MOST OF THE MADHESHI PEOPLE ARE LOOSING THEIR IDENTITY
MOST OF THE MADHESHI PEOPLE ARE LOOSING THEIR IDENTITY SINCE THEY ARE TREATED AS ‘LESS NEPALI’ OR ‘NON-NEPALI’ BY PAHADI PEOPLE
Vijay Kanta Karna
Madhesh is a bread-basket of Nepal. It is also a business and industrial belt as well as a transit point for country’s major international export and import with India. Madhesh alone contributes 72% to the total GDP of the country, but unfortunately, it gets only 12- 18% of the development budget. The authoritarian Panchayat System of King Mahendra, seeing a good prospect and potentiality of capitalizing the resources in Terai, promoted settlement of hill people in Madhesh. In 1981, the population growth in Himal and Pahad together was 3.5% whereas in Madhesh it was 7.8% due to heavy migration from hill. This phenomenon was ‘Pahadization of the Terai’ (in the book, Regionalism and National Unity in Nepal, Frederick Gaige has used the term, ‘Nepalization of the Terai’) policy of the government is promoting migration from the hills to Terai and reducing the overall proportion of Madhesis in the Terai.
Dr Fredrick Gaige, in his study, Regionalism and National Unity in Nepal, conducted in early 1970s in three districts [Jhapa, Kapilbastu and Kailali], found that ‘the hill Brahmins and Chhetris represented by far the largest percentage of migrants who acquired land 50 per cent of all migrants acquiring land in Jhapa, 75 per cent in Kapilbastu and 48 per cent in Kailali. Given the large-scale migration into Jhapa and Kailali, this will eventually put much of the land in these two heavily forested districts into the hands of hill Brahmins and Chhetris. The government is reinforcing this trend by putting most, if not all, of the land confiscated through the land reform program into the hands of settlers from the hills.’
At the same time, Dr. Gaige had pointed out the contradictory policies of the government in respect of the protection of forest in Terai and Pahadization of the Terai through settlers from hills in the forest. He points out the fact that ‘despite the occasional effort to force hill settlers out of the forest, the government is not likely to object as strenuously to this settlement pattern as it would if the forest areas were being settled by plains people, whom government officials suspect of being migrants from India.’ (p. 82)
Dr. Gaige predicts that ‘most of the four far-western Terai districts, half or more of Sunsari and Morang districts, and most of Jhapa in the far-eastern Terai, the northern third of Parsa, Bara, Rautahat, Sarlahi and the three mid-western Terai districts will be settled predominantly by hill people.’ He also points out in his study that ‘the eradication of malaria has been a far more important stimulus to settlement of hill people in the Terai than the resettlement projects. To what extent is the Terai being Nepalised [Pahadised] through the migration process? In another generation or two, when most of the remaining forests have been cut down, one will be able to draw a line east and west across a map of Terai, separating fairly clearly the settlement area of the hill people and the plains people. The line will follow closely the southern fringe of the forest as it stood at the time of the 1951 revolution.’
“While Terai served an important role in the continuation of
The century-long problem of exclusion of majority people is the main reason of social conflict in the country. Among, Madhesi community having a long history of origin and habitat within Nepal is practically considered outsiders and has been marginalized and excluded from the decision-making and policy planning process. Moreover, they face serious humanitarian problem i.e. of their true identity in their own native land. The Madhesi feel being highly discriminated and have almost lost ‘the sense of belonging to this nation’. Dr Harka Gurung in his article in “Trident and Thunderbolt: Culture Dynamics in Nepalese Politics” has briefly explained the issue of exclusion in Nepal by emphasizing that “Basically, there are three main social groups [in Nepal] that have been marginalized by the State’s biased monopolistic policy. They are the Janjatis[ethnic groups] on the basis of culture, the Dalits [untouchables] on the basis of caste, and the Madhesi [Terai] on the basis of geography.”
Gender and Social Exclusion Assessment (GSEA) report high lights the issue of citizenship rights to Madhesi. “Denial of citizenship rights to Madhesi population is fundamental problem in solving the empowerment issue. Even where the law does not directly discriminate, ad-hoc discriminatory administrative practices prevail against certain communities, such as Madhesi-people of Terai origin. Members of these communities are often either denied citizenship or face various bureaucratic delaying tactics and unnecessary hurdles (such as being required to produce land certificates) when they seek to obtain citizenship certificate and passports.” GSEA report also includes that “another location-specific exclusion that reflects socio-political differences is the distinction between the Parbatiya (hill dweller) and the Madhesi (plains dweller). The Madhesi have tended to be viewed by the largely Hill ruling group in Kathmandu as somehow less “Nepali” and have generally had less than proportionate representation in the corridors of powers.”
Solution for the Madhesi People
Madhesi: Search for Identity and Participation
The majoritarian electoral democracy in Nepal established in 1990 has totally failed. There is need to search for alternative democratic political structure which can ensure multicultural coexistence, integration, equality and peace in the country. Conflicts between different ethnic, language, religions and cultural groups are the main reason behind the failure of social and economic change in Nepal. The real problems of integrating different ethnic and cultural traditions, and of dealing with religious and linguistic minorities within the boundaries of existing nations, have remained politically unresolved, despite promises of self-determination and democracy. It is mainly due to domination of a certain group over other minority groups that ethnic /caste gap is widening in terms of economic opportunities and resources ownership.
Identity and Recognition
Most of the Madheshi people are loosing their identity since they are treated as ‘less Nepali’ or ‘non-Nepali’ by Pahadi people. One of the main reasons could be attributed to their socio-cultural, linguistic and physical affinity with the communities living immediately on the other side of the border in India, which historically was a part of Madhesh. Culture, tradition, practices and language have great influence on ‘identity’ of a person e.g. a Nepali or hill language speaking person from Darjeeling or Sikkim, who have been living there for generations, is readily accepted in Nepal as a Nepali and he or she enjoys all the socio-political benefits. Whereas a Madheshi who does not speak Nepali or any other hill language and who does not follow hill tradition and practices is not easily accepted as Nepali by hill Nepalese.
Demarcation of Madhesh Districts
The current demarcation of Terai districts does not follow any scientific, ecological or social basis. Amendment is required and a new demarcation needs to be done, which would include only the outer and Vitri Madhesh region for efficient socio-economic planning for holistic development. This would increase participation of Madheshi community in decision-making process.
Participation in Political Arena
Low level of participation in policy and decision-making body of political parties such as central committees and lack of proportional representation in parliament are the emerging issues. The political parties have so far ignored emerging issues of Madhesh andMadheshi people and the under representation prohibits advocacy for betterment.
Many people believe that the results of the past census are not satisfactory; the data on Madhesh population and the resources they use do not seem to be accurate. Some sample survey done in the Madhesh area indicates much higher Madheshi population than shown in the last census.
Destruction of Old State Structure and Creation of Republic
The monarchy and royal Nepal army are the main old structure of Nepali state. For democratic restructuring of Nepali state, first this country should be declared a republic. The present king and his ancestors have been instrumental to destroy cultural and linguistic identity of Madhesi and Janjatis. They looted the land and property of Madhesi. They destroyed jungle of the Tharus and made them Kamaiyas and forced them to leave their land. It is impossible to create new political structure without destroying monarchy as an institution from the map of this country.Nepal army is always helping monarchy for its existence and stand against democratic right of the people. Its structure, ideology and genesis are against the people and are based on the principles of private army of an autocratic king. It is involved in the mass killing of people from the beginning to date. It is a criminal institution and big barrier for the restructuring of Nepal. This army should be dissolved completely for the democratization and peace process of this country.
What is Federalism?
Political system that binds a group of states into a larger, non-centralized, superior state while allowing them to maintain their own political identities. Certain characteristics and principles are common to all successful federal systems: a written constitution or a basic law stipulating the distribution of powers; diffusion of power among the constituent elements, which are substantially self-sustaining; and territorial divisions to ensure neutrality and equality in the representation of various groups and interests.
Centralized Unitary structure of governance ignores the cultural sensitivities and almost dictates the administration.
The central problems are the integration of different ethnic and cultural traditions, dealing with religious and linguistic minorities within countries that have remained politically unresolved, despite promises of self-determination and democracy.The unitary structure of the Nepali state since 250 years has been discriminatory, exclusionary and non secular in its character. The painful lesson of Nepal’s history has been that strong centralized government in any form will only lead to hegemony by one group, whether ethnic, linguistic, or religious, and abuse by the ruling group at the expense of justice for all citizens of NepalAt this critical moment in the history, what Nepal needs the most is what the United States, India and Switzerland already have—the federal model of decentralized government. Federal units can be created on the basis of culture, language, ethnicity and geography.There is demand for restructuring of the state by various sectors but the major question is how to restructure Nepal? One of the major factors for restructuring of the state is decentralized federal system adopted on the basis of some basic principles.Federal unit or province should be based on ethnic, cultural dominance in the region as well as geographical (physical region with some special characteristics) criteria.Madhesh is a combination of a region and cultural groups with distinct identity and language. Madheshi is generally comparable to ethnic group. For example, Terai has been a place for residence for Madheshi; Maithali, Bhojpuri, Abadhi, Urdu, and Tharu people speaking a wide range of major languages of the Madhesis. Madheshis, as a distinct caste/ethnic group, have their own cultural practices different from hill-origin population. These characteristics of Madheshis will qualify for their own federal state for whole Madhesh. The Hindi language is the lingua-franca for whole MadheshThe demand of all Madheshis is that the whole Madhesh from Jhapa in the east to Kanchanpur in the west should form a single Madhesh Pradesh. It constitutes almost 49 percent of Nepal’s population. There are differences among Madheshi over many issues. To establish Madhesh as a federal unit, there is a need of three tier dialogue. First dialogue among Madheshis, which includes Janjatis, Dalits and other distinct groups, second dialogue should be held between Madheshis and hill migrants living in Terai, and lastly, together whole Terai should talk to central government about the nature and character of Madhesh Pradesh. Among Madhesh Pradesh, we can establish three or four regional development unit.Unless there is one Pradesh, it is likely to be dominated by the hill-origin non-Madheshi population. This is the reason that Madheshis want to have one Madhesh Pradesh consisting of all the areas between Jhapa to Kanchanpur. Any division of Madhesh is likely to weaken the Madheshi solidarity and Madheshi empowerment in Madhesh. Madheshis as a whole constitute one third of the population of Nepal but they are at the lowest rung of power ladder and unless they come together to strengthen their solidarity, they will remain discriminated and exploited. These are the reasons why restructuring of state is essential to uplift the deprived and exploited population of
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