Taking Madhesi Movement to New Heights
Taking Madhesi Movement to New Heights
I was asking Santosh dai how he felt after a week’s long stay in his hometown Hariyon- which is a small town in the Southern plain of the country with inhabitants comprising almost equally from both Pahade and Madheshi communities. He then introduced me to the next man sitting beside him- a Madhesi himself of Pahade ethnicity.
“So, you’re from Pidari,” the semi-bald man, who looked just like other Pahade-origin Madhesi people living in Madhesh due to his accent and sun-burned appearance, acknowledged after knowing where I originally hailed from adding, “The stronghold of Forum.”
“Oh, but I didn’t knew there was Forum in my village as well,” I was surprised. My people have been living in Kathmandu ever after my birth, and naturally, only occasionally we visit our village only once in a year or two. But during my visit last year, there was not a sign of any kind of Madhesi Janadhikar Forum or other groups besides Maoists.
“You didn’t know? Forum is everywhere in the districts neighboring India. They get support from Indian people- and have strong influence in those places. So, we’ve formed Bhabar-Chure group as well,” he continued as I listened to him in surprise. Naturally, the relationship between Madhesi people and Indians living in neighboring border areas is deep and unique. Due to their same kind of living and profession, culture and traditions, cross-border marriages are certainly not a recent phenomenon.
‘Bhabar’ was mentioned in one of the earliest books written on Nepal-The Land of Gurkhas by Major W.Brook Northey who was first K.G.O. of Gurkha Rifles that recruited Gurkhas for the East India Company in the Raj era. He wrote: “This tract (Madhesh) of country, which nowhere exceeds thirty miles in breadth and averages about ten, can be divided into two very distinct portions; the open ground under cultivation to which the name Terai, in its strictest sense, should be restricted, and the primeval jungle, known as Bhabar. This last varies in character, but consists for the most part of dense forests… In places, this jungle is absolutely impenetrable, so thick is the undergrowth and so dense the tangle of giant creepers which swing from tree to tree.”
“Some members of Forum started to threaten Nepalis– and mistreat our women. Our girls and women were feeling unsecured due to those elements,” he said adding, “One man can’t fight against an organized powerful group- so we also formed a group of our own to defend ourselves. Now, we can pull even Madhesis in our rallies- and they’ve to come. They have no choice…”
“They call themselves “Nepalis”- this has been the rule of Khas (Nepali) language in our country. Only Pahade people consider themselves as Nepalis while others are categorized by their ethnicity like Newars or Madhesis.
“Do you think that Forum is actually fighting for us now- they have already registered as a political party and all they’re doing is politicking?” I asked in my naivety, “I don’t think your group is doing anything different, you’re breaking Nepal into pieces again.”
Although he found it difficult to agree in the beginning, we continued our conversation which had already taken a different course as I was interested in listening what was actually happening in my motherland.
Just a few days ago, a minister of the current Eight-party government fueled the communal sentiment by his threatening remarks about the Madhesi people of Pahade origin. A terai-based party’s (Nepal Sadbhawana Party (Anandi Devi)) leader and commerce minister Rajendra Mahato warned that the hilly people who migrated and inhabitated Terai in last few years (decades) might be forced to leave Madhesh if they didn’t accept rule of Madhesis in the region. It was no surprise that his remarks sparked protests led by the activists of the Chure-Bhawar Pradesh Ekta Samaj in old Nepali tradition of showing angst- by blocking highway, burning effigies and holding rallies in Terai. Students also staged demonstrations in Kathmandu so as to prevent any misunderstanding- the message was clear. “If you want to treat us in ill manner, we’ll not sit and watch- we’ll fight back.” This communal sentiment has been already engulfing people of both ethnicities.
Meanwhile, those who claim themselves to be fighting for the rights of Madhesi people are themselves busy fighting with each other. A splinter of CPN (Maoist) party- Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha has two groups- and both are sworn enemies. Just two days ago, a Rautahat district chairman of Jwala Singh faction of JTMM-J was shot dead by cadres of Jay Krishna Goit-led faction of the JTMM-G. Such news is so common nowadays. Both groups, along with another new group called Madhesi Tigers, are responsible for the increasing number of cases of kidnapping, extortion and timber smuggling in recent times. Killings seem just a part of their ‘liberation’ movement. Sadly, even Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum, which claims itself to be leading the Madhesi Andolan (Movement) in non-violent manner, has been keeping a low-profile after Gaur Massacre which left about four dozens people dead in a fight with a Maoists-led Madhesi group. Meanwhile, the Member of Parliament (MPs) of Madhesi-origin have been disrupting and boycotting parliamentary sessions demanding the revision of the demarcation of the electoral constituencies so as to pave way for ‘real’ proportional representation of Madhesi people and to put pressure on the government to address Madhesi movement. But it seems the government is not heeding to their demands- and let the crisis continue.
Even one can hear and feel the sense of isolation and increasing distance between the two communities which has remained like brothers and sisters for so long in the region. Mistrust and feeling of insecurity is their perception of each other today. But it should be realized that Madhesi movement is not directed against the Pahade communities, not directed towards eliminating Pahade Madhesis from Terai. It is a movement to free Madhesis and ensure their rights. The marginalized Madhesi communities have been also completely excluded from all kinds of political process and civil service based on their ethnicity or language to a large extent.
Now, they are asking for their rightful place- and the old masters are finding it difficult to see those they ruled till now- coming in equal terms and level to them. Today, the voice of Madhesis can’t be suppressed- and it is but natural for people to see that the on-going Madhesi Uprising is not like a rally organized to protest a cause and then everyone goes back to their own businesses. It’s happening everyday, in different palpable and subtle forms and in every part of Terai. Whereas, the Madhesi movement is having psychological effects- it’s going on in subtle ways in minds and hearts of Madhesi-origin people living in mountains and hills as well. We can sense the disaster awaiting us if the old masters of the country- the Eight-Party including so-called people’s party CPN-Maoists- do nothing to address the genuine demands of Madhesi people.
Today, one can easily foresee the disastrous route that Nepal can take if the old masters fail to address the demands of various marginalized and dissatisfied ethnic communities and restore peace and order in the country. If the government fails to address Madhesi movement in time (they’re already late), we already know how difficult and brutal the movement can be. The Maoists movement was directed against one person-the king- it didn’t want to isolate people and create groups. But Madhesi movement has been faced criticism from the people living just in their neighbourhoods. The sentiments of Madhesi people has been of not much importance to a majority of Pahade-origin Madhesis- like PM Girija Prasad Koirala himself who famously said that his three generations have born in Madhesh and lives there, “Am I not a Madhesi then?” But the feeling of Pahade-origin Madhesis should be also understood- the differences should be eliminated.
The nature of Madhesi movement should be to unite all Madhesi people- not divide them. Even Pahade-origin Madhesis have been facing almost the same kind of problems that another people of the region face. The demand of proportional representation in the government and their rightful place in the political as well as civil system of the country is not a wrong one. But if the old-ignorant leaders, raised in the same atmosphere in which Madhesi people were always considered Madhesis- Indians or dhotis- and not Nepalis, fail to understand the sentiment of Madhesh, then it is but certain that the on-going movements in Terai will be far more complex, prolonged and bloodied than any other revolutions that this country has ever seen.
Entry filed under: Articles.