‘Rules that apply in times of crisis’: time, agency, and norm-remaking during Nepal's People's War
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
© Royal Anthropological Institute 2017 This article explores how people in the former Maoist heartland of Nepal adopted previously transgressive norms and practices during the decade of the People's War (1996-2006). By examining the rise in practices of beef-eating and inter-caste commensality, this article suggests that the temporal dimension of wartime ‘when different rules apply’ was crucial in making people accept new ideas and break established norms on a scale atypical for the ‘normal’ times of peace. Analysing the agency of Maoist activists, who self-consciously tried to implement a project of radical social transformation, and those people who were caught in the midst of the Maoist transformative endeavour, this article argues that the contours of the ‘new society’ emerged not only due to revolutionaries’ intentional actions but also because of the ‘exceptional’ nature of wartime, which forced people to radically re-create their daily lives. By transgressing social norms, ‘ordinary’ people did not deliberately undermine the normative order, but rather responded to the constraints of wartime, when people's agency and ethical choices were mostly driven by the need to secure the survival of their families and ensure the continuity of life itself.