Inclusion of the excluded Madheshis
Inclusion of the excluded Madheshis
Hari Bansh Jha1
Exclusion is a process in which certain groups are systematically disadvantaged and are discriminated on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion, sex, caste, descent, gender, age, disability and other such factors. It deprives such groups of choices and opportunities in social, economic and political spheres, which is a major cause of poverty, conflict and insecurity. In many countries, such a phenomenon is quite distinct in public institutions, legal system, education and health services.
At the global level, 891 million people are victims of discrimination on the basis of the ethnic, linguistic and religious identities. As in many other countries, in Nepal too, various groups of people have been excluded and marginalized socially, culturally, economically and politically due to the exclusionary policy of the state. Even after half-a-century of planning experiment, only a few ethnic and caste groups dominate the power structure as they have administrative and political connections, income, educational and cultural advantages and ability to capture public resources. As a legacy of exclusion, poverty incidence is high among several ethnic groups, including the Madheshis in Nepal.
In the Ninth Plan (1997-2002), the government came out with policies for the development of certain ethnic groups but it failed to recognize Madheshis as excluded group despite the fact that they are victims of discrimination in social, economic and political structure. The Madheshis who constitute nearly one-third of Nepal’s total population (31 percent) are in most disadvantageous position. The per capita income of the Nepalese is Rs. 17,040 or US $ 240; while the same is Rs. 13,200 for the Madheshi Dalits, Rs. 12,700 for the Madheshi Janajatis and Rs. 10,200 for the Madheshi Muslims.
Among the Madheshis, about 37 per cent of the Dalits and 32 per cent of the Janajatis do not won agricultural land. Among the Terai Dalit groups, 79 per cent of the Musahars are landless and the literacy rate among them is as low as 7 per cent. Similarly, female literacy rate in Madheshi Dalit and Muslim women is as low as 11 per cent. On the whole, 79 per cent of the Dalits, 54 per cent of the Janajatis and 42 per cent of the mid caste population in Terai are illiterate.
A study conducted by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) clearly exhibits worst condition of Madheshis in terms of poverty and deprivation in nine Terai districts, including in Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusha, Mahottari, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Parsa, Bardiya and Kailali. These nine districts in the Terai are among the 25 districts identified as worst districts at the national level by ICIMOD. This brings these Terai districts in the same category of remote mountain and hill districts like Achham, Kalikot, Dailekh, Mugu, Bajhang, Humla, Jumla, Jajarkot, Baitadi and Rolpa. Even the conditions of some of the remote districts like Nuwakot, Darchula, Pyuthan, Dolpa and Myagadi which are in the intermediate category; and Parbat, Lamjung, Sankhuwasabha and Mustang ranked in best category are in better position than the nine worst districts of the Terai.
Unfortunately, it is out of fashion rather than due to the seriousness of purpose that some of the highly resourceful organizations like the World Bank (WB) and Department for International Development (DFID) have raised the issue of inclusion of the excluded groups. Many of facts and figures presented in the DFID/WB report in regard to Madheshis are erroneous. For example, the Brahmins, Rajputs, Kayasthas, Baniyas, Marwaris and Bengalis are put in the Brahmin-Chhetri (BC) category. How can the caste groups like Baniyas be put in BC category? Similarly, there is no rational as such in putting the Marwaris and Bengalis in BC category? These two communities – the Marwaris and Bengalis – are composite groups which consists all the caste groups from Brahmins to Sudras and as such it is not fair to confuse them with BC category. Even a layman having some understanding of caste groups of Madheshis cannot make such a blunder.
Even from economic perspective, question arises about the way the per capita income of the Madheshi caste groups has been accounted. The per capita income of 1.9 per cent of the so called upper caste Madheshis such as Brahmins, Rajputs, Kayasthas, Baniyas and Marwaris is given as Rs. 23,900, which is higher than the national average per capita income of Rs. 17,040. There is no rational as such to put the so called upper caste Madheshi community such as Brahmins, Rajputs and Kayasthas in the same category as Baniyas and Marwaris as they belong to two distinct economic classes. While the Brahmins, Rajputs and Kayasthas are basically priests/farmers/service holders; the Baniyas, Marwaris and Jains are mostly the business communities.
Moreover, the higher income of the Baniyas, Marwaris and Jains is likely to inflate the income of the other groups such as Brahmins, Rajputs and Kayasthas if the per capita income of these two distinct groups is put together. The question is how can the income of Marwari/Jain groups such as Kedia, Golchha, Mittal and other be equated with Brahmins, Kayasthas and Rajputs who belong to entirely different economic class and whose sources of income also vary?
It is equally faulty on the part of the report to segregate the Madheshi Dalits and Janajatis with the other Madheshi community in the Terai. In the Madheshi community, certain caste groups like the Brahmins, Kayasthas, Sudi, Teli and Yadavs have been put; whereas the Madheshi Dalits and Janajatis have been put separately as if they belong to non-Madheshi group. What is the logic of excluding the Madheshi Dalits and Janajatis from the Madheshi community as a whole? The Madheshi Dalits and Janajatis are as good Madheshis as any other caste groups in the region.
Recently, under the Norwegian fund, the SNV Nepal has treated Madheshis as excluded groups and jumped into race by allotting funds for researches. It is likely that many of the INGOs, bilateral and multilateral donor agencies might follow the suit. But in practice these organizations themselves exclude the Madheshis in the recruitment and decision-making process. What percentage of their total staff is Madheshi?
The WB, DFID, SNV Nepal and host of other bilateral and multilateral institutions preach one thing and do quite different. It is not likely to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and attain peace in the post-conflict situation so long as the Madheshi ethnic groups along with other such disadvantaged groups are excluded from the social, economic and political mainstream and in decision making process.
Entry filed under: Articles.