sentiments of love and care are crucial for maintaining the lines of family, but these sentiments are imagined to be integrally entwined with state law. In this case, then, for theoretical and ethnographic reasons law and sentiment must be seen as coproducing each other.
It is no coincidence, Laura Ahearn suggests, that serious scholarly consideration of sentiment and particularly romantic love across cultures occurred in the late 1990s, when there were more women, with more power, in the academy (Ahearn 2001: 270-71; cf. Jankowiak 1995; Rebhun 1999). Ahearn's own work on marriage, love, and kinship patterns in Nepal has paved the way for understanding the discourse of romantic love, the changing forms of intimacy, and the agency that underlie my exploration of public intimacy throughout this book. By critically examining the category of "love" in Nepal, Ahearn's work shifts the analysis of marriage and kinship from a discussion about a static social institution of sociocultural reproduction toward an emphasis on social change. Ahearn's focus on love-letter writing among Nepali villagers reveals the effects of many modern institutions-from education to development-on desire, intimacy, and representations of self. Ahearn looks at what she calls "indigenous theories of agency," or when people directly speak about causes of action or decision-making. She finds that the young Nepalis she spoke with tend to more often assume their own responsibility for practices like marriage and elopement, in contrast to decades earlier when villagers attributed the cause of their own marriages and elopements to witchcraft or fate. A study of the discourse of love and marriage in the contemporary moment, Ahearn suggests, reveals shifting ideologies of agency.
Liberal notions of agency suffuse practices and discourses of romantic love, with love marriage conceived as a paradigmatic "contract" presumably founded on individual choice. Love may in fact be considered the ground upon which autonomous judgment first emerges, which is later deployed in the space of civil society such as the legal reform discussed in this chapter and the FM radio discussed in later chapters. The love letters Ahearn discusses are forms of intimate recognition through which young Nepali villagers come to see themselves and become who they are by addressing another. This form of address recalls Habermas's discussion of the development of an "audience-oriented subjectivity" in modern Europe that initially took shape through the "private" exchange of letters within a conjugal family (1989: 46-51). In Habermas's argument, modern forms of domestic intimacy consider love to be a judgment of the individual, radically separated from any instrumental consideration. Intimate recognition, Elizabeth Povinelli (2002b) points out, became a way to refuse utilitarian domestic relations in modern Europe. "To assert a bond of love," writes Povinelli, "was to assert simultaneously a rejection of social utility" (2002b: 230). Such domestic relations, in turn, make possible aesthetic and political considerations in the public sphere, where, as I discuss in the chapters on FM radio, a similar form of intimate subject emerges that is always already oriented toward an audience, addressing another through the representation of self. Though the activists did not use the same kind of self-addressing narratives (aside from the signature campaigns), their notions of autonomous judgment implied in the discourse of āwāj uṭhāune may very well emerge from the discourse and practices of romantic love that they also profess.
While activists used ideas of romantic love to support their campaign, it is important to recognize that these modern forms of intimacy do not replace genealogical and familial attachments. Love provides the means of linking genealogy with emergent notions of national citizenship (Povinelli 2002b). The Nepali property reform movement aimed to keep a traditional form of Hindu patrimony and simultaneously transform the gender relations upon which this genealogy is based. As Nepali activists proposed, this legal change not only would change familial intimacies but also would realize a national citizenship based on individual equality, as prescribed by the constitution of 1990. "To be sure," writes Povinelli, "intimate love makes a family human, but love must still culminate in a family, a domestic or communal plot, a social group that adheres" (2002b: 234-35). Similarly, as Ahearn points out, individuals work hard to confirm the interests of their families even as they profess their own love for another that may oppose the family in their love letters.
What is striking here is that the activists do not imagine a new form of family (that is, nuclear family) or a legal doctrine founded upon ideals of individual choice. Instead, by including daughters as rightful heirs to property that traditionally marks a Hindu patriline, the activists reimagined the lines of Hindu genealogy. The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 in India ultimately failed (Basu 1999; Majumdar 2009) because it did not maintain the birthright within a joint family, creating "loopholes" in the form of wills ensuring that the male patriline remain intact (Basu 2001). Summarizing conflict in the Indian reform, Srimati Basu states, "Those who wanted to retain male privilege in joint family property were thus reassured that legal loopholes had been left to ensure that the status quo would not be unduly disturbed, and that wills could be written to disinherit women if so desired" (Parashar 1992: 128, cited in Basu 2001: 260). The more radical challenge the Nepali reform posed to the genealogy was revealed in the changing relations of love this new law would entail. The love between brothers and sisters-a love described as based upon daughters' unequal relation to their father's property and genealogy-comes under stress with this proposed shift, and emerges as a central feature of the Nepali legal debate.
These two forms of love took shape through two different formations of voice that I mentioned briefly above. "Raising voice" (āwāj uṭhāune) relates to the role of the state in cultivating individual will, choice, and desire, and practices of bolāune characterize a subjectivity defined through familial relationships, duty, and obedience, which was supported by state laws of angsa. Interestingly, in much of the activists' work on this reform the familial and the democratic forms of voice overlapped. On the one hand, they challenged both the state and the family patriarchal order upon which state law is based; on the other hand, in refusing a liberal will system, they confirmed existing family and state ideals of traditional Hindu property. It is important to state explicitly that part of the reasoning behind the activists' policy suggestions was their own anticipation that parents (that is, fathers) would not make choices based on equality, should they adopt a will system. By keeping ancestral property within the family through state law, activists reasoned, daughters would be granted more equality and "voice" within the family than if they completely liberalized the law with a will system. By maintaining a nonliberal system, in other words, they would enable liberal ideals of equality to be realized and would encourage a "woman's voice" to surface in the family and in public. Opponents-many of them women-rejected these claims and argued that such a change would eradicate the platform on which they were called to speak, through their brother's hailings.
By focusing on the figure of voice in this property reform, we encounter broad questions about the relationship between speaking and subjectivity as they connect to gender and class. All of these relations take on new meanings as Nepal bears witness to dramatic reforms that seek to restructure the state, the public, and the idea of a personal and political voice. This emphasis on the voice and its mediation of intimacy articulates the broader stakes of this debate, which goes far beyond the question of "women's rights" and ultimately raises questions about the relationship between property and personhood, sentiment, law, and subjectivity.
Angsa: A Brief History of a Social and Legal Category
Angsa produces specific material and affective relations between kin that, over the past forty years, became a national model that stood for the "Nepali family," despite the ethnic diversity of Nepal. For men, angsa has been a declaration of ownership and a material mark of their name. For daughters, who usually leave their parent's home in marriage, angsa has been their father's family property from which they were excluded, unless they never marry. For married women, it has been the property their husband has or will inherit, to which they also have a legal claim as wives. Angsa has been a legal regulator of women's sexuality and a defining feature of masculinity: a mark of what all men possess at birth and what women only tentatively acquire when they marry. Precisely because of this birthright to parental property, sons are the keepers and active agents in a public display of family memory. It is because of angsa, many people said, that sons care for their parents in their old age (though this is a subject of much debate), perform the death rituals for their parents when they die, and invite their sisters home.
Many anthropologists have discussed the significance of inalienable possessions like angsa as powerful because they are things that can never be lost and they transcend the permanence of death (Weiner 1992). Inalienable possessions, Paul Kockelman (2007) has argued, are "almost a necessary and sufficient condition for being fully and prototypically human" (2007: 351). Across a range of domains, from grammatical categories to discursive objects and life-cycle rituals, Kockelman shows that the category of inalienable possession is tied to things that are inherent in being a person. At the same time, they are also uniquely identified with particular persons in all stages of their life, as is the case with angsa and its association with brothers and sons. While much more could be said about inalienables, these links between personhood and inalienable possessions that Kockelman identifies suggest the deeper stakes of the angsa reform movement. Put simply: to inherit angsa is to be a full human being in Nepal.
The roots of the angsa reform movement go back at least to 1964, when various customary inheritance practices were replaced by a uniform code of state law (Gilbert 1992; Hoefer 1979). Prior to this time, during the century-long Rana oligarchy (1846-1950), laws of inheritance were considered matters of custom, practiced differently among the diverse ethnic groups that populated the hills, the plains, and the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. With the establishment of the Panchāyat government in 1960, the Mulukī Ain (state legal code) was significantly transformed. Caste (jāt) and ethnicity, the very cement of the prior Rana legal code, virtually disappeared from view. In place of caste, the laws inscribed the individual, and the individual family member (Gilbert 1990). As Kate Gilbert writes on the laws of 1964: "All individuals are free to act in accordance with the national law, and are acting legally so long as they comply with it, regardless of the customs appropriate to their kul [kin group]" (1990: 7). Authority over rules of inheritance thus shifted from the power of the kin group to the power of the state, just as the legal identity of Nepalis shifted from an ethnic or caste identity to individual citizenship. Changes in these and other laws were part of the creation of a national, citizen subject.
Changes to the laws of property were exemplary of a broader Panchāyat nationalist program built around Hinduism, the Nepali language, and the ideals of bikās (development). This was a moment when international development became a significant presence the Nepali economy, and ideologies of bikās took root in school textbooks and histories (Fujikura 2001; Onta 1996a; Pigg 1992). The property laws of 1964 responded to these national aspirations. On the one hand, the Panchāyat government sought to modernize and therefore secularize the legal code, eliminating all punishments that discriminated according to caste (Gilbert 1990; Sangroula and Pathak 2002). At the same time, the new legal individual in the revised legal code also supported a state nationalism that promoted the idea that to be Nepali was to be Hindu. The property laws of 1964, for example, substantiated a specifically Hindu patriarchy, based on patrilineal lines of descent and a strict regulation of women's sexuality. This system of inheritance, which grants all sons a birthright to angsa, became a nationally mandated practice, potentially affecting even Nepalis who do not consider themselves to be Hindu.Even though these laws were only thirty years old, conservative opponents of the legal reform in the 1990s appealed to them as embodiments of "Nepali tradition and custom from time immemorial." Most modern states similarly stake their legitimacy upon claims to a specific and long-standing tradition. In the context of the debates around this reform, it is important to keep in mind that these practices and laws do have a history, and in this case, a national history that is not that old.
In the first incarnation of the new national inheritance laws, unmarried daughters only had rights to half of an inheritor's share of the angsa property, which they had to relinquish should they marry. In 1975, during the International Year of the Woman, Queen Aishwarya made sure that some changes were made to the constitution that reflected well on Nepal from the eyes of the international community. There were two amendments made to the law that gave unmarried women a right to property, after thirty-five, and enabled easier divorce with rights to angsa after fifteen years of marriage (Government of Nepal 1975: §13:10). The amendment of 1975 might be seen as a precursor to the recent change in the angsa laws.Many of the same activists were involved in both attempts at legal reform, and it was after these changes that several women lawyers first suggested a change to daughters' inheritance rights.
These amendments, like the law of 1964, defined a state-sanctioned idea about the proper sphere of women's sexuality. A wife who slept with her husband and bore him children had rights to her husband's property should he die. But if this widow remarried, or was even seen with another man whom others find suspicious, she lost her rights to her former husband's property. Similarly, an unmarried woman who was over thirty-five (and presumably a virgin) had rights to her father's property, but should she marry after thirty-five she would lose these rights (Gilbert 1990: 28). Activists working in the 1990s implicitly aimed to shift the significance of angsa away from being a sign of women's sanctioned sexual activity or virginal status to a provocative sign of her inclusion in the father's genealogy (vangsa).
In 1977, there were certain subtle but important legal adjustments to the laws of angsa that responded to and encouraged critical economic changes occurring at the time. A bill was passed that enabled an easy, practical separation between brothers who, as members of a joint family, often shared both earnings and inherited property. The bill made it much easier for men to distinguish their personal acquisitions (niji ārjan)-money earned from one's own skills, gifted property, or salaried jobs-from the angsa property that they were required to share with their brothers (Karpowitz 1998). This was the first time the word niji (personal, individual) was used in the law code, reflecting its significance as a viable legal and social category. Privately earned money was obviously becoming an important form of wealth, particularly for men, as the professional class in Kathmandu grew.
Men who advocated for this slight change viewed it as "their law" and acknowledged the radical shift this amendment posed. One businessman explained the change to me in practical terms, "Men were earning but their brothers were claiming it. So they were getting fed up." Another middle-class lawyer told me: "In 2034 v.s. , a new concept came." Chuckling, he added, "the capitalist system." Clearly, this change in the law had significant effects on the so-called traditional Nepali joint family that was constantly invoked during angsa movement in the 1990s. Strikingly, the reform of 1977 passed without a peep, with no public controversy. No doubt this silence has to do with the fact that it did not disturb the existing gender hegemonies inscribed in angsa laws.
The activism around this legal reform culminated in the final passing of the bill in 2006, just after the second People's Movement (jana āndolan II).Months after Nepal was declared a secular state following the jana āndolan II, several crucial amendments were made to the existing legal code. Most notably, married daughters no longer had to return property after their marriage (as was the case when King Gyanendra passed the daughter's birthright bill in 2002) and thus angsa was effectively granted to both married and unmarried daughters. But when I was in Nepal in the winter of 2008, very few people I talked with knew that all daughters now have birthrights to their parents' angsa. The reasons for this may have to do with the fact that the bill was passed in the midst of heated political debates about when the elections would be held for a constituent assembly. People's attention was occupied elsewhere. It may also be related to the fact that few women wanted to exercise this right, and it certainly was not culturally sanctioned to do so. The question of the effect of these legal changes on the actual practices of inheritance thus remains to be seen.
Class and Gender Subjectivity: Moral Arguments and Class Distinction
How one relates to angsa in the contemporary moment is a mark of how one has adjusted to the demands of global modernity; it has become a key marker of class distinction in today's Kathmandu. Class and gender, like all social categories, are discursive and performed social constructs, that is, they emerge through specific styles of talk and practices that index class and gender (Bourdieu  1984; Liechty 2003). One of the key performances of class is in how one narrates one's relation to property. The property reform movement was a crucial site for examining such narrations because it got everyone talking about the proper and ideal relation to property. It got everyone talking about how property was essential in creating crucial distinctions between people with different access to the market and resources. It got everyone talking about the subtle and not so subtle differences between men and women. Though "class" was rarely a category explicitly invoked in discussions of the angsa reform bill, it was implicit in most of my conversations and most articles about the campaign. Instead of referring directly to the madhyam barga (middle class), people used other markers of class: the movement was really for and about "standard" people, some said, or professionals, or simply "the lawyers." Caught up in the foreign world of dollars and international campaigns, some complained, the middle-class Nepali activists had lost touch with the more essential meanings of angsa property.
There are several different (and sometimes conflicting) currents of the debate that all relate to the emerging transformations of the middle class. Indira Rana, Silu Singh, Shanta Thapaliya, and the other early activists began their work on the angsa reform for women in the mid-1970s, when there was a general shift in middle-class Kathmandu residents' relation to material possessions and to angsa specifically. As more and more people became engaged in salaried labor, angsa was no longer simply a means to live-a field on which to grow rice or a house in which to dwell.One's relation to angsa became a statement of how one lived. For male entrepreneurs seeking their fortune or education in Kathmandu, attachment to one's family land became a statement of sentiment, not of need. Thus the symbolic and affective significance of angsa remained the same, or may even have begun to swell, precisely in a moment when landed property was becoming less important for middle-class families to actually survive. The angsa reform bill was initiated by a group of lawyers who were part of this emerging professional class. While they were certainly arguing for material and political benefits for daughters, they were also tapping into the changing semantics of angsa in contemporary times.
The various invocations and uses of angsa property quickly became signs of moral character and respectability (ījjat) that reflect differently on people in different class positions. Angsa is a vital part of what Mark Liechty calls the "ījjat economy," which is crucial to the construction of middle-classness (2003: 84). As I discuss in more detail in chapter 2, ījjat can be lost or gained by participating in certain practices, by associating with appropriate, "respectable" people, and by consuming particular things (ranging from the latest electronics to private school). As Liechty points out, ījjat "brings together old and new logics of prestige in competing often contradictory hierarchies of value. . . . Calculating middle class ijjat requires an intricate reckoning of caste background and orthodox religious practice as well as consumer prestige, in a host of registers from weddings to education to consumer status symbols" (83). To many professionals and entrepreneurs in the Kathmandu Valley, angsa was no longer considered the most valued form of property, except on a symbolic level to secure one's ījjat. Those who do depend on angsa were often regarded by middle-class urbanites as lazy and incapable of earning on their own. Dependence on angsa has become a way for middle-class professionals to distinguish themselves as bikāsit (developed) in contrast to those who are thought to remain abikāsit (underdeveloped) or lacking initiative in today's Kathmandu.
"Education is today's angsa," one of my close friend's father, Gyanu, told me. "It is through education that a child is given skills to earn." This comment was echoed by all kinds of people, including activists arguing for daughter's rights to angsa. Like many opposing and supporting the reform, Gyanu insisted on the equal access to education for all his daughters and his single son. The importance of education as a valid and desired right is even more evident when we look at the cases that emerged after an initial reform bill was passed in 2002, granting all daughters a birthright to angsa. The majority of the cases filed by daughters claimed they were not given the chance to go to school. They wished to sell their portion of angsa in order to purchase an education for themselves. Gyanu's remarks highlight the important fact that the angsa reform movement emerged on the political scene at the moment when personal (niji) property, earned through education and skill, gained importance as a legal and social category, especially for the middle class.
Professional men I talked with would often assert the significance of angsa as property they had a right to claim, but were proud not to use or consume it. A youthful eighteen year old, Rajesh, who was preparing to study computer programming in the United States, told me he was disgusted by the entire system of angsa. He boasted that his family had not divided the property for six generations and that he had no intentions of ever separating his rightful portion: to do so would be admitting a dependence he did not want to claim. It was the reliance on this birthright, Rajesh suggested, that ultimately was "ruining" Nepal. "If I were to take angsa," Rajesh said to me, "I would feel lazy (alchī lāgcha) like those boys who hang out all day on the streets, around temple complexes, or in their rooms playing guitar and composing songs all day. I would simply want to play and travel around." For Rajesh, a man's dependence on angsa is a sign of his inability to earn and adjust to the current demands of modernity. Many others like Rajesh enjoyed the idea of retaining angsa, but similarly abstain from transforming land into money and thereby consuming it. They desire the luxury of being connected to tradition, without being tethered to its more restricting demands.
For men who do rely upon angsa as a potential source of income, angsa property is a crucial sign of their manhood. Laxman, an electric rickshaw driver from a relatively high-caste Newar family, spoke vehemently against his former wife's demand for her rightful portion of angsa largely because of the humiliation it caused him. For Laxman, angsa was a sign that he maintained some control in the house, even if in the broader urban setting he remained on the margins of wage labor, shuttling wealthier Nepalis, tourists, and students throughout the city. I asked Laxman to imagine what it would have been like if his wife came to the marriage with angsa from her parent's home. He laughed at the question: "I would not have been able to do anything." If women claimed a right to angsa, Laxman and many others feared, they would become arrogant, proud, or egotistical (ghamanḍī huncha). Squirming a bit in his seat, Laxman imagined the effects: "It would be humiliating. 'I have angsa,' she would begin to say. No man would be able to speak to her." Here, angsa is explicitly connected to who can address whom. For both Laxman and Rajesh, angsa also determines how one acts and speaks in other spheres of life.
These oblique references to class and masculinity that emerged through the angsa debate were often explicitly about women and their proper place. Indeed, the link between maintaining middle-class respectability and gender has a long history in the subcontinent, as in the rest of the world. In colonial India, the "woman question" became a central feature of middle-class nationalist rhetoric that aimed to reveal the distinctiveness of Indian culture by asserting the difference between Indian and European women (Chatterjee 1993). Middle-class respectability was and still is a moral virtue, built upon maintaining the respectability of middle-class women (Liechty 2003; Mankekar 1999). "Since respectability, sexual modesty, and family honor were predicated on the conduct of women," writes Mankekar, "women's behavior was monitored especially intently" (1999: 114). The angsa laws were one means by which this monitoring of women's behavior and speech took place.
Inscribed within the angsa laws are moral ideas about women's respectability, tied both to the regulation of her sexuality and to the proper way to pass down and receive inherited wealth. These ideas of respectability inform how and when a woman can speak on her own behalf. According to many I spoke with, a woman should never appear to demand any form of inheritance, particularly land. I recall a conversation with a well-heeled director of an NGO, Manika Thapa, who had received a portion of land equal to her brother's as a gift (icchā patra) from her father, and she made it clear that she did not ask for angsa; she did not make a demand (māg garena).Many saw the demand for angsa rights by the activists as a sign of middle-class women's greed and arrogance, even though these very same people also declared that angsa was no longer important as a form of material wealth. Thus, the symbolic significance of angsa, with its tie to maintaining gendered divisions of speech and action, retains its value even though angsa is also devalued as a form of wealth by the middle class.
While Manika Thapa opposed the proposed bill, she was equally critical of the birthright sons maintained through the prior law. This system only leads to familial and political corruption, she maintained. Like many of her class and position, Manika proposed that Nepal adopt a will system, which would lead to an alternative system of prestige and honor that could benefit the whole country. A person could donate their money to a charitable organization, she suggested, or provide money for a social trust and create an "establishment in one's own name." These proposals signify a more general shift in how people should align themselves, away from the family and genealogy, toward their public place within the history of the nation. As I discuss below, angsa works in tandem with other signs of nationhood, and thus a reform to the angsa law was often cited as detrimental to the nation of Nepal and its independent status (Des Chene 1997). The proposal of the will system does not fundamentally disturb the hierarchies of gender upon which the angsa system is based. In the will system, parents remain the sole agents and authorities of the inheritance, but this does not necessarily ensure that they will deviate from the gender hierarchies inscribed in the prior law. Indeed, the experience in India, after the passing of the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, suggests they will not. Not pursuing a will system was the most radical aspect of the Nepali reform movement. Perhaps the fact that Nepal is such a small country within South Asia means that it can pursue a reform that would keep a traditional institution, while attempting to transform the gender relations upon which it was based.
Journeys Home: Māitī, Ghar, and Gendered Subjectivity
To understand the hierarchies of gender produced through angsa practices, we must turn our attention to the Nepali ideas of home and kin that constitute a powerful core of a gendered subjectivity for women and men alike. In Nepali, the terms for home cannot be spoken without context. A married Nepali woman, for example, speaks of her māitī, her parents' and brothers' home, the home she left in marriage. When a woman invokes māitī she is also referring, implicitly, to her legal and material erasure from her parent's genealogy. However, in ideological and sentimental terms, māitī is the home where love overflows. On return visits, it is where a woman can momentarily be carefree, where she escapes the daily drudgery of work in her married home (Bennett 1983; Cameron 1998). The number of visits a married sister makes depends, of course, on how close or far she lives from her māitī, as well as whether her husband's family allows her to leave. What she possesses from her parents and her brothers is not the immortal mark of genealogy that angsa provides, but a more fragile relation of care, affection, and love that she expects once she leaves. In contrast to māitī, another word for "home" is ghar, which expresses genealogy, law, and possession: it is, for both men and married women, the house to which they have legal rights and the family that goes down in history. When I asked my close friend, Gyanisoba, to show me a picture of her family, without specifying ghar or māitī, she held up a picture of her deceased mother-in-law and then tried to find a picture of her father-in-law so that my friend Ann, the photographer, could take another picture of them all together. Her family was her ghar. The significance of a married woman's natal home (her māitī and genealogical home) and her ghar, along with the practices that define each of these homes, differs between ethnic groups, castes, and specific families. Nevertheless, for all Nepali speakers, māitī and ghar are fundamental to their consciousness of past and present, their experience of home, and their sense of a gendered self. (See figure 4.)
Home for married Nepali women is idealized as a place of movement, a double life between māitī and ghar.These frequent travels inscribe a woman's precarious relation to her own past, even as there is a furtive pleasure in these movements. While the movement might be felt as a kind of "freedom," it also marks a daughter's dependence on her husband's family, who usually must agree to the visits beforehand, and on her māitī as the fail-safe place a woman can go if she needs an escape. Movement is important here, for no woman would want to stay at her māitī too long. To do so would be admitting a reliance on her parents and her brothers that few married women would choose to claim. In addition to its mingled feelings of shelter and escape, then, māitī can also be a place reflecting exclusion and rejection, a place where a married woman must flee if her marriage fails or if her husband's family sends her back for an extended visit. One of my unmarried woman friends expressed māitī's double edge in a statement that captures both the nostalgia and the erasure embedded in the term. "Only women need to remember," she told me. "Men don't have to remember. They live there."
It would be easy to dismiss the sentimental adulation of māitī as false consciousness that merely keeps women in their place. This is indeed the position of many Nepali activists. But to do so is to miss the material reality of these sentiments and its force in shaping ideas about self, which women know quite well. One group of lower-class women from a Newar butcher caste (a low caste), all agreed that "without māyā (family love), we have nothing." They worried that if angsa were given to daughters it would be absorbed by the husband's family, and they would ultimately have no control over it. "If we had to return to our māitī, there would be nothing there for us," one explained. Women know the male control over property as a reality, and thus they cling to the bonds of love expected from their māitī and the material security this home appears to provide. For these lower-class women, other institutions that offered similar support outside the family worked in ways that resembled māitī. In the mid-1990s, they became subjects of an NGO project that provided them with resources to begin a literacy program and a savings-and-loan credit system. After a long discourse about their attachments to māitī, one of the younger girls began to speak about the NGO in similar terms. "Compared to leaving our māitī," another said, "we fear that Lumanti (the NGO) will leave us." The link between material support and care implicit in the idea of māitī has taken new forms in the world of NGOs. Middle-class Nepalis who run such NGOs not only have become financial donors, but also have taken over role of caretaker and rememberer for many lower-class women, a role these women might have otherwise expected to receive from their māitī.
Māitī is always considered "lower" than ghar, and some Nepali kinship patterns reinforce this hierarchy. As many anthropologists have pointed out, patriarchy is usually supported by patrilineal kinship patterns, of which there are several in Nepal. The common "matrilateral cross-cousin marriage" that many hill Nepalis prefer is one such pattern. In this system, as one Nepali friend explained to me, a man can marry a female cousin from his mother's māitī, but this same man's sister cannot marry a male cousin from her mother's māitī. "It all comes down to the ījjat of the grandfather," my friend explained, with some disdain. "A grandson can bring a daughter-in-law into the family from his mother's māitī, but there is no way that same grandfather would let his own granddaughter to be given to her mother's māitī."In anthropological parlance, asymmetries develop between those families who are "wife givers" and those who are "wife takers," though, as Laura Ahearn points out, unlike in many places in India, it is the "wife givers" who are ritually superior among some hill Nepali groups (2001: 82-83). Even within a single family, the distinction between "giving" and "receiving" women supports asymmetries between the ghar and māitī. It is the family of the ghar that goes down in history. Relatives of the ghar perform the death rituals for one another, and their names are recorded together in vamsāvali (genealogies) or family trees. For men, a ghar is the home in which they were raised and often the home where they presently live. This pattern is changing significantly, especially in Kathmandu, as many men with the means are eager to separate and build their own home away from their brothers. Even so, these same men often were critical of the proposed property reform bill.
One Patan family I knew portrayed the history of their ghar quite literally in a painted family tree, which they hung in the sitting room for everyone to see. Daughters in this painting were represented by the leaves; sons were the branches. Daughters are born and grow big with the branches, he explained, later they blow away or simply die and fall to the ground. Their hold on the branches is temporary. The leaves are signs of a healthy tree: if a tree is strong, these leaves blossom each season. Married daughters, like the leaves, are expected to return to their māitī regularly for seasonal holidays and family celebrations. Without its leaves, a tree appears barren and fails to display its full grandeur. A ghar similarly remains feeble without its daughters. In this family, there was one daughter of about fifty who never married, and who proudly pointed out her own name on the family tree (see figure 3 at the beginning of the chapter). No daughters-in-law appeared on this painted tree. When I asked why, the man laughed with some embarrassment and replied: "Ha, they are part of their husbands. They are with the sons on the tree." In their journeys to and from their māitī, women remain connected to their brothers' genealogy, and through these journeys their brothers' genealogy grows strong.
I suggested to Manish, a friend who is a lawyer and who actively worked on this reform, that perhaps one of the key problems people had with the proposed legal change was that it provoked unsettling questions about genealogy (vangsa) and the significance of māitī. He scoffed at my suggestion. No, he told me, this reform was about equal rights. It was about being in a democratic society. It was about men and women coming to marriage with equal rights to their familial property. No, this really had nothing to do with vangsa, he insisted. Moments later, Manish began to tell me a story about his five-year-old daughter and his seven-year-old son. Manish had arrived home one day to find his daughter messing with some of the papers on his desk. He came shouting into the room, scolded his daughter, and immediately sent her outside. She turned around in tears and, in the way only a five-year-old can, she yelled back without restraint: "You are only scolding me because you are going to send me away. You wouldn't scold Nirmal because he's going to bring a wife here. You're going to send me to someone else, and Nirmal will get to stay right here. That's why you are sending me outside."
Clearly, I thought, the reform movement is about vangsa as well as equal rights and democracy. Manish wanted to emphasize the liberal nature of this reform. He wanted to look forward to a new kind of democratic reform and toward a future when his daughter would leave for marriage with a portion of his family's property. But as his story suggests, the reform is also about Manish's daughter being able to see herself, and her past, as part of his family's vangsa. The recent change in law, which gives daughters as well as sons a birthright to angsa, suggests that the very nature of vangsa is changing, something that even activists like Manish may sometimes have a hard time accepting. The connections drawn between vangsa and angsa (evident at the linguistic level) may be an effect of this reform. At the very least, Manish's story points to the intricate relation between the rule of law and the sentiments sustained by the law, which are cultivated and known at a very early age. These sentiments shape gendered and class subjectivity, giving both men and women a deep understanding of who they are, as well as how and when they may speak and act.
Sentiment and Voice: "Killing the Love"
One of the most widely circulating complaints against the legal reform bill, in the media and in nearly every interview I conducted, was that such a law would "kill the love" between a brother and sister (dāju-bahiniko māyā marrcha). This trope of brother-sister love used in literature, film, and popular songs throughout the South Asian subcontinent expresses married women's desires and longings (Agarwal 1994; Bennett 1983; Raheja and Gold 1994; Tharu and Lalita 1993). Intimacy between brothers and sisters is not unique to South Asia. Annette Weiner describes brother-sister relationship in the Trobriand Islands as the "basic core of all kinship relationships" (1976: 208-10), and siblings' love for one another is expressed through exchanges of gifts and care. "Marriage, in providing additional resources to sister-brother siblings," writes Weiner, "further enhances the power of their intimacy and gives them resources from other groups" (16). In the Middle East as well, Suad Joseph (1994) argues, brother-sister love has been romanticized by scholars as one of "love" or explained in structural terms as a relationship of "power" that is critical for the reproduction of Arab patriarchy. In both Weiner's and Joseph's cases, while inequalities are clearly established between brothers and sisters, sisters are still considered to be genealogically tied to their natal home after marriage. Throughout South Asia by contrast, unless a woman remains unmarried, a sister who marries is decidedly not part of her brother's genealogy, and this fact looms large in popular and scholarly discussions of brother-sister love. It was salient in many of my conversations about the proposed property reform, even in many activists' perspective that a change in daughter's inheritance rights would lead to a less "instrumental" and more "genuine" intimacy between husbands and wives.
In her book A Field of One's Own, Bina Agarwal (1994) goes so far as to suggest that the emotional and material salience of brother-sister love, along with the wish to be called back to their parent's home by their brothers, is one of the reasons why so many South Asian women relinquish their rights to family property, even when the property is legally theirs to claim (Agarwal 1994; Basu 2001).She begins her polemical book, which argues forcefully for women's rights to land, with a common folk song sung by Hindu women in north India that aptly portrays this nostalgia and sense of loss:
To my brother belong your green fields
O father, while I am banished afar.
Always you said
Your brother and you are the same
O father. But today you betray me. . . .
This year when the monsoon arrives, dear father,
Send my brother to fetch me home (Agarwal 1994: i)
Similar arguments transpired in Kathmandu.
"I don't like the idea of getting angsa," Gita, a twenty-year-old, unmarried woman, told me, as I sat with her and her friend, Anita, discussing the possible effects of this law.
"Why?" I asked.
"It would 'kill my brothers' love' (māyā marrcha) in the future. Definitely they would forget, absolutely forget about me. After taking angsa, they would say, 'Now she also has a part.' Of course they'll forget. Tomorrow or the next day, if I got married, they would definitely not invite me back home. Definitely not."
Anita and Gita, who live on the edge of Patan in a community of Newar farmers and craftsmen, focused their rumination about this reform bill on the desires generated between brother and sister, like many in their class. To be clear: there are no doubt many occasions when married sisters visit their brothers without being officially "called," and in the case of Anita and Gita, urban Newars who both eventually married men who live close by, these visits will be frequent. But the ideological weight of these calls home for holidays, weddings, and family events holds remarkable sway over many young women's imagination. So it is not surprising that Gita's response to my question was rooted in the desires cultivated primarily through the nostaglic images of māitī, associated with brothers' summoning her back.
Anita tried to clarify her friend's words for me: "Look, boys are given houses. [Boys think,] 'We have been given this much. They [their sisters] have not been given anything. We thus should, from time to time, call (bolāune) them, and feed (khuwāune) them. We should love them.' There is that feeling now." Though rarely mentioned by legal reformers, bolāune was a central theme that invariably arose in conversations with those opposed to the reform, particularly women. Bolāune appear to be an innocuous, everyday practice that has little do with the broader political significance of angsa. It is used in many other contexts to simply refer to the act of calling out to someone on the street, to inviting a friend or relative to a party, a wedding, or one's house. In this particular context of a brother inviting his sister home, the word carries within it hierarchies of gender produced by angsa laws that the activists hoped to overturn with a new law. In analyzing this practice, we see more clearly the tensions between ideas of democratic speech and the political consciousness implicit in āwāj uṭhāune that the legal reformers relied upon in their pursuit of angsa reforms and the gendered pattern of speech and action between family members that angsa property generates.
Bolāune is the causative form of the verb bolnu, "to speak." When literally translated into English, bolāune means "to cause someone to speak." The act of calling out to someone constitutes that person as a speaking subject through the speech of another. This calling is also a request for a response. A brother anticipates his own recognition through the visits of his sister; they serve to make him what he is. On a fundamental level, then, bolāune is a practice of mutual, but asymmetrical, recognition between brothers and sisters, not only in relation to each other but for themselves as well.
On one level, the practice of bolāune clearly corresponds to what Louis Althusser (1971) calls "hailing," a mode of address that establishes a person's subjectivity and even their body through speech. Hailing, or, in Althusser's more technical terminology, interpellation, reveals the discursive nature of identity and subjectivity.As I noted in the introduction, the person who turns and recognizes himself as the subject of a policeman's call is thereby constituted as a subject of the state at the same time as this subject is injured or wounded by the call. A person comes to recognize herself not only as an individual but as a subject positioned within a social world through reiterated forms of address and conventions that delineate her social position. Judith Butler reflects on this aspect of Althusser's concept: "Interpellation is an address that regularly misses its mark, it requires the recognition of an authority at the same time that it confers identity through successfully compelling that recognition. Identity is a function of that circuit, but does not preexist it. The mark interpellation makes is not descriptive, but inaugurative. It seeks to introduce a reality rather than report an existing one; it accomplishes this introduction through a citation of existing convention" (1997: 33).
The process of interpellation continuously transforms individuals into subjects, even though individuals are always already subjects the moment they enter social life (which is, usually, prior to birth). But bolāune does not so much construct a single subject as constitute a social relationship and the subjects formed within it. The practice of bolāune compels the recognition of a sister by her brother, thereby creating their differences, their identities, and their subjectivities. It recognizes a sister's presence alongside her brothers as well as marks her absence and exclusion from the family's genealogical memory. In doing so, it re-members a married daughter into the house she has left.
As Anita continued to reflect on the potential effects of this legal reform, she suggested a striking connection between the right to inherit angsa and what it means to be a woman or a man.
"But if angsa were given to daughters," Anita imagined, "[brothers would think,] 'But we are all equal. Why should we give? We don't need to call them either. Because they are also boys. They are just like boys, so why give? Why call?' It will be like that."
According to Anita's comments, angsa seems to destabilize the lines between sex and gender. By acquiring a birthright to angsa, Anita says, girls will become boys. In a fundamental way, angsa and the conventional practices that accompany it mark the bodily, material, and symbolic differences between women and men in a state regime that favors this form of inheritance.
If bolāune is a way to interpellate a daughter temporarily into her parent's vangsa, the process can only work if daughters actually begin to act and speak about themselves in the same fashion. Interpellation rests on the notion that a "speech act brings the subject into being, and then . . . that very subject comes to speak, reiterating the discursive conditions of its own emergence" (Bell 1999: 165). This alternative formation of voice-the gendered patterns of speech and action established by bolāune-appears in Anita's and Gita's own reflections about the potential effects of the law. Neither Anita nor Gita provides their own reasons for rejecting the reform bill; instead, they invent and cite the words they imagine their brothers would speak. The "we" in Anita's quotation is not herself and Gita, but an imagined collective voice of their brothers. Both young women reflect on the consequences of this reform through the words of their brothers. They imagine what it would be like for them by imagining the speech and perspective of their brothers. "But we are all equal," Anita quotes her brother saying, "Why should we give? We don't need to call them either. Because they are also boys. They are just like boys, so why give?"
I soon began to recognize this as a patterned way in which people who opposed the law, especially though not only young women, spoke about reform. Recall Laxman, who reflected on what might happen if his wife came to marriage with angsa. He responded with the words he imagined his wife saying: "'I have angsa,' she would begin to say. No man would be able to speak to her." Here angsa is explicitly tied to who can address whom.
In another example, two sisters, whose brother had gone to Singapore to study dentistry, argued about the reaction their brother might have should the law be changed. The elder sister, Sarjana, began: "If our brother is alone, if everything was taken, poor daī! Later, also, he might also say, 'You already took it, why should I call you home?' He will-" Her younger sister, Ambika, interrupted: "But my brother would not say that." She repeated, looking over at me, "He would never say that." Ambika wanted to be clear that his love for them was not solely guided by his inheritance of their parent's property. Then, reflecting for a moment on what would transpire should the daughters receive a share of angsa property, Ambika burst out with a laugh: "We would even have to invite daī home! Right?! We would also have to do the calling!" This imagined and always humorous outcome of the proposed law was quite common.
While I sat with Anita and Gita as well, Gita thought up a similar scenario. "Perhaps," she said hesitatingly, with one hand covering her wide smile, "we would have to call them." Her voice rose as she thought this through: "We daughters would have to call our brothers (hāmī chorīharule dāju-bhāilāi gharmā bolāune parcha holā), it seems, we would have to call them! Right? Then it would work. If sisters also summoned their brothers home, it would work, maybe. The love would work then, maybe."
Anita giggled at the thought. A strange idea, she mused, and yet she agreed that if the reform bill were passed, daughters would also be compelled to summon their brothers to their homes. Possession of angsa at birth quite strikingly incites these callings (Keane 1997; Weiner 1992). As Webb Keane (1997) has pointed out in his book on ritual language in Indonesia, it is not language itself that grants recognition and personhood in a symbolic world, but rather the way language and material objects work together to create social connections and divisions. Keane focuses on ritual exchanges-of words and things-because these are formal moments when actors are particularly self-conscious about their actions. These are also moments when voice and agency can be separated, when the person speaking is not always considered the agent of their speech, for example, if they are speaking the words of an ancestor or the divine. None of these ritual encounters could function without the dual representation of words and material objects, Keane argues. "To be valid," writes Keane, "words must be spoken in tandem with material transactions. . . . The requirement that words and things be transacted together means that the authority of speech and the economic power conveyed through goods should each index each other" (1997: 22).
Keane's point might be extended to everyday forms of performative speech and practice like bolāune. Though not transacted at the same moment in time, it is clear in discussions about bolāune that the authority of speech and economic power (birthright to angsa) index each other. More than this even, the imagined effect of a changed law suggests that a birthright to angsa is the motor that drives a brother to call his sister home. What these young women are imagining is a new relation to speech and action established by the material property of angsa itself. A daughter's right to angsa would enable the young women to also do the calling or speaking while their brothers respond.
Annette Weiner (1992) has astutely shown that inalienable possessions, such as the ancestral property of angsa, effectively produce power and authority, and endow those who possess them with attributes that are socially desirable on many levels. It is not reciprocity that is the rule in the passing of these possessions; rather, what makes inalienable possessions powerful is that they are both given and kept, thus transcending the loss inherent in any kind of exchange. By inviting their sisters home, an act often described as an act of memory, brothers maintain their contact with their sister, and at the same time these comings and goings continuously reenact the sister's departure, her displacement from the family genealogy, her loss.
The frequent musings about what a brother might say should the law be passed or the contexts in which a sister might call her brother home that occurred when discussing this campaign suggest that we expand upon the assumptions of voice inherent in theories of interpellation. "Interpellation must be dissociated from the figure of the voice," writes Judith Butler, "the power of the speaking subject will always, to some degree, be derivative . . . it will not have its source in the speaking subject" (1997: 32-33). Like Keane, Butler demonstrates that the authority of speech is never autonomous or rooted exclusively in the speaking subject. Indeed, the power of the brother to call his sister home derives from the documents of state law, from his birthright to angsa.
That the source of the brother's authority lies outside of him does not mean, however, that his voice is not instrumental in his capacity to hail. The materiality of the voice-its sound and form-makes a difference in these hailing practices. It matters, for example, not just who but how a daughter is called home. As I noted in the introduction, the material qualities of the voice are implied in Althusser's example of the policeman; we hardly imagine a soft-spoken, gentle voice uttering the words, "Hey, you there!" Similarly, though people said it didn't matter whether their brother or his wife actually made the call (both are authorized by the law), it needs to be clear through the tone of voice, appropriateness of time, and context that this summoning is genuine. In contrast to these regular invitations, many Nepalis also explained that on the one holiday a year when a sister calls her brother home-the national holiday of tihār-it must be the sister's voice, and must be recognizable as such. That tihār is the one nationally celebrated occasion when sisters are required to invite their brother's to their ghar actually highlights how exceptional this practice is. Theories of interpellation can be deepened by considering the material qualities of voice that constitute a subject, an issue I explore in greater detail in chapter 4 and 5.
The recognition gained through these acts of bolāune is not only from the brother; it also includes a much wider social world. While walking down the street, women frequently greet their neighbors and friends with pride and self-possession, asserting that they are on their way to their māitī, that they had been called back. It is as if to assert the ījjat (honor, prestige)of being a married woman and also of being called back, re-membered, into one's parents' or brother's genealogical home. Perhaps more profoundly, these visits back and forth are an acceptable means for a married woman, who doesn't have an office, a school, or work that would allow her to appear alone in public, to walk down the street. Professional women, college students, and women working for NGOs do not experience the same sense of surveillance walking or being alone in public, and many would likely cringe at the suggestion that some Nepali women do think twice about being in public alone, even during daylight. But for those who live on the edge of middle-class life-people like Anita and Gita, who now send their children to private English-medium schools but who themselves do not have a "career" outside their family and home-simply strolling on the street is rarely something they do by themselves. When they do, most of the time friends, husbands, or a small child accompany them, giving them license to be publicly visible without any apparent agenda, or they are on their way to work in the family shop. Even "disempowered" subjectivities must be built upon feelings of empowerment within the domains of where patriarchy does the work of domination, such as the public space of streets. Māitī and practices of bolāune provide a means of being public. Interestingly, the middle-class activists invested in āwāj uṭhāune are imagining a kind of public based on the ideals and subjects of democratic speech that threatens to do away with the known and acceptable public space that married women move through in their visits to and from their māitī. While this public is certainly changing with the growing number of young Nepali women pursuing education and careers, the fear that many women have of losing acceptable access to the public space of streets was a key aspect of the controversy over the proposed law in the mid-1990s.
A brother's call and a sister's visit are where the material power of angsa circulates and establishes their differences. These visits reenact the sister's departure and her loss. These visits are spoken of as the "love" that daughters receive from their māitī. "If daughters took that property," my former landlady, Laxmi, explained, "they would have no place to go. Staying all the time in that place [that is, their ghar] is upsetting to one's heart. There would be no chance to go here and there. That's what we call love (māyā)." This love requires the loss of a sister. Should daughters also have a legal right to their parent's angsa, it is unclear what will be lost. It is unclear what would happen to a brother's love for his sister and to his expected calls. By extension, it is unclear what would happen to the very idea and desires associated with māitī.
Desire to Mourn
Most of the activists had little tolerance for the nostalgia that people and the media conjured up in their depictions of māitī and brother-sister love around this reform. Such sentimentality is merely rhetorical cant used to maintain the current Hindu and state hegemony, they claimed. When I asked Indira Rana, one of the early and key activists, what she thought about the common fear of losing love from one's māitī, she scoffed and simply stated: "Māitī no longer exists." "After a parent dies," she told me defiantly, "there is no māitī. Forget it. It's just not there anymore."
Indira Rana was one of the first lawyers to draft and sign the first and most radical reform proposal drawn up by the Ministry of Women in 1993, which posed the first direct constitutional challenge to the constitution of 1991. She became the first woman judge at the Supreme Court, and when I met her, she was serving as secretary of the Judicial Council at the Ministry of Justice. She was also known across the city for her provocative act of public mourning in which she performed the funeral rites for her mother (see also Thompson 1993).
When Indira shaved her head, donned the all-white, pure cotton cloth, and lit her mother's funeral pyre like a son, much of Kathmandu was aghast. Normally this act of mourning is carried out exclusively by the eldest son, or by the closest male relative. Floods of articles, sometimes written in derisive tones, appeared in several newspapers. This was the first time a Nepali woman had completed the prescribed Hindu mourning rituals, one newspaper decried. In fact, I learned from many interviews that several women had performed the death rituals for their fathers, when there were no sons. But their actions (and no doubt countless others) were not public acts, performed by a public figure like Indira, and thus were not documented as such. In her analysis of Indira's provocative act of mourning, Julia Thompson (1993) notes that there were multiple interpretations of this action, ranging from those that thought her motives were "socially-minded" to those that felt she was simply greedy in her wish to get a share of her parent's property. These interpretations, not surprisingly, echo the interpretations most widely circulated about the angsa reform several years later.
Indira explained that she had remained unmarried and had supported her mother for approximately twenty years after her father had died. Her one surviving brother lived in another house nearby with his wife and children. Because she had cared for her mother for so many years, Indira felt that she should perform the final service (kriyā-kāj) after her mother died. In her wish to mourn in public, Indira recalled, she confronted furious anger and resistance, from her brother and from many other neighbors and friends around her. Her voice rose as she remembered: "Even my priest tried to stop me. 'I am a lawyer,' I said to my priest. 'So you show me where in our religious text it says that women should not do the final religious ceremony. Actually it is not written. I have gone through my religion. I know my religion. I know that there is no point there. If you want to show me, show me. If you don't do it [the ceremony], get lost and I'll find another priest. You get lost-I don't want you.'"
Indira's challenge to the priest reveals a tension about who and what regulates, authorizes, and legitimates current practices of commemoration. On the one hand, activists like Indira Rana insist upon the authority of legal texts and the written word. This knowledge-based authority of texts runs counter to the birth-granted authority of a Brahmin priest (who is always a man). Indira's challenge to the priest relies on the authority of the religious text and the fact that, as a lawyer, she clearly has textual dexterity. Rather than assuming that religious texts are a different order of texts, closer to the hand of God and the Brahmin priest, Indira spoke of the religious texts in the same way she might speak of her law books. They were implicitly compared and seem to require the same interpretive skills. "I am a lawyer," Indira said, "Actually it is not written. I have gone through my religion. I know my religion."
The priest could not refuse. Indira performed all the rituals as her brother would have. She sat at the cremation grounds, draped in a white cloth with a shaven head, repeating words the Brahmin priest told her to repeat, performing whatever ritual actions he asked her to do. For thirteen days, Indira sat, as her brother would have, in mourning. On the fourth day, her brother finally paid a visit, but to this day, Indira said, he has not forgiven her. Strikingly, the authority of the Brahmin priest, a person who ostensibly has ontological priority in religious matters, shrank when Indira referred to her profession, her knowledge and skills at textual interpretation. Her lawyerly debate about religious texts held more sway over him than his inborn position of authority as a Brahmin priest.
There is an uncanny association between the mourning rituals sons perform for their parents and their duty as brothers to summon married sisters home. Several young men in Kathmandu, as in much of South Asia, spoke of their sister's marriage in similar terms: "When a sister marries, it is as if she has died." Even descriptions about the annual memorial feasts echo descriptions of hailing a sister home. When a brother calls his sister home, he must also feed her just as he feeds his living relatives in memory of his parents at the annual feast. In both cases, sons and brothers publicly recall people who are otherwise absent from the family. Their role as agent and speaker rests largely on their birthright and exclusive inheritance of angsa.
Angsa is commonly regarded as compensation for performing the funeral rituals, but it also solidifies a connection between the performer and the person who has just died. Embedded within the practices of public mourning are ideas about how the living person will be remembered in the future. It ensures that both parent and child (that is, the son) will be remembered together, well beyond their own temporary lives. If daughters were to receive angsa, they would provocatively disturb the structures of feeling-the patterns of care, love, and memory-sanctioned by the current law. The gender-bending Indira performed in this ritual was as much a political act as a way to personally commemorate her mother. "That is why the son is getting all the property," she told me. "That is why I went against my religion." Most strikingly, this ability to publicly perform the Hindu death rituals would rearrange a daughter's relationship to her māitī, changing her from the subject who is remembered and addressed in practices like bolāune to the subject who speaks and mourns publicly alongside her brothers, and therefore is remembered with her parents. "I will get the property eventually," Indira told us, "but if I have this much trouble, imagine the other, more common, uneducated women."
Chirmei Dangol was one of these more common women. A Newar daughter from a family with no sons, Chirmei inherited angsa through a gift (icchā patra) from her parents, which was to be held until she herself gave birth to a son. Chirmei's inheritance of landed property has a history in her family, for she was in the third generation of marriages that bore no sons. Through special maneuvering, Chirmei's grandparents managed to keep their land and houses from the rest of their genealogical kin by passing it on to their daughters and sons-in-law legally through the icchā patra (document of wish). By placing the house in their sons-in-law's names, for example, Chirmei's maternal grandparents warded off the possibility that the grandfather's brother would easily claim this property as his rightful portion of angsa. In this way, the property that would have remained within the immediate family through a son's inheritance of angsa was still conserved by the family's gifts to their daughters and sons-in-law. Chirmei married Gyanu, whom I have already mentioned, and gave birth to only one son, while her sister gave birth to three. Chirmei thus relinquished most of her share of the family property and passed it on to her sister. When I asked Chirmei whom she would gift this house and property to, she quickly replied that it would simply become her son's angsa. Unless he failed to care for her, she said with a glimmer in her eye, in which case, she could and would willingly pass the property on to her four daughters.
Ganga, Chirmei's daughter and my close friend, often told me that her mother's life-not the NGO where she worked-convinced her of the importance of angsa for women. Chirmei was thrown out of her husband's house three times by Gyanu's mother, each time just after she gave birth to a baby girl. Allowing this abuse by his mother seemed uncharacteristic of Gyanu, whom I knew to be assertive and bold in his moral stance and who seemed to respect his wife deeply. When I asked Ganga why her father did not address the situation, she explained that her father could only speak out on his wife's behalf after he was earning money on his own. At the time he was in school, Ganga explained, and he was "eating off" of his parent's fields. "Much later, he got angry with his mother, a little. After he got a job and started earning money, after we got older, then he got angry at my grandmother."
After bearing a third daughter and having been sent to her māitī twice before, Chirmei began to "hear the voices of the gods." She began to dance in the streets and compulsively worship, nearly every hour, whenever and wherever the gods told her. Her fingers were permanently stained red from the vermilion powder she smeared on the images of every god. She sang prayers and did not eat. Chirmei told me that she could not hear anyone else, just the voices of the gods, who talked to her alone. She was hailed by the gods and only through this calling could she and did she act. As Chirmei perhaps anticipated before this transformation, she was again quickly sent by her husband's family back to her māitī. Chirmei's mother had already died by now, and her sister did not take her in. "Sisters don't have to invite," Ganga explained to me, as she told this story in her home. "They invite only if they want to. It's not their duty. A sister's brother has to invite. But my mother had no brothers."
The main problem for her mother, as Ganga saw it, was that there were no brothers and therefore no invitations and no māitī. This is precisely what many fear would occur should women acquire a legal right to angsa. Opponents of the reform insisted that the new law would ultimately lead to a sister being forgotten by her brothers. This fear was closely associated with a fear of losing the desires and love cultivated in and through a son's possession of angsa and in women's frequent visits to their māitī. Even if she did have brothers, who were culturally bound to invite, it is unclear whether or not they would invite such a sister in distress, or for how long they would care for her. Wandering from house to house, sometimes singing, sometimes crying, Chirmei was finally brought by the neighbors to a guru-mā, a religious healer, up in the hills of the Valley. The healer took her in and cared for her for seven months. "She called me daughter," Chirmei told me, many years after this initial meeting. Ganga remembers visiting her mother as she gradually came back to her former self. No food cooked from unknown hands, no salt, no meat, the guru-mā prescribed. Since that time, Chirmei has visited the guru-mā at least three times a year and she has donated some land she inherited to the healing center. Until her own death, in 2000, she called this place her māitī.
The Place of Foreigners: India and the United States
One of the crucial aspects of criticism against the reform bill, cloaked in the language of tradition, custom, and Nepali social structure, is that it threatens to do away māitī as well as the sentiments that māitī evokes. These critiques were often framed in a trenchant but perhaps predictable terms: namely, that the entire reform movement was initiated by foreign ideas and therefore posed a threat to authentic Nepaliness. In Khagendra Sangroula's summary of the debates, he notes that many felt "the demand for equal property rights comes from NGO women in an attempt to consume dollars" (Sangroula 2053: 5). Indeed, much of the money used to support NGOs that work for women's property rights came from large international donors, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (Tuladhar and Joshi 1997).While journalists and intellectuals tended to emphasize the influence of dollars and international donors, popular critique almost always placed the blame on India. In India, many people told me, echoing widely circulating rumors, they "burn their women" if the woman's family does not supply enough of a dowry. "It is only like that over there," one middle-aged Newar man told me proudly. "Only to wear their [India's] customs here, that is the reason the issue was brought up here in Nepal." India is thought of as a place of base materialism, an immoral realm where people mistreat their women. Framed as a product of Indian thought, the demand for a daughter's inheritance right is simultaneously understood in relation to the growing materialism in Nepal, which itself is thought to be due to Indian influence.
It is not unusual that such criticism against India stems from a controversy about women and their cultural and legal rights. As many social critics have shown in a vast number of contexts, women's actions, more than the actions of men, carry heavy symbolic weight for the society as a whole, particularly in discussions about the destruction of cultural or national values (Chatterjee 1993; Mosse 1985; Parker et al. 1992). Arguments about nationalism are called up for every issue of central political importance in Nepal (and elsewhere), and these are almost always entwined with arguments about gender and sexuality. In Nepal, the arguments about women and Nepal's national identity have for a long time been related to its position in relation to India.
Previous challenges to the state met with similar responses against foreign influence, especially targeting India. The overthrow of the Rana regime in 1950, for example, was blamed on Indian rupees and ideas by the ousted Ranas and others who opposed the regime change (Gupta 1993; Sangroula 2053). These ideas were exaggerated by the presence of Indian troops in Nepal, when the new Nepal government sought the help of India just after the coup against the Ranas in 1950. Similar accusations were made during the jana āndolan of 1990 (Sangroula 2053). The proposed property law animated these same antiforeign accusations. As in most forms of nationalism, the biggest threat was seen as coming from those people who were the most similar and living in the closest geographic range.
Anti-Indian sentiment has a long history in Nepal and is a seed from which many forms of Nepali nationalism have blossomed, from the nineteenth century through the twentieth. The juxtaposition of Nepal as a pure nation and India as a depraved, materialistic, and overly sexualized nation was used to bolster the Court of Nepal during the initial stages of state formation in the late eighteenth century. This image equally bolsters the prestige angsa offers to men, along with the control over female sexualitythat has flourished with it. Prithvi Narayan Shah, known as the father of Nepal and a hero of Panchāyat nationalism from the 1960s to the 1980s, spoke vehemently against Moghul and British India in his efforts to unify the newly conquered territory that became modern Nepal. In his Dibya Upadesh (Divine or Brilliant Teachings) of 1774, he wrote: "Muglan [India] is near. In that place there are singers and dancers. In rooms lined with paintings they forget themselves in melodies woven on the drum and sitar. There is great pleasure in these melodies. But it drains your wealth. They also take away the secrets of your country and deceive the poor. . . . Let no one open the mountain trails for these classes of people" (Stiller 1968: 46).
The political and ideological strategy for creating boundaries around this new nation was developed through strategies of internal control, especially in the realms of sexuality. The melodies and dances that Prithvi Narayan Shah evokes in his teachings immediately conjure images of the decadence of court life and the uncontrolled sexuality that reigned there. As Richard Burghart writes, these initial stages of forming a Nepali nation-state were rooted in this juxtaposition between a disciplined, true Hindustan (Nepal) and a morally depraved realm of pleasure (India) that could not resist such powers as the Mughals or the East India Company (1996: 269).
Similar ideas were the fuel of nationalism nearly a century later in slightly different forms. Pratyoush Onta (1997) discusses the work of Bal Krishna Sama, a Rana educated in India at the beginning of the twentieth century, who returned to Nepal to become one of Nepal's most prominent literary figures. Discussing one of Sama's most celebrated nationalist plays, Mukunda Indira, Onta shows that the image of a pure Nepal emerges against the backdrop of the immoral life in Calcutta. The main character of the play, Mukunda, travels to Calcutta only to descend into a life of constant drinking and frequent visits with prostitutes. Meanwhile, his wife, Indira, waits patiently in Nepal, like a Penelope for her Odysseus, until a friend brings Mukunda back from Calcutta to test his wife's fidelity, a test that she clearly passes. "Sama's portrayal of Calcutta," writes Onta, "[shows it as] a site of the absence of morality against which to imagine a pure Nepali nation" (1997: 88). This imagination depends on the image of a pure, virtuous Indira, who appropriately waits in her husband's home, in her ghar. Should Indira have had a cultural and legal place in her parents' home, there is no telling where she might have awaited his return. Waiting in the ghar defines her, in part, as a loyal, virtuous woman, whose sexuality is under severe scrutiny by her husband's family. Similar themes occur in the more widely circulated Munā-Madan, an epic poem by Devkota frequently compared with the FM program I discuss in chapter 4. In this program, listeners' stories of suffering often weave in stories of journeys to places outside Nepal's borders. In Bal Krishna Sama's play, we can see that the nationalism of the early twentieth century in Nepal is closely linked to the institution of the ghar, the place where women's sexuality is controlled. In the play, ghar is a metonym for the nation, and thus it rings with a sense of territorial possession as well as possession over Nepali women's sexuality. While it is unclear how early this connection was made, by the 1920s ghar was a central idea and space through which ideas of national patrimony and women's place within it took shape.
The association between the home and national territory is a common one in many parts of the world. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century in Europe, maintaining a proper home became a potent site for imagining the boundaries of the nation and the political power and prosperity of early European colonialists (Chakrabarty 1992; Comaroff and Comaroff 1989; Grewal 1996). As Dipesh Chakrabarty (1997) has suggested, the home in mid-nineteenth-century Bengal was also a place where emerging and conflicting ideals of Indian nationalism took shape. For some, the home was considered a place of an unhappy present, which should be subordinated to the more pressing project: the creation of a public, civic sphere of independent citizens. For others, as represented in Rabindranath Tagore's (1916) famous novel The Home and the World, the Bengali home was the sole realm where a pure, ancient, mythic, Hindu social community lived separate from a British-infested, civil society. Civil society was merely tolerated in this idea of the home, but it was not the place where national sentiments could adequately flourish. As Chakrabarty points out, both of these notions are inflected by the Victorian ideals of the time, even though these early nationalists positioned themselves, in different ways, against the British.
Many of these nationalist ideas were making their way to Nepal at this time and after. Despite the difficulty common Nepalis had traveling, Nepali elites, like Bal Krishna Sama, went to India to study, and many Indians made their way to Nepal. In the late nineteenth century, for example, the ideas of the Hindu social reformers from the Arya Samājcame to Nepal through the teachings of Madhav Raj Joshi, a Newar Brahman who had lived in India for some time (Sever 1993: 277-78). Though Joshi was eventually exiled because of the antagonism he evoked in several members of the conservative priestly castes, the spirit of reform continued with younger generations, who became active in promoting Nepali nationalism in the 1920s. Balkrishna Sama himself arrived in Calcutta at the dawn of serious Indian nationalist agitation in 1921 (Onta 1997). He was no doubt surrounded by the well-established discourses about the home as an Indian realm used to oppose to the British. But rather than operating against the British, Sama uses the ghar in his play Mukunda Indira to describe a pure realm that served to contrast with the debauched lifestyle thriving in colonial Calcutta. Colonial India became a place of foreign impurity, and the ghar became a place where pure Nepaliness thrived.
Today, the symbolic and economic significance of the ghar for maintaining territorial divisions between Nepal and India still holds sway in the popular imagination of Nepalis. Many opponents of the angsa reform bill suggested that Nepal runs the risk of losing its land to India should daughters have the right to inherit. Because so many Nepali girls marry Indians, especially in the south, they argue, much of this land would quickly be incorporated into Indian households. Such arguments, Mary Des Chene points out, rest on the assumption that women ultimately have no control of their own property (Des Chene 1997). They also implicitly suggest that maintaining the ghar, as an inherited possession of sons, is an important means to securing Nepal's national sovereignty as distinct from India. Despite these paranoid accusations against India, the movement for women's inheritance in Nepal was no doubt directly or indirectly influenced by similar reforms in India. Many of the early reformers, such as Indira Rana and Silu Singh, went to school in India during in the 1950s and 1960s, just after the passing of the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, which, I have already noted, provided some important benefits to daughters, yet ultimately failed to achieve its stated aims. They returned to Nepal as young lawyers, eager to put some of their education to work in Nepal.
Between Love and Property
In an essay arguing for a political concept of love, Michael Hardt writes that the phrase "'I wouldn't do that for love or money' means I wouldn't do that in exchange for anything" (2011: 676). Rather than focus on the opposition, Hardt argues that this phrase might be read to reveal the similar function and power of love and money in creating and maintaining social bonds. Turning to Marx, Hardt shows that for the theorist of capitalism, love is clearly related inversely to the rule of private property. By abolishing property altogether, as Marx argues for, a new form of love must be created, "and this new love must fill the social role that property does now: It must have the power, in other words, to generate social bonds and organize social relationships" (Hardt 2011: 680-681). In the reflections on the changes that Nepalis envisioned might occur through this reform, it is clear that changes in relations of property would entail changes in relations of love, for activists and opponents alike. But it is equally clear that the power of property to create and maintain social relations is not conceived of in opposition to love; but rather, love and property are closely entangled with each other, and their relation can be better understood by considering the different formations of voice at stake in this debate.
At the time of the debate over the property rights of daughters very few people, including the activists, thought the angsa reform bill would pass. Nevertheless, the proposal generated an impressive degree of furor, a proliferation of talk and texts. From an ethnographic perspective, the possibilities people imagined reveal contests over cultural meaning and registered social anxieties felt in the wake of political change. Such contests, and the realms of cultural significance they expose, often get buried in "personal" texts that never surface, or they disappear when the transformation is made from rhetorical proposal to codified law. The bill did pass into law after the interim constitution declared Nepal to be a secular state in 2006. The future of the material, practical, and discursive life of sibling relations remains to be seen, and no doubt, as in India, many women may relinquish this birthright. The passionate debates over its imagined fate highlight aspects of the democratic moment after 1990 that have continued to evolve since. The movement for the inheritance of daughters was the first major constitutional challenge of the liberal era in contemporary Nepal. At its heart was a contest over emerging subjectivities that were repeatedly defined through the figure of the voice and related practices of address, hailing, and recognition. The figure of the voice, most notably by way of the omnipresent discourse of āwāj uṭhāune, continues to define and shape both intimate and political subjectivities in the movements that have followed.
As central as the figure of the voice was to the liberal property rights movement of the 1990s, it has become an even more prominent discursive agent in Nepali public life in the years since. With the widespread victory of the Maoists in the 2008 elections, an end to the monarchy quickly followed, and in the years that followed a series of rapid changes in government revealed the uncertain status of liberal democratic forms. As successive political movements have worked to reshape even more radically the relationship between monarch and subject as well as citizen and subjectivity, the questions raised in this chapter about voice and subjectivity may have become, if anything, more useful in gaining a more nuanced understanding of what is at stake in the widely divergent approaches to political and intimate freedoms in contemporary Nepal. The private and public lives of the one who raises her voice are inevitably bound up with ideas about a new democratic state and what its champions call New Nepal.
Indira Rana's desire to publicly commemorate her mother's death and Silu Singh's invocation of the "genuine love" between husbands and wives described above evince a liberal subjectivity that echoes with those subjects who perform āwāj uṭhāune. Notions of free will and individual agency suffuse ideas about romantic love (Ahearn 2001), or what Silu Singh calls "genuine" love. Like all sentiments, such romantic love depends upon the cultural practices and social discourses that bring it into existence. The affects associated with mourning and inheritance at issue here are part of a broader field of sentiments that emerge in practices like love-letter writing (Ahearn 2001), confessional programs on the FM radio, and phone exchanges between lovers who have never met, all of which I discuss in chapters 3 and 4. Each of these fields enacting "genuine love" appears to be unencumbered by familial pressures and societal constraints, and constitutes an inner desire that is key to the emerging subjects of Nepal's liberal democracy.
The practice of āwāj uṭhāune assumes a similar subject, either a person or a collective body, which is itself often figured as an individual agent able to directly and publicly express desire and discontent and, most importantly, to make wishes heard by other citizens and the state. The subject of āwāj uṭhāune is constituted by choice and desire, rather than the categories of duty and obedience that characterize the subject of bolāune. The practices of bolāune, in particular, show us the fundamentally social nature of subjectivity, constituted through discursive and hailing practices, that sheds light on a broader truth about human subjectivity that liberal notions of "autonomous love" occlude. Through interpellative practices like bolāune, men and women recognize each other and themselves as gendered beings, making them who they are in relation to one another. We have also seen that one's sense of agency is inscribed in these subjectivities, which differs according to class and gender position.
To understand the debate about angsa only in terms of citizenship, rights, and the state is to remain too narrowly within a liberal framework, in which the citizen is considered primarily, if not exclusively, an individual subject. As we have seen, even though the activists invoke a liberal notion of voice and equality between men and women, their policy changes are not based upon an individual, autonomous subject. Instead, by advocating to keep the traditional Hindu system of property, they acknowledge that parents/fathers probably will not make liberal choices based on equality within the family. In their aspiration for a liberal model of personhood, they recognize and contend with the fact that many people do not act or even desire this liberal model.
The broader contests over competing subjectivities that emerge in this campaign and similar campaigns around the world require that we think beyond simply a question of rights and individual legal subjects. The social and discursive nature of subjectivity is often obscured in activists' emphasis on "equal rights," and in analytic discussions about such movements that center on legal rights and citizenship. Instead, nonliberal subjectivities that the activists wish to challenge are contingent on everyday hailing practices, patterns of speech, and talk about who speaks and who should be called to speak. To challenge property relations meant to challenge existing practices of speech and to alter the meaning of the voice. To have rights to angsa is to assume the position of a speaker, who summons rather than is summoned, and who thereby acquires a place of public recognition. This transformation, expressed in the language of rights, fundamentally disturbs what it means to be a man and a woman in contemporary Nepal, but it also obscures the radically social figures of voice and subjectivity upon which such changes are based.
In the following chapter, I deepen the discussion of interpellated subjects and practices like bolāune by exploring the way the practice and discourse of mukh herne (looking at or seeing a face) interpellates subjects into political and intimate fields. While the rituals and practices of mukh herne constitute a field quite different from that of family property law and its public transformation, they are equally bound up with the creation of intimacy, subjectivity, and the contemporary "public" subject. In both property law and national family rituals of "seeing face," intimacy-whether romantic, familial, or political-is mediated through the figure of voice and an embodied sense of presence. We turn, then, to an exploration of the relationship between voice and face, as two parts of the body that are assumed to share similar properties of self-presence and intersubjectivity between people.
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