[What is basically needed is a redefinition of our democratic polity in a manner that empowers every single community in the country, in the hill and in the Tarai, to preside over their own destiny. It is to this end that the Madhesi civil society has to intervene and stop this senseless turmoil now and in the future, so that, to quote Chandra Kishore again, the people of both Pahad and Madhesh could get on with the “sajha sahayatra”.]
While most of the Madhesi writers dealing with the ongoing problem of Sanyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha protests and the blockade at the border have written in support of its position, one intriguing development has been that even the well-read columnists in the print media toeing pan-Nepali outlook have tended to write in a manner that seemed to convey their sympathies to the Morcha, overtly or covertly. Take Chandra Kishore for instance. In August 2012, he had written, in his article titled ‘Wariparika Bachhita’ in the Kantipur Daily, that the roti-beti based ‘south-oriented outlook’ was undergoing change. He wrote that the new generation of Madheshis is now ‘more inclined to embrace
Kathmandu than the
traditional destinations like Darbhanga, Madhuvani, Sitamadhi and so on’. He
also mentioned the Madhesis’ dissatisfaction over the hegemony of the new
arrivals from across the border who managed to acquire Nepali citizenship. For
him, the Madhesh revolt itself was ‘a process of “abharatiyakaran” (de-Indianisation).
He concluded, ‘while living in Kathmandu continued
to involve some challenges’, for the most part, ‘it has now become “sajha
sahayatra” or a shared voyage. However, Kishorejee recently (December 3, 2015) wrote
in the same daily under a Hindi title—borrowed from a popular Indian movie—‘Hum
Apke hain kaun?’ or “What are we to you?” All such recent writings, including
this article, suggest the increasing alienation of the Madheshis and placed
responsibility on Kathmandu for the
Tarai flare-up, the Indian blockade, and its possible resolution by agreeing to
the demands of the Morcha.
However, this position clearly sidesteps some of the incongruities in the Morcha’s main demand, the demarcation of the whole of Tarai as one province. While no objective justification — social, economic, cultural whatever — has been advanced for such one (or two) province which, if materalized, would be a 30km wide and 800km long east-west strip, inhabited by a wide diversity of ethnic and linguistic groups, including the ‘Madheshi’ and ‘Pahadi’ people, each representing around 39 percent of the Tarai population.
This position ignores a few compelling conditions that irrevocably tie the destiny of the Tarai to the hill regions to the north. For instance, without taming the rivers in the north, there will be no water in the Tarai for drinking, irrigation or for agro-industrial development due to excessive extraction of groundwater across the border that has perilously depleted the water table in the Tarai now standing at 250 feet or more.
Then, there is the developmental perspective. As things stand, the Tarai is poised to be one of the most prosperous places in the whole of
South Asia, as long
as its development is planned and integrated with the rest of the country. For
instance, the West Seti Hydropower Project, now reportedly being considered for
implementation by , would
submerge some 2,000 hectares of land and displace some 16,000 people in the
four Far-West hill districts of Doti, Dandelchura, Baitadi and Bajhang. But it
would irrigate 360,000 hectares of farmland in the Tharu heartland districts of
Kanchanpur, Kailali and Bardia, generate much energy, which would power agro-industrial
development that has to happen in the Tarai belt, and yield some 15 billion
rupees in annual revenue that would significantly contribute to overall
national development, including in the aforementioned Far-West hill districts. The
same story would hold true also in the case of other hydroelectric projects in
the country. In short, there are enormous developmental benefits to be reaped
as long as China ’s diverse
geography is used as an integrated whole. Nepal
Frying pan to fire
While a large segment of the Madheshi population remains chronically deprived, two factors have directly contributed to it. Firstly, as pointed out by another Madheshi scholar, Professor Ram Narayan Dev in his article in Kantipur Daily (
May 8, 2012) titled, ‘Tarai-Madheshma
Arakschyan Niti Kasto Hunu Parchha?’ (What kind of reservation policy should be
there in Tarai Madhesh?), ‘most of the land in the Tarai is occupied by high-caste
people’ rendering the lower-caste people ‘virtually landless’, and also
‘oppressed and exploited’ by the former. The three high castes comprise Brahmin,
Kayastha and Rajput who account for only 4.2 percent of the Madhesi population
that numbers 5.3 million.
Secondly, the last 25 years of multiparty democracy in
a story of boundless corruption and limitless misrule at the hands of
traditionally dominant feudal elites belonging to the three relatively more
privileged groups of Bahun, Chhetri and Newar, clearly a case of sustained
denial of promised developmental benefits to the people. This is what led many
to believe that maybe, federalisation is the answer. However, going by Prof.
Dev’s portrayal of the Madheshi social structure referred to above, with the
exploitative social structure remaining intact whether in the hills or in the
Tarai, federalisation would only amount to jumping from the frying pan into the
What is basically needed is a redefinition of our democratic polity in a manner that empowers every single community in the country, in the hill and in the Tarai, to preside over their own destiny. It is to this end that the Madhesi civil society has to intervene and stop this senseless turmoil now and in the future, so that, to quote Chandra Kishore again, the people of both Pahad and Madhesh could get on with the “sajha sahayatra”.
* The author is an anthropologist