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General Information of Nepal

The People of Nepal

Nepal had a population of 18,462,081 at the time of the 1991 census. The average population density at the time was 125 persons per sq km (329 per sq mi), although nearly half the people were concentrated in the narrow Tarāi region. In

 contrast, the 2004 population estimate was 27,070,666. The population has grown rapidly since 1950 when there were only 9 million people. Although the government has sponsored family planning since the 1950s, these programs have been slow to affect Nepalís population growth. In 2004 the population was increasing at an annual rate of 2.2 percent. Only 13 percent of the population lived in urban areas in 2002. Major cities include Kathmandu, Lalitpur (Patan), Bhaktapur, Birātnagar, and Bīrganj.

A. Ethnic Groups, Languages, and Religion

Nepalís indigenous population consists of two major groups, the Indo-Nepalese, whose ancestors migrated into the country from the south, and the Tibeto-Nepalese, whose ancestors entered Nepal from the north. Although intermingling between the two groups has occurred, cultural, linguistic, and religious differences exist both between and within the two groups. The Indo-Nepalese group comprises people who speak Sanskrit-derived languages and are strict adherents to Hinduism. Nepali, the official language, is derived from Sanskrit. Differences within the Indo-Nepalese group are marked more by caste (a system of social hierarchy) than by ethnicity. The Tibeto-Nepalese group comprises several different ethnic groups including Newar, Bhutia, Sherpa, Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Rai, and Limbu people. Although most of the Tibeto-Nepalese speak Nepali, each ethnic group also has its own language. While the majority of Nepali people practice Hinduism, the official religion, a strong shamanist element remains in the religious practices of many Tibeto-Nepalese ethnic groups (see Shaman). Buddhism is also important within the country. Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbinī, in present-day Nepal. There is also a small Muslim population mainly located in the Tarāi.

B. Education

Under the Rana family, which ruled Nepal from 1846 to 1951, only the upper class had access to education. After the 1951 revolution, Nepal established an education system with free primary education for all children. Primary school begins at the age of 6 and lasts until age 10.

Secondary education that follows lasts until the age of 15. Attendance of primary school was nearly universal in 2000Ė2001. Secondary school enrollment included only 51 percent (58 percent of the boys of that age group and 43 percent of the girls) in 2000Ė2001. Formal schooling in Nepal is constrained by economic and cultural factors such as a bias against educating girls and a need for children to work at home or in the fields. In 2004 the literacy rate was estimated at 46 percent of the adult population, with a large gap between male and female literacy rates. Only 29 percent of the female population was literate in 2004 compared to 64 percent of the males. Urban areas have higher literacy rates than rural areas. In 1990 Nepal launched a 12-year literacy program targeting 8 million people between the ages of 6 and 45 years old. Tribhuvan University, founded in Kathmandu in 1959, is the only doctoral-granting institution of higher education in Nepal. Nepal also has a number of colleges, all of which are either affiliated with, or follow standards set by, Tribhuvan University.

C. Way of Life

Nepalís society is predominantly rural. Social life in the village revolves around the family, which is headed by the father. Extended families sometimes break apart as sons separate from parents and brothers from each other in search of additional land. Family property is divided equally among sons at the time of separation. Consequently, family land holdings are extremely fragmented. Villagers often pool resources and labor to implement village-level projects such as irrigation ditches or channels. Rice is the food staple in most parts of the country. Barley, millet, and potatoes are important food staples in the Himalayas.

In Nepal women are generally subordinate to men and have less access to education, economic resources, and political power. Their plight, however, varies from one ethnic group to another. Among Tibeto-Nepalese communities female status is relatively better than in Indo-Nepalese communities. Generally, women work harder and longer than men, taking care of household chores, fetching water and animal fodder, and farming. Women in upper-class families, however, have maids who do household work and other menial chores.

A revival of artistic and intellectual expression occurred in Nepal after the overthrow of Rana rule in the early 1950s. Nepali works of poetry and literature emphasize patriotism and national pride. Hindu and Buddhist religious values inspire the expression of Nepali artists. The lives of gods, saints, and heroes and the relationship of the individual to society and the universe are explored in sculpture, architecture, and drama. Numerous temples and shrines in the Kathmandu Valley display the skill and highly developed aesthetic sense of Nepali artists. Favorite recreational activities of the Nepali include music and dance. Religious ceremonies involve the use of drums and musical instruments preserved since ancient times. In rural areas devotional songs are an important part of cultural life. Radio Nepal schedules folk music programs to foster the traditional culture of the country.

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