Stealing From the Poor: A Challenge to Eradicating Poverty among the Indigenous Peoples of the Himalayas

Gyanesh Lama


The earthquakes of 2015 in Nepal killed 8,790 people, injured 22,300 people, and destroyed over half million homes pushing millions of already poor further into destitute. Majority of the victims were Tamangs, an indigenous people of the Himalayas, and almost all of the devastated areas were their ancestral land-- Tamsaling. Over a year has passed since the earthquake; the Nepal government has not built a home for the earthquake victims. The government has instead obstructed rebuilding efforts and stolen the funds the international communities had donated for the victims. This paper examines why governments in poor countries, such as Nepal, steal from its own people and are apathetic to the suffering of the poor.

Method: Ethnographic data was collected from field visits to the Tamang villages in the Himalayas. Observational data and interviews were used to document the lived experiences of the victims of the earthquake. Additionally, quantitative data were collected from government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and social media. Geographic Information System (GIS) and multivariate regressions were used to analyze the quantitative data.

Findings: The primary reason for Nepal governments apathy to the victims of the earthquake was a racial mismatch: the earthquake victims were largely the indigenous Himalayan people (Tamang) while the Nepal government was controlled by the Indo-Dravidian Khas people, a migrant group from the lowland who practice caste system. The Khas regime views the native Himalayan peoples development as a threat to its own survival and against its self-interest. Stealing from the poor was an effective way of socially controlling the indigenous Himalayan peoples.

Key Words: Indigenous, Himalayas, Nepal, poverty, stealing, earthquake

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