Madhes Violence: Identity Clash in Nepal
Madhes Violence: Identity Clash in Nepal
An Analysis by Conflict Study Center
Contributors: Dr. Bishnu Pathak and Chitra Niraula (Assisted by Shankar Poudyal, Prem Prasad Pathk, Yahsoda Upreti and Krishna Sundar Thapa)
Introduction Eight people have died and dozens have been injured in the sporadic violence in the eastern Madhes from January 19, 2007 initiated from Lahan Municipality in Siraha district, 400 km to the east of Kathmandu. Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (Madhesi People’s Rights Forum) or MJF or MPRF, led by former Maoist leader Upendra Yadav, had called the movement. The key demands of the MJF were federal structure of government with autonomy and proportional election system based on density of caste and ethnicity (more see box). Later, after the Lahan incident three demands have been added: the PM and Maoist Supremo Prachanda should apologize before the Madhesi community; the Home Minister should resign for the conducive environment to hold talks; and provide compensation to the victim’s family. Prachanda has apologized while the PM has not and compensation has been announced one billion Nepalese Currency to each while the Home Minister has not resigned.
The violence has now extended and intensified to the entire eastern and central Madhes in Morang, Sunsari, Saptari, Dhanusha, Mahottari, Sarlahi, Bara and Parsa along with Kapilvastu in the western region. The government has clamped curfew in the sensitive urban centers of these districts. These districts lie on the major East-West Highway where trees have been fallen along the road and traffic have been completely stopped. Even ambulances with patients inside are stopped. Dozens of public and private vehicles including those belonging to UNOHCHR and National Human Rights Commission have been vandalized and many of those torched. Hundreds of passengers have been abandoned along the roads; without food, clothe and shelter. Markets and shops have been vandalized and closed. Because of this, there has been lack of supply of consumer goods and daily necessities and prices have soared. District Administration Offices, District Development Offices, District Courts, District Election Commissions, District Forest Offices, District Agriculture Offices, District Irrigation Offices, Police Posts, etc. have been torched. Pahade-originated government employees have been beaten and have almost gone underground. The Chief District Officers, who are responsible to security of entire concerned districts, are themselves insecure.
The CPN (Maoist) has begged for pardon for killing Ramesh Kumar Mahato, a student of Grade 10 and the government along with the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) has invited the MJF to hold talks. But none of the political party leaders and Parliamentarians of the Madhes have dared to visit violence areas. MJF has called for dignified and peaceful movement for Madhesi rights, which has turned violent. The incidences show that the movement has strayed beyond their call or the movement is without leadership. Due to which loss of private and public property is intensifying day by day. Demonstrators attack some FM stations including media person of Bara, Parsa and Rautahat district (central Madhes). Some of the journalists as they received life threat, left trouble districts. As a result, 12 local papers are closed and general people are being deprived to have right to information.
Background of violence
MJF cadres were campaigning against the detention of 28 MJF leaders in Kathmandu, who were arrested by police after burning the Interim Constitution (IC) the day after it was proclaimed. The MJF cadres had called for strike in the Madhes for their immediate release. From them, 14 were issued warrant to detain for 10 days on the charges of public crime. On the fourth day of the proclamation, MJF called for Madhes strike. CPN (Maoist) had organized a central training (first-ever publicly known) to its cadres at Chitawan in the Central Region. Around 80 MJF cadres were burning tyres on the highway and the mini-buses, with Maoist flag fluttering in the wind, carrying participants to training from Mechi-Koshi Zone escorted by police were stopped at Lahan. The escorting police backed and the Maoist and MJF cadres started tussle. During that time, a gun was fired to the mass by Siyaram Thakur (as reported in Media), which hit Ramesh lethally and died at spot. Police took him into custody. The tension heightened and vandalism took over; 17 vehicles were torched . Curfew was clamped the very day.
Several MJF cadres had cordoned the dead body of Ramesh in the evening; all of a sudden Maoist cadres arrived there in two trucks, one jeep and two dozen bikes and seized the body. They brought his family members and cremated his body. On January 22, 2007, MJF cadres organized a campaign, during which a police post was vandalized. Two policemen were wounded by bullets and then opened fire on the crowd; two bystanders were shot and died instantly and 3 out of 12 severely injured airlifted to Kathmandu for treatment died. After this, the movement spread like a prairie fire within Siraha and to the neighboring districts and turned violent. Violence reigned in all the highway and roadways including urban areas of the seven districts of the eastern and central Madhes. Kudrat Ali, central member of Ekata Parishad led by Nir Sumsher Rana, who was a minister during King’s reign, led the violent movement in Siraha and Saptari districts.
Ten-point demand put forward by Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF) or Madhesi Peoples’ Rights Forum (MPRF)
• Long Live Federal Democratic Republic,
• Constituent Assembly (CA) election with proportional electorate system,
• One autonomy to entire Madhes region,
• Long Live the Unity of entire Madhesi, nationalities/ethnicities, Dalits,
• End the internal colonization over Madhesis,
• Provide citizenship certificate to all Madhesi without discrimination,
• Establish regional autonomous governance system including right to self-determination,
• Guarantee rights on the land, natural resources and biological diversity to Madhesi,
• End racial and regional discrimination, and
• Stop the conspiracy to displace the Madhesis.
On January 25, the masses defied curfew and wielded domestic weapons in Biratnagar, Morang and vandalized the buses at Bus Park after tussle with transport workers. In Janakpur, masses did not budge from the streets after curfew was clamped and vandalized police posts. The persons who were ‘elected’ in the Municipality during the farce Municipality of the King’s regime before popular movement II led the groups. On January 27, a demonstrator was killed and 26 were injured in police firing in Bara district.
On January 26, the activists of MJF and NSP-M vandalized different government offices including District Administration Office, and offices of NGOs including Maiti Nepal and those of Political Parties in Rauthat. CPN (UML) Secretary General Madhav Kumar Nepal’s native house in Rauthat along with other leaders’ houses were burnt down.
MJF activists vandalized statutes Bharat Bahadur Shrestha, Laxmi Prasad Devkota, BP Koirala, Man Mohan Adhikari, Ganesh Man Singh, including those of late Kings in different places in Madhes. They also torched effigies of PM Girija Prasad Koirala, Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Maoist Surpemo Prachanda, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Matrika Yadav and so on leaders.
Who are Madhesis?
Nepal is topographically divided into three areas: Mountains (Himalayan range), Hills (covered by Mahabarat and Shivalik ranges) and Madhes or Madhes (the southern plains). Madhes consists of 22 districts. Historically, most parts of Madhes close to the Sivalik ranges was covered with dense tropical forest. They fought with malaria, wild beasts and humid hot climate to clear the forest and cultivate the fertile food bowl. The communities living alongside the rivers, closely linked linguistically, socially and culturally with northern India are brown in color. The inhabitants of Madhes are called Madhesi, who are the original dwellers of Madhes. The residents of hill are called Pahade. Because of easier life, Pahade have migrated not only to urban but also to rural areas of Madhes, whereas Madhesi have migrated to urban centers of hills. Some of the Madhesis living close to the Indian border have property in both the countries whereas some Pahades have property in hills and Madhes of Nepal. Only after Malaria eradication was initiated in the 50s, Pahades began migrating to Madhes and claimed the fertile land. Similarly, many Indians have migrated into Nepal after the Treaty of 1950 with India. In 1954, the total population of Madhes 35%, but after 25 years it rose to 52% and 2001 census shows it to be 57%. The overwhelming growth of the Madhes population rests not only to migration of the Pahade but also to Indian migrants.
Madhes is divided into Maithili, Bhojpuri and Abadhi in eastern, central and western region respectively along with Tharu in the mid- and far-western according to linguistics. Maithili is the second largest language (11%), Bhojpuri is spoken by 8% and Abadhi by 4%. The Tharu in Mid- and Far-western speak three different dialects.
Although majority of the Madhesis are Hindu, the cultural traditions differ between the Hill and Madhes Hindus. Similarly, the Muslims and Tharus have their own socio-cultural and religious traditions. Madhesi people include different castes/ethnic groups: Tharu, Yadav, Muslim, Teli, Chamar, Koyar, Brahman, Bhumihar, Amat, Mali, Tatma, Kanu, Rauniyar, Rajdhobi, Tamoli, Kathaoniya, Hajam, Sonar, Lohar, Tajpuriya, Bantar, Jhangar, Dhanuk, Rajbanshi, Meche, Satar, Dhimal, Mushar, Dom, Dushad, etc.
The Problem: Since History till Date
The problems of Madhes are a fusion of political, socio-cultural and economic complications, for which Madhesi people have waged movements for definition and identity. The problem has been culminating from time to time due to non-confidence, discrimination and exploitation by the State, political parties and elites. The core issues relate to recruitments in State security forces, language, culture, citizenship, etc.
King of Mithila Hari Singh Dev, defeated by Mugals in 1324, arrived in Bhadgaon (present Bhaktapur) and formed an army of Mithila. Approximately 240 years ago during unification of the small warring states, Prithvi Narayan Shah defeated the Sen dynasty Kings of Madhes and then won Kathmandu valley. When Prithvi Narayan Shah in 1774 attacked Kathmandu, Jaya Prakash Malla had 12,000 strong Mithila army that was known as Tirhoot army. Prithvi Narayan Shah demolished the Tirhoot army upon conquering it. Then, enrolling Mahdesis in army had been stopped and it had been continued in the later regimes. Madhesis have felt not inclusion in the national army as an insult.
In 1816, the colonial British army (then ruling over India) defeated Nepali forces. The then few landlords in Madhes had supported the British during the war. They were then on labeled ‘followers of British and adversary of Nepali’ that also defamed them. The article 7 of the memorandum on Sugauli Treaty between the British and the then King on December 1816 stated that the Nepali government would not take any action against the people living in Madhes, but many Madhes dwellers were ill-treated, tortured and punished on the charges of treason. The consequences of the deception of some of the landlords were poured over the common Madhesis. During the Rana Regime prior to 1950, because of their relationship with the British, the latter was silent to the ill-treatment by the former to Madhesis. The Madhesis had to issue passports to visit Kathmandu from the Badahakim (Regional Administrator).
Madhesi people contributed significantly to the democratic movement during 1951, they did not get what they expected from the State – equal participation. In 1954, the National Planning Commission recommended compulsion of Nepali language for both official and teaching in the schools where Hindi was used in Madhes then. In 1956 Dr. K.I. Singh’s government banned teaching of Hindi, which split the population into pro-Hindi and against-Hindi that led to formation of committees ‘to protect Hindi’. After the first elected Prime Minister BP Koirala introduced Hindi in the curriculum in Madhes in 1959, but was revoked after the coup by King Mahendra and imposed ‘Hamro Bhasa, Hamro Bhesh, Pran Bhanda Pyaro Chha’ (our language and costume are dear to us than life). Even during the Multi Party System after the Popular Movement I, the parliamentarians were bound to wear Daura Surwal and Nepali Topi (Nepali costume) and Nepali Topi (cap) in government offices.
The citizenship issues in Madhes have been complicated due to the Treaty of 1950 with India, because many Indians migrated to Nepal. Most of the Pahades migrating to Madhes have brought their citizenship certificates. Because of language, marital, social and cultural linkages of Madhesis with north India, many have dual citizenship. Similarly, criminals operating along border areas and migrating workers either form Nepal to India or from India to Nepal have dual citizenship. The government is arranging for citizenship certificates to all the people born in Nepal after 1990 prior to Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. All the people, including Madhesis, born or living in Nepal since long should get citizenship without discrimination.
Untouchability between the Madhesi ‘higher’ castes and dalits and within dalits themselves is high in Siraha, Dhanusha, Mahottari and Rauthat districts. Madhesi dalits include Khatwe (Mandal, Khanka), Kakihaya, Kalar, Kori, Khapi, Chamar, Rabidas, Chidimar, Dom, Dushad, Dhobi, Bantar, Mehtar, Tatma, Pattharkatta, Mushahar, Sarbhanga, Hajara, Gaine, Satar, etc.
Different forms of violence against women exist in Madhesi communities, including of ‘witchcraft’, dowry, battering, etc. Dalit women face three pronged discriminations: they are women, they are Dalits and they are Dalit women. Pahade women are more open and mobile as compared to Madhesi women, who are confined within households. Early marriage is in vogue. Child marriage is rampant because of dowry, which involves ‘buying of groom’ through cash and kind.
Behind the Curtain
The MJF President Upendra Yadav (UML) had got 21% votes whereas Bijay Kumar Gachhedar (NC) had 58% in Sunsari Constituency number 4 in the first general elections 1991. Yadav complained that he was offered the constituency where the party was sure to loose and he was less supported for propaganda because he was a Madhesi. He was dissatisfied with the UML vote bank policies towards Madhesis and the rift widened. He was inactive for some years. Later he started an organization MJF, Institute for Madhes Intellectual Political Studies, and became close with the Maoists. In the beginning of 2005, he was arrested together with Matrika Yadav and Suresh Ale Magar at New Delhi. But Upendra was released soon. So the CPN (Maoist) alleged him for the arrest and adopted to punish him physically. Matrika Yadav clarified for him and restored his relationship with CPN (Maoist) but it did not go well. He dissociated with CPN (Maoist) and became close to Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) within umbrella of the Indian Hindu hardliners (e.g. Bajranga Dal, Shiv Sena, etc.) closely linked with Bharatiya Janata Party too.
During the end of December 19, 2006, royalist followers of Hindu religion organized a conference at Gorakhpur, India hosted by RSS Deputy Chief Suresh Sony was chief guest where Upendra Yadav along with Acting President Laxman Lal Karn and member Dilip Dhagedewala of NSP-M were attended as guests. It decided to initiate campaign for Hindu Kingdom in Nepal. (Hindustan Times, Dec 20, 2006 Lucknow edition). All Indian media covered the news. Earlier to that, the RSS had frequently supported the Forum led by Upendra Yadav for food and board during its meetings and seminars.
By the end of December 2006, Youth Women National Conference of NC-D was organized in Birgunj (Parsa). On the charges of lack of participation of Madhesis Nepal Bidhyarti Sangh, its student wing, planned to burn the flag of the party and blacken the face of ex-PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, its President, they were successful for the former only. Central Vice President Umesh Yadav, Zonal Secretary Ranjit Jha and District President Jayaram Sanyog of the student wing were suspended for 15 days from their positions. They have been found actively involved in the current unrest in Madhes.
Nepal Sadhbhavana Party-Anandi Devi (NSP-A) called for Madhes strike demanding for Federal structure government, proportional representative based on population density, etc. On December 25, 2006, some cadres of NSP-A vandalized buses at the bus park in Nepalgunj. The next day, the transport businesspeople took to the streets demanding for punishment to the people vandalizing the buses and compensations. Cadres of NSP-A and the business people clashed on the streets, during which one person died and lost millions worth of public and private property. All top brasses of key political parties went there, organized goodwill procession, and did not let off further communal violence between Madhesi and Pahade.
Currently, there has emerged CD threat in Nepalgunj. The violence in Nepalgunj were filmed and the astonishing fact is that Madhesis are being circulated with CD clips of Pahades looting and vandalizing Madhesi property while Pahades are being given CD clips of Madhesis looting and vandalizing Pahade’s property. Within one month of Nepalgunj incident, when the Lahan mishap occurred, neither any political party leader nor any minister has courage to visit the crisis areas for such a long period.
Ram Rijhan Yadav, ex-central committee member of MJF and editor of Purva Weekly, has stated that he had resigned MJF because royalists have penetrated the MJF. Similarly, the Madhesi Student Front close ally of MJF issued press statement and accepted that royalists have penetrated the movement and carried vandalism for which it has nothing to do. Parsa District President Jitendra Sony of the MJF accepted that there has been penetration of regressive forces at their peaceful movement, which vandalized and torched government offices and vehicles and these forces are responsible to life threat and ill-treatment to journalists.
Concerns and Responses
Louis Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the government to resolve Madhes dispute through dialogue and consensus. Ian Martin, Special Representative to UNGS, said that all the parties inclusive of Maoists should strive to find solution to Madhes problem. The Indian Ambassador to Nepal also urged all to restrain and Nepal government to peacefully settle the problem in Madhes.
The PM called the concerned parties including Janatantrik Madhesi Mukti Morcha (JTMM) for dialogue to settle the issues of Madhes. Maoist Supremo Prachanda ruled out any dialogue with any organization including MJF that has no capacity and strength of their own but designed by palace and Hindu fundamentalists. All the key political parties, except Maoists, have urged the government to form talks team and initiate dialogue, but it has not been actualized. CPN (Maoist) is pressuring SPA to directly announce Federal Democratic Republic prior to CA elections.
On January 25, 2007 the meeting of Human Rights Joint Forum and Madhes Study and Development Society, which included representatives of MJF, Human Rights Defenders, civil society and Intellectuals decided the following 4-point proposal:
1. Address the demand put forward by MJF and other classes and groups to declare immediately federal democracy and proportionate electoral system in the IC;
2. Call for talks to solve the problems existing in the country;
3. Stop immediately all repressive actions and punish the perpetrators; and
4. Invites the government and the stakeholders including MJF to form talks teams to initiate dialogue.
The two factions of JTMM, led by Jaya Krishna Goit and Jwala Singh had proclaimed solidarity with the MJF movement and called for their cadres and supporters to join in. Matrika Yadav said that the JTMM had been fighting against the Maoists while all including Maoists had been fighting against the monarchy and asked if not they, who the royalists were.
The Nepal Sadhbhavna Party-Mandal, the ex-Privy Council members, the ex-Pancha (Royalists of Panchayat Regime) were active in the movement. Dr. Baburam Bhattarai alleged that hooligans from India were brought to conduct the movement launched by MJF. Similarly, different organizations such as Adibashi Janajati Mahasangh (Federation of Indigenous/Nationalities), Dalit Organizations and Organizations related to Madhes and Muslims have announced their solidarity with the Madhesi movement.
The old leaders of all political parties carrying old thinking, old style, old methodologies, old culture and everything old on their backs with a purpose to build a NEW NEPAL proclaimed the Interim Constitution on January 15, 2007; opposition to which was started from the following day. People regard the “New Constitution” as no better than old hag in new clothes. Nepal Congress has the concept of inclusive democracy. CPN (UML) has adopted the policy of democratic inclusive republic and the CPN (Maoist) is in favor of Ethnic/Regional/Linguistic Federal Democratic Republic and Proportional Representative Electoral System. But the CPN (Maoist) failed to convince SPA on their demands. Consequently, both Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the IC came on public excluding the interests and voices of people. This sentiment has had an overwhelming impact over the marginalized and disadvantaged communities and groups. In fact, the 11-years armed conflict of the CPN (Maoist) has created massive awareness that could not have been generated within the evolutionary trend of 100 years.
However, the IC did not offer rights compared to the consciousness of the masses. Madhes is burning with the slogan ‘no rights without sacrifice.’ There are six types of people involved in the Madhes movement. Firstly, the MJF initiated and led the Madhes movement that was non-violent. But it turned violent as neither their organization and networking nor was leadership strong. Secondly, the common people ushered by their consciousness came together for their rights and duties, which was without leadership leading to increase in violence. The third are the Madhesi activists, who felt insulted by their own leadership within SPAM since long on the course to implement to their demands, have been involved actively in the movement. The fourth is the royalist force comprising of the NSP-M, cadres of RPP and Rastriya Jana Shakti Party, former Pancha (politicians of Panchayat Regime), the ‘elected’ members of Municipalities during King’s sham Municipality elections. These have been intensifying the pockets of and support for the movement. It has been supporting the movement with finance and activism to fish in troubled waters.
The fifth force is Hindu fundamentalists, including Indian and Nepali, with the purpose to reestablish Hindu Kingdom have been fueling the fire to reinstate Monarchy in Nepal. The sixth are both the factions of TJMM, which have withdrawn talks with the government and dived into the movement. All the above forces are unfolding violent struggle under the banner of MJF. On the other side, the lack of leadership on the Madhes violence, none of the political and civil society actors pressure enough the government to initiate dialogue.
In the early period, the SPA became viewers to the tussle between the Maoists and MJF that the ‘tiger’ would devour the ‘deer’, but they have become bewildered as the Madhesi movement began targeting SPA. The PM’s statement urging Maoist leaders to apologize for Lahan incident added fuel to violence in Madhes. The sole ‘politics’ of SPA is spearheaded to minimize the ‘image’ of Maoists in public.
The incidences in Madhes have made wounds in the hearts of entire Nepali people and timely dressing and addressing to the wounds is pertinent to stop it spreading, otherwise it may develop into a cancer. The crisis is in reality identity clash in Nepal, which represents castes, classes, gender, regions, religions, cultures, languages, etc. Nepal is a common of all Nepalis. All the political forces should timely and adequately comply to talks, dialogue, negotiations and cooperation for New Nepal. The present need is Federal Democracy and Proportional Election System including geographical representation. Special attention should also be given to sensitive zones like Karnali who occurs about 15% areas of Nepal, but fewer populations. If not, violent conflict will be recurring that could intensify ethnic and communal violence.
Nepal has a legacy of upheaval, violence reigning over dreams of Nepali people at every 10 years’ interval since 1950/51. In order to pragmatically fulfill people’s interest, desires, aspirations and demands people ought to have their due rights, “otherwise Nepal is waiting the other type of war – an ethnic war or civil war”.
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