Saturday, November 20, 2010

The IDPs of the “Madhesh Aandolan’

Suman Babu Poudel and Anita Ghimire

Although, the definition of Madhes and Madhesi on the present political and social context of Nepal is highly contested, Madhes as yet, is geographically defined as the “Terai”-a flat southern region of Nepal. It stretches from east to west as part of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The people inhabiting it are mainly of three types- the indigenous people, the people of hilly origin (the Pahades 1) and local people who share cultural similarities and close ties with the cross border Indian parts (the Madhesi).

The Madhesh Aandolan

Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) a political party in the cabinet was against the interim constitution that was made by the coalition government led by the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN)-Maoist (Maoist hereafter) after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006. Their demonstration became the starting point of the conflict. It started in the two districts 2 eastern region of Siraha and Saptari and spread over the western region. It continued for 19 days and claimed the life of 29 Madhesi people. The major political demand was a regional autonomy with rights to self determination, proportional representation in constitutional assembly, provision of citizenship, and end to discrimination in hiring Madhesi in national administration, army, and bureaucracy.

However, the distressing part was that the conflict which started as a clearly political cause got mixed with unlawful activities like looting and kidnapping when other groups who were presumably taking benefit of the situation of loss of law and order joined it. However, they claimed it to be for the support of the conflict. Such activities were targeted towards particular groups who were forced to be displaced from the Madhesh. It is estimated that around 6000- 8000 people have been displaced due to the conflict (IDMC, 2008). However, as is the common case, the numbers are much more higher- in this case precisely because the agencies involved were led by the misconception that IDPs are only poor the people, so they enumerated only those who were living in forest or in tents and squatters. However a large number of people displaced by this conflict have settled in urban areas and are able to support themselves. This article describes the nature of the persons displaced internally due to the conflict. Their issue is crucial to the federal structure that Nepal is envisioned to take, yet they are neither recognized by the state and its policy procedures nor other national and international actors. These people can be classified into the following three broad types.

General Hill People

There are people who were living in Madhes but are of hilly origin and share language and most of their cultures with other people of hilly origin. Some of them had been living in Madhes for many generations and have no houses, property or immediate relatives outside the Madhes. Occupationally, most were involved in the business and agriculture and professions like law and teaching. At first, they were distinguished as Pahadi- thus not belonging to the place. They fled because they frequently faced threats of kidnapping, forced donations, unreasonable taxes and ransom, confiscation of the land and other forms of property and misbehavior and attacks on their women and children. These attacks came from different armed groups 3 that are claiming to support the conflict.

Besides these, the conflict has bred communal hatred. Purely personal issues of misunderstandings were interpreted as propaganda against the whole Madhesi community and revenge was taken on any available Pahadi. Similarly, non Madhesis living in Madhesi majority community were attacked if anything happened to any Madhesi living elsewhere. This made life insecure for the Pahadis also.

These groups are among the first to be displaced. A large number of these IDPs have settled along the northern part of the east west highway where there are communities with the majority of hill origin people. Others have moved deeper into the urban areas.

Government Employees

The displacement of government employees also started from the very beginning of the conflict. The leaders of the conflict propagated a sentiment that the government employees were the agents of the central hilly government, whom “the colonizers” sent to the Madhesi homelands to monitor and dominate the Madhesi people. Their displacement was seen as a victory by the Madhesi forces.

There are three kinds of displaced government employees based on their living in Madhes.

•Those local level government employees who are living in the Madhesh since many generations. They are permanent settlers of the place and employed by local government bodies. They shared a long relation and social and cultural understanding with the local Madhesi. These have no property elsewhere.

•Those who have been living in Madhesh since few years- after undertaking the job there. These mostly lived in and around district headquarters or amongst the Pahadi- majority community. They lived on the rent houses or had built their own houses in recent years. They have their relatives and extended families in different hilly parts of Nepal.

•The third group comprises of government employees like Chief District Officers, Local Development Officers, government engineers and lawyers who are in higher posts and are assigned to those districts for a shorter tenure. These are generally in constant fear of being attacked from both sides. The Madhesi activists attack them blaming them to be corrupt and insincere on Madhesi people. They get threats of kidnapping, killing and demands for ransom by people who call them from the Indian cell phone numbers but claim that they are Madhesi. Incidents of murder and extortions targeted to these groups have augmented considerably. Most of such employees of hilly origin now decline to get transferred to these areas.

However, these people do not have their land and property in those areas. Mostly they live in government quarters. Upon displacement, these people generally seek their transfers to the capital or to other hilly districts.

Industrialists, businessman and landlords

Another group of displaced people are the Madhesi elites themselves, landlords, industrialist and businessman. This kind of attack on industrialist, businessman and landlords are increasingly seen in Birgunj, Biratnagar and Janakpur. Interestingly these belong to the “Madhesi” group in the local understanding. These are people who have their extended families and marriage relations both within India and Nepal. Most of them have been living in Nepal since generations and have their investment and extended families settled mostly in the Terai region.

The displacement of such groups has no connection to their ethnicity or belonging to the place. They are victims of the criminal activities taking place in the name of the Madhesi conflict and the government’s inability to distinguish and deal with the problem. These people are under constant threat of kidnapping, asking for ransoms or donations by the armed groups.

On displacement they either move to the nearby urban cities, or to Kathmandu. A large numbers of these people have bought houses and land and shifted their business in India. However, they have their property and investment in the Terai and are unable to either sell their properties or get their investment back.

All the categories of the IDPs have been displaced together with their families in most cases. However if they have not been able to sell their property or procure their investment, the male head of the family have come back after arranging accommodation for their remaining family members.

Acknoweledgement: The research is embedded in the NCCR North-South (Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research North-South) and is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC). The authors acknowledge the support of the centre.


1.The term “Phahadi’ and “Madheshi” used here is according to the understanding of the term by the local people as found in the fieldwork in Mahottari district by one of the authors.
2.Nepal is divided into 75 administrative parts, each called districts.
3.The home ministry of Nepal has identified over 109 armed groups, a vast majority of them formed after the Madhesh aandolan.

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