Nepal’s Terai People In Deplorable Conditions: Mahto
Nepal’s Terai People In Deplorable Conditions By Rajendra Mahto Asia Tribune
Nepal, situated in the lap of the world’s highest peak, the Mount Everest, is generally known as the land of the Gorkhas, inhabitants of the mountains. But more than half of Nepal’s population is of ‘Hindi speaking Terai people known as Madheshis’ and they have their deep roots and blood relations across the borders with the people of India.
About two hundred and twenty five years ago, the land of Madhesh and different kingdoms were merged with Nepal in the name of unification but Madheshi people have not been integrated into the mainstream in Nepal. They are the inhabitants of the Terai region right from the days of the Mithila king Janak, Lichhvi kings, Karnataka clan kings and Bhagwan Gautam Buddha. The Terai region is ‘Madhya Desh’ between Nepal and India and hence it became ‘Madhesh’ and its inhabitants Madheshis.
The ancestors of the present day ruling clans in Nepal – Shah Dynasty kings, Bahun (hilly Pandits), Chhetri (Kshatriya) and Newar had migrated to Nepal from Rajasthan, Kumaon, Kanauj, Gharwal and Karnataka. But since the governance of the kingdom which emerged after geo-graphical unification of Nepal went into the hands of the rulers from the said clans, they declared themselves as the real Nepalis. Side by side, these Madheshis began to be called, without even a wink of the eyelid, as – ‘Moglania’, ‘Desi’, ‘Videshi’ and ‘Indians’ which is continuing even today. This is the reason why Madheshis politically, economically, socially, culturally and linguistically discriminated against in the past and now.
Consider this fact. Between 1970 and 1980, when the 1100 Km long East West national highway was built through the deep forests of Madhesh, about 25 lakh hill people were rehabilitated on either side of the highway but not even one inch of land was allotted to any landless Madheshi.
The present day Nepal is divided into 75 districts administratively. 55 of these 55 districts are close to Tibet and have low population density because of the hilly terrain. The remaining 22 districts in southern Nepal share their border with West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttranchal. Density of population is very high. In act, Terai belt accounts for almost 60 per cent of Nepal’s population. Their language is Hindi though Maithili, Bhojpuri and Avdhi are spoken. Northern Nepalis address them derogatorily as ‘Madheshis’.
During the partyless Panchayat regime in 1965, Hindi was abolished as medium of instructions; a very less developed Gorkha language of the ruling clans was given constitutional status by naming it as ‘Nepali’ and was declared as national language of Nepal. Hindi was banished in Rashtriya Panchayat, the so called Nepal Parliament.
After peoples’ uprising and restoration of democracy in the 1990, the government in Kathmandu recognised Terai districts as a ‘special cultural entity’ (Madheshi culture). But the ban on Hindi has not been lifted, till date.
In the fifties, Parliament gave equal status to Nepali and Hindi. Late Gajendra Narain Singh, founder-president, Nepal Sadhbhavna Party, and other party law makers insisted in Parliament (1959) on speaking in Hindi. They also wanted to attend Parliament attired in Dhoti Kurta and insisted on an end to discrimination against the Madhishis. After a great struggle, the Speaker informally allowed them to speak in Hindi; but no record is maintained of a statement or speech made in Hindi in Parliament.
Before 1990s, during the autocrat Panchayat regime, one or two seats from all districts, big or small, were reserved in Rashtriya Panchayat in an arbitrary manner; Only Independents could represent these seats. The terrified people did not protest. The situation did not change much after the ‘uprising’ too.
The ‘Constitution Suggestion Commission’ followed the ‘old’ yardsticks for in delimitation. It did not go by population as the base for delimitation of constituencies. Result was the hill constituencies with hardly six to eight thousand voters elect one representative to Parliament, while 70-80 thousand voters elect one law maker each in the Terai region, which is divided into 87 constituencies. No surprise therefore in a 205-member Pratinidhi Sabha (lower house of parliament), there are only 41 Madheshi representatives.
Madheshis face great discrimination in all spheres. There is an undeclared ban on their recruitment to Royal Nepal Army. Madheshis are in microscopic number in Nepal police. The presentation of the citizenship certificates has been made so stringent that in the absence of the citizenship certificate no one can either take birth or die legallyas at the time of registration of birth, father’s citizenship certificate is demanded.
Similarly, for a death certificate, the citizenship certificate is required. Citizenship certificate is demanded as a pre-requisite to admission in schools and colleges, buying and selling of property, license for setting up industrial units and entry into government jobs which is never granted to the Madheshis denied citizenship certificate.
So, it should not come as a surprise to know that more than 40 lakh Madheshi Nepali citizens are deprived of citizenship. It is the biggest tragedy of the community. The narrow minded hill leaders who dominate Government and main political parties are engaged in the unscrupulous campaign of declaring these Madheshis as Indians. Funnily, even without citizenship, these 40 lakh plus have been voting in all elections. That is they are able to elect a government but cannot emerge out of their pitiable plight.
Terai region is the rice bowl of Nepal. A drought in Madhesh leads to hunger in the country’, says a popular Nepali adage. About 83 per cent of Nepali revenue comes from Terai. Yet, Madhesh gets only about 20 per cent of government spending in the Budget – mostly by way of salaries for government employees.
The Madheshis are convinced that so long as they do not get a respectful place in Nepal, a feeling of regard and respect will never come for them, for India, and for Indians. This could be possible only when Hindi is granted national language status in Nepal Constitution, when ‘Dhoti Kurta’ put on by more than one crore Madheshis is accepted as national dress and when 40 lakh Nepali citizens plus who are without citizenship certificates (majority are Madheshi) are granted citizenship.
The Madheshis believe that the ‘Constituent Assembly’ be elected to formulate a new Constitution so that the discrimination against more than half of country’s ‘Hindi speaking population’ is removed and all Nepalis are integrated into the national mainstream.
For the past 13-years, Nepal Sadhbhavna Party is engaged in the struggle for proportional representation in state affairs for more than half of the country’s population of. Nepali Congress, Nepal Communist Party (UML) and other major political parties are now conscious of Madheshi concerns; they are raising their voices from time to time. Some success has come Madheshi way; a long road needs to be traversed still.
Nepal is today passing through the difficult phase of reforms in political, economic, social, cultural and language spheres. If the problems of one crore Madheshis are not highlighted right at this point of time, it is almost certain they will get nothing in the next phase of change.
Admittedly, multi-party democratic system in Nepal is in jeopardy strain ever since King Gyanendra dismissed an elected Prime Minister and took over the reins of the country. Already an unsuccessful attempt was made to project the autocrat royalty as an alternative to democracy.
All democratic and Madheshi forces should, therefore, join hands and unitedly carry forward the democratic movement while raising the problems of the Madheshis side by side so that their aspirations and concerns are never pushed to the back burner and are not even mentioned as was the case at the time of drafting the present constitution a decade back. Democracy can prosper when there is no discrimination of any kind and the gains of democracy are not limited to a particular group or a special community. This is what the Madheshis are clamouring for, to live as Nepalis with their head held high.