Promoting Inclusion: Combating Exclusion

July 17, 2006 at 8:33 am 1 comment

Promoting Inclusion: Combating Exclusion 

Inclusion Strategies for Madheshis in Nepal 

– By Bindu Chaudhary 



One of the most fundamental human rights recognized in international law, as well as in many of the national constitutions is the right to non-discrimination on the basis of national or ethnic origin, religion, race, caste, color, descent, tribe or ideological conviction or any other ground. In spite, discrimination persists. In Nepal, it persists loud among Madheshis, Women, Dalits and Janjatis, who have been the victims of the State’s policies and practices until now. It is about time for a constitution that manifests in social change. 

The underlying goal of the new constitution should be the strategic transformation of the Nepalese society for the eradication of exclusion and a respectable space for everyone, including the Madheshis, which this paper aims to focus. The Madheshis, who constitute more than a third of Nepal’s population, and the issue that has remained on the back burner so far, needs eyes and ears instantaneously to have them socially, politically, and economically inclusive in the  national mainstream, including governance, decision making and policy planning. 

A sense of belonging comes from civic, economic, social and interpersonal integration into a society, which is promoted by democratic and legal system, the labor market, the welfare state system, and the family and community system consecutively. Hence, social exclusion can be defined in terms of the failure of one or more of the four systems (cited in Shucksmith and Philip 2000). Exclusion is also defined as a cumulative and multi-dimensional process which, through successive ruptures, distances individuals, groups, communities and territories from the centres of power and prevailing resources and values, gradually placing them in an inferior position (ILO/Estivill 2003). In a socially inclusive state therefore, the individual’s identity as a citizen trumps all other identities (e.g. gender, ethnicity, caste or religion) as a basis for claims for state services and commitments (e.g. justice, social service provision, investment in public infrastructure, police protection) through the constitution and legal system (Bennett, L  2005). 

Exclusion has multi-dimensional causes and consequences, affecting individuals, families and the society as a whole. Exclusion includes poverty and low income, unemployment and poor skills, discrimination and barring from social and support services such as health, drinking water and basic infrastructure. The problems create a vicious cycle between social and economic exclusion, a process with consequences stretching across generations. The following table describes the various dimensions of social exclusion, and illustrates the inter-relatedness between social and economic exclusion. For instance, a minority or ethnic group may not be suffering from material deprivation, but they may not be able to gain access to adequate employment due to poor education or poor health (Justino and Litchfield 2003). It thus follows that in order to comprehend the factors influencing the economic exclusion of Madheshis who share 32% of the country’s total human resource, it may be necessary to pore over the various dimensions of social exclusion, and vice-versa.  
Table: Dimension of Social Exclusion of minority groups and indigenous people 


Discrimination in education and employment opportunities, in gaining access to the state developed community infrastructure and facilities, in gaining admittance in military, the Madheshis have suffered from exclusion from the national mainstream. They are neither in the development agenda of the country, nor are they fairly represented in politics or decision-making process. It may not be unreasonable to say that the virtue of being born a Madheshi makes them the object of social, economic and political exclusion. International evidence too illustrate that welfare and socio-economic status can have an ethnic dimension, such as the disparities in welfare between blacks, whites and native Americans in the United States, the conditions of indigenous people in Latin America, or the status of ethnic minorities in other parts of the world (cited in Ringold, Orenstein and Wilkens 2003).  

Better late than never however, the government overwhelmingly identified social exclusion as a development problem and realized the importance of social inclusion for poverty alleviation in its Tenth Plan, reflected in the PRSP (Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper/ Tenth Plan 2002-2007), the most serious and comprehensive government statement about inclusion to date. Nonetheless, even with the recognition that the lack of voice, political representation and empowerment are the important dimensions of poverty, there seems a lack of conceptual clarity, for the reason that the indigenous people has been lumped together with Dalit, women and other disadvantaged groups, and secondly, it nowhere specifically mentions whether Madheshis come under its ‘disadvantaged groups’ or whether they are its subject of inclusion. Despite rhetoric of an integrated approach to poverty alleviation, the legacies of the past still overrule, and the development planners, political leaders and bureaucrats continue to espouse sectoral approach.  

The new constitution should stand as a basic landmark in establishing fundamental and social rights for all by focusing on values of adhesion, pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, fairness, solidarity and equality as guiding principles.  There are Nepalese around the globe keeping abreast about the developments in the country, hoping the transition will institutionalize equality and justice and freedom for all, the foundations upon which democracy stands.  

Manifestation and Strategies for combating Exclusion 

Even though there is no single universally accepted strategy or methodology for addressing exclusion, it is possible to identify a number of strategic approaches which give positive results. Integration, partnership, participation and spatial approaches are the cornerstone on which most programs aimed at combating exclusion are based. The principle of integration aims at multi-dimensional action program (on various dimensions of exclusion such as inadequate income, poor health, low levels of schooling, precarious jobs, absence of rights etc), in stead of having compartmentalized policies for each of them.  Partnership calls for mobilizing a coalition of interests and the commitment of a range of partners (including the actors at the economic, social and political levels) without whose collaboration it is difficult to achieve any substantive progress. Participation is a means of involving people in all the sectors (covering economic, social, political and cultural dimensions) because of correspondences between them. The important aspect of participation is the active involvement of people in all its levels, including information, organization, consultation and decision-making stages. Lastly, the spatial approach calls for the need to create local units for the identification of the characteristic structures, mechanisms and processes of exclusion so as to carry out spatially significant analysis and intervention (Estivill 2003). 

Following this theoretical backdrop, the interventions aimed at combating exclusion of Madheshis in Nepal should maintain consistency with the strategic approaches described above. An attempt has been made in this section to briefly touch upon the manifestation and strategies for combating social, economic and political exclusion of Madheshis:  

Social Exclusion 

Madheshis have been socially, economically, politically, culturally and linguistically discriminated against for centuries. It is such a disgrace to realize that Madhesh and the Madheshis practically do not exist in the consciousness of national or transnational community because Madheshis are still dealing with scores of basic development issues such as land, languages, identity, citizenship certificates, and discrimination in health, education, employment and so on. And, this is, in spite of the fact that Nepal is party to more than 16 international instruments on human rights. 

Low education attainment is an important aspect of social exclusion, as well as one of the contributing factors for economic exclusion.  It gives a bad taste in mouth to state that the people of Terai are educationally disadvantaged, Dalits and women among them being further deprived. About 90 percent of the Terai districts (where 95.5 percent of the total Madheshi people live) have a large number of educationally deprived populations compared to only about 13 percent in hills and mountains. In addition, 50 percent of the Terai districts have ‘worst ranking’ for child literacy rates compared to 29 percent in hills and mountain districts (cited in Shah 2006).  

Focusing on Dalits, as per the official statistics, the Dalits constitute 13 percent of the total population of the country, of which 36.17 are of the Madheshi origin in Terai; while 58.11 are of hill origin and the remaining 5.72 percent are Newar origin. Chamar, Dusadh, Khatwe, Tatma, Jhangar, Musahar, Bantar, Dhobi, Halkhor and Doms are the major Dalit ethnic population in Terai, majority of them being illiterate. For example, 96 percent of Musahars are illiterate, and literacy rate among Doms and Halkhors is almost nil (Jha 2005). The disgraceful data on the educational attainment of the Madheshi Dalits in particular, and/or Madheshis as a whole, echoes with discrimination and exclusion. Madheshi Dalits thus not only live in absolute poverty and illiteracy, but they are further ostracized from the society because of discrimination by other Dalits (e.g. the Pahadi Dalits discriminate against Madheshi Dalits), let alone the higher class.  

The disproportionate statistics between the Madheshis/Terai Vs Pahadis/Hill and Mountains needs to be addressed for the country’s holistic development, understanding the human, social and economic costs associated with discrimination. The establishment of a Social Exclusion Unit would be able to get the Madheshis as well as other excluded segments of the society including women, Dalits and the indigenous people back to the national mainstream by bringing about system level institutional reform and policy change. The Women Commission, Dalit Commission, and the National Foundation for the development of Indigenous Nationalities which already exists, as well as a ‘Madheshi Commission’ (a similar institution that this paper proposes to establish, consisting of a core of experienced and dedicated Madheshi scholars and leaders that can work within their communities and with the government to bring about systemic reform) can be brought under the umbrella of the Social Exclusion Unit with the aim of combating exclusion in any form including labor, health, culture, justice, education and economic development.  

For a multi-pronged approach to inclusion, the government should not only encourage Madheshi involvement and participation in the mainstream society, but also maintain their cultural and social autonomy. The constitution could be an apple of eye if it emphasizes on articles that promote inclusion and respect for diversity. The policies should open gateway of new opportunities for Madheshis to express their identity and participation in the society through a coordinated and comprehensive approach that would address the burning issues of poverty, discrimination and inequality. It thereby follows that the racial stereotyping of Madheshis in the media needs to be addressed in order to consider them as an integral part of the society.  

Addressing exclusion however should not mean the explicit attention of the Madheshis alone. In stead, in order to overcome divisions between Madheshis and the non-Madheshis, the later should also get exposed to the history and culture of the Madheshis. The best way to do so is by way of revision of the current curriculum and making it an inclusive/ multicultural education by educating children about the history and culture of Madheshis including other minorities.  

The government should mainstream ‘non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all’, as well as ensure effective legal protection against discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin, or for that matter, on any other ground. The legal policy should be so strong, favorable, and accessible that anybody who feels discriminated, directly or indirectly, could file a lawsuit in the court of law, hoping for a fair and just judgment. Further, in order to ensure the application of anti-discrimination legislation, it is necessary to reach out to people and empower them (to access justice system) by raising awareness, disseminating information, providing training etc.  
Economic Exclusion 

The composite index of human development, particularly low income and asset levels and educational attainment illustrate that the indigenous people, along with Dalits, Madheshis and other minorities are among various cultural groups who fall far below the national average. Of the 46 percent Dalits, 41 percent Muslims and 33 percent indigenous Janjati population who are below poverty line (the 2006 World Bank report estimates poverty line in Nepal to be 31 percent), 52.6 percent are Madheshi population. Geographically, about 45 percent of the 20 Terai districts have the worst poverty ranking, as compared to 29 percent in hills and mountains (cited in Shah 2006).

Economic status of Dalits is upsetting. The per capita income of Nepalese is US $ 240 (World Development Report 2005), but studies confirm the per capita income of Dalits to be as low as US $ 40. Likewise, the people below poverty line are 31 percent at the national level as against 80 percent among the Dalit population. Mind-boggling still, only one percent of the total cultivable land in the Terai is owned by the local Dalits (Jha 2005). 

From a predominantly economic perspective, the plight of the Madheshis can be adhered to low level of open employment, low wage employment or without employment, lack of access to education and training, under-funding public services and poor per capita budget allocation (50 percent of Terai districts have ‘worst’ per capita budget allocation index compared to about 17 percent of the hill districts- cited in Shah 2006), noticeable disparity in the lower primary sector development in Terai districts vis-à-vis hill districts, and lack of enough economic mobility in terms of access to economic opportunities in the Terai. Madheshis have faced widespread disadvantage in their socio-economic opportunities, resulting from direct or indirect discrimination, an important dimension of poverty that perpetuates other forms of economic and social and/or political exclusion. 

Some of the worse causes of economic exclusion, such as unemployment and children growing up in workless and low-income households call for an urgent need to expand employment participation. Broadly speaking, access to adequate income, employment, education, health, and participation in decision making, all have an important role to play in combating poverty and social exclusion. It is also important to break the poverty cycle and improve the life chances of the next generation by addressing it from early childhood through significant investment in education and skill development that would help assure the future of children as a time of opportunity, and not vulnerability.  

Specifically, one of the coherent and effective approach to the social and labor market integration is through macro economic and social policy planning that would stress on moving away from the ‘one cap fits all approach’ to the one that accommodates cultural diversity and promotes positive action measures. Social cohesion policy would thus ensure equality of opportunity for all by creating an inclusive labor market as a pursuit of economic growth.  

Besides, it is also necessary to develop a suite of integrative policies that can be adapted to local circumstances and create an institutionalized system of consultation with and participation of Madheshis in order to take their specific situation, needs and demands into consideration. Economic integration is promoted by the labor market where people have jobs and enjoy a valued economic function in the society. Hence, the economic inclusion of Madheshis should pave the way for sustainable development based on a balanced economic growth, competitive social market economy, full and fair employment (by way of scraping away irrational and discriminatory provisions such as Madheshis not recruited in the Nepali Army) and social progress. 

Employment and occupation contribute strongly to the full participation of citizens in economic, cultural and social life and in realizing their potential. Consequently, the government should develop employment related legislations that would help ensure that the workplace policies, both in public and private sectors, are such that stimulates, accommodates and values an intercultural workplace where Madheshis and Pahadis share similar rights and protection against dismissal, collective representation, working conditions and information and consultation of workers, to name a few. 

Political Exclusion 

Nepal remains a deeply divided and stratified society with only the ‘elite’ group or the non-Madheshis sharing in the nation’s prosperity. Caste your mind back to the history when the Muluki Ain (Nepalese Civil Code) of 1854 was devised. It was formulated by the high caste Hindus of the hills, and the result is but obvious- High caste Hindus continue to dominate Nepalese society as they hold 91% of the prominent position in politics and bureaucracy with only limited representation of Terai high caste and ethnic groups. Worse still, The Nepalese Dalits, who make up around 12% of Nepal’s population, have no representation at all (cited in ESP, IIDEA, and Sagun 2005).  

Researches and studies from around the globe support that ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous people are more likely to have low income, poorer physical living conditions, less valuable assets, poorer access to education, health and other social and support services, worst access to market for labor, goods and services, and weaker political representation, many times leading to ‘institutionalized and/or legalized discrimination.’  (Justino and Litchfield 2003). In order to institutionalize equality instead of discrimination, it may be suggestive to stipulate affirmative action (positive discrimination) and proportional representation and an enabling legal framework, so as to advance the position of Madheshis to a level where they can participate and compete with the rest of the society. Consequently, increase in social and political participation through financial assistance such as preferential spending; scholarships and preferential admission in schools and universities; job quotas; public administration reservations and electoral quotas etc will help reduce the monopoly of political power of the traditionally dominant groups of Nepal, as it has done elsewhere. For instance, in India, affirmative action, distributive justice and quotas are used in favor of the lower castes to include them in all areas of the economy and political administration- members of schedule caste and tribes enjoy reserved seats in all central and state level government jobs, as well as in college and university admissions. In USA, affirmative action has been effective in redistributing income to women and minority groups. In South Africa, affirmative action policies are used as a way of decreasing unemployment and poverty among black South Africans (ibid). 

In continuation, the structural discrimination, manifested in low levels of political representation, lack of access to education and employment opportunities, in gaining admittance in military and the like (Only 11.2 percent of Madheshi people are in the integrated index of governance with none in culture, academic and professional leadership: cited in Shah 2006) can have solution only through systemic reform guided by the principalities of equality, integration, representation and redistribution. The existing policies should be made more accessible to the Madheshis, while incorporating others that address the economic and social barriers in accessing rights and privileges. An alternative electoral system that helps reform party laws and party structure and result in broader representation could serve plurality of interest in Nepal. There should be equitable and inclusive representation and participation of Madheshis in all sectors, including bureaucracy, governance, civil society, and national policy level. 

In identifying policy approaches, it could be useful to draw lessons from other countries with similar experiences, for the majority-minority relations share fundamental similarities everywhere. This will give a clearer understanding of how Government policies have worked elsewhere to tackle social exclusion, and consequently will help in the duplication or formulation of new ones to suit the context of Nepal.  

The government should embark upon systemic reform to enhance access and quality of social services for the entire population. Reduction of social inequality and promotion of solidarity should be taken as a central theme to promote economic, social and territorial cohesion as well as cohesion between Madheshis and the Pahadis. Consequently, the new constitution should be able to respond equitably to the demands of all individuals and allow for the fullest development of their capabilities in all spheres- regardless of their social identity. 

Conclusion: The Inclusion Agenda 

Social inclusion should be one of the key themes that should drive and shape the current government. In doing so, it should be recognized that there are some groups that are harder to reach and last to benefit from policies that aims at targeting social exclusion, such as women, janjatis and Dalits. It should thus be noted that only macro-level policies will not be sufficient to address the issue of Madheshi inclusion in totality, but micro-level intervention is required as well to reach out to these sub-groups who can easily be overlooked. A systemic reform needs to be accompanied by interventions designed to reach these sub-groups, provide incentives, come up with more flexible approaches, and tackle their unique problems of exclusion so that every person is able to participate fully in public services. 

The government should heed the demand of Madheshis for an inclusive democracy by interweaving inclusion into the mainstream program and recognizing Madheshi issue as a crosscutting issue. To make this happen, the government should ensure direct representation of Madheshis at various levels of governance; revise the regime of central government funding to ensure that local government and authorities get the money they need to promote inclusion; and consider the voluntary, community organizations and local groups that are actively involved in promoting inclusion as government’s natural allies in a strategy for social inclusion.  

The significant role transnational networks can play in combating exclusion can not be overlooked. International agencies can help raise awareness on the issue of (Madheshi) exclusion and enrich debate nationally and internationally, they can exert pressure on the government, finance important projects and provide technical assistance and expertise to tackle the causes and consequences of exclusion. Above and beyond, the collective commitment of various stakeholders within the country, such as different associations, enterprises, financial bodies and trade unions, employers and public authorities in various fields, cannot be overlooked. This calls for the government to launch a national strategy for social inclusion, which emphasizes on all the sectors playing their part, including the private sector, the voluntary and community sectors, local government and wider public sector. Furthermore, the most efficient way of putting balanced solutions into place can only be achieved by Madheshis themselves being a tough cookie in their role in keeping the exclusion issue hot and burning until hammered with a desirable solution.  

To end with, the constitutional reform will prove successful if it achieves those objectives that motivated its issuance, along with amending the contradictory and discriminatory provisions in the 1990 Constitution of Nepal. The government should be successful in delivering the policies to deal with social exclusion (of Madheshis) in its entirety (including Madheshi women, Madheshi Dalits and the Madheshi Janjatis), by abiding and inheriting the true spirits of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW 1979), International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD 1965), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR 1966), and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR 1966), including all other relevant conventions and declarations which condemn discrimination and exclusion in all its forms and which calls for the modification of social and cultural patterns of conduct in order to eliminate prejudice, customs and all other practices based on the idea of inferiority or superiority. 


  1. Bennett, L 2005. Gender, Caste and Ethnic Exclusion in Nepal: Following the Policy Process from Analysis to Action, working paper produced for the World Bank conference, ‘New Frontiers of Social Policy: Development in a Globalizing World’, December 12-15, 2005.
  1. ESP, IIDEA, and Sagun (2005). National Dialogue on Affirmative Action and the Electoral System in Nepal: Experiences from South Asia. Enabling State Programme, Kathmandu.
  1. ILO/Estivill 2003. Concepts and Strategies for Combating Social Exclusion. An Overview. Geneva, International Labor Office.
  1. Jha 2005. Dalit Youths for Social Change. The Telegraph Weekly, Kathmandu, Nepal. December 7, 2005.
  1. Justino and Litchfield 2003. Economic Exclusion and Discrimination: The Experiences of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. Minority Rights Group International, UK.
  1. Richardson and Grand 2002. Outsider and Insider Expertise: the response of residents of deprived neighbourhoods to an academic definition of social exclusion. CASE paper 57, London: LSE.
  1. Ringold, Orenstein and Wilkens 2003. Roma in an Expanding Europe: Breaking the Poverty Cycle. A World Bank Study prepared for the conference “Roma in an Expanding Europe, Challenges for the Future” in Budapest, Hungary, June 31- July 1, 2003.
  1. Shah 2006. Social Inclusion of Madheshi Community in Nation Building. Paper presented at the Civil Society Forum Workshop for Research Programme on Social Inclusion and Nation Building in Nepal. Organized by SNV-Netherlands Development Organisation on 13 February 2006, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  1. Shucksmith and Philip 2000. Social Exclusion in Rural Areas: A Literature Review and Conceptual Framework. The Scottish Executive Central Research Unit, Edinburgh.(The paper was presented in the ‘Nepal Tomorrow Forum’ at the ANA Convention (30th June- 4th July 2006) held in New Jersey, U.S.A.)



Entry filed under: Reports.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Lila dhoj thapa  |  March 15, 2007 at 7:21 am

    you r goor writer. keep in contd.

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