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Farah Cheah,  Institute of South Asian Studies (2008)

This research paper was embarked upon with the mission of exploring the intricacies surrounding issues of identity, rights and representation for the Madheshis in the new republic of Nepal. The centuries of political, economic and social discrimination and marginalisation of the inhabitants of Tarai are well studied. However, with the radical shift of governance from a Constitutional Monarchy to a Democratic republic, I recognised the need for research focused on Madheshi movements and agenda in this new setting. This paper serves to place some perspective over the rising issues of Madheshi Nationalism in Nepal. Thus, the questions I put forth and the issues I look at reflects contention that surrounds the themes of 1) identity, 2) rights in lieu of democratic transition and 3) what these issues translate into in terms of representation. As the political landscape of Madhesh and greater Nepal are unfolding at present, this study does not aim to be a exhaustive one. Rather, it aims to provide a better understanding to issues surrounding the ongoing Madheshi movement and perhaps, provide an insight to the difficulties of government formation and constitution building from the Madheshi perspective. This paper is neither intentioned as a detailed study of the 2007 Madhesh Protests nor for the case of exclusion of Madheshis because of the comprehensive and impressive studies that have already been undertaken by scholars1. Instead, this research paper aims to study areas of tension and conflict surrounding the ongoing Madheshi movement for recognition, rights and representation from the state, hopefully highlighting areas and new scopes for further research.

The earlier sections of this paper looks at the debates surrounding the contested definitions of Tarai as opposed to Madhesh and explore the quest for a Madheshi identity. The second section aims to highlight areas of discrimination and marginalisation of Madheshis in various aspects of Nepalese society. Detailed and comprehensive studies have been done on the Exclusion of Madheshis, thus, this section serves to highlight certain changes have taken place with the formation of the Constituent Assembly in later sections. Following that, I present findings of my field trip interviews on the issue of the 2007 Madheshi social movement which surfaced only after 239 years of state suppression and marginalisation. What was the underlying basis of unity amongst Janajatis, ethnic-Madheshis, Indigenous Nationalities, women groups, Muslims and dalits in carrying the slogan of ‘Ek Madhesh, Ek Pradesh’ (One Madhesh, One Pradesh). Next, I look at partisan representation of Madheshis, in an attempt to show to what extent Madhesh is non-monolithic. Focusing on the three largest Madheshi parties – the MJF, TMLP and SP – I explore their conceptions of what and who constitutes Madhesh and the Madheshis respectively. Framing the identities of Madhesh and Madheshi have underlying implications of these parties’ political agenda which may or may not have been reflected in their Manifestos. Last but not least, this paper examines the feasibility of Madheshi demands made upon the state and provides a host of perspectives on granting or denying the demands. These include the geopolitical realities of Tarai and its economic implications on the rest of Nepal.

full report (pdf)

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