The Madhesi Issue in Nepal

March 4, 2007 at 5:27 am 9 comments

The Madhesi Issue in Nepal

K Yhome
Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

The recent turmoil in Madhes (or the Terai plains bordering India) was a stark reflection of the challenges confronting the restructuring process in Nepal. It was also a reminder to the current interim government that the problems in Nepal are not yet over and that there are serious socio-economic and political issues that need to be addressed.

The Madhesi uprising in January was marked by bans, protests, and violence in some major areas of Nepal’s terai resulting in the death of over thirty people. This has in several ways changed the interim government’s approach to and the management of Nepal’s political restructuring and peace process. It has also raised many questions. Why was the violence so potent? Who was responsible? How will it affect the restructuring process? And so on.

These questions are palpable in the context of Nepal’s fragile political restructuring process that is underway. While exploring answers to these questions, however, there is a proclivity to misinterpret the Madhesi issue. Some (mis)conceptions that have come about in the wake of the uprising are not only erroneous but also dangerous.

The Madhesi issue is not a communal issue. It is not one of Madhesis (“people of the plains”) vs Pahadis (“people of the hills”) as some tend to view it. This misinterpretation of the Madhesi issue commits a serious mistake by making it a community-based issue that could have grave implications for the country. To view the issue as a problem between Madhesis and Pahadis reveals a poor understanding of Nepal’s complex society.

While one may have some facts supporting such an argument, it fails to explain the real issue of the Madhesis. There were also reports that certain “forces” (implicating the “Royal agents” and the “right wing” elements in India) of allegedly instigating the Terai riots to create trouble for the interim government in a bid to salvage the “monarchy” in Nepal. Hard evidence to ascertain the involvement of these forces is difficult to unearth, but many in Nepal point fingers at these forces as being responsible for the violence.

Whatever the motive of those behind the terai violence, many ordinary Madhesis have lost their lives. Madhesis out on the streets at the risk of their lives were there for a different reason. For them it was a fight for a genuine object – the Madhesi cause.

The Madhesi issue did not suddenly emerge in January 2007. A long history of a sense of discrimination is at the root of the Madhesi struggle. To explain the recent uprising it is necessary to understand the issue from the correct perspective. The issue relates to a movement against the state’s “discriminatory” politics. It is a fight for recognition of rights – political, cultural as well as economic – and a struggle for equal representation and opportunity. This forms the core ingredient of the Madhesi issue.

For over five decades, the Madhesis have been waging a movement against “discriminatory” laws of citizenship and language, as well as recruitment policies to the armed forces and bureaucracy. The struggle can be traced back to 1951 when a party called the Nepal Terai Congress was formed under the leadership of Vedananda Jha to advocate “regional autonomy” for the Madhesis.

Again, in 1983, Gajendra Narayan Singh established an organization called Nepal Sadbhavana Council with the aim of combat discrimination against the Madhesis. In the post-1990 era, the organization turned into a political party called Nepal Sadbhavana Party and in the general elections of 1991, 1994, and 1999, the party’s manifesto called for a federal system of government, a liberal policy on citizenship and a separate Madhesi battalion in the army.

Despite the long struggle, however, the Madhesi issue has not been resolved partly on account of Nepal’s five-decade history of being under autocratic rule – 1960 to 1990 and 2002 to 2006 – where political activities were restricted. Even during the short-lived democratic experiments in Nepal – 1950 to 1960 and 1991 to 2002 – the issue remained unresolved because of the lack of political will on the part of the successive governments.

The failure of the movement is also partly because of the internal divisions within the Madhesi leadership. The Sadbhavana Party has seen frequent infighting and splits that have further weakened the movement. It is in this context and in light of the predicaments mentioned that the Madhesi uprising of January needs to be understood.

The resolution of the Madhesi issue depends on how the interim parliament drafts a new constitution taking into account the various socio-political issues of the country. Should it fail to ensure the aspirations of the people, the recent outburst of violence in the terai will only be an indication of more chaos to follow.



Entry filed under: Articles.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Salik  |  March 5, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    Well- now the things have suddenly changed. Earlier those who led the Madhesi Andolan seemed honest and like they cared for the people- for common Nepalis living in the plains. But now- they are simply politicking. I don’t know but I’m very afraid about the future of Madhesi communities and other marginalized communities. Those one or two men on the forefront claiming themselves for leading the movement- are LIARS. They seem to be running after power and money now. The Maoists are very clever- they will not leave any stone unturned to ‘sweep off’ the same leaders. God knows what is awaiting us in future. But I strongly feel if the problem isn’t solved by the EPA- then another bloodbath- Madhesi Rebellion- will leave the country in ruins. But here those who needs to care hardly seems to be doing so.

    We need leaders who can think beyond a particular community- who can unite this country into one and take us ahead together- hands in hands and shoulders in shoulders- Hope you have seen some around you. I have not, sorry for such a pessimistic view.

  • 2. Laxmi Narayan Sah  |  March 8, 2007 at 9:52 am

    The research report on Social inclusion of Madhesi Community in Nation Building is relevant. This valuable findings/obervations need to be shared with others so that people will benefit from the update. Thanks goes to Dr.Shree Gobinda Shah for his excellent deliberation through this research report.

  • 3. Bimal Gadal  |  March 19, 2007 at 5:22 am

    Its really worthy articles. Though, I suggest you to consider following concerns for your further research:

    1. Inclusion of Madesi, Janajati and Dalits putting women in Central point is already taken by the Maoist as their main agenda during their 12 years armed war in Nepal. With this background, it is not new but we have to see whether the issues will be addressed properly or not after the formulation of new constitution in Nepal.

    2. Next most important, this movement is taking a violent form and nearly fifty people have been killed already. We don’t want to see another bloodshed in Nepal, where we have lost already more than 15000 Nepali poor men, women and children.

    3. This movement is getting a shape of communal war between Madhesi and hill community, which very bad symptoms for Nepal as it might lead the nation towards communal war line in Sri Lanka.

    4. In the name of Inclusion of Madhesi, Janajati and Dalit in Development Mainstream, anti-democratic element are entered to this movement and giving worse form to the movement.

    Therefore, I humbly request you all as development workers in Nepal since a decade long, all forms of violation should be stopped and rights should be demanded with the peaceful movement with the people centred advocacy approach.

    Thank you and wish you all the best!!!

    Bimal Gadal
    Development Worker in Nepal

  • 4. Ashutosh Shrivastav  |  March 30, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    Madheshis– wherever you are–this is the urgency of time for us to be united and let madhesh fight for justice. No more tolerance. We Madheshis honor the guests, even the uninvited ones, but we cannot tolerate their excesses. This is my sincere request “please be united”, unless we will be aliens one day. We have endured enough, not anymore. We comprise more then 50% and more capable to run Nepal, educated and learned. We demand atleast 50% representation in Nepal. We have requested enough, now is the time to snatch it.

    We all madheshis must be willing to fight for our brothers to end the brutal rule of pahades.

    Jai Madhesh

  • 5. slok  |  July 19, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    it ppl like u that make me sick….” now is the time to snatch it.’….u suck and so does ur idea of democracy, freedom,equality and peace….everyone knows that madhesh has u problem …and i feel sorry for all the stupid pahades u dont treat ppl equally but that is no excuse to pick up arms u dumb asshole….u want to change the system..( and it does need to be changed) …do it through non-violence and peace…
    if what had been done to u is wrong then dont do it back..cuz u out of all the ppl should now what it feel….
    jai nepal

  • 6. binod  |  July 20, 2007 at 2:28 am

    we should find our identity .

  • 7. Bharat Rajak  |  July 11, 2009 at 4:11 am

    i need some info regarding madeshi party and all the details of it regarding estd and all which i didnt got in this blog.

  • 8. sunil kumar mahato  |  July 26, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    the research is based on the presenet situations of madeshi in the nepal and so madeshi party has changed their belives ,idelogies for the movement resolving problems the madeshi people facing

  • 9. anup babu  |  March 19, 2011 at 12:30 am

    Being a Nepali citizen,everybody should follow the rule,regulation,culture,tradition n the way of proper living style from wherever they might represent in different part of Nepal. I have something to say about my Madeshi friends,,,, I also belongs to a terai region which means madesh region but I never had a problem with our idendity, language, believes or etc2,,,, then why u all bringing these all crabs up n making a useless issue which sounds me like burning of the nation so that India could come n rule which makes u all happy cozzzzz this is what y’ll want, no offense since u belongs to them haina ta?

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