Nepal : Madhesi independence and neighbors
By Dr. Upendra Gautam
January 22, 2007
The political forces, which look splinter and peripheral from Kathmandu, have raised arms for independence of Madhes, the middle flat territory, from the unified Nepal. The most immediate cause of Madhesi (people of the middle flat territory) uprising seems to be the grand geo-political success of armed insurgency of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M). The long term historical cause of the political uprising nevertheless is rooted in the failure of the majority of the oligarchy rules in Nepal. These oligarchy rules instead of introducing visionary pro-people reform and development across state affairs always treated the state-its people and territories-as their private property.
In such a background, the foremost demand of independence of Madhes from the unified Nepal must not surprise a discerning political analyst. Historically South Asia has been a region in the world where war of independence never ended even after the imperial British power quitted the region in 1947. Immediately after the British left, Kashmiris started it. Soon people from east Bengal joined them for the independence of Bangladesh. Tamils have been fighting for independence since early 80s. Natives of Assam, Punjab, Sikkim and Maoists in the Republic of India (RoI) have their own independence ranking in the respective territory. Now enter the Madhesis in the South Asian arena of independence.
Just two years before in 2004, the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) was formed after splitting from the CPN-M. The JTMM has further split into two factions – one led by Jai Krishna Goit and another led by Jwala Singh. JTMM split from the CPN-M was motivated by its perceived “pahadepan” (Hill character) of the CPN-M against its own “madhesipan” (Flat character).
But the geo-cultural differences between the CPN-M and JTMM appear to have assumed serious political dimension when the Eight Political Parties (EPA) moved fast to promulgate Interim Constitution of Nepal on 15 January, 2007. The violent protest program that JTMM announced from 3 January has since been intensifying. It is further joined by the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF). The MPRF has demanded that the Constituent Assembly elections should be held through a proportionate electoral system to represent the Madhesis and other marginalized minority groups. Jwala Singh has categorically alleged that “the interim constitution lacks even a single word in favor of Madhesi people” and demanded creation of a separate and independent Madhes state.
In an interview published in Himalini, Hindi Magazine, January-February 2007 and reproduced in the Nepali Weekly Janadharna (18 January, 2007), leader Jai Krishna Goit said, “I am not a Nepali… Nepal annexed Tarai…. Entire territory south of Mahabharat mountain range is Tarai and it belongs to us…You have witnessed movement that started 10 years before with traditional weapons…In our case we have begun it with ultra modern weapons…”
Madhes thus sound set for independence. Notwithstanding political power, leaders like Goit, Mahato and others may take indefinite time to realize their real goal of attaining independence. As the priority tasks ahead may include but not limited to the following:
The sovereign boundary of independent state of Madhes with India: This boundary needs to be fairly defined in all directions. In addition to Nepal, it is essential to delineate border-line of independent Madhes with the RoI. The agreement on the inviolable sovereign border-line of independent Madhes with the RoI can ask for greater sacrifice and struggle on the part of the Madhesi people.
Given the fact that on the daily basis the livelihood and basic rights of Madhesis have suffered more at the hands of their southern neighbor, delineation of sovereign international border with the RoI through international oversight and guarantee is a pre-requisite for Madhes independence. Each and every inundated area, each and every encroached area, each and every illegally built water control structure, each and every demographic invasion by all sorts of people in the name of “open” border are glaring examples that make Madhesis suffer on a daily basis. If the majority of oligarchs from Kathmandu hunted Madhes once a year, the Maharaja faction of the RoI used to take decision to bleed Madhes on a daily basis.
Status and division of ethno-nationalities in Madhes: This question needs to be thoroughly addressed. Like the Pahades (hill people), Madhes is not a singular unit in any sense-ethnicity, caste, nationality, religion, language, world cultural heritage or bio-diversity. For example, people are more of a hill character in part of Madhes closer to Uttranchal. All sorts of languages are there in Madhes- Doteli, Tharu, Abadhi, Bhojpuri, Maithali, and Rajbansi. All sorts of religions are there too: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Vaishyaism. Madhes has all sorts of ethnicity/nationalities: Khas, Tharu, Muslim, Mandal, Mishra, Yadav, Jha, Rapjut, Rajbansi, Assamese, Bhutanese, Bengali. From west to east, each part of Madhes has its own indigenous and external interfaces depending upon its history, ethnicity/caste/nationality, language, religion, socio-economic activity and relative proximity with particular Indian provinces, which were formed considering a set of communal values such as ethnicity/nationality, religion and language.
Recognition to independent state of Madhes: This should be a top priority for the Madhesi leadership. The people of Madhes must not suffer because of prevailing double standard in South Asia about national independence. Proposed independent Madhes faces a neighbor in south that does not respect any border or is happy without neighbors. So form the very beginning it should mobilize its “government in exile” to garner all international supports including the support of the UN and its Security Council for its independence and recognition of this independence by all legitimate international actors.
Perhaps Madhes too can positively learn from the history of Nepal. This is a great irony for Nepali people, who received unified political state status way back in 1769, that theirs’ was so loose a political federation of oligarchies that all geo-cultural units in the country were more independent to one another than to outsiders. Can independence of Madesh make a difference in the neighborhood (also other geo-cultural units such as Kashmir realizing independence)? Or is independence of Madhes just a ploy to kill two birds ( Nepal and its erstwhile unified unit Madhes) with one raw stone?
(Dr. Gautam is a freelance writer based in Kathmandu and can be contacted at at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Indigenous Peoples are putting their bodies on the line and it's our responsibility to make sure you know why. That takes time, expertise and resources - and we're up against a constant tide of misinformation and distorted coverage. By supporting IC you're empowering the kind of journalism we need, at the moment we need it most.