Introduction / History
The Rajbansi are one of many different ethnic groups who live in the small, mountainous country of Nepal. Their almost forgotten, rugged land lies sheltered at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains, sandwiched between India to the south and Tibet to the north. Most live in India and the eastern section of the Jhapa District and in the adjoining Morang District of Nepal.
The Rajbansi are a dark-skinned people of medium height who have been described as tough. Their language is also called Rajbansi and is similar to that of the Bengali of West Bengal. Many of the younger generation are bilingual in Nepali, Nepal's official language, but older Rajbansi only speak their native language.
The Rajbansi migrated to Nepal approximately 300 years ago, and although their origins are unclear, they may be related to the Koche of India. One legend says they are the descendents of the children of a Bengali man and an Arakan woman. Other legends declare them to be an ancient people descended from the Dravidian race who lived in southern India.
What are their lives like?
Most Rajbansi are farmers who survive on the produce of their own labor. Although they raise some livestock, they do not seem to consider the animals as a primary source of income. Instead, animal products are used as items to sell to purchase necessities that they can't make or grow themselves. A shortage of suitable arable land, overpopulation, and poor farming methods all contribute to a subsistence level of food production. They are excellent weavers, and some have begun to earn money by their weaving. Others work for the government or find employment in the private sector. As a whole, they live impoverished lives. The Rajbansi are hesitant to change their lifestyle, and they struggle in their adaptation to different types of work.
Houses made of wood, bamboo, thatch, and mud are clustered in villages ranging from ten to one hundred buildings. As in all patriarchal societies, the father is the undisputed head of the household. Most homes are composed of a basic family unit (parents and their children) until the oldest son marries. He and his wife then live with his parents until the second son marries. When the family head dies, all authority and responsibilities are transferred to the eldest son. Most marriages are arranged, and weddings are conducted according to traditional Hindu rites and rituals.
The Rajbansi dress very simply. Men wear knee length dhotis and langautis (loincloths), and women wear paetanis (pieces of cloth wrapped around their bodies that provide a covering down to their knees). Western style clothing is slowly becoming more common.
What are their beliefs?
The Rajbansi are Hindus who worship millions of gods and goddesses. Every village has a separate hut dedicated to the worship of the creation goddess, Kali. Festivals are called Pawni. Though they celebrate the Hindu festivals of Dasai and Tihar, the Rajbansi do not observe them the same way Hindus do in India.
What are their needs?
Christians were not officially allowed to live in Nepal before 1960. Although since that time religious freedom has increased, it is still very limited. The government is fiercely opposed to any form of evangelism and has implemented severe restrictions. During the 1990s, a number of Christians were arrested, imprisoned, and even killed for preaching the Gospel. This repressive conduct is being influenced by militant Hindus in India. Their goal is to drive out all Christians from the country. Much prayer is needed for full religious freedom to be both guaranteed in the constitution and upheld by the authorities.
The JESUS Film is available, and Christian audio recordings are useful evangelistic tools.
The Rajbansi have had limited chances of hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their isolation also makes it difficult for outsiders to reach them. In addition, people like the Rajbansi who practice pantheism (the worship of many gods) find it very difficult to lay aside such beliefs and put all of their faith in one God.
Pray that God will strengthen and protect the small number of believers among the Rajbansi in Nepal.
Pray that God would bless plans to begin church planting among the Rajbansi.
Pray that God will touch the hearts of Nepal's government leaders so the restrictive anti-evangelism laws will be lifted.
Text source: Bethany World Prayer Center / GAAPNet