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Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    A deforested area, a typicalscene in Nepal


    Demands for fuelwood and fodder contribute to the deforestation problem.
    Courtesy United States Agency for International Development

    In the mid-twentieth century, Nepal remained gripped in a feudalistic socioeconomic structure despite the influence of Western popular culture, growing commercialization, and some penetration of capitalism. The first challenge to this feudalistic power structure came in 1950-51, when the Rana autocracy was overthrown by the popular democratic movement that restored the authority of the monarchy (see Rana Rule , ch. 1).

    There was no popularly elected government until 1959. During his reign, King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev frequently changed the government, pitting one ruling clan against another in a manner clearly reminiscent of Shah politics prior to the rise of Rana rule (see The Democratic Experiment , ch. 1). He also reconstituted the system of palace patronage, replacing the system of Rana patronage. The Ranas, however, firmly controlled the armed forces (see Armed Forces and Society , ch. 5).

    In December 1960, King Mahendra launched a palace coup against the popularly elected government of Prime Minister Bishweshwar Prasad (B.P.) Koirala and reestablished his absolute monarchical rule under the banner of the partyless panchayat (see Glossary) system (see Political Dynamics , ch. 4). Until early 1990, the panchayat system, strictly controlled by the palace, remained firmly in place. The transition to a new social order was stymied; society remained entrenched in a feudalistic structure.

    There was, however, a tide of Western popular culture and commercialization sweeping over Nepal. In the 1960s and 1970s, many Westerners, so-called hippies, were attracted to Nepal, looking for inexpensive marijuana and hashish. Nepal suddenly emerged as a "hippie Shangri-la." There were no laws or legal restrictions on the sale and purchase of such drugs, and they could be used openly. In fact, some Westerners thought the Nepalese were generally happy and content because they were always high. Although this view was a distortion, nonetheless it was very common to see elderly Nepalese men smoking marijuana, invariably mixed with tobacco, in public. Marijuana plants grew almost everywhere; sometimes they were found growing even along main streets. Locally produced hashish also was widely consumed, particularly during festivals celebrated by some ethnic groups and tribes. It was, however, very unusual for a Nepalese to develop a marijuana or hashish habit until reaching about forty years of age.

    By the late 1980s, the situation had changed dramatically. There was an emerging drug subculture in the urban areas, and a number of youths, including college and high school students, sold and consumed drugs. Many of these youths had gone beyond using marijuana and hashish to more potent drugs, such as "crack" and cocaine--drugs unheard of in the past. In the 1960s, Westerners had sought release from the overbearing materialism of developed countries; they copied the Nepalese (and other Easterners) who smoked marijuana and hashish. Ironically, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was Nepalese youths who were enchanted by the North American material and drug culture. There were an estimated 20,000 heroin addicts in 1989. In response to the drug situation in the country, in the late 1980s the government initiated antinarcotics measures and narcotics training, and King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev directed extensive media attention to narcotics abuse. The effectiveness of the battle against narcotics, however, was limited by the lack of an official government body to target drug abuse.

    Data as of September 1991

    NOTE: The information regarding Nepal on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Nepal SOCIAL SYSTEM AND VALUES, NEPAL information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Nepal SOCIAL SYSTEM AND VALUES, NEPAL should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 27-Mar-05
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