Nepal’s unsettling peace

February 7, 2007 at 2:59 am 5 comments

Nepal’s unsettling peace
— by Dharma Adhikari

The end of Nepal’s civil war is being followed by a separatist insurgency in its Madhesh/Terai region. Both revolts challenge Nepal to a redefinition of its national identity, says Dharma Adhikari. 

A new revolt has started in Nepal, less than two months after the landmark peace deal between an alliance of seven political parties and Maoist rebels was signed. The agreement on 21 November 2006 formally ended a decade-long civil war, and brought the Maoists close to achieving their goal of a republic.

The latest uprising, at least in its declared objective of separatism, pales in comparison to the Maoists’ agenda of replacing a monarchy with a communist republic. It looks like the transition is not going to be smooth. The culture of violence the Maoists exemplified over the years seems to have resonated with other disgruntled groups.

The Madhesi issue

Jai Krishna Goit, leader of Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (People’s Terai Liberation Front / JTMM), and Jwala Singh (head of a splinter faction with a similar name), apparently are not settling for a republic.

The renegade Maoist cadres, who until two and half years ago allied with Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPM-N), have announced their mission to be the establishment of a new independent state Terai (or Tarai, of Madhesh (“the middle country”). The name refers to the low, fertile plains between the Himalayas and northern India. Madhesh is also known to be derived from the Farsi word terai, meaning “moist land”).

The region is a serpentine land around 800 kilometres (though only twenty-six to thirty-two kilometres wide) along the Indian border, covering about 23% of Nepal’s mostly mountainous 147,000 square kilometers of land. Terai, home to about half of Nepal’s population of 27 million, including many traditionally excluded ethnic communities, is also Nepal’s bread-basket.

With the emerging political twist, Nepal is fast moving closer to the ranks of other countries in the region – including Sri Lanka, India and the Philippines – that have been grappling with issues of separatism for decades.

So it’s déjà vu all over again in the central-southern plains. News reports say clashes among the Maoists, JTMM cadres and government forces have become routine. At least nineteen people were killed since 19 January 2007, and there is virtual curfew in key towns in the region, which have been paralysed by general strikes. Ian Martin, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon’s personal representative for Nepal, has expressed grave concern over the escalation of tension and violence in the Terai.

The fire was lit when a small pro-Madhesi party in Nepal’s governing alliance – the Nepal Sadbhawana Party-Anandadevi (NSP-A) – called for a regional strike on 3 December 2006. Among its demands: a provision for proportional representation of Madhesis in the interim constitution. The country saw its first communal clash in memory when Madhesis, ethnically of Indian origin, clashed with Pahades, people from the hilly regions. Soon the fighting spread to other towns, including Lahan, in the east, and Janakpur, in the central plains.

The scope of a revolt

Democracy brings things out in the open, however chaotic they may look. Expecting the unexpected should not be out of the ordinary in Nepal, especially during these fluid, transitional times. Apparently, a new breed of rebels has been born.

Historical analogies are not always accurate, but they sometimes help to illuminate contemporary situations. In an eerie reverberation of Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s partisan movement of 1940 to create Pakistan, the Madhesi rebels are calling for the establishment of an independent state of Madhesh, which aptly could be called Madhyastan. But unlike Jinnah’s initial solidarity with Mohandas K Gandhi’s peaceful movement against the British Raj, the Madhesi leaders trace their roots to Prachanda’s brutal armed rebellion.

How genuine and well-founded is this new revolt? How will this affect Nepal’s democratic transition? What are its national and regional implications? What can be done about it?

Both JTMM factions are considered to be small groups, with a few hundred cadres. It is true, however, that both have learned military tactics under their former Prachanda-led party. They have been successful in creating fear and terror in the rural communities through such tactics as killing, abduction and extortion.

Geographically, Madhesh covers the whole of the southern Nepal plains, including my hometown in the eastern part, which is populated by so-called Pahades like me. But ethnically, the region is constituted by about ten districts in the central-southern Terai. This includes districts such as Banke, Bardia, Kailali and Kanchanpur, collectively known as Naya Muluk (the new country); this is the territory Nepal regained in 1857, forty-two years after it was annexed by the British.

Yet, because of their closer cultural ties with people in northern India (people on both sides of the border speak Hindi, Maithili and Bhojpuri and often intermarry), the Madhesi cause has a regional dimension. Already, there are allegations that the Madhesi rebels are backed by Indian Hindu extremists. Others, including the governing coalition and Maoists, claim that “regressive elements”, such as the royalists, are behind the ethnic trouble.

Whatever the political backgrounds of the new rebel leaders, most (if not all) of the Madhesi grievances submitted to the government seem reasonable. Their fundamental demand is to promulgate the interim constitution only when it ensures Madhesis their fair share in the new Nepal.

They are calling for a redrawal of electoral districts based on population: half of all constituent-assembly voting districts must be in the Madhes region because half the country’s population lives there. The leaders also demand a census in Terai under ethnic Madhesi leadership, and replacement of all security and government staff in the plains with Madhesis. According to one estimate, Madhesis hold only 11% of leadership positions in national governance, although they constitute 31% of the total population.

Further demands include adequate representation in the assembly, citizenship for all Madhesis, cessation of Maoist atrocities, return of seized lands, compensation to Madhesi “martyrs”, and most controversial of all, making Terai independent from Nepal. In short, the rebels are seeking an end to what they call an “internal colonisation of Terai” by Pahades for centuries.

While it was a welcome sign that the government recently authorised citizenship certificates for 3 million Madhesis, Nepal’s leaders have been slow to respond to the current crisis. The Maoists are not prepared for any talks with the rebels. Prachanda dismissed it: “Negotiation is done with political forces, not with criminals and gangsters.”

Prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s belated address to the nation on 31 January 2007 came after one of his top cabinet ministers resigned in protest against the government’s lack of response to the unfolding crisis. Koirala called for calm and dialogue so that the United Nations-monitored assembly elections could be held in June. However, he failed to directly address Madhesis’ demand for an amendment to the interim constitution itself that is the basis of the assembly elections. Whatever the perspectives or the prescriptions, this is sure to hinder a smooth democratic transition in the short term because the new rebels have vowed they will not allow the elections in the Terai region.

The strength of diversity

The Maoists, having completely sidelined King Gyanendra, are in parliament now, and ready soon to join a multi-party interim government that will oversee the upcoming assembly elections. They may have attained their party’s ideological objectives, but ordinary Nepalis are yet to experience genuine change in their lives. True change, after all, does not come through violence.

We Nepalis would like to see something big happen in our country, something that could parallel the European renaissance, something that may be equal to what the Hungarian thinker Karl Polyani called “the great transformation”, which took place in the industrialising Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the glory of past millennia obscures a clear view of a future that is free of any prejudices. Nepal is a society of perennial reference to the past.

Politically, the old order may have been shattered, but socially and culturally, even the most revolutionary of Nepalis cannot escape the past from which they purport to break away. In January, the newly appointed Maoist interim legislators invoked God as they took the oath of office, and it has not been long since November 2006 when they appeared on television with vermillion powder on their foreheads, a Hindu sign of victory. Many of the Maoists reportedly believe in Jesus Christ.

As a God-fearing human being, I am happy that the former rebels have not forsaken the almighty. But the sacred and the profane go hand-in-hand in Nepal. Now the Maoists are part of legislation, but in the way they are conducting business, they exemplify their former adversaries. The wisdom behind Prachanda’s dismissive remarks on the need for dialogue is rooted in that ambivalent culture.

The decade-long war led by the Maoists, though considered a “big bang” politically, increasingly looks like a whimper. The separatist movement, if not handled with extreme care, may be far more devastating than the Maoist war. One must not forget that the Maoist problem has not been resolved in the true sense. Agreements are essentially compromises that can be broken or altered or challenged. That is partly what is happening right now. The Maoist problem has assumed a new form, spiralling into a dangerous ethnic tension. The coalition of convenience – the alliance of seven parties and the Maoists – must be deliberative in its approach and embrace dialogue with all sections of society and consider grievances with an open mind.

In the changed political context, the rise of ethnic nationalism based on languages, regions and race should be expected in the cultural mosaic that is Nepal. It is an emerging reality everywhere. Anthony D Smith, who has studied nationalism in the contemporary context, sees “transcendence of ethnicity” as the emerging reality of postmodern nation-states. In this view, Smith says, nation-states do not necessarily need to be grounded in history and social life, or be homogenous or united, or represent major social or political actors in society. The sixty-three-member Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (Unpo), for example, includes many such ethnic nationalities.

In Nepal there are some forty to sixty races and tribes. Language groups are so distinct that Ethnologue, a catalogue of the world’s languages, lists 123 living languages in the country. There are many groups seeking to exercise their long-suppressed identities, freedoms and rights. Beside the Madhesis, the Newa Mukti Morcha and the Limbuwan Federal Republic are two other high-profile language/ethnicity-based groups advocating self-rule and independence.

So, despite Nepal being a small country, the central Himalayan expanse resembles – psychologically for many Nepalis – a sort of (Gorkha) empire, ruled by the all-powerful shahs until recently. If every significant identity is taken into consideration, Nepal contains potentially more than fifty nation-states.

It is not geography alone, then, but collective thoughts of nationhood that exist in millions of minds. Suppression of a thought only emboldens it; therefore, the leadership must display democratic sincerity and an inclusive attitude in addressing ethnic demands and issues. Like most Nepalis, I hope, I would not want my country to disintegrate into a bunch of Himalayan fiefdoms in the name of nations. We must be able to read strength in our diversity, not discord.

The classical utilitarian approach of politics is to judge impact by numbers – in other words, how many voters will be affected? The more people affected, the more significant something becomes. In a heterogeneous state like Nepal, however, the question is not how many, but how just and fair.



Entry filed under: Articles.

NON VIOLENCE MUST BE PRACTICED Let’s Salvage the Terai Havoc!

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. kishor  |  February 7, 2007 at 8:56 am

    Please Remember Realities always which Is mentioned hereunder:

    There are two coomunities in Terai region, one is madhesi who entered Nepal only after in 18th century in search of food and shelter. Other is Tharu community,an aboriginal people of nepal.Tharus have their own culture, language, traditions.only recenty, when DDT eradicated the Malaria, many madhesi entered low land of nepal fron Madhya- desh of INdia, which is now located in UP,Umbala, Bihar.So as hilly people also migrated in Tharu’s Area and subjucated their lands.
    mtDNA results have shown that tharus have high frequency(0.8)of alfa -thal anti- maleria genes amongs tharu than non tharus and also proved that they’re mongoloid. This results stronly supports the notion that Indeed the Tharus are only single community of that part of Nepal who are living since over the millenia.They mainly practiced buddism before Hinduised by Aarya Madhesi and hilly brahman and Kshatri.
    For further Information: please see the books of Arjun Gunratne, Kurt Mayer Or you can Found so many Facts and Proofs about tharus people on google site, when you log on about Tharu People.
    ( Note: Madhesi are trying to prove themselves as a indigenous people of Nepal , Which is not true, Only Tharus are only single Indigenous community who are living in terai since over the millenia.Tharus are not Madhesi, They are Indigenous People of that part of Nepal, Terai is not Madhesh, Madhesh is LOcated IN Indian Teritory, People Came from Madhya -Desh (madhesh) is popularly known as -Madhesi)

    I support the above mentioned reality that Tharus are Indeed, a single community, living in malaria -infested terai forest since over the millenia. Indeed. They are not Madhesi but indigenous people of that part.Tharus have their own language, culture, traditions that vastly different than Maithali or Madhesi culture.Many Clever Madhesi and Hilly people subjucated their lands after Malaria eradication.They popularly known for their honesty, meekness. even among non tharus community. so that, Indeed , They are not Madhesi and above mentioned facts shows that Madhesi is those people who entered in low lands of Nepal only after the 18th century and malaria eradication from Madhaya -desh of Indian Territoty.

    I know about Janaki Mandir, It is build by Tikamgad Ki Maharari(Queen), When she visited the calm place of Terai.Tikamgad is now in India. Later, This Temple became famous among hindu, thenafter, Maithali community migrate this place as a Purohit brahaman and setteled there.Even now maithali brahaman has been deputed as a purohit for among tharu community. This evidence stongly support the notion that Tharus deputed and sheltered Maithali Community in Terai. Because Most of Maithaly communities have their relatives in India. And They can not go beyond this reality.
    Thank You.

    A minority number of Rajbanshi, Dhimal, Danuwar, Jhangad, Dhanuk, Mushar, are the ancient castes of Terai. Who living in terai along with Tharus.They are also Indigenous people of terai. Because of majority of Tharus in 23 districts of Terai and Inner Terai are Popularly Known as THARUWAN (THARUHAT) even in these days among Indigeous and hilly community. Terai is not Madhesh. Madhesh term is derived from Madhaya- desh. People migrated from madhaya desh has started to use this term can see the Tony hegan’s book about nepal, Dr. hark Gurung’s reseach book and many more authoritative book’s about Nepal, You can not find the term Madhesh instead of Terai. You can read the book of Nepal’s scholar Rewati raman khanal,In this book he has mentioned that Rajya laxmi devi had chased daljeet shah abroad Madhesh, and in 99 page of this book, He has cleary mentioned about the Terai Administration , So its proves that Terai and Madhesh are two different geographical region.
    Thank you.

    • Some evidences on Tharu’s identity

    • Terrenato L,
    • Shrestha S,
    • Dixit KA,
    • Luzzatto L,
    • Modiano G,
    • Morpurgo G,
    • Arese P.
    Department of Human Genetics, University of Sassari, Rome, Italy.
    The Terai region of Nepal has been known to be heavily malarious since remote times, and it has, therefore, been regarded as uninhabitable by most Nepalese people. The Tharu people, who have been living in the Terai for centuries, were reputed to have an innate resistance to malaria. Following successful control of malaria by the Nepal Malaria Eradication Organization (NMEO), a large and heterogeneous non-Tharu population now inhabits the Terai along with Tharus. By analysing NMEO records, we have found that the prevalence of cases of residual malaria is nearly seven times lower among Tharus compared to sympatric non-Tharus. This difference applies to Plasmodium vivax, which is now much more common, and to Plasmodium falciparum. We suggest that the basis for resistance to malaria in the Tharu people is a genetic factor yet to be identified.
    • Modiano G,
    • Morpurgo G,
    • Terrenato L,
    • Novelletto A,
    • Di Rienzo A,
    • Colombo B,
    • Purpura M,
    • Mariani M,
    • Santachiara-Benerecetti S,
    • Brega A, et al.
    Department of Biology, University of Rome, Tor Vergata, Italy.
    We have previously reported that the Tharu people of the Terai region in southern Nepal have an incidence of malaria about sevenfold lower than that of synpatric non-Tharu people. In order to find out whether this marked resistance against malaria has a genetic basis, we have now determined in these populations the prevalence of candidate protective genes and have performed in-vitro cultures of Plasmodium falciparum in both Tharu and non-Tharu red cells. We have found significant but relatively low and variable frequencies of beta-thal, beta S, G6PD (-), and Duffy (a-b-) in different parts of the Terai region. The average in-vitro rate of invasion and of parasite multiplication did not differ significantly in red cells from Tharus versus those from non-Tharu controls. By contrast, the frequency of alpha-thalassemia is uniformly high in Tharus, with the majority of them having the homozygous alpha-/alpha-genotype and an overall alpha-thal gene (alpha-) frequency of .8. We suggest that holoendemic malaria has caused preferential survival of subjects with alpha-thal and that this genetic factor has enabled the Tharus as a population to survive for centuries in a malaria-holoendemic area. From our data we estimate that the alpha-thal homozygous state decreases morbidity from malaria by about 10-fold. This is an example of selection evolution toward fixation of an otherwise abnormal gene.
    • Passarino G,
    • Semino O,
    • Pepe G,
    • Shrestha SL,
    • Modiano G,
    • Santachiara Benerecetti AS.
    ISMEC CNR, Cosenza Italy.
    Tharus–a population of Terai (a region with a severe malarial morbidity in the past)–can be subdivided into three main groups: Western, Central and Southern Tharus. They have usually been considered a Mongoloid population and this has been further substantiated by mtDNA findings on Central Tharus. Studies on the distribution of malaria-related genes have shown an extremely high frequency (0.8) of the alpha-thal gene among Tharus. In the present investigation mtDNA markers were studied in the same sample of Eastern Tharus previously examined for the alpha-thal gene. The findings were: 1. the same three features which confirmed the classification of Central Tharus as Mongoloids (i.e., the common occurrence of HpaI-1/HincII-1 and HaeII-5 morphs, and the lack of BamHI polymorphism) were also present in this sample. Since the only neighbouring population accessible to Tharus, until recently, has been Hindu (Caucasoids), this result strongly supports the notion that Tharus are indeed a single anthropological entity; 2. two statistically significant differences between Eastern and Central Tharus–namely, a much higher HaeII morph 5 frequency among Central Tharus, and the absence in the same group of the mutation at 15.487 bp (very common among Eastern Tharus)–together with the results on alpha-tal gene, suggested that Tharu subgroups underwent an effective reproductive isolation.

    ”’Tharus”’ Tharus pervade all along the east-west lowland Terai belt as well as in the inner Terai valleys of Chitwan, Dang, Surkhet and Udaipur. They are considered the first native people of that part of Nepal. According to the regions of their inhabitation, each respective Tharu clan has its own ethnic identity, dialect and culture. Tharus have their own languages but the respective Tharu languages are thus influenced by Awadhi, Bhojpuri and Maithili languages, depending on the regions of their inhabitation. Because of their facial and physical features, they are considered Mongoloid. They mainly practice Buddhism.. Their main occupation is farming, and Tharus enjoy many similarities with the agro-based Newars of the Kathamandu Valley. (Traced from the article nationalities of Nepal)

  • 2. Pushkar  |  February 7, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Hi Kishor Ji,
    I can strongly challenge you that you, your presented references, and its interoperation are greatly biased. You should need to mention first about the history of Nepal, afterward you could understand who are the true indigenous people of Nepal and who migrated from where and in what circumstances. Would you mind to consult and research about the comparative migration and origin history Nepalese Madhesi and Pahadi and what are you personal indicator to identify the indigenous status? Please do not mind I have feeling that little knowledge is dangerous thing so please use more effort before to express such things- I think you should know the proper biography of the raised issues. I think just to know the names of few books and to get proper knowledge from the books are two different things. I hope you will not mind. I thank you.


  • 3. ashok  |  February 8, 2007 at 5:48 am

    Mr. Kishor
    if u r interested in reading such kind of books.its good but for
    your kind information u should convince the nepalese government to send all the madheshi people to india.that will be good according to you. i dont think that l such kind of narrow minded people are still living in nepal having discrimination like this.u should also try to change the history of nepal and try to remove the name of madhesi people.
    bcz u can do nothing except such kind of stuppied things

    thanking u

  • 4. Raj Sakya  |  July 28, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    Pushkar Jii and Ashok jii,
    I am neither Tharu nor madheshi. I am here to post something just because that it is scientific matter and a matter of investigation. Being an anthropologist I will say, Kishor’s presentation is ablosolutely true. I have gone through all the documents what he has posted here.

    Do you know that before Aryan Invasion who were living in India? They were Nigrito, Proto-Austroloid, Mongoloid and Dravids. The Aryan invaded into India, between 7000 and 2000 BC. Wait never panic with the terminology “Aryan Invasion’ there are many scholars who are against the Aryan Invasion Theory but their logics are very weak in front of genetic studies. Their logics are mainly based on the Dharmashastras and myths, which are helpful in some extent which is certainly good to know the past but cannot help disapprove the AIT. AIT was propounded by Raja Rammohan Roy, William Jones, Max Muller and Bal Gangadhar Tilak etc. They were the best known pundits of Samskrit and the Dharmashastras, and languages and linguistics.

    I will post my short article in Nepali language on the topic Who is the Adivasis of Tarai? If you have arguments then you may raise them without hesitation but with proofs and logics. In fact, we all are searching the truth.

    Here, not last but least, you should remember that this is not the Tharu groups who tried to expel the Pahade people from the Tarai. The Tharus are not the people who blew slogan of “Ek Madhesh Ek Pradesh” in separatist motive. When the Madheshi people tried to snatch their identity of indigenousness, then only they have just tried to raise their own voice. I have great support with their identity movement.

  • 5. Son of of Tirhut  |  August 1, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Kishor Ji,
    O.K i accept that Tharu, Danuwar and some more people are indiginous people of Terai, What about Khas(Bahun, Kshetri,Kami, Damai and Sharki) and Sanyasi(bharati, Giri and Puri) and Ranas and Thakuris people of hilly area in Nepal, The ruler class, Why don’t you speak against these dominated Khas people who claims to to be the purest Nepali by killing and forcing and humiliating the indeginoius people hilly area. None see anywhere civilization of aryans in Hilly or Terai area of Nepal (you claim to be from Karnali) as english people call you Indi Arya Hindus, for your kind information indigenous people of Karnali are The Great Magars.

    As far as Tirhut (Maithil) people are concerned, we are son of terai soil, because the proof is there as Simraungadh(Bara) which links us to Newar Community of Kathmandu Valley in 13’th century.

    There is simple formula to break Madhesi movement- “divide and Rule”, but this time the turn is ours. As far as Tharus as cincerned, i don’t want to speak against them, since we are brothers and we both till now are slave of you Khasiya rulers.

    Jai Madhes/Tharuhat!!!!!

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