Nepali Times
Constitution Supplement
Save the Madhes


Right now the Madhesi leaders are busy giving speeches about identity. Meanwhile in the cities and villages of the Madhes there is a rising dissatisfaction with both the Kathmandu centric system and Madhes parties. The rising anarchy and the wrong promotion of the slogan 'all Madhes, one state' by the Madhesi leaders has allowed the security situation to deteriorate at an alarming rate. Neither the leading party nor the Madhesi parties have done anything substantial since the elections to improve the Tarai situation. The social relations are now strained not just between Madhesi and Pahadi but also among the Madhesi themselves.

As a result, the Madhes is now trapped in a whirlwind of violence and unrest because of Madhesi leaders' irresponsible behaviour, the State's short-sightedness, inter-racial conflict and absence of Madhesi civil society. If this continues, the Madhes might as well become Nepal's Bihar, a region that is synonymous in India with social injustice and underdevelopment- where the guns rule and the common people have no hope for of being liberated from unrest.

It is chiefly the responsibility of the State to manage the conflict in the Tarai, to narrow the gap between Kathmandu and the Madhes. But neither the state nor the Madhes leaders have realised this. The agreement made with the United Madhesi Morcha on 28 February 2008 is now collecting dust. This lack of commitment has made it easier for the Madhesi parties and the armed groups to rally against the government.

The CA has become a battleground for the Madhesi leaders to fight for their rights. But before they do so they have to condemn violence. They must give up supporting armed groups in Tarai while remaining safe in the cities. They must realise this will backfire in the future and damage them. As representatives of the Tarai, they must take the initiative to stop the killings, robberies and rapes that take place every day in the Tarai in the name of politics. There is an urgent need for these leaders to give up the illusion that these armed groups can be useful. One day the Madhesi parties themselves could be the targets of these armed groups.

The social structure, personal grudges, squabbles about property and ethnic competition are causing this carnage. The Madhesi need to understand this so they can free Madhes from this vicious cycle of violence and insecurity. Conflict resolution should be addressed at a local level. The elders, the respected and the women should play mediating roles to solve fights in villages. Issues of land reform should first be discussed locally, involving people from different sects and ethnicity including the dispossed dalits.

Another burning issue is the relationship with the Pahadi. Is there a place for them in the Madhes? Do Pahadi people need to fear the Madhesi? How can this be changed? What does the Pahadi community expect from the Madhesi leadership and the society? Except for few radical groups, most Madhesi people understand that in the end they have to live together with the Pahadi. At this sensitive time, one positive step could be the formation of a Pahadi- Madhesi United Civil Society.

The leaders of the armed groups in the Tarai will eventually have to understand the aspirations of the Madhesi people. They neither want the country to disintegrate nor do they want violence. What they really want is their rights and peace. Most suspect that the armed groups are, in fact, business profiteers and not politically motivated. True politics is only possible when you stay among the people and win their hearts. Giving orders from a mobile phone while one stays at a hotel in Bihar may scare the people for a while but it won't win their belief.

It is hard to say whether the government's effort to invite the armed groups for dialogue is genuine. But it perhaps offers them a chance to give up their guns and join mainstream politics. The people in Madhes are waiting for a new peaceful leadership.

In the past six months, there have been 100 murders, 126 abductions and 77 bomb explosions in the Madhes. This poses a serious challenge. If we are to save the Madhes from a long-term low intensity conflict then the state, Madhes leadership, society, the Pahadi community living in the Tarai and also the armed groups, all have to make an effort. Otherwise the Madhesi people will suffer. The true struggle for identity and representativeness will be lost and political stability in Nepal will just be a dream.

Out of the darkness

The Pahadis need to extend a hand of friendship to the Madhesi if Nepal is to have any hope of being a country in which mutual respect and understanding flourishes


When Barack Obama won the US presidential elections, even the Bahuns, Chetteri, Newars and Mongol Kirats all over Nepal rejoiced. Everyone found their own victory in his victory. But the same people are having difficulty accepting that the Madhesi people are demanding their identity, right and opportunity by way of federalism. They feel that this Madhes movement's idea of federalism poses a threat to the country's unity and sovereignty.

The writer Samuel Huntington noted in his 2004 book 'Who are We" that an American is a white English speaking Protestant. He even claimed that anyone who did not fit that description was not a true American. But by choosing Obama, a black, as their president the Americans have proven that history is written by people, not controversialists like Huntington. The Madhesis, dalits and those of other ethnicities in Nepal too must have felt a sense of pride at Obama's victory. Just as the image of a true American is being deconstructed, the idea that Nepal's culture is based only on the Gandak civilisation is also changing.

The Madhes movement has made a great contribution in bringing that change.

The culture of the Madhes community is different to that of the hill people. Particularly in the realm of language. In the past, Nepali was the official language, which thwarted Madhesi development even though the Tarai is very rich in natural resources. Most Madhesi women know no other language than their own. The Tarai became a remote, under-developed area cut off from the capital. And neither did the Madhesi have political representation ? the likes of Koirala, Acharya, Thapa, Dahal, Bista, Deuba and Nepal were all from Kathmandu.

On the basis of language, culture and religion there are roughly three groups in the Tarai. The biggest group is that of the residents near the border. This population of 500,000 has a society based on the Hindu caste system. Another population of 180,000 consists of the tribal groups who prefer not to be called Madhesi - but neither does their culture match with that of the Pahadi. The third group of about 110,000 is that of Muslims. The Madhesi movement was brought forward by these three groups. Meanwhile the Pahadi community in the Tarai is 300,000 strong.

Since the Madhes movement was launched, the cultural identity and financial and physical security of the Pahadi community has caused great concern and discussion. But neither does the Madhes community feel secure. They have been treated as second class citizens in their own country for the last 250 years. We may currently sympathise more strongly with the Pahadi and not the Madhes community, but we have to rise above the notion of 'one language, one culture'.

The tension between the Madhesi and Pahadi did not come from nowhere. As the influence of the Pahadis increased in the Tarai, the relationship between the common Tarai people and the elite Pahadis became strained. The social relations built by the earlier Pahadi generation with the local Madhesis have all but disintegrated.

It is a fact that the alienated Madhesi need the support of the Pahadi people if they are to make any progress. If the aspirations of the Madhes are supported by the Pahadi then development in Madhes has a chance of gaining momentum. This would be progress not just for the Madhesi but for the whole of Nepal.

The good news is that although the Pahadis have not openly supported the Tarai movement, they have not done anything to hamper it. There is one solution that can help heal the wounds of the Madhesi people at the same time as alleviating insecurity for the Pahadi- understanding and future based thinking between the Pahadi and the Madhesi. First of all they have to respect each other's identity. Having held a role of supremacy previously, the Pahadi should first extend the hand of friendship. Perhaps then we could hope for a Nepal of mutual respect and understanding.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)