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Nepali ethnic groups

Nepalis are very conscious of their ethnic or indigenous group. These groups fit under two banners: Indo-Aryans who look more like and share similar customs and languages to North Indians, and Tibeto-Burmans who look more like and share greater customary similarities to Tibetans.

Roughly speaking, Indo-Aryans are far more affected by caste, in the sense that they are more hierarchical and have a lot more rules about what they can and cannot do or consume. Brahmins, Chetris and Dalits are the main Indo-Aryan groups. Almost all other groups are Tibeto-Burman.

Brahmin and Chetri (30%*)

Brahmins and Chetris are the highest in the ritual hierarchy of Hinduism and dominate the leadership and professions in Nepal. Brahmins and Chetris migrated from India after the Mughal invasion and quickly became teachers, priests, and politicians.

Dalit (10%)

Dalit is the sanskrit word for “downtrodden”. It was the name chosen by those commonly referred to as “untouchables”. Dalits are the lowest in the Hindu ritual hierarchy and face discrimination in many ways. Himalayan Learning prioritises Dalit children wherever possible.

Janjati (20%)

Janjati is the name given to a collection of Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups who are largely regarded as indigenous to Nepal. These indigenous groups include Magar, Limbu, Rai, NewarTharu, Sherpa and Gurung. Some are Hindus, some are Buddhists and some are animists or shamanists. Himalayan Learning prioritises janjati children wherever possible.

Newar (6%)

Newars are a janjati group most commonly found in and around the Kathmandu valley. The majority of Nepali art forms, from sculpture to pagodas to food like momo are the creations of Newari artisans.


Sherpas live high in the eastern Himalaya of Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan and farm yaks and sheep. Many led nomadic lifestyles until the invasion of China into Tibet sealed the borders, and now they are famous for their mountaineering expertise.

Tharu (7%)

Tharus live on the border between Nepal and India and speak Tibeto-Burman languages. They are often believed to be one of the oldest inhabitants of the region. Made up of many sub-groups, the Tharu lived in the jungles and are somewhat immune to Malaria.

Madhesi (30%)

Madheshis are Indo-Aryans that live in the Tarai plains. They often speak languages associated with northern India, like Bhojpuri and Hindi. Some are Muslims and some are Hindus. Traditionally they have been unrepresented in the state and there is considerable discrimination against them.

*Nepali Census, 2001


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