Madhesh or Tarai was annexed to Nepal only in 1816 and 1860. British handed over the eastern part of Madhesh to Nepal in 1816, instead of paying two hundred thousands rupees per year. British gave the western part as a gift to Nepal for its support to the East India Company for suppressing Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 to 1859 in India. Thus Madhesh became the colony of Nepal. Some of the remarkable features of Nepali Colonisation are: abolition of Madheshi Army and ban on the entry of Madheshis into Nepal Army; establishment of Nepali Army barracks and check posts throughout Madhesh; heavy and unfair taxation; seizing of land of indigenous people and distributing to the ruling class landlords, retired army and police staffs; planned migration of ruling class people from the north; requirement for a visa to enter Kathmandu (until 1958); imposition of Nepali language and dress on Madheshis.
Racism and Discrimination
The racism and the hatred of Gurkhas/Nepalis against Madheshis, the “emphatic contempt of Madhesias” and their non-tolerance to “black-folks,” existed since they first came into Madhesh. Brian Hodgson, the British Resident for Nepal in 1816, wrote of Gurkhas: “I conceive that their gallant spirit, emphatic contempt of Madhesias [people of the plains], and unadulterated military habits, might be relied on for fidelity.” Similarly, Philip Mason (1974) quotes, “…around the time of the Mutiny Gurkhas asked to be allowed to pitch their tents with British solider, not with ‘the black folks’. That racism ballooned as the Nepali state became stronger. In recent times, not only Madheshis are treated based on the colour of their skin and discriminated for rights including job, payment, and facilities, but they frequently become victims of racial attacks and riots.
Once the government eradicated malaria in the region and made the land less dreading to the ruling class in 1950s, the government officials and ruling class people seized land from tens of thousands of indigenous Madheshis and made them “bonded labourers”, on their own ancestral land. Those indigenous Madheshis worked essentially as slaves, under their masters, and the slavery passed from generation to generation. They are called Kamaiyas and Kamlaris. They do not only have to do menial work since the early age of four or five, but they are also the victims of sexual exploitation from their masters.
The government’s so-called “land-reformation” and “resettlement” programmes seized land of indigenous communities and settled the ruling northern people in the south, sometimes with the aid of foreign governments. The US, Australian and Israeli governments funded several of these projects. This caused displacement of indigenous communities like Tharus, Rajbanshis and Satars in many districts, prominently in Jhapa, Chitwan, Navalparasi and western districts.
Ethnic Cleansing & Riots
There have been many organised efforts for “Nepalization of Terai” (Gaige, 1975), demographically, culturally, and linguistically. The worst form has been direct physical attacks on Madheshis, burning their villages, shops, and industries and so on. There are several violent groups for ethnic cleansing of Madheshis such as Khukuri Group and CBES. They frequently attack and force Madheshis to leave their land and go into exile. Sometimes, the government, administration and police have been found to be directly involved in supporting these racial riots. Some of these racial riots include Hrithik Roshan Scandal (2000), Nepalgunj Attack (2006), and Kapilvastu Incidence (2007).
Denial of Fundamental Rights
Many Madheshis have been traditionally denied several fundamental rights such as citizenship, ownership of land, access to government jobs, access to local natural resources, freedom to open business or migrate to other places. Madheshis lack freedom of expression to much extent, as they are subjected to banishment, harassment, torture and even firing from the jobs by administration.
The land, water, and forest of Tarai are being exploited by the government. The taxing, custom duties and trade regulations are unfairly targeted at Madheshis. The control over local forests of the region has been given to the people from the north. The unfair pricing, ban on exports, and curbing of markets for the produces of the region are all exploiting in nature.
Madheshis are the victim of ‘one language, one dress’ policy and cultural purification initiated by the ruling class. The government prohibited use of other languages in education, administration and broadcasting. It halted FMs broadcasting in other languages. The Supreme Court banned the use of local languages in Tarai. The state took the policy of: “No other languages should be taught even optionally…Other language will gradually disappear”. It enforced the dress of northern people upon the Madheshis.
‘Muluki Ain’ (The Law of the Land) ensured a superior status of the northern people and made Madheshis second-class citizens or subjects of the ruling class. There were separate laws and provisions for Madheshis. They were fined or punished heavily for the same crime compared to the ruling class people. They were taxed in a larger portion, and yet giving no or less rights. Even today, laws regarding citizenship, land, language and culture, movement, assembly etc. are unfairly targeted at Madheshis.
Border Area Torture
Madheshis have cultural and family ties across the current border of Nepal-India since millennia. Recognising this, even the 1950 India-Nepal treaty allowed open border without which Madhesh would not have been annexed to Nepal. But Madheshis are often tortured by armed police forces and government officials in border areas. They are harassed, their properties are often confiscated, and they are beaten on several occasions.
In 2010, United Nations published a report on extra-judicial killings of at least 57 persons in the region. Similarly, THRD published a report of 1131 cases of jailing in 8 districts of Terai during a four year period, many among them claimed to be fake and misuse of the Arms and Ammunition Act to eliminate Madheshi activists and human-rights defender in Terai. The government forced the closure of UNMIN and UN OHCHR offices in the region, and with the absence of human-rights monitors, the case of extrajudicial killings and encounters have surged largely.
Lack of Development
The region has one of the lowest human-development index in the country. Literacy rate is much lower than the northern part, and with not much access to the government jobs, the unemployment is towering. Rather than opening up industry, hospitals, education centres and schools, the government has closed even the existing ones and is in the process of migrating the remaining to the north. People suffer from poverty and malnourishment. A majority of women in the region suffer from anemia. Child mortality rate is several times higher than in the north.