Jagannath Adhikari

Nepali diaspora is growing by leaps and bounds in Australia. While finding a solace in improvement in their material condition of living, many of them also struggle in finding a solace in their mind. They feel neither in their origin country (Nepal) nor here (Australia). Multiple locations for them also mean not a really attached location for them.


It is not a typical problem for Nepali diaspora. In migration and acculturation studies, it is said that it takes at least three generations in a place to get lost in that place. For many Nepalese who are in Australia, it is their first generation. The second generation is also growing at a fast rate.


First generation Nepali diaspora in Australia feel happy enough to come to Australia and to have exposure to amenities of the developed nation. In other spheres of life, like social and cultural or, even political, they are more connected to Nepal. They spent their free time by conversing Nepali politics and other happenings, and also organize various cultural and political activities the way it is done in Nepal. For this, they also bring cultural icons and political leaders from Nepal. In a way, they find meaning by this engagement and reproducing Nepal in this new place.


nepali in sydney, nepalese in sydney

Boat traffic around Sydney harbour Bridge at rush hour on a winter’s evening in Sydney, Australia

The practice of reproducing the origin society in a new place is more common when the number reaches a critical mass. My stay in Sydney now after 28 years gives me this impression. Within two months of my stay here now, I have seen three big politicians come here from Nepal and giving advice to their followers. Similarly, few top singers of Nepal have come here within this short time. The election of Non-resident Nepali Association of Australia looked like an election in Nepal as candidates subscribed to one or another political party in Nepal. It was an election between Nepali Congress, UML, and Maoist parties. Voters were also deeply divided among these party lines. In a way, it is just the reproduction of Nepal in this big city. Moreover, there are many associations or groups that are aligned according to various socio-economic factors in Nepal – like ethnicity, geographical origin in Nepal, and the like. This is less so in other cities. About two and half decades ago, there used to be just one association encompassing all Nepalis from different backgrounds.


First generation Nepalese suffer from various problems, but, at the same time, they also exhibit an ability to struggle. The main problem they face is employment prospect, i.e. not getting a job according to their qualification. There is a great deal of deskilling among them. A large proportion of them, even if have university degrees in technical sciences, they are forced to accept non-professional jobs. For example, many young engineers from Nepal underwent training in demanding professions like cleaning and aged-care and took jobs in these areas after not finding a suitable job for some time. Accordingly, there is a saying here that one should not ask a person about what is he or she is doing.  The ability to struggle for the first generation also comes from their life experiences in Nepal.


Writer jagannath adhikari


First generation Nepalese who are successful professionally often express that they are also not happy in that they are not able to contribute to national debates on issues pertaining to Nepal. As they are not engaged in national conversations within Australia, their professional work becomes more like a technical and mechanical work. Some of them have also because of the compulsion to undertake a job of much lower scale. To fulfill these deficits and find a rational to be away from Nepal, they also commonly resort to criticizing Nepal and seeing the problem in every sphere of life.


Unlike first generation Nepalese, who struggle in terms of professional satisfaction and earning, the second generation struggles to find their identity. In many cases, the second generation has studied here and has a good speaking English proficiency. Accordingly, it is not that hard for them to find a work to sustain a life. In any case, many second generation Nepalese have done well in their studies and in their professions. For them the problem is finding a balance between being Nepalese and being Australian.  Their parents have drenched them all the time the Nepali identity. They sent them, if possible, to Nepali schools that have flourished in big cities. Some of them speak Nepali very well as they were taught Nepali at home, along with Nepali songs and dance. The second-generation children are commonly seen dancing at stages with Nepali song in cultural programs.


Despite the efforts of the parents, the first generation Nepalese, after finishing school and moving out, finds Nepali identity irrelevant in the outside world. Moreover, they cannot take new identity so easily. The ‘otherness’ they experience from mainstream identity, sometimes solidify their Nepali identity to which their parents feel happy. In other cases, they also discard Nepali identify completely in order to accept a new identity or to be acceptable to the new identity. This has often made their parents unhappy. It is often difficult to become ‘melting pot’ for the second generation. Maybe, after third or fourth generation, this could be easily acceptable.


The Australian government has actively promoted multicultural policy. Even though the rise of conservative politics is leading a conversation that multiculturalism divides the society and the country, it is yet to be seen how far this new conversation gets translated into policy. In any case, whether it is a multicultural or melting pot policy, the problem of the second generation to straddle between two identities would remain an issue that could constantly nag them in their life.


The dilemma of Nepal diaspora is not an isolated case. In fact, it is common to every diaspora and in every country. Otherwise, Jumpha Lahiri would not have written her novel ‘the namesake’, which is a typical book to illustrate the diasporic sensibilities. In the book, she portrays the private and restricted space of a well-educated Bengali immigrant in the USA. The problem of second-generation immigrants, their alienation and isolation, and struggles to deal with two identities, and eventual recognition and adoption of hyphenated-identity as depicted in this book equally apply Nepali to the diaspora in Australia. But, the political space for adhering to this hyphenated identity is narrowing because of the ascendency of alt-right political force across the world.