Accepted paper:

Dressed to deceive: militar(ies) and civilian duplicitous identities during Nepal's civil war (1996-2006)


Judith Pettigrew (University of Limerick )
Sharon Hepburn (Trent University)

Paper short abstract:

In Nepal’s civil war (1996-2006) both sides concealed/manipulated their appearance, in order to misrepresent their identities. This paper explores the resulting entanglements which ensured that the politics of opposition (civilian-military) were more intricate than they might initially appear.

Paper long abstract:

The civil war in Nepal (1996-2006) was fought between Maoist insurgents and State security forces. For civilians, the on-the-ground reality of living between the opposing sides was complex, dangerous and uncertain. This was especially so when members of one or both sides concealed or manipulated their identities. While it was widely recognised that thieves masqueraded as Maoists - and as such stole from and terrorised villagers - what was less well recognised was that both the Maoists and the security forces also concealed/manipulated their appearance, in order to misrepresent their identities. Maoists, for example, sometimes posed as civilians or took on other identities such as vagrants (by dressing in rags). Army spies posed as civilians but soldiers also sometimes masqueraded as Maoists. This behaviour was primarily aimed towards intimidating civilians and/or trying to acquire intelligence about who might be a Maoist supporter. While the security forces were usually seen as "distant and aloof people who shouted orders", masquerading as Maoists brought them into contact with civilians in a particularly complex entanglement. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted during Nepal's civil war, this paper explores the manner in which both sides concealed, revealed and manipulated their identities. In Nepal there were two militaries, and sometimes militar(ies)-civilian entanglements existed along the duplicitous edge of the entanglements of the two militaries themselves, as they both misrepresented who they were. Thus, in this case, the politics of opposition (civilian-military) are more intricate than they might initially appear.

panel P024
Soldier, security, society: ethnographies of civil-military entanglements