Madhesis: colonial subjects or masters of their own destiny?
Madhesis: colonial subjects or masters of their own destiny?
– Govinda Neupane
The population of the Madhesis as per the national census – 2001 is 7,169,109. (This is the combined figure of all Madhesi groups. For details, please see my book “Nepalko Jatiya Prashna”, second edition, 2005). The figure reveals that the Madhesi is the largest nationality in Nepal.
The feudal principalities in Madhes and hills together formed today’s Nepal. This did not happen voluntarily (e.g. USA), neither this is the outcome of entirely a colonial adventure (e.g. India). It has a long history of several principalities coming together and breaking the bond, and repeating the process, several times. In the ancient times, the Kirats ruled the central and eastern hill areas. There were several small feudal principalities or republics at the southern region spread over either side of Nepal-India boarder.
In Madhes, the first known republics included Moriya republic (believed existed around present Piprahawa in Lumbini), Koliya republic (Ramgram and Devdaha), Brijji or Bajji republic (central Tarai) Cheti republic (central Tarai), Shakya republic (Kapilvastu), Pabbat Rattha (around Janakpur), Videha or Mithila (Jankpur), etc. Historians believe that these republics had existed in different times before Christ (Jagadish Chandra Regmi, 2026 V.S., pp 87-94, Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu). For the happenings during the middle age, there is nothing meaningful that has been written to shed light on Madhes, other than a few stories related to swallowing the Madhesi territory by Kirats in the east, Sens in the central region and Khasas in the west. During the time of Gorkha-led military campaign, all parts of today’s Nepal had merged together. Thus, Nepal as a state came into existence.
Although, politically and administratively the entire Madhes region was merged, but psychologically and socially, it remained distinct and different. The Khas rulers in Kathmandu treated the Madhesi people as second class citizens or colonial subjects, suspected on their loyalty to Nepal and suppressed them particularly in four areas as mentioned below.
1) Denying employment in the army overtly, and other government services covertly,
2) Disempowering through restrictions in the use of their languages in education and official works and discouraging the practice of their customs (e.g. official dress code),
3) Capturing their land in the name of Birta, Jagir, Rajguthi/Devguthi, land reform, etc and distributing to feudal lords, priests, courtiers, government employees and Hindu Gods/Goddesses from the hills, and
4) Denying many people their citizenship right.
The Khas rulers and their hill brethren behaved in a way that they had occupied, both, the land and people of Madhes. As a result, the Madhesis had to suffer economically, politically, socially and emotionally.
Now, the government has decided that they will be open to recruit the Madhesi youths in the army. At least, in theory, this discrimination has been ended.
The issue of language is being hotly debated. It could be settled in the near future by the constituent assembly or parliament.
The issue of land has not been debated yet that much but this could be a major issue in future. How the Madhesis could get back their captured or confiscated land? The land they sold is not theirs, but the land taken forcibly from them using the state power should go back to them. The land confiscated by the government stating that that was beyond the ceiling had to be distributed among the landless Madhesi people themselves. But, such land was mostly distributed to ‘landless’ middle class government employees from the hills, particularly of Khas origin. Therefore, the Rajguthi, Devguthi, Jagir and Birta lands should be thoroughly studied together with the land distributed to ‘landless’ government officials or their cronies during the land reform period. The whole exercise could contribute to develop a mechanism, which will enable the Madhesis to get back their land other than that what they had sold.
The issue of citizenship is being fiercely debated for several decades. But the Khas rulers in Kathmandu have done nothing other than to suppress the legitimate demand. For the hill people in general, and the Khas ruler and their henchmen in particular, the issue sounds as distribution of the citizenship right to the Indians. For many of them, the hill faces are Nepalese and the Madhesi faces are Indian. This is the racist attitude of the worst type. Also, the hill people who believe in equity and justice should fight resolutely by standing together with the Madhesis against this racism. As far as the solution of the citizenship issue is concerned, there are three types of opinions or approaches – denial, piecemeal and holistic. The persons or organizations belonging to the first type pretend that there is no such issue or at least that is not an important issue. Therefore, denying in one or other pretext has been their business. They even blame that the issue has communal angle or this is an Indian agenda. The second types accept that there is the problem but propose solutions in piecemeal and say that let’s solve the problem on the basis of the voter list of 1963 or 1980 or 1990. Is this a search for solution or a creation of new problems? This could appease some, but may not address the problem in its totality. The persons or organizations belonging to the third type are in favor of solving this problem through a campaign by sending teams of government officials to visit residences, count heads, enlist all citizens who do not have citizenship certificate, investigate any complications then and there, and issue temporary certificate that could be converted into permanent one after attaching a photograph and signing by the authority at a later date convenient to that citizen. If there are a few complicated cases, the documents could be submitted to the courts or special courts for decision. Statehood is a fundamental right and by denying that right to its citizens, the Nepalese state has been violating the law. This is the time to honor the fundamental right. Therefore, the citizenship campaign should be started immediately and should be completed before the election of the constituent assembly. Not only to ensure the participation of all people in the election but also to provide justice through inclusion; the citizenship campaign in the Madhes region should get priority.
Now, there must not be a ruling nationality. There must not be a subject nationality. In this situation, the Madhesis together with other oppressed nationalities deserve equitable share in every sphere of national life. They are the masters of their own destiny. They certainly could retaliate angrily if treated as colonial subjects as in the past. They would feel proud as partners in development of Nepal as this is their motherland. The process of building a dream Nepal has already begun. In fact, if we are going to build an egalitarian, democratic and prosperous Nepal, we must off load the burden of the past, must address the burning issues of the people and nationalities and must initiate the building process through inclusion and partnership. Considering the diverse socio-geographic realities in Nepal, inclusion and partnership could be realized by addressing the grievances of people and opening up opportunities for them in a broad framework that has its foundation on multiculturalism and federalism.
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