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Background of the Terai's Madhesi people

The flat southern region of Nepal - the Terai - is known as Madhes in the Nepalese language and its indigenous inhabitants are called Madhesi.

The Terai stretches from the east to the west of the country along the Nepalese-Indian border adjoining the Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. It comprises nearly 17 percent of the land and the Madhesi people make up about 30 percent of the 27 million people in Nepal.

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The Madhesi are predominantly Hindus with some Muslims, Buddhists and Christians.

Economically, the Terai is the most fertile and productive region of Nepal where agriculture dominates. The main agricultural products are rice, jute, sugar, mustard, tobacco, herbs and spices. Most of the agro-based industries are here. In addition, the region is rich in forestry.

Despite the economic significance of the Madhesi people, they have felt neglected by successive Nepalese governments over education, health access, economic activities and development programmes. Many of the poorest communities survive on less than US$1 a day.

The Madhesi leaders accuse the Nepalese government of treating them as outsiders and not as part of Nepal due to their Indian roots. More than 40 percent of the Madhesi still do not have citizenship or voting rights and only 15 percent of the 330 Nepalese parliamentarians are Madhesi.

In a bid to gain the attention of the government, the pro-Terai political party, the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF), launched demonstrations on 16 January to demand greater autonomy and more representation in the government. Their demands also include citizenship for the Madhesi population.

The government has yet to decide how to respond to the demands of the Madhesi protesters. In three weeks, 19 people have been killed, mostly at the hands of the armed Nepalese police. Most of the towns and cities in the eastern Terai remain closed due to strikes, a curfew and violence.


Madhesis in the remote villages of southeastern Terai fear they will suffer more hardship

KATAHARI, 18 February 2007 (IRIN)

With only one day to go before a 10-day deadline set by Madhesi leaders for the government to meet their demands expires, community leaders and aid agencies are worried that violence will erupt again in the eastern part of Nepal's southern Terai region.

From 17 January to 8 February, protesters clashed with police during demonstrations by the ethnic Madhesi people, led by their political party, the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF). The clashes, in which thousands of people were injured and 31 killed, ended on 8 February after the government agreed to talk to Madhesi leaders about their demands for greater autonomy and political rights.

There has been no breakthrough in the negotiations, however, so people in the region are bracing themselves for possible disruptions and food shortages. During the earlier protests, most of the cities and towns in the region came to a complete standstill because of strikes and a curfew. Trucks transporting food grains, vegetables and other agricultural products were also not allowed to move from markets to villages.

"Poor people like us suffered the most due to a lack of food stocks. We could not afford to buy food in bulk to last for weeks," said Anil Mangal, a 15-year-old rickshaw driver, who is his family's breadwinner.

"Poor people like us suffered the most due to a lack of food stocks. We could not afford to buy food in bulk to last for weeks"

Mangal lives in Katahari village, 20km from Biratnagar, the largest eastern city, 600km east of Kathmandu, the capital. He is working more than 12 hours a day to earn enough to store food supplies for his family to last for a few weeks. He says he is worried that if he fails, he and his parents will suffer food shortages as they did during the protests.

"We had to beg food from door to door in the village [during the protests] as all the food markets and shops were closed," he said adding that the government made the situation worse by imposing a 12-hour (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) curfew for three weeks.

Katahari village, with a population of 6,000, was one of the most severely affected areas in the eastern Terai, where villagers said they were arrested and beaten by the police for participating in the protests. Many said they were just spectators and some were forced to join in the protests by the Madhesi leaders.

"Nearly 500 people were injured in this village alone and although they are gradually recovering, they still live with fear and uncertainty about how they will live if the violence recurs," said Lal Bahadur Kamat, a 35-year-old farmer, who showed IRIN his head injuries after being battered by the police.

Most of the villagers work as farmers and labourers in local factories for a daily wage. They said the local administration had failed to help the impoverished families who had lost all their income and could not afford to buy food.

Terai unrest

- Terai is home to ethnic Madhesi people
- 31 people were killed in the Terai violence
- Thousands were injured
- Civilians fear violence will resume after 18 February.

"It will take us another three months to make up for our lost income and now people are eating only vegetables as they don't have enough rice [the staple food] because they cannot afford to buy it," said a resident, Jairam Kamot.

"The situation was quite grave during the curfews and strikes. Many families were having difficulty finding food and medicines for their children," said a community worker, Shakuntala Pande.

Madhesi factbox
Nepal's largest ethnic group; make up about one third of Nepal's 27 million people
Concentrated in the lowland Terai region, southern Nepal, the country's industrial and agricultural heartland
Traditionally, their main ethnic rivals are the politically dominant hill people known as Pahades
Comprised of various sub-groups with several different languages and dialects and have only recently developed a political consciousness and unity of purpose
Campaign for regional autonomy for the Terai, a federal Nepal, and greater representation in parliament
Militant factions such as the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) and the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) have carried out violent acts
Not allied in any way to the Maoists who have separate political goals
Include some of the most impoverished and disadvantaged castes in Nepal such as Badis (traditional sex workers) and Kamaiyas (bonded labourers)
According to rights activists, Maoist leaders are unable to control their supporters.
Credit IRIN 2007
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
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Madhesis- Teraians: Related Reports
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ANTA Association of Nepalese Teraians in America (ANTA)
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Nepal's Ethnic Groups Map Madhesi - Map


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