Political Unrest in “Terai” Region of Nepal Assuming Dangerous Proportions
Political Unrest in “Terai” Region of Nepal Assuming Dangerous Proportions
Nepal , Bihar , Prime minister
2007-02-08 10:15:34 – Even as Nepal has abolished monarchy and is now all set to draft a new Constitution after electing a Constituent Assembly by the middle of June this year
Even as Nepal has abolished monarchy and is now all set to draft a new Constitution after electing a Constituent Assembly by the middle of June this year, the sudden eruption of violent protests by the people of the “Terai” region of the country is threatening to derail efforts for a smooth transition to a republic.
Violent protests by the Terai people, known generally by the name of Madhesis, police firings, clashes between these people and the largely hill people or “Pahadis” and curfew in major towns along the country’s southern border is threatening the peaceful efforts of the Government to hold the elections for the Constituent Assembly.
The situation is so desperate that one cannot but recall the explosive situation that had developed in Eastern Pakistan 36 years ago which had led to the emergence of Bangladesh.
On Monday, January 29,2007 the situation was like this. One senior Minister Hridayesh Tripathi, belonging to the Nepal Terai region, resigned from the Ministry. Ms Chitralekha Yadava who was only recently elected Deputy Speaker of the 330-member interim Parliament, has offered to resign and the 53 members of the House belonging to the Terai region are now converting themselves to the view expressed by some extremist Madhesi groups that there has to be an independent, sovereign State comprising the Terai regions of the country, running for 800 kilometres along the southern border of Nepal, and adjacent to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh States of India.
The entire area, mostly along the northern borders of Bihar, is so explosive that one cannot but recall the situation one had witnessed in 1971 in East Pakistan when the demand for a sovereign State of Bangladesh had raised its head.
The Statesmanship of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and other leaders of the political parties including the Maoist leaders Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai will come for an acid test for dousing the fire and enable the Election Commission to hold the elections for the Constituent Assembly by the end of May and beginning of June.
While watching the situation with fear for the worst- more deaths in police firing, more towns coming under curfews and the increasing bitterness between the people of the Terai region and those belonging to the Hills, known as “Madhesis” and “Pahadis” respectively, let us trace the origin of the animosity between these two communities – most of whom are Hindus-and why can’t the two sections of the same country live in harmonious relationships with each other.
Historically, to the world Nepal had meant only the Kathmandu Valley and the surrounding areas. This small area of a few hundred square kilometers, nevertheless, had spawned a high degree of culture, at par with the people in the plains. Beginning with the Kirats, successive dynasties had ruled Nepal. They were the Lichchavis, the Thakuris, the Mallas and the Gorkhas. The area we see in the maps of Nepal today were the result of recent developments, since 1769, to be precise when the Gorkha King Prithvinarayan Shah had conquered the Kathmandu Valley from the Mallas.
During that period of India’s history, the Mughal empire was crumbling and the British had just gained control of Bengal (1757 ). In this situation, Prithvinarayan Shah had lunched an expansion programme east and west and also in some cases south of the Kathmandu Valley. While he had concentrated on hill principalities in order to build a larger, unified Nepal, his successors had managed to occupy certain areas in the south too. These areas were “subas” of the Mughals earlier.
While the unified Nepal embraced mostly the “Khas” and Nepali speaking people of the northern, eastern and southern Nepal, expansion towards the south had embraced areas which were dominated by people speaking dialects of Hindi. The hill principalities were largely headed by Rajputs from India and some Brahmins, the area south of the hills were inhabited by the generally dark-complexioned people, not like the Rajputs. The latter became known as the Pahadis and the former, the Madhesis. (Madheshi is the corruption of the Sanskrit word Madhyadesh).
Since the Madhesis were part of the populace who had come to Nepal as a result of conquests by the Gorkhas, they have been looked down upon by the hill people. In any case, these Madhesis never crossed the mountains in order to take residence in the hill areas. As a result, they could not be integrated with the Pahadis. The Pahadis, being fair-complexioned people, treated the dark-complexioned Madhesis as inferior citizens. This resulted in gross discrimination against them. The Madhesis continued their interaction with the people of British India across the border, which remains to this day, open.
However, the southern districts have been rich in agriculture and it is not possible to build heavy industries in the hills. Therefore, the revenue generated in the Terai belt is higher than in the hills. Traditionally, the Madhesis have argued, the funds generated in the south, are not utilised for development of the Terai. This charge could not be properly refuted by the Kathmandu people. At every step, the Madhesis have been facing discrimination.
The cumulative effect of all these has been alienation between these two groups of Nepalis. One had thought that under the new dispensation, since the fall of the monarchy, would seek to remove these discriminatory attitude. This has not happened yet.
Various Madhesi groups, some of them professing Maoism, have been demanding that this area extending from the western border constituted by the Mahakali river to the eastern border with the Mechi river, and south of the middle Himalayas, should constitute an independent sovereign State.
This is not a welcome demand even though one might agree with the charge of discrimination against the Madhesis. As it is, Nepal with an area of 147,000 odd square kilometers, is a small State and bifurcating it would not benefit either the “Pahadis” or the Madhesis.
One has full faith in the Statesman ship of Girija Prasad Koirala, the Prime Minister, and other leaders that they would be able to dissuade the Madhesis from demanding separation from the mainstream people. It is now the responsibility of the “Pahadis” to allay the fears of the Madhesis and remove discrimination against them.
One step in this direction would be to review the demarcation of the Parliamentary constituencies so that every singe constituency has more or less the same number of voters. The situation today is that the number of voters in the constituencies in the hill is much less than in the Terai belt. This is perhaps inevitable because of the difference in the density of population in the hills and the plains. The proportion of voters in the hills and of the plains is too skewed for comfort in a newly-emerging Republican Nepal.
Lastly, it is not in the interest of India to have a neighbour which is always engulfed in turmoil. The Indian establishment, therefore has a duty to ensure that the turmoil in Nepal does not affect Indian areas adjacent to Nepal.
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