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The Madhesi Movement: Prospects for Peace in Nepal

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Minister for industry, commerce and supplies and vice president of NSP party RAJENDRA MAHTO dwells on the prospects of violence in Terai and the peace process in Nepal.

First of all I would like to extend my gratitude to United States Institute for Peace for organizing this program through which I am able to communicate my ideas and thoughts to American friends who are taking interest in Nepal at this moment.

I think most of you are aware of the peace process that is going on in Nepal for the last one and half years. Nepal is passing through a very difficult time. It is a very challenging time. The people of Nepal want peace which does not necessarily mean the peace of the graveyard; they also want progress together with peace. So this is the challenge at the moment in Nepal.

On the one hand we are working to bring the Maoists into the mainstream of Nepal's political process and we are very grateful for the ample assistance and goodwill from our friends all over the world and also in the region. And we are still in the process which has not come to accomplishment yet.

Now the Maoists have come to the parliament and have also joined the government [The Maoists quit the government on September 18, 2007]. However, the Young Communist League (YCL) affiliated with the Maoist party, has been active in such a way that their activities are not still within the limits of the law. And one of the challenges we are facing is how to bring the activities of YCL within the limits of the law of the country.

It is true that the Maoists have never been in the government, they are the rebels from country side and they have no experience of being in the government and behaving in a responsible way as if they are in the government. We know that it is difficult for them. We understand their difficulties and we understand their process of transition toward being more responsible party in the government. The difficulty that they are facing is that the Maoists trained their cadres for the last ten years as rebels not as political party [members] in the government so it may be a challenge for them also to retrain their cadres to become responsible political party because their training in the past ten years was different. But we feel confident that sooner or later we will be able to bring them into mainstream political culture. We have talked to them periodically in the parliament and the government and outside the government and the parliament and the topic of conversation is the transformation of the Maoist party into a responsible political party. We hope that we will also bring the activities of the YCL under the perimeters of the rule of law and the government is making every possible effort toward that direction.

The second part of the peace process is change-- political, economic and social progress according to the aspirations of the Nepali people. Nepal cannot remain the same as it has been in the last 237 years under the direct rule of the king without much social, economic and political progress. The people of Nepal want something new in their life.

When we talk about the change, the Terai movement automatically comes to the forefront. As the movement of Terai is one of the main points of our agenda today, I would like to speak about it in little greater detail.

Terai is the plain land adjacent to Indian border across the Gangetic plains. The people living in the Terai say that they comprise half of Nepal's population. Even according the government statistics the population there is 33-34 percent. So the movement of the Terai is the movement of the people living in the bordering areas.

The first problem of the Terai people is the problem of identity itself. Their identity itself was questioned by the government of Nepal in the past. The question was whether the people of Terai were the Nepali people or not because their culture and language and dresses and manners and customs were similar to the people across the border in India. It was wrong for the government of Nepal in Kathmandu to question the indigenousness or originality of the Terai people because we call them Bhumiputra-- the sons of the soil of Terai where before the political division between India and Nepal was decided the ancient cultural, religious, philosophical figures-- Janak and Buddha-- were born in that part of the region. For that reason it is wrong to suspect us to be somehow affiliated with the people across the border. We are indigenous people of Terai. Even the ruling royal dynasties of Nepal came from India. The present dynasty itself came from Rajasthan province of India and there were previous dynasties that came from Karnataka province and other parts of India. So to attribute our origin to India is an irony when our present dynasty itself is originally from India. This question was rather ludicrous.

I belong to Nepal Sadbhavana Party, a Terai-based party which has been for the last 15 years struggling to resolve this issue of citizenship and identity of the Terai people. And thanks to the efforts made by all the eight parties, currently we have promulgated a law under which the issue of the citizenship of the Terai people has been almost resolved. Millions of Terai people who did not have their citizenship or identity cards have now got their IDs. Previously, because of the lack of identity card or citizenship the people of Terai could not exercise their basic rights-- such as selling or buying their own land or property. They were suffering from a lot of troubles in the past.

The people of Terai were also were discriminated because of their culture, dress, language and manners. The national dress of Nepal is daura-suruwal-topi which is suitable for the people in the mountains because the temperature there is much cooler but in Terai, where it is 45 degree Celsius, it is very difficult to wear the same dress. So we were demanding that the languages of Terai-- Awadhi, Maithili, Bhojpuri, etc.-- be recognized as local languages and since Hindi is the lingua-franca in the Terai, so it be recognized and the dresses and manners and culture of the Nepali people also be recognized as parts of Nepal's diverse national culture. So that was our demand. The interim government has started addressing this problem and we can now go to the parliament in our local dress and we can also speak in the parliament in the local language and not necessarily in the national language. Some progress has been made in this direction.

The Terai people were alienated from the national bureaucracy, politics, army, civil service etc., No more than 5 percent Teraians were represented in the police. No Teraians were represented at all in the army. And in bureaucracy itself, despite their population, less than 5 percent people were represented. So there was also imbalance in national politics and bureaucracy. There also was no adequate representation of Terai people in the parliament and politics. Even for the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections we are demanding that a proportional representation of the Terai people be accepted in candidature or membership of the political parties. The interim constitution has now stipulated that the people of Terai (both Madhesi and non-Madhesis), who constitute about 48.43 percent of Nepal's population, will be proportionally represented in the parliament. The government is also reviewing the demand that the delineation of the CA election districts be done properly so that the [indigenous] people of the Terai are adequately represented. Because the population of Terai is mixed; people from the hills and the indigenous people are living together there.

There are two types in the mixed election system. First is the first-past-the-post and another is the proportional election. We have been demanding that all elections be proportional, not first-past-the-post as in the past. There are 104 castes and ethic groups in Nepal so it is almost impossible to get all the ethnic groups and castes represented in parliament. So we have to devise a system in such a way that there is a just and reasonable representation of maximum number of ethic and caste groups in the parliament.

The NSP have been struggling peacefully for the last 15 years to have proportional representation in parliament. Now that the Maoists, who raised armed, have gotten in the government under red carpet the people in Terai feel that because they were peaceful they did not get anything. So they have also adopted violent movement now. This is a problem that was not addressed in the past and we hope it will be resolved in the days to come.

Becuase of this, there are today new armed groups -- as many as a dozen-- in Terai. Everyday a new armed group is formed. And criminal activities have also risen in Terai. Our belief is that the issue of Terai can be resolved democratically and peacefully and we want the entire international community to persuade everyone involved in it to resolve it in that way. There is no other way. We need your support, cooperation, sympathy and goodwill in our just struggle in the Terai.

We wish that those elements who believe in peaceful and democratic resolution of the problem be brought to the negotiating table and the criminal elements be dealt with under the rule of law. And any remaining problem can be resolved after the completion of a peaceful election of the CA which will promulgate a new constitution of the country and will resolve all the issues that still remain to be addressed.


Text based on a presentation entitled "Violence in the Terai and the Madhesi Movement: Prospects for Peace in Nepal." Minister Mahto spoke on July 17, 2007 at the United States Institute for Peace, Washington, DC.


Geographical, Cultural and Religious History of Madhesh

Madhesh is also known as Terai in Nepal. The Flat, fertile southern belt of Nepal, 20-30km wide and stretching east to west is often considered as Tera or Madhesh. It covers 20% of land in Nepal. Madhesh is a term geven to areas of the Nepali outer Terai or to the outer Terai as a whole inhabited by the peoples who are racially, culturally, and linguistically related to people as the Indian side of the border.These peoples are referred to or refer to themselves as a Madhesi or Madheshi, Madesi, Mahgadesi and Deshwaali.The term "Madhesi": encompass many different ethnic, linguistic and religious groups that inhabit the terai region. Madhesh is commonly believed to have been the kingdom of the legendary King Janak and as such, the Madhesi people are believed to put be part of the oldest culture in Nepal.
Madhesi are an important segment of the population in Nepal. According to the population census 2001 based on mother tongue for village Development committees (VBCs), the Madhesi population was 6781111.5. If one were to go by this figure, the Madhesis formed 29.2% of the total population of Nepal in 2009. However Madhesi political leaders, scholars, and activists have long questioned these figures. They claim that the Madhesis form 40-50% of the total population in Nepal today.

The Origin of the word " Madhesh" and "Terai"
The word "Madesh" may be derived from Sanskrit word 'Madhya Desh' meaning 'country in the middle' or magadh, it was so much powerful state after the fall of the Brijisangh. Some of the historians show its origin in 'Matsya desh' meaning 'contry of fish'

And etmologically, the word Madhesi is the adjectival form of Madhesh, which is usuall y refers to the Terai or Madhesh. While many theories have been developed about the origin of the word, the most popular one is that this land was the central kingdom of the mythical Hindu king Janak.

And the word "Terai" is believed to be derived from Persian, which meant damp or moist land. But some historians are of the view that the word Terai emerges from the lower part of mountain. The Terai or Madhesh region begins at the Indian border and includes the northernmost part of the flat, intensively formed Gangetic plain called the outer Terai. This is culturally an axtension of northern India with Hindi, Awadhi, Bhojpuri anf Maithili spoken more than the Nepali, however it was annexed to Nepal by conquest and by treaty eith the British. The Terai or Madhesh ends and the Hills begin at a higher range of foothills called the Mahabharat range.

Geographical History Of Madhesh.

Mythologically, King Janak was the emperor of Mithila kingdom (eastern Madhesh) whose daughter Sita got married to Ram of Ayodhya (northern UP-India). The capital of Mithila was Janakpur which even at present is called by the same name. Lord Ram got married to goddess Sita in a "swayamvar"(self chosen groom) ceremony in King Janak's palace. Today, Janakpur is an important city in the eastern Madhesh.
2500 years ago Madhesh or the Nepalese Terai was a part of the greatest empire of ancient India – the Magadha Empire with Patliputra as its capital. The empire is supposed to have included almost all of present day Nepal along with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Bangladesh except southern tip of India.
During this period Lord Buddha was also born in Lumbini of Awadh region, and hence can be regarded as the greatest Madheshi of all time. Lord Buddha helped simplify the existing faith and belief of Magadha empire which for 800 years is called Hindu and found a new religion of his own name "Buddha dharma" (in English – Buddhism).
There however has been little attempt at finding the historical facts about this region and the archeologists of Nepal have rather resorted to connecting the archeological facts to Nepal rather than the grand history of "Bharatvarsha" to which all of South Asia once belonged.
The history between the downfall of Magadha and arrival of Islam is very hazy. However a site in the Bara district called Simraungarh entails a fact that the dynasty of Tirhut or Sen existed and flourished in this region before rise of Islam, and art and architecture of completely separate and vivid from the Kathmandu architecture based on which new government buildings in Terai have been built sadly. There has been no attempt at renovating the historical architecture of Madhesh. Little is known about other archeological sites apart from Lumbini and Simraungarh that may exist. Islam is Madhesh is as old as in Northern India. And possibly Madhesh was a part of Mughal Empire though rest of Nepal wasn't. This is proven by the fact that Muslims in Madhesh are also the natives of this region and they speak the same language as their Hindu counterparts. And no historical Muslim population is found elsewhere in Nepal.
Madhesh was a part of Mughal's Hindustan just as today's Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh or India was.
Cultural History Of Madhesh.
The Madhesi culture is one of the oldest cultuer's in the world.The Madhesi people have their own distinct culture, which is one of the oldest cultures in region. According to the Ramayana, the ruler of Mithila, King Janak, a Madhesi by present standards, had established the kingdom of Mithila with its capital in present-day Janakpur long before the Shah rulers had even entered Nepal. His daughter, Sita is still worshipped by Hindus as the ideal of womanhood. The Madhesi are the only people of Nepal other than the Newars to have a long history of civilized and cultured existence with opulent cities and culture since early eras. mostly the Madhesis are related by marriage to Indians across the border. Generally people speaking Maithili, Bhojpuri and Hindi and resemble Indians in appearance are considered as Madheshis. Their traditional man dress is dhoti and kurta and women dress is Sarees and blouse. Their main religion is Hinduism.

Religion and Language of Madhesh.

There is a great cultural diversity in the Madhesh. Its cultural diversity can be seen in the fact that three distinct religious groups—Hindu, Muslim and Jain—live there. Caste Hindus are the dominant social group in the Madhesh. The social structure of Madhesi caste Hindus is very similar to that of Hindus from the hills.
Madheshi people speak various central and eastern dialects of Hindi language as their mother tongue, example: Maithili – 33%, Bhojpuri – 25%, Awadhi (including tharu awadhi) – 18% and rest speak Rajbanshi, Bengali, Santhal and other minor languages.
The above mentioned languages or dialects are regional i.e. they are concentrated in a region for example – Maithili in the east, Bhojpuri in the central part and Awadhi in the western region of the Terai. However it would be foolish to demarcate boundary lines to separate these languages. These languages or dialects flow into one another and the dialects lying at the edges of their influence region can be categorized as either of the neighboring dialects, for example the local language of Rautahat can be classified as Bhojpuri as well as Maithili, for Lumbini as well the dialect can be referred to as Awadhi as well as Bhojpuri.
The language of Madhesh or the dialects of Hindi are to a large extent mutually intelligible.
The non-regional languages spoken in Madhesh is primarily Hindi (Urdu for Muslims) with Nepali now spoken due to its imposition on these people for few decades. English is comprehensible to educated class and Marwadi, Punjabi, Newari etc are spoken by the non-native communities living in the Terai.
Several languages such as Maithili, Bhojpuri, Avadhi, Hindi, Nepali and Urdu are spoken by the Madhesi people. Maithili is the most commonly used language[1]. Hindi and Urdu are spoken as a vernacular all over the region but less as native.

Literature of Madhesh.
Madheshi people have been forced and purposely made unaware of the great literary culture they belong to by the ruling nepali class. They are historically linked to the literary works of Sant Kabir, Laxmi kant jha,Bhikari Thakur, Pandit Vidyapati, Kalidas, Soordas, Mirza Ghalib, etc who are regarded as the pillars of Hindi (and Urdu to some extent). Sadly the new generation can hardly recite poems of Kabir and Vidyapati but are fluent in reciting poems of Nepali language, which is actually a foreign culture and language to Madheshis or Deshwaalis.
From among the natives of Terai, undoubtedly, Udit Narayan Jha has acquired greatest fame in the field of singing. He is noted for his soothing voice quality that suits all the Deshwaali languages. Apart from countless Bollywood songs, he's sung in Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi as well as Nepali.

Madhesh was a part of Mithilanchaal.

• The most important thing regarding Madheshis that anyone must remember is that Madhesh region of Nepal is not a sovereign and independent of itself. Let’s take a look. Physically it is a part of Nepal currently but ethnically it is a part of Mithilanchal and was physically too a part of Mithilanchal in past. Mithilanchal is a place where most of the people speak Maithili and infact is a mithila region that ranges from Terai parts of Nepal to northern parts of India, the capital of which is Janakpur which is located in Nepal where King Janak ruled and his palace locates here. So the aspirations of people of madhesh are more directed towards the people of mithilanchal where they have family ties and infact the motherland where people share same culture, customs and brotherhood. Like People born in Rukum have ties with people born in Dolpa culturally, politically and racially even if they don’t know each other but they understand people by culture and they take no time in recognizing each others. Obviously It is a natural phenomenon supported by science and similarly one who is the aborigine of Janakpur and one who is the aborigine of Darbhanga (a city in India in northern Bihar where the great poet Vidya pati was born and is a part of Mithilanchal) and both being the part of same anchal i.e. “Mithilanchal” no one can deny the fact that Mithilanchal is our home (both people living in Janakpur and Darbhanga) by birth like hilly region for pahadis. Its therefore common the internal migration taking place in Mithilanchal (eg. Some migrating from Darbhanga to Janakpur and some migrating from Janakpur to Darbhanga for their easiness and they see it migrating in their own home). Mithilanchal is a territory that occupies both the parts of India and Nepal. Infact Pahadi people want to be identified themselves by the name of Lord Sita and Gautam Buddha in the world but after recognizing they are the part of Terai and Mithilanchal they show their their outrage to madheshi people and infact become jealous at us. Its their judgement that the people of Terai are Indians and they say it because their only source of nationalism is anti-indianism . I don’t think there is any wrong in that because that is a truth because we had been Indians for so long and only before 238 years we physically became a part of Nepal. So there is no need to feel bad for Madheshis if somebody calls them Indian because it is Madheshis right to be called Indians. If people want to hear we calling Indians ourselves, we must tell them and clear them our identity and thus fight for that identity regarding the truth. And remember Truth always wins the battle whatever be the consequences and if not we will prove it so. We are mentally and physically prepared for that though we prefer to resolve the problem through table talk and common consensus rather than violence. But it has now been clear among all madheshis that they are not going to live under such inequality and injustice and with very negligible participation in state of affairs despite the madheshis accounting for half the population .Now we have already known that we are deciding our future and our way of living.

And the Pahadis are fool to think that we Madheshis have forget our motherland , our culture and our social structure and accommodated in theirs because of their feudalistic power and threats under a controlled territory. Pahadis can not tolerate the fact of ties that Madheshis have to Mithilanchal of India. Besides they are always afraid of the future if whole the people of Mithilanchal comes and conquer the power in Nepal and they remain with nothing at all. But they must evaluate the consequences if that really does happen. And till now they have been successful to keep us under control knowing our weaknesses and fooling us in the name of Hinduism. They know Madheshis enjoy simple ,innocent and hard-working life with mutual understanding and brotherhood and thus they take advantage of our innocence and remain in power and utilizing all the resources that madheshis have (75% of revenue generated from terai and madheshi people) for their benefits alone. The reason they praise our valued Deepawali, Holi and chhat festival because they are well aware of our simple ,happy and brotherly life. Infact some kind of jeolosy is always there in their mind and they are aware that once we madheshis are given opportunity in state affairs we always tend to march above them politically and culturally.

Recent development of Madhesh.

Recently a movement called the Madhesi movement began in the Tarai, demanding an end to discrimination against the Madhesi people. The different parties involved in the movement range from student wings of the ruling parties to the armed Tarai Janatantrik Morcha (Tarai Populist Front) and thus the various demands of each group are different. In general, the unarmed groups are calling for a federal political system, whereas the armed rebels demand a separate state.
Both the first president of Republic of Nepal - Ram Baran Yadav, and the first vice president- Parmanand Jha are Madheshis. During the oath taking ceremony, vice president Jha read his oath in Hindi. The constitution requires the oath to be taken in Nepali. Even though vice president Jha's mother tongue is Maithili, he resorted to Hindi. This led to a widespread agitation throughout the country[2][3][4]. Various political parties, organization and intellectuals have criticized the act of Jha. Jha later tried to justify his use of Hindi claiming that it is understandable to all residents in Terai districts, who speak different languages.

Analysis and conclusion.
After the unification, there is very little evidence of any of the Shah or Rana rulers trying to address the Madhesis. On the contrary, to appease the powerful families, army personnel from conquered principalities (mainly Kaski, Parbat, Lamjung and Kathmandu) were appointed as governors of the various parts of the Tarai, forcing the Madhesi into lives as perpetual second-class citizens.
The "one nation, one culture" policy implemented by King Mahendra during his absolute rule did not only create a setback to cultures other than Khas,including Newar, Tamang, Magar, Kirat, Madhesi culture but also created an atmosphere in which their language was considered as foreign or anti-national. . A Madhesi like Udit Narayan Jha (who later went on to be one of the most successful Bollywood playback singers) was rejected as being unfit for singing in Radio Nepal (the state-controlled and then only radio station of Nepal), while Khas people from Darjeeling, politically a part of India, were provided privileged status for their patriotic songs depicting the life in the hills. Madhesis were also barred from joining the armed forces of Nepal.
But nowadays if Madhes was a part of Nepal, then Madhesi have been given chance to prove their patriotism in Nepali Army,the most patriotic institution of the country.
Roshan kumar jha (Rautahat, Gaur)
Now Kathmandu school of law, Bhaktapur,Nepal
L.L.B 1styear

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