The term Madheshi people (Nepali: मधेशी, also spelled Madhesi) is ambiguous. Anthropologists use the term for people of Indian ancestry residing in the Terai of Nepal and comprising various cultural groups such as Hindu caste groups, muslims, merchants and indigenous people of the Terai. Many of these groups share cultural traditions and marital ties with people living south of the international border in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. In recent times, some politicians and journalists have used the term for all Nepali citizens of the Terai.
Migrants to the Terai from the hills in Nepal and Tharu people do not consider themselves to be Madheshi. Madheshi people comprise caste groups like Brahmin and Dalit as well as ethnic groups such as Maithils, Bhojpuri, Awadhi and Bajjika speaking people. Indian immigrants settled foremost in present-day eastern Nepal Terai since the late 18th century, when the rulers of Nepal encouraged deforestation and agricultural development of this region.
The word madhesh is thought to be derived from the Sanskrit मध्य देश "madhya desh" meaning "middle country", which refers to "the central region, the country lying between the Himalayas and the Vindhya mountains".
Since the late 18th century, the Shah rulers of Nepal encouraged Indian people to settle in the eastern Terai through a series of subsidies granted to new settlers. A severe flood of the Koshi River followed by a drought caused famine-stricken Bihari farmers in the 1770s to 1780s to migrate to the Nepal Terai, where they converted forest to agricultural land. Immigration of people from neighbouring India increased between 1846 and 1950. They settled foremost in the eastern Nepal Terai together with native Terai peoples. In the mid 19th century, Muslim people from the Awadh region were invited to settle in the far-western Nepal Terai, where they received large forested areas for conversion to agriculture.
Since the late 1940s, the term 'Madhes' was used by politicians in the Nepal Terai to differentiate between interests of the people of the Terai and of the hills. In the 1950s, the regional political party Nepal Terai Congress advocated more autonomy for the Terai, recognition of Hindi as a national language and increasing employment opportunities for Madheshi people. During 1961 to 1990, the Panchayat government enforced a policy of assimilating diverse cultural groups into a pan-Nepali identity. Legal directives made it an offence to address inequality and discrimination of ethnic groups. After the Panchayat regime was abolished following the People's Movement in spring 1990, disadvanted groups demanded a more equitable share of political resources such as admittance to civil service.
The Nepal Sadbhawana Party started lobbying for socio-cultural, linguistic and political rights of Madheshi people. The discussions on rights and demands of Madheshi people increased after the end of the Nepalese Civil War, in particular among Madheshi intellectuals and political elites. The political parties Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha and Madheshi Jana Adhikar Forum advocated the idea of an autonomous Madhes province stretching all over the Terai and organised violent demonstrations in 2007 to enforce their demands. The United Democratic Madheshi Front formed by Madheshi organizations pressured the government to accept this concept of autonomy under the motto "One Madhes One Pradesh". Several ethnic and religious groups in the Terai opposed and resisted this policy under the leadership of Madheshi parties, foremost Tharu and Muslim people.
Demographics of the Nepal Terai
The Nepal Terai totals 33,998.8 km2 (13,127.0 sq mi), about 23.1% of Nepal's land area. As of 2001, about 48.5% of Nepal's population lived in the Terai, which had the highest density in the country with 330.78 people per sqkm. As of June 2011, the Nepal Terai's human population totalled 13,318,705 people comprising more than 120 different ethnic groups and castes.
In 1952, a Nepal Citizenship Act was passed that entitled all those immigrants to obtain Nepali citizenship who had stayed in the country for at least five years. The Citizenship Act of 1963 entitled immigrants to receive Nepali citizenship if they were engaged in business and could read and write Nepali.
In 2006, the Nepal Citizenship Act was amended to the effect that people born before 1990 and residing permanently in the country obtained the right to Nepalese citizenship. About 2.3 million people received citizenship certificates. The Constitution of Nepal 2015 contains provisions for a Nepali citizenship by naturalisation, which can be acquired by:
- foreign women who are married to a Nepali man;
- children of a Nepali woman and a foreign man.
The culture of Madeshi people is complex and diverse. The Muslim and indigenous peoples speak their own languages and have distinct cultural traditions that differ from the Hindu caste groups. Latter comprise at least 43 distinct groups.
Many Muslim Madheshis claim origins in India, Afghanistan, Arabia and Persia. They are influenced by the hierarchy of the Hindu caste system, with the difference that it is not based on the principle of pollution and purity, but on occupation.
The National Population and Housing Census of 2011 knows of 123 languages spoken in all of Nepal and lists:
- 3,092,530 Maithili speaking people (11.7% of Nepal's total population), of which 3,004,245 lived in the Terai;
- 1,584,958 Bhojpuri speaking people (5.98%), of which 1,542,333 lived in the Terai;
- 1,529,875 Tharu speaking people (5.77%), including 1,479,129 in the Terai;
- 793,418 Bajjika speaking people (2.99%), including 791,737 in the Terai;
- 691,546 speak Urdu (2.61%), including 671,851 in the Terai.
Religions practised in the Terai according to the National Population and Housing Census of 2011 are
- Hinduism with 11,308,620 followers
- Islam with 1,105,533 followers
- Buddhism with 472,469 followers
- Kirat with 190,458 followers
- Christianity with 137,723 followers
- Prakriti with 63,747 followers
- Jainism with 2,169 followers
- Bon with 1,379 followers, less than 900 Bahá'ís and less than 500 Sikhs.
In 1989, a study on food consumption pattern was conducted with 108 people in a village in Chitwan district. Results of this study showed that the people consumed seven food items on average. Rice constituted almost half of their daily food intake, supplemented by vegetables, potatoes, milk and dairy products. Less frequently they consumed meat, fish, eggs and fruit. About 13.7% of the total food intake of men was alcohol, whereas females consumed far less alcohol.
Fruit commonly grown in the Terai include mango, lychee, papaya, banana and jackfruit. Taro root is an important crop, of which the leaves and roots are eaten. Sidhara is a mixture of taro root, dried fish and turmeric that is formed into cakes and dried for preservation. Freshwater snails are cleansed, boiled and spiced to make ghonghi. Immature rice is used to make a kind of gruel maar. Rice and lentil dumplings are called bagiya or dhikri. The cakes are broken up and cooked with radish, chili, garlic and spices to accompany boiled rice.
Many Tharu people do not consider themselves as Madheshi, instead identify themselves as indigenous people of the Terai. They are resistant to malaria because of inherited alpha-thalassemia. They are mainly involved in farming. They decorate their houses using only natural materials like clay, mud, dung and grass.
Some Tharus practice the badghar system and elect a village chief, whose task is to work for the welfare of the village. Rana Tharus in the far-western Terai of Nepal traditionally live in longhouses with big families of many generations and pool their labour, income and expenditures.
Although democracy has been reinstated in Nepal, the Madheshi community has called for a more inclusive democracy as they are fearful of remaining an underprivileged group. Some Madheshi people want secession from Nepal and have formed various organisations and groups to help achieve this aim. For example, the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha is a separatist organisation founded in 2004 by Jay Krishna Goit with the aim of gaining independence for the Terai region from Nepal. Organisation members have been responsible for various acts of Terrorism including bombings and murders. Other armed outfits have appeared that also demand secession through violent means including the Terai Army, Madhesh Mukti Tigers and the Tharuwan National Liberation Front. There is also a movement that is demanding the secession of the Madhesh region led by C. K. Raut, called the Alliance for Independent Madhesh.
The major Madheshi national political parties are:
- Madheshi Jana Adhikar Forum, Nepal
- Madheshi Youth Forum
- Madheshi Janadhikar Forum Madhesh
- United Democratic Madheshi Front
Indian influence in Nepal Terai
After the Nepalese Constituent Assembly election, 2008, Indian politicians kept on trying to secure strategic interests in the Nepal Terai, such as over hydropower energy, development projects, business and trade. By supporting the people of Madhesh who led 2015 Nepal blockade, India tried to dominate Nepal's internal politics and foment the conflict in the Nepal Terai.
- Savada, A. M. (1991). "Migration". Nepal and Bhutan : country studies. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. pp. 69–79.
- Gellner, D.N., Pfaff-Czarnecka, J. and Whelpton, J. (1997). Nationalism and ethnicity in a Hindu kingdom: The politics of culture in contemporary Nepal. London, New York: Routledge. pp. 128–149.
- Dahal, D.R. (2008). "The 'Madhesi' People: Issues and Challenges of Democracy in the Nepal Terai". In Gellner, D.; Hachhethu, K. Local Democracy in South Asia: Microprocesses of democratization in Nepal and its neighbours. New Delhi, Los Angeles, London, Singapore: Sage Publications.
- Dixit, K. M. (2017). Who is the Madhesi subaltern? Kathmandu: Nepali Times #847.
- Kabir, H. (2013). Education, Nationalism, and Conflict in Plural Society in Nepal: Terai Region in the Post-Maoist Context (PDF). Hiroshima: Hiroshima University Partnership Project for Peace Building and Capacity Development. Discussion Paper Series Vol. 19.
- Hachhethu, K. (2007). "Madheshi nationalism and restructuring the Nepali state". International Seminar on Constitutionalism and Diversity in Nepal. Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu: Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies. pp. 1–12.
- Dahal, D.R. (1983). "Economic development through indigenous means: A case of Indian migration in the Nepal Terai" (PDF). Contribution to Nepalese Studies. 11 (1): 1–20.
- Apte, V. S. (1957–1959). "मध्य madhya". Revised and enlarged edition of Prin. V. S. Apte's The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary. Poona: Prasad Prakashan.
- Guneratne, A. (2002). Many tongues, one people: the making of Tharu identity in Nepal. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
- Dastider, M. (2000). "Muslims of Nepal's Terai". Economic and Political Weekly. 35 (10): 766–769. JSTOR 4408986.
- Miklian, J. (2008). Nepal’s Terai: Constructing an Ethnic Conflict. South Asia Briefing Paper #1 (PDF). Oslo: International Peace Research Institute.
- Kabir, H. (2012). The rise of new regional political force in Madhes and its consequence in post-conflict Nepal. Hiroshima: Hiroshima University Partnership Project for Peace Building and Capacity Development. Discussion Paper Series Vol. 15.
- Krämer, K.-H. (2007). "How representative is the Nepali State?". In Gellner, D. Resistance and the State: Nepalese experiences. New York: Berghahn Books. pp. 179–198.
- Hangen, S. (2007). Creating a "New Nepal": the ethnic dimension. Washington: East-West Center.
- Lawoti, M., Hangen, S. (2013). Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nepal: identities and mobilization after 1990. Oxon, New York: Routledge.
- Bhuju, U. R., Shakya, P. R., Basnet, T. B., Shrestha, S. (2007). Nepal Biodiversity Resource Book. Protected Areas, Ramsar Sites, and World Heritage Sites (PDF). Kathmandu: International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, in cooperation with United Nations Environment Programme, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. ISBN 978-92-9115-033-5.
- Central Bureau of Statistics (2012). National Population and Housing Census 2011 (PDF). Kathmandu: Government of Nepal.
- Pathak, B., Uprety, D. (2009). Tarai-Madhes searching for identity based security (PDF). Kathmandu: Conflict Study Center.
- Shrestha, S. and Mulmi, S. (2016). Legal Analysis of Citizenship Law of Nepal. A Comparative Study of the Nepal Citizenship Act, 2006 with the Constitution, Precedents, International Human Rights Obligation and Best Practices. Publication No. 190. Kathmandu: Forum for Women, Law & Development.
- Sijapati, M. A. (2011). Islamic revival in Nepal: religion and a new nation. London, New York: Routledge.
- Thapa, S. (1995). "Caste Hierarchy: The inter-Ethnic Stratification in the Muslim society of Nepal". Tribhuvan University Journal. XVII: 78–87.
- Dastider, M. (2007). Understanding Nepal: Muslims in a plural society. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications. ISBN 978-81-241-1271-7.
- Khalid, S. (2016). "Nepal's ethnic Madhesis fight for dignity and equality". Aljazeera.
- Sijapati, M. A. (2012). "Mawdudi's Islamic Revivalist Ideology and the Islami Sangh Nepal". Studies in Nepali History and Society. 17 (1): 41–61.
- Ohno, Y., Hirai, K., Sato, N., Ito, M., Yamamoto, T., Tamura, T. and Shrestha, M.P. (1997). "Food consumption patterns and nutrient intake among Nepalese living in the southern rural Terai region". Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition (6): 251–255.
- Krauskopff, G. (1995). "The Anthropology of the Tharus: An Annoted Bibliography". Kailash. 17 (3/4): 185–213.
- Terrenato, L.; Shrestha, S.; Dixit, K. A.; Luzzatto, L.; Modiano, G.; Morpurgo, G.; Arese, P. (1988). "Decreased Malaria Morbidity in the Tharu and Maithil People Compared to Sympatric Populations in Nepal". Annals of Tropical Medicine and Parasitology. 82 (1): 1–11. PMID 3041928.
- Modiano, G.; Morpurgo, G.; Terrenato, L.; Novelletto, A.; Di Rienzo, A.; Colombo, B.; Purpura, M.; Marianit, M.; Santachiara-Benerecetti, S.; Brega, A.; Dixit, K. A.; Shrestha, S. L.; Lania, A.; Wanachiwanawin, W.; L. Luzzatto (1991). "Protection against malaria morbidity – near-fixation of the α-thalassemia gene in a Nepalese Population" (PDF). American Journal of Human Genetics. 48 (2): 390–397. PMC . PMID 1990845.
- Guneratne, A. (2002). Many Tongues, One People: The Making of Tharu Identity in Nepal. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York. ISBN 0801487285.
- Meyer, K. W., Deuel, P. (1997). "The Tharu of the Tarai". Indigo Gallery, Kathmandu. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
- Bellamy, B. (2009). Tradition in Transition: Tharu Traditional Governing System in Post-Conflict Nepal.
- Lam, L. M. (2009). Park, hill migration and changes in household livelihood systems of Rhana Tharus in far-western Nepal (PDF). University of Adelaide.
- Gorkhapatra Sansthan (2007). "Tharu community calls for inclusive democracy". The Rising Nepal. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
- "Terrorist Organization Profile: Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM)". National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).
- "Nepal Timeline Year 2004". Retrieved 17 April 2017.
- "Nepal: Madhesis protest outside British embassy against 1816 treaty". 8 December 2016. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
- "Alliance for Independent Madhesh (AIM)". Retrieved 17 April 2017.
- "Madheshi Jana Adhikar Nepali Forum - Popular in Nepali Politics".
- Ojha, H. (2015). The India-Nepal Crisis. The Diplomat.
- Mahato, R. (2016). "The endless transition". Kathmandu: Nepali Times.
- Deepak Chaudhary. 2011. Tarai/Madhesh of Nepal; An Anthropological Study. Kathmandu: Ratna Pustak Bhandar.