Nepal Social Structure

Ethnic groups

The population of Nepal is around 29.7 million people. The fascinating ethnic diversity is the result of a long history of immigration and the topography of Nepal, which made communication between different parts of the country and ethnic groups difficult. Many ethnic groups developed in isolation from the others.

The many ethnic groups in the country can be summarized in three large groups: The first include the Indonepalese, around three quarters of the total population, who are the descendants of immigrant Indians. The second group are the Tibetan Palestinians (Tamang, Gurung, Newar, Thakali, Rai, Magar, Limbu, and Tharu) who make up about a quarter of the population and to whom most of the high mountain tribes belong. The third and smallest group are the Tibetan peoples (Sherpa, Tibetan refugees), who make up just under 1%.


According to softwareleverage, the society of Nepal is strongly influenced by the Brahmanic caste system from northern India and its social code. Although the caste system was banned as early as 1963 in the New National Code and in the 1991 constitution of Nepal, the legal elimination of the castes could in no way cancel the political and economic power of the high caste over the rest of the population.

In the 2001 census, 15% of the population were identified as Chetri and 12% as Brahmins (Bahuns). Almost all Nepalese politicians still belong to the Hochkasten (Bahuns and Chetris). Dalits (“the oppressed”) must struggle for their equality.

Nepal Bodhnath stupa


Only 17 percent of the land area is agriculturally usable and there is a great dependence on monsoon rains. High population growth, small farm sizes, unevenly distributed land ownership and the bonded labor system mean that the majority of the rural population is poor.

The rural dwellers are exposed to a great livelihood risk; many are forced to look for work in the cities or abroad. Since the mid-1970’s there has been an increased migration to the cities. Although the proportion of the urban population is comparatively low by international standards, Nepal now has the highest rate of rural exodus in all of South Asia.


It is estimated that there are up to 30,000 Tibetan refugees living in Nepal today, most of them since 1959, when the Chinese government enforced its political control through armed violence against insurgents in Tibet. In isolated cases, immigration to Nepal continues.

As a result of the expulsion and flight of Nepalese of southern Bhutanese people at the beginning of the 1990’s, over 110,000 people have lived in camps in the eastern part of Nepal. Around 108,000 of the Nepalese lhotshampa were in the United States (92,000), Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe leave. Because the funds for the maintenance of the refugees are shrinking and the previous camps are gradually emptying, the UNHCR, together with the Nepalese government, has begun to merge the camps and to centralize food distribution and health services.

As a result of the civil war, 50,000 Nepali became refugees in their own country.


Labor migration is a tradition in Nepal. Over the past few decades, however, the number of those leaving the country has grown exponentially. In addition to the traditional destination of India, the oil boom and the economic rise of Asia have made countries in the Persian Gulf and in Southeast Asia attractive destinations. It is estimated that four to five million Nepalese work abroad today.

With increasing emigration, the recruiting of workers has become a lucrative business. Over 800 so-called “manpower companies” recruit people willing to work in the villages through local agents and organize transport, exit documents and contracts with employers in the target countries.

The vast majority of migrant workers are young men. The proportion of women has increased with the rising demand for domestic workers in the Gulf States over the past decade, but women only make up around 10 percent of the workforce abroad and are particularly at risk.


Since the peace treaty was signed in 2006, the issue of gender equality has played an important role in the Provisional Constitution. In 2007 it was recognized that the same inheritance law applies to the daughters as to the sons, although until then only 1% of the women actually had property. In addition, a third of public service jobs are reserved for women. The “Chaupadi” tradition, according to which women are not allowed to enter their home during menstruation, was made a criminal offense in 2017. Despite the political difficulties, the gender issue is in the Nepalese peace process still an issue.

In the Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum ranked Nepal in 2020 to place 101 among 153 countries.

Many activists such as the NGO Blue Diamond Society are committed to strengthening the rights of homosexuals and transsexuals in Nepal. At the beginning of 2013 the government decided – as ordered by the Supreme Court in 2007 – to introduce an identity card in which the option “third gender” can be selected in addition to men or women. Nepal was the first country in the world to officially recognize a third gender.


Like women, children have a subordinate position. Due to poor nutrition, poor hygiene and poor medical care during pregnancy and childbirth, infant mortality rates are extremely high and many children are born disabled.

Child labor is an increasing problem. Girls in particular are deprived of important schooling. Although Kamaiya, serfdom, which affects girls in particular, has been banned in Nepal since 2000, child labor is still part of everyday life for many Tharu girls. They are sold to wealthy families as housemaids for an annual wage of around 40 euros. Working days of 16 to 18 hours are the rule. The girls are therefore also called ” Kamalari – hard-working woman”. Every year between 15,000 and 20,000 Nepalese girls and women are abducted by human traffickers.

Child marriage was officially banned in Nepal in 1963. Nevertheless be 37 percent of the girls before their 18th birthday and 10 percent before their 15th birthday married. The Dalits, the number is even higher: Three out of four girls in adolescence married.

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