Nepali Times
This Is It
Whose Madhes?



DHANUSA â" This week, BBC Nepali ran a report about how Pahadi families who were displaced from the plains after the Madhes uprising were starting to come back. They had left their homes, neighbours and livelihoods to take refuge in the predominantly Pahadi town of Hetuada. Some had moved to Kathmandu, but could not adjust to the new life and longed for home.

I was immediately reminded of the Tamang and Chettri families I met in Bara four years ago. They spoke to each other in Bhojpuri, and their Nepali had a defined Madhesi accent. Their families had lived in the Tarai for generations and had grown up together. They had no home in the hills to go back to, had little idea of their ancestral roots and had decided to stay despite daily threats and intimidation by armed Madhesi groups.

I lost touch, and have often wondered what became of them. Did they leave, did they stay? But travelling to my own ancestral village in the eastern Tarai last month, I could see there is more holding Nepalis together than is setting us apart.

Here in the heart of the eastern Tarai, Pahadis and Madhesis have been living cheek to jowl for over a hundred years now. The Giris and Bharatis who came from the hills established a new settlement together with locals from nearby villages. A new village was formed, and over the years the two communities are so well integrated that unless one asks, they wouldn't know who is a Pahadi or who is Madhesi.

Of course, these stories don't count when leaders who claim to represent the Madhes spew hatred, threaten secession and blockades. They suggest the only way to right the wrongs committed against the Madhes is to scare away all the Pahadis from Tarai. It is this corrosive politics of hate and revenge that gets all the headlines in Kathmandu.

But here on the ground ask farmers and traders what concerns them the most, it is almost never politics or 'identity'. They are worried about the lack of roads and bridges, and where they exist, the terrible state they are in. They are worried about the rainy season, floods, the lack of irrigation and falling harvests and prices of their produce. They are worried about their sons toiling in the deserts of the Gulf, and the fields they will have to sell to pay the middleman to send their second son to Qatar.

When politics does touch them, it takes the shape of prolonged strikes that cripple life for weeks on end. They worry about federalism and what it will mean. Op-eds in Kathmandu's national media carry dire warnings from pundits about the coming Madhesi conflagration of anger, or a violent backlash if federalism is rejected. There is almost no sign of it here.

The people of the Madhes gave up hope long ago of their Madhesi leaders doing anything for them. There is disillusionment and a realisation that Madhesi leaders do not speak for the Madhesi people. Madhesis are now in the government with powerful portfolios, the deputy prime minister and home minister are Madhesis. But what have these leaders done except split countless times, make short-lived alliances to blackmail their way into government and issue empty threats just so that they can remain politically relevant?

The Madhes is how it has always been: left to itself. And the people of the Tarai have come to terms with it. No one wants another uprising, they just want development and jobs. Madhesi leaders would want us to believe that all the problems of the plains, the inequality, injustice and state neglect will be resolved once they have a Madhesi federal state. But few here hold out much hope.

Madhesi people want better leaders, not this discredited bunch who defected from the NC and rode the wave of the Madhes Movement in 2007. Madhesis want to be respected, and treated like Nepalis. They want an end to the criminalisation of politics. Anyone who thinks otherwise, like a village elder here told me, hasn't lived here long enough.

1. Dibya
I really agree with Rubina ji. I also come from Madhes. I don't see any sign related to conflict between so called Madhesi and Pahade People in Madhes. This propaganda is created by the political leaders who earned huge money in the name of poor madhesi people and co called Pandit who write in many National Dailies who try to mislead Nepali People.

Again I really appreciate Rubina Mahato's articles. Thank you very much for your powerful article.


2. S. Shrestha
The article truly reflects the sentiment of Terai, where I also come from.
The people of Terai want jobs, better roads, schools and hospitals. In my village in Terai, people do not care about politics that much except at the time of elections. Madheshis and Pahadis live together, share labour and enjoy festivals. My villagers, Tharus, say Terai is their land, not Madhesh.

3. K. K. Sharma

What the Madhse want is also what rest of Nepal wants. Good delivery system and development. However, these wants are not leading our politics. 

The dischantment with the party leaders, is also not limited to Terai, is is all pervasive in this country. However, these party leaders are the ones who had been voted to power by the people. This is just a refelction of the voters not being able to chose the right leaders. And there is no grounds to believe, that they will be capable of choosing the right leaders again.

As for harmoney among the ethnic groups, the displacement of padhi population is an irrefutable proof. If this imputed harmony was there, then why the migration in the first place. So BBC says some have returned, but what percentage of the total displaced are these who have returned, is something the author or her Divine Voice, the BBC, has not been able to inform us. One would only have to wait for the Census result of 2011 to be released, and compare the data with those of 2001 to assess the imputed harmony. Wish the Census would make their results public soon.

4. Sukhdev Shah
March 9, 2012
Dear Editor/Nepali Times:
I very much appreciate The Times putting out this informative and enlightening piece by Ms. Mahato. Especially, I am impressed by the brainy and humanistic content of the write-up and that she has done so very honestly, speaking out straight from the grassroots.
I, myself, come from a village in Dhanusha District, east of Janakpur, which is well-known for its Bengali population who, I heard in my childhood, settled in the village during the days of Malla Kings, meaning they migrated to Nepal, for unknown reasons, before the rein of Shah Dynasty some 250 years ago.
These Bengali people are as much Bengali--in terms of culture, language, appearance--as are Bengalis of Calcutta or any in the Bengal village. However, the truth is that they are sons and daughters of the soil and share the same roots as anyone else in the village whose ancestors may have settled there thousands of years ago, before there was India or Nepal.
Also, I have had deep contacts and loving relationships with pahade residents of the surrounding villages who, like the Bengalis of my village, have lived in the area since unknown times.
As until now I haven't met a single Madhesi who would say that pahade residents of Madhes--old or newly arrived--are aliens and disturbing elements in society. In fact, during my visit to Janakpur some months ago, many of my Madhesi friends--long-time residents of Janakpur--expressed extreme sorrow over the loss of their pahade neighbors who, they told me, shared their high culture with Madhese neighbors and their presence created an enriching environment. You do not have to tell them that diversity is good--they just adored it.
Having said all the positive aspects of pahade-madhese divide, you would appreciate the fact that problem doesn't exist at people-to-people or community-to-community-levelvery much highlighted in Ms. Mahato's write-up. It is all about the political environment and ethnic mind-set of pahade elite and politiciansSitaula and Khanal come to my mind--who are unwilling to accommodate Madhesi people--to be as visible as pahade people are.
It is the political control, cultural control, and, of course, the economic control of one segment of population over another segment that I consider to be unacceptable and downright humiliating.
This state-sanctioned exclusion must end, from 5 and 95 percent level to 50-50 percent level, to mirror the make up of the population.
I would admit that Madhesi leaders haven't measured up to address the discrimination and civil rights issues faced by Madhesis but that is not the fault of Madhesi people. They are just unlucky and feel trapped.
Madhesi villagers are right when they say they would rather opt for better roads, good education, and plentiful jobs for their children. Madhesi leaders should have focused on these issues, instead of engaging in splits and more splits, which reflects nothing other than their own narrow interests. At the same time, pahade elites and politicians are unwilling to allow Madhesis to live any differently.
What options they have? Almost none. 
Sukhdev Shah
Washington DC

5. Soni
"But here on the ground ask farmers and traders what concerns them the most, it is almost never politics or 'identity'."

Now what prevented other writers both in this paper and elsewhere to say it like it is. As I commented here (#23) and here (#12), all of the political nonsense is completely pointless. Nobody is bothers about this identity nonsense other than politics obsessed buffoons who have destroyed this country completely.

Take for example the comment by Sukhdev Shah above. It is probably true that there are Pahari elites who don't like Madhesis, as there are Madhesi's who dislike Pahari's, but that is immaterial to most people in both these places because we as Nepali's know and understand how to accommodate contrasts.

Ever since industrialisation began, Madhes as a region has benefited immensely. With most industries based in the region, tremendously fertile land, and benefits of close cross-border relations proved advantageous. This is a big positive and its beneficiaries have been Madhesi's, just as much as, if not more, than Pahadis.

Secondly, there has been a lot of migration in Madhes from India. Here is why really, conditions were much better in Nepal, than in UP and Bihar of 80' and 90's India. It was mostly peaceful with no ethnic strife, wages were relatively higher, and in relative terms at least, there was greater happiness. 

These and others positive's are the facts, read the papers and you would think that there was never any good. And why is that? Because our politics obsessed  buffoons like nothing more than good agony and solid strife with a death or two thrown in in the broth of general agony.

6. Rubeena's Fan
I eagerly look forward to Rubeena Mahato's columns, she is a genuine and original young voice in Nepal today. This article should be translated in Nepali, it articulates the voice of a majority of Nepalis today. And as long as we have journalists like Rubeena to reflect this, there is still hope for the country. Thank you (muri muri dhanyabaad) Nepali Times!

7. A Nepali

From Rubeena's article..."The people of the Madhes gave up hope long ago of their Madhesi leaders doing anything for them. There is disillusionment and a realisation that Madhesi leaders do not speak for the Madhesi people....The Madhes is how it has always been: left to itself. And the people of the Tarai have come to terms with it. No one wants another uprising, they just want development and jobs. ...Madhesi people want better leaders..."

You can easily replace "Madhes" and "Madhesi" in the above excerpts from the article with "Nepal" and "Nepali" to portray a current true picture of the country as a whole. The only people who have it good in Nepal are corrupt political leaders, and it doesn't matter which part of the country they come from, what are their ethnicities, or which political parties they represent. They are all crooks and thieves. What Nepal (and Madhes) needs is new, honest, smart and capable leaders to elevate the entire country. Where can we find such leaders, and what should the new model of politics and governance be for the country? I believe the discussions of well-informed and enlightened citizens should be on such questions. Without such discussions and debates and subsequent action, history will continue to repeat itself, and Nepalis (and Madhesis) will continue to suffer.

8. Krishna Kushwaha
A really well written article Rubeena!! Keep it up!!

9. sudha
Dr. Shah:  You comment is overall fine, but please give me a break: "As until now I haven't met a single Madhesi who would say that pahade residents of Madhes--old or newly arrived--are aliens and disturbing elements in society."  It looks like you have completely forgotten some of your radical friends' comments calling Pahades colonizers and oppressors, and advocating their ejection from Terai... all the while defending the new comers from Patna with the argument that "oh well, the whole area was a Mithila empire and it does not apply to them".   I am glad that Ms Mahato showed a lot of guts to defy many of the radical Madhesis views.. I am a Pahade from Birgunj, and I will campaign for her, if she were to run for office.    Kudos...

10. fg wrong
The self-declared two-paisa "pro-Madhesi" intellectuals and the brainless so called Madhesi journalists, whose comments on Facebook and other platforms these days are more "radical" than that of the corrupt Madhesi leaders, should read this piece. Of course the real intellectuals and journalists need not feel offended. In the past, there were so many fine journalists from the Madhes, but where have they disappeared now. Only the crooks, stooges of political leaders and who feel that they are Madhesi first and journalist second, Madhesi first and Nepali second, are dominating the scene. May be the good guys have just gave up leaving the stage for the crooks. 

11. Sagar Panthi
Why are there so many articles just on Madhesh? Because it is accessible and journalists can go and see it. Why are the Madheshis' voices heard? Because they are aware of their rights and they have access to communication.
It is just the opposite in the Himal. Dear writers, walk for a week in the freezing  cold Himal bring to light the condition the people there are living in.  

12. deepak
thank u very much Rubina for arising the true facts that are going in madhesh and around country it is just that those stingy leaders want to spilt the communities for their own interests 

13. Pranab

Dear Rubeena,

Thank you for another superb piece of reporting! Your articles are the reason I visit nepalitimes. Your reporting is original. You don't have the biased reporting of foreign media or the lack of insight in the rest of local media. Excellent reporting! Please keep it going!!

14. Sunit Rizal
A well written and very mature article.... it's people like Rubeena who are the future of this country... Like someone mentioned above..if she were to run for office me being a pahade from biratnagar would vote for her...Rubbena thank you for making me feel proud to be a Nepali...

15. FunkyMonkey
A fantastic article that correctly identifies the problem: politicians with no brain and loud mouth. Fellow madhesis need to put pressure on these politicians who claim to represent them and ask them to engage in meaningful dialogues at the constituent assembly and to implement correct policies through the ministries. Those in power have no excuse to not do so.

The other thing fellow madhesis should be aware of are opportunists like Sukhdev Shah who will do anything to get positions of power by exploiting volatile situation in Terai. He is already well known for his exploitation of Nepali maid (from Washington City Paper):

"In 1991, Sangita Satyal, a Nepalese domestic servant, was awarded $40,000 in wages and legal fees from her Nepalese employers, IMF economist Sukhdev Shah and his wife Vijaya, according to the Washington Post and interviews with Leavy and Mrs. Shah. Before receiving a visa, Satyal signed the usual contract guaranteeing minimum wage, overtime, and time off. But unbeknownst to Satyal and the State Department, Shah executed a secondary contract with the woman's father in Nepal, in which he agreed to deposit $50 a month into a bank account. Satyal said she received food and lodging, but no salary, and was denied access to her bank account. In addition, Satyal, together with Mrs. Shah, ran a day care center in the Shah's Alexandria home, even though Mrs. Shah was legally prohibited from working in the U.S. Satyal eventually ran away. A recent visit to the Shah home revealed that Mrs. Shah continues to run the day care center."

Speaks volumes about his character. To think that NRNs like him will be empathetic to the plight of poor madhesis is nothing but wishful thinking.

16. Salil
A meaningful article in many respects, one that echoes the thoughts of many common Nepalese. I click a 'like' for this one.

17. Maan Nepali
Thank you Rubeena for this article. Finally here's something that i really wished somebody would dare to write truth and you've done it. Please keep it up. Hope to see more good articles from you in the future (btw, I was disappointed by few or your previous articles, but happy  you've got this piece finally) thanks for speaking the truth i.e. not everyone leaving in Madhesh want a 'andolan' or ek madhesh pradesh, but want food, jobs and better leaders who do break parties multiple times only to be in power..........Really well written article Rubeena!! Keep it up!!Hope to see more of such articles which will help give the 'real picture' to all international community this paper has the majority of readership for..thanks

18. Digital Subway
Honest representation of the situation in Madhesh. I can't appreciate personal attacks against commenters like Sukhdev Shah in the comments section though. Time and again, we argue whether madhesis and pahadis hold grudges against each other and live harmoniously. And the response is not unanimous. It is true that pahadis living in madhesh experienced troubles but it is also true that madhesis living in pahad region have experienced racial discrimination. Historically, both of have taken place and we can not deny that. And in many instances, it is still taking place. 

But at large, I agree with what Rubeena and other commenters have mentioned that madhesis do not want pahadis to leave madhes. All of us can live together peacefully and work towards building the essential infrastructure. On a political level, we are frustrated that administrative offices and development projects keep on moving northward because political 'leaders' of Pahadi origin are disinterested in seeing regions inhabited by mostly madhesis get access to those resources. 

19. sushant
People like you need to run for office to be a leader of Nepal, not just for simply pahades or madhesis.  ,,there is no space for race and ethnicity based politics in the 21st century,,we want people from terai as well as people pahad and himal have better access to education, healthcare, electricity, roads etc.. want to read more article from you in future.

20. suman gharti
We  (pahadi),  are original Nepali and we can live  anywhere in Nepal. No one can say to us vacate the place...............even politicians .............

21. Melan Thapa
I strongly agree with Suman Gharti, the people (living in pahad/himal) , are less educated  and simple so any one can cheat them easily. We  (living in pahad/himal)  should be aware of this and at least we should  with no tension in our country (Entire Nepal) . 

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)