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Archive for July 5th, 2008

Analysis: Understanding the Agitation in the Terai

Posted by Mike E on July 5, 2008

The following is a non-revolutionary analysis (originally published in The Hindu) of the disturbances in Nepal’s southern agricultural bread basket — the Terai — where secessionist and anti-Maoist forces have waged a series of strike and blockages over the last year. This piece provides background to the disturbances. This analysis appeared before the election, but still is important background.

The rumblings in Nepal’s Tarai Inside Nepal
by Siddharth Varadarajan

Identity Crisis: In Sunsari district 57 Pahadi families forced to leave their land by armed extremists from the Madhesi Tigers say they have no place to cast their vote. The people of Nepal go to the polls on Thursday to elect a Constituent Assembly (CA). While the eyes of the world are focussed on what the results will mean for the Maoists and the Monarchy, what happens to the Madhesis and their movement for autonomy will, in many ways, be even more crucial. After spending nearly a week covering the election campaign in the eastern and western Tarai of Nepal, this correspondent came away with a sense of foreboding about the future. Though the ‘Madhesi street’ is calm, armed extremist groups operate with impunity, and it is not uncommon to encounter in the discourse of Madhesi activists a tinge of communalism and even separatism. Unless the legitimate grievances are addressed with sensitivity and grace, illegitimate aspirations will rise up to take their place. In a sense, this process has already begun.

The Tarai belt is Nepal’s most densely populated region and accounts for half the country’s 29 million people. Not all of its residents are Madhesis, however. Janajati groups like the Tharus — the ‘original inhabitants’ before the swamps were cleared and Avadhi, Bhojpuri and Maithili-speaking migrants moved up from India — have a strong presence in the western plains districts. In the east, you have Limbus. And throughout the region, the Nepali-speaking Pahadis are present in significant numbers.

All told, the Madhesis form 31.2 per cent of Nepal’s population. And though they are as stratified in terms of language and caste as the Pahadis, a shared sense of grievance inheres in all of them. “We have never been accepted as Nepalis,” Anand Prakash Pandey, an activist of the Sadbhavna Party, said in Nepalganj. “Despite being Nepali citizens, we have always been called ‘Indians’.”

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