Country Listing

Nepal Table of Contents




Namche Bazar, the gateway to Khumbu, on the route to Mount Everest
Courtesy Janet MacDonald

Nepal was once a sanctuary for waves of migrants from north and south of its borders. The early migration from the north was largely of nomadic Mongoloid people from Tibet (the Bhote groups), followed by waves of Indo-Aryans from India. Some of the migrants from the south, especially the Brahmans and Rajputs, were fleeing the religious crusades of invading Mughals (or Indian Muslims) and their suppression of Hindus; others (especially those from Bihar and West Bengal), were lured by the possibilities of the Tarai land. As of 1991, a large number of Indians from Bihar and other neighboring areas still crossed the border into Nepal. Most of those recent migrants were found in towns and cities, where they were engaged in semiskilled labor and mercantile activities.

Since at least the late nineteenth century, the migration trend has reversed its course. In the early 1990s, there was a massive and persistent outflow of people from the hills, the areas that once served as a refuge for migrants. In addition, the volume of migration has been increasing over time. There have been two major types of migration. Permanent or lifetime migration occurred primarily within the national boundary, particularly from the highlands to the Tarai Region; it was motivated by the search for land. Circular migration included seasonal migrants, who moved to wage-labor sites, such as urban centers and construction areas, during the agricultural slack season (November to February). These circular or absentee migrants included long-term (but not permanent) migrants, who moved in search of long-term salaried employment, such as army, government, chaukidar (doorman or guard) services, or factory jobs. Once these migrants succeeded in landing a relatively permanent job, they normally visited their families and villages once every two to three years; if they did not secure such a job, they might return in a few months. Unlike permanent migration, circular migration was both internal (within the country) as well as external (outside the country). Although internal circular migrants ultimately might become permanent migrants, the vast majority of external circular migrants, most of whom went to India, returned to Nepal upon their retirement and discharge from service. Increasing numbers of these external migrants settled in the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam, and they have been filtering into Bhutan since the late nineteenth century (see Population , ch. 6).

Data as of September 1991