Nepal: Madhes is not geography, a microcosm of ethnic harmony

Dhruva Joshy

Former Executive Director of the NARC, Nepal


The Hill and Terai divide, a geographical disparate perverted to ethnic division, has turned as a totemic pole of the Madhesi political parties. It is the result of angry faith of hate against the hegemony of the Pahade, a synonym of ruling elites, than Madhes redemption. This Madhesi anxiety exaggerated by demographic arrogance that has set off the Madhes agitation of 2006 was, as the Madhesi leaders assert, for establishing Madhesi identity in the national mainstream. But the paradox was they turned the ‘divide’ into Manichean division of friends and enemies with predilection to ethnic hatred for gaining the political mileage. The Madhesi emotion retrieved from the movement later swerved by its leaders to Pahade bashing, much to the delight of the regressive communal forces. With such perforated delight the Madhes is still in struggle to redeem from politics of paranoia.

But person like me who was born and brought up there more than 60 years ago, it was a painful example of racial politics at its atavistic worst. Madhesi leaders had flaunted it as a triumphant moment of the Madhesi militancy oblivious of unleashing the pathology of distrust in our multi-ethno society that has visibly smashed the very fabric of communal harmony into smithereens in the Terai.  For the community that is under siege, it was the vindication of the Madhesi hate against Pahade stage-managed by the tyranny of demographic arrogance that forced them to migrate to the safer places abandoning their birth place in a great pain.

There is another burlesque the Madhes has been witnessing: for its leaders, those seasoned ventriloquists who came from across the border at different intervals of time are the sons of the soil but those who are born and lived there along with them from generations wax unbecoming residents. These parachuted-faceless sons of the soil-turned voters, they excel in absurdities only, they have nothing at stake, except, a few borrowed slogans to keep the communal pot boiling.

Despite high decibel rhetoric during the agitation, no Madhesi leaders ever showed gumption to their Pahade counterparts to stop migrating them from their birth place, the Madhes, in the sheer blatancy of vote-bank politics. When one reads the statements of these leaders at that time who were competing each other in spewing out hate against Pahade, the message was loud and clear. This suggests that Nepal has always remained the biggest incomprehension of Madhesi leaders and they are woolly-headed to vouch if their umbilical cord is attached here or anywhere else. Their denial to cooperate to update the voter-list is the same old chestnut: though, they do not say so, one still gets the feeling that everyone coming from other side of the border should be accepted as Nepali citizen. The logical extension of such polemic is: the Madhesis are willing to live with illegal migrants from across the border but not ready to accept the Pahade denizens in the Terai.

The new lexis of the Madhesi liberation has made the jock further conceited– there are several well educated Madhesis who have had been enjoying all the perks and privileges that the State provides to its nationals, but yet flippantly remark in public platform that they are here as a second class citizen living in internal colonial rule. If it is true, Nepal then is hell for them and the Pahade have made them Nepalis redundant. In all fairness one must accept that this is a warped view of Madhesi psyche not to believe in meritocracy. If they believe in open, competitive and pluralistic society, they must accept the fact that the country will be better off when the best beat the rest.

 They are in the gallery of power all the time; yes, not in the centre of power. And, this is not because they are Madhesi, rather the home truth is, a modicum of education, societal awareness and development level of the Madhesi society is the raison d´etre for their predicament. They need to be bold enough and sincere to accept the truth. As their society opened up and awareness level enhanced, the power of clerisy has increased bringing them more opportunities to play vital roles not only in the state’s affairs but in the Nepali society as a whole. Therefore, sooner they recognize the incontrovertible fact ‘the best must succeed’ and stop grappling with reservation, inclusion, priority right etc as backdoor entry, earlier the Madhsi society and the nation, in general, will prosper.

Although, the Madhes agitation, has semaphored the Madhesi political parties to power, there is no denying the fact that the empowered leaders failed to turn the Madhes a peaceful place to live in for their own community. In recent years, I was surprised to see several of my Madhesi friends hanging around in the capital during the Dashain, Diwali and Chhat festival due to fear of intimidation and extortion in the Terai. What does it signifies? When your means are foul and disingenuous, definitely the end you meet will be delirious. The deceitful slogan of these shenanigans, one Madhes one Pradesh appeared emotional albeit, it was not Madhes redemption; it is more ethnic than pan Terai sentiment and does not include the communities that live there from generations. Such ethnic divide has transformed the Terai in a playing field for illegal armed groups and extortionists. Today’s Madhes is riddled with such Frankenstein. 

As things are precipitating in the Terai, keeping politics aside, its denizens are coming out of reverie and sincerely acknowledging the contribution made by their Pahade counterparts, who are born and lived there from generations, in bringing the the Terai’s development to today’s state. Such redressal will help to build confidence between the two communities and pump fresh dynamism to the jaded mind-set. They also opine that the mushrooming Madhesi parties failed to bring the massive reform that are needed to transform their medieval society. It is, therefore, high time that these leaders should show courage to stand up and tell our community why they have performed so poorly even when the political landscape was conducive for such initiatives. Further, they should show their sagacity to bring their Pahade counterparts into confidence. Such a move might bring a new era of accountability and act as succor in healing the purported humiliation of ethnic divide. Let us hope that the revulsion spawning in Madhes among general Masdhesis should act as devil’s advocate to the leaders to revisit their agenda of their respective parties. 

Most Mdhesi liberals observe that the swirl storm of 2006 has lost its emotive force due to internal wrangling among the Madhesi parties. The number of Madhesi parties suggests that the Madhesi leaders will not remain behind their communist counterparts in splitting it. The latest split in the sequel is the Sadbhavana Party (Rajendra Mahto) again.  As a political issue it has yielded diminishing returns for them but yet they will not refrain from further division. In the Terai people in general are in doubt that these leaders can uphold the Madhes agenda, because of their clannish feud and I-me-myself culture inculcated in their psyche. These liberals think, “Our leaders should stop making fuss of voter-list updating procedure, as there are several other issues that need attention for development of the Madhes and its society. Instead, our leaders are as limpets looking for power only. Life in Madhes, though, look as usual, it is far from normal. In recent times more and more Madhesis are becoming the victims of manufactured violence perpetrated by our own community.” While listening to them one can not miss a sense of angst in their voices of concern.

Nobody is judging these leaders’ credentials in this respect. Perhaps their unwieldy declarations as one Madhes one Pradesh, bulky entry of ten thousand Madhesi Youth in the Nepal army etc have become the mantras of apologias. One cannot deny the discrimination meted out to the communities of Madhes, but it is also true that such parochial outlook is not reparation either. As if being a concerned Madhesi is nothing but being loud, exhibitionistic, self-righteous and anti-Pahade. This psyche has not only hindered the development of culture of holding informed discourses, it has also given birth to a mind-set that explains if you criticize a Madhesi leader (even based on facts) it is a mud-slinging and a part of conspiracy theories, a way to prove one’s credential as a Madesi Messiah.

The axe fallen on the Pahade community that dispelled them from the Terai has been used on the Madhesi themselves by the flunkeys who flaunt themselves as members of one or another political parties or armed groups of Madhes. Tu tuoque! Not only it has put the political parties of Madhes in a spot, the scathing situation developed in the Terai is pressurizing them for introspection of their Madhes policy in the national context of totality. Thus these parties are caught in a catch 22 situation where they can not abandon their core political rhetoric that is associated with their identity issue as the Madhes based parties. If ever these parties contemplate a makeover commensurate with the zeitgeist of 21st century, the issue of one Madhes one Pradesh will keep hovering in the minds of Madhesi leaders like a specter that has not been exorcized. exclusive

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I agree


  • Posted on - 2012-04-11    by     Saurav Rimal
  • terai madesh ko mudda lai bhitrai dekhi bujheko manche hunuhuncha jasto cha lekhakh. bujhnu parne kura k cha bhane, madesh ra pahade lai ladaera faida uthaune sabai rulers haru nai huncha,aru chahi basera tali bajaune matrai ho...malai khane baghle ekdin timilai pani khancha.
  • Posted on - 2012-02-15    by     Ram Babu Shah
  • Excellent piece of English literature!Ironically, the mediocre Madhesis will not understand it.
  • Posted on - 2012-02-14    by     Dev Shumsher
  • Really moved by your views , praise worthy are your thougths .After a long time pragmatic fragnace has come to fore. ====(The logical extension of such polemic is: the Madhesis are willing to live with illegal migrants from across the border but not ready to accept the Pahade denizens in the Terai. ).=====(Such ethnic divide has transformed the Terai in a playing field for illegal armed groups and extortionists. Today’s Madhes is riddled with such Frankenstein. )