Professor Lok Raj Baral
Nepal Center for Contemporary Studies
The Maoist proposal that came in the wake of insurgency consists of nine Autonomous Regions, six of which are based on ethnicity and three on territoriality. Ethnic-based regions are:
1. Kirat Autonomous Region;
2. Tamang Saling Autonomous Region;
3. Tamuwan (Gurung) Autonomous Region;
4. Newar Autonomous Region;
5. Magrat Autonomous Region;
6. Tharuwan Autonomous Region; and
The three territorial regions are: Madhesh, Bheri-Karnali and Seti-Mahkali Autonomous Regions.
According to the Maoist plan, the autonomous regions would maintain control over local land, forest, mountain, tourism, public land, religious places ,rivers, lakes, minerals, agro-based small and mid-sized industries, inter-regional trade, local internal security, education, literature, language, culture, regional communication just to mention a few. The Maoist’s Roadmap on ‘Nationalities and Regional Questions’ enumerate the functions of autonomous regions. Except the People’s Army, foreign relations, finance, currency, measurement, communication, international trade, large scale industries and big hydroelectric projects, all other sectors shall fall under the jurisdiction of the autonomous regions. “In case of areas of mixed communities, or if there are other nationalities in the autonomous area of particular nationality, there shall be representation of all in the local state power on a proportional basis”. Regional autonomy would be granted to Karnali and Seti-Mahakali regions as these regions are under perpetual oppression and are backward. Similarly, separate autonomous regions would be granted to the Tarai (Madhesh), though what would be geographical boundary or how many regions would be created out of the present Tarai is not clear.
The Maoist Autonomous Regions which are mostly ethnic based, but too, lack rationale for their identity.
The Kirat Autonomous region, for example, is composed of 48 percent Rai and Limbu. The other ethnic groups and Hill caste groups have respective percentage of 14.6 and 37.2 that surpasses the size of Rai and Limbu. Language-wise also, 57.4 percent people have Nepali as their mother tongue as against the 29.4 Rai and Limbu and 13 percent other ethnic groups. Moreover, the Rai and Limbu have their own respective languages and internal divisions (more so in case of Rai) thereby defying the justification for creating Kirat Autonomous region. Other Regions do not also provide a sound justification. The Tamsaling which is considered to be Tamang dominated area is composed of 42.8 percent Tamang, 15.3 percent other ethnic groups and 41.7 percent Hill caste groups.
The Newar Autonomous Region has 43.9 Newar, 11.1 percent other ethnic groups and 44.9 percent high caste groups (Brahmin/Chhetri).
The Tamuwan Autonomous Region of Gurung is composed of 23.8 percent Gurung, 17.9 percent other ethnic groups and 53.7 percent hill high caste groups.
The Magarat Autonomous Region consists of 35.7 percent Magar, 12.4 percent Dalit, and 51.7 percent hill Brahmin and Chhetri.
The Tharuwan Autonomous Region has 47.6 percent Tharu, 12.7 percent others and 39 percent hill Brahmis/Chhetri.
The Madhese Autonomous Region has 28.8 Tarai castes (including dalits), 17.1 percent Tarai ethnic groups, other 26.9 percent and Hill Brahmin/Chhetri 26.9 percent. Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi speakers constitute 69.9 percent people, while the Nepali is spoken by 25 percent. The rest are 4.3 percent.
In the Bheri-Karnali Autonomous Regions, Hill Brahmin/Chhetri constitutes 67.5 percent, Dalit 12.5 percent and Ethnic groups l2.9 percent.
In the Seti-Mahakali region, the Hill Brahmin/Chhetri dominates the area with 85.7 percent and, Dalit 14.2 percent, 98.3 percent people speak Nepali.
Thus, only two autonomous regions, Bheri-Karnali and Seti-Mahakali areas are homogenous from demographic and language points of view. The other regions based on ethnic composition are highly heterogeneous.
Various other models offered by both academics and activists are either the responses to the Maoist division of the country along ethnic lines or come as alternatives for autonomous regions or “centralized federalism”.
It has now been clear that the past divisions of the country along zonal and district lines cannot meet the needs of today’s
However, taking the recent aspirations of people, such views are not likely to address the political agenda as put forth by various hill ethnic groups and the people of Madhesh. Perhaps, they could have been appropriate a few years ago when these groups were not politicized to the extent of demanding an autonomous region. So districts to be created only from financial point of view are not sufficient, though mobilization of economic resources would perennially remain as one of the important aspects of federalism.
A host of other persons have developed certain models, some of which differ from the Maoist model of nine-fold division and some stick to the ethnic-based division proposed by the Maoist party. Narhari Acharya, K.B. Gurung, Pari Thapa, Kumar Yonjan, Govinda Neupane, Bhavani Baral, Chaitanya Mishra, Shankar Pokhrel, Krishna Khanal, Mahendra Lawati, Kumar Yonjan Tamang, Rajendra Shrestha and Amresh Narayan Jha and Amresh Kumar Singh follow both the territorial and ethnic divisions without providing enough grounds for creating a federal or decentralized state. And such divisions have been done on three grounds:
1. Ethnic population, land and territory;
2. Linguistic territory or cultural domination; and
3. Oppression on the basis of territoriality
From religious point of view,
There are 101 ethnic and tribal groups and the Brahmin and Chhetri , who are now the major target of other deprived sections of society, especially from the hill ethnic communities, for being perennially dominant and discriminatory, constitute only 30.89 percent of the total population, while the other Madhese and hill ethnic groups and the Muslim form 70 percent. The hill dalit group, which is divided on the basis of occupation, is 7.11 percent. Like other hill caste groups, the dalits are divided into Goira and thar. The ethnic communities belonging to the Mongoloid group including the 5.48 percent Newar are 27.52 percent with 28 percent share in the total national population. The Madhese group that is constituted by 30 groups has 15.24 percent shares. The Madhesh dalit has 11 communities with 3.98 percent share. The Tarai (Madhesh) caste group has 15 communities and constitutes 12.38 percent of tile national population.
Among the various ethnic groups, the Muslim has 4.27 percent population. Gender-wise, the women constitute 50.04 percent population.
How different communities who are minorities from national demographic perspective are dispersed across the country can thus be seen. Of the 75 districts of Nepal, Chhetri is in nine districts, Magar, Tharu, Tamang, Newar and Gurung respectively become majority communities in 14 districts. Among the hill caste and hill ethnic groups, they are in a majority in 28 districts each, while the Madhese communities in 8 and Janjati in one district are in a majority. Among the remaining 10 districts, hill and
Madhese communities are in majority in three districts each and in four districts, no hill and Madhese communities are in a majority. As it has been said that “ethnic activists in Nepal increasingly point out that a minority is running a multiethnic nation”.
Given the dispersed demographic and ethnic structures, lack of linguistic basis and the geographical features of the country, ethnic, language and size of the population alone cannot form the basis of federalism.
[Excerpts; Paper presented at a “Friends for Peace” organized workshop on, “Discourse on Inclusion in the context of federalism”, 28 April 2007]