Demands of Madhesi Janadhikar Forum: Some Highlights

The Madhesi Janadhakar Forum’s behavior starkly differs from the list of demands they have put forward. The behavior is inflammatory and aims at disrupting communal harmony.

By Chhatra Bahadur

The Prime Ministerial Address of expressing acceptance of federal governance structure intent and earlier arrest of main actors of ‘regressive elements’ will subdue the Madhesi movement has belied the expectations. However, strict enforcement of curfew in some of the affected areas since few days have given a hope that anger will pacify in time. At the same time, widespread arson, destruction of public property and vandalism has continued abetted in some of the affected areas.

The media has hinted that the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) [also known as Madhesi Peoples’ Rights Forum (MPRF)], which had initiated the movement, had completely lost control over the movement. It may be true since the movement is becoming increasing violent whereas the Forum has repeatedly pledged peaceful one in interviews and press releases.

In press releases for media consumption, the leaders of MJF has put forward attractive list of carefully worded demands such as: (1) federal democratic republic; (2) proportionate electorate system; (3) autonomy to Madhes region; (4) end of internal colonization; (5) regional autonomous governance system that includes right to self-determination; (6) rights on the land, natural resources and biological diversity of madhes; (7) racial and regional discrimination; (8) provide citizenship certificates to all madhesis without discrimination.

However, their behavior starkly differs from the list of demands they have put forward. The concluding speeches at the end of the demonstrations (aam shabhas) are invariably in Hindi whereas they could have had spoken in native Maithili or Bhojpuri. Maithili are spoken about 13% of the population, Bhojpuri by about 8% as mother language whereas Hindi is spoken merely by 0.47% (as mother tongue) according to the Population Census, 2001. Maithili and Bhojpuri are similar and there is no difficulty in comprehension. The concluding speeches as inflammatory in content aimed at disrupting communal harmony. The speakers often demand compulsory expulsion of people of hill-origin, and return of land to madhesis. Another example would be a slogan: ‘pahadiya chor, desh chod’ meaning (people of hill-origin are thief, leave the land).

The general understanding of madhesi is anyone residing in Terai region of Nepal. And there is impression that this movement involves whole of Terai region encompassing people from all communities. In fact, the MJF have tried to create an impression of including broader participation of communities-based in Terai (by mentioning Dalits, Janjatis, ethnicities, etc in their demands), the reality is completely different. None of Hill-origin Terai communities have participated in this movement because the MJF already excluded these communities by their slogans and labeling them ‘pahadiya’. Maithili communities such as Jha, Mishra (who are considered aboriginal) or other aboriginal communities such as Tharus, Rajbhansis, Dhimals, Jhagars have not shown any inclination to participate in this movement. In fact, Tharu community (6.8% of the total population) has already informed through press-release that it does not consider itself madhesi community. None of the Terai-based Dalit communities such as Mushar, Dom, Chamar, Harijan etc have found reasonable existence within the MJF. In reality, the MJF have considered only the people of Indian-origin from certain communities to be madhesis and have taken pains to exclude others. The central committee membership and its activists belong to Yadav, Mahato, Mehta, Gupta, Kamath, Sah, Das communities. Unfortunately, it has now become community-based politics instead for Terai region. In comparison, the Maoists had more diversified ethical participation than the MJF.

Some of the demands put forward by MJF are justifiable. The PM, in his address, has already accepted in principle that it needs to be addressed. However, it will be addressed by the Constituent Assembly. And his stand is democratically correct because then people would choose their actual representatives who will have legal and moral authority to decide the fate of the nation and the form of governance.

At the same time, some of the demands appear unreasonable and illogical: especially right to self-determination. Autonomy is justifiable but right to self-determination is potentially fatal because it essentially provides an autonomous geographical region a legal and political right to segregate and declare itself as an independent nation if it desires to do so. Geographically, Terai is at advantageous position because of plain and fertile land with maximum of economic activity concentrated in that area. The entire transport network linking whole nation is based in Terai. In other words, the resources of the entire nation are in Terai. And, if it decides to segregate, then rest of Nepal will be landlocked doubly – first by India and then by independent Terai country. Aspirations for autonomous regions with right to self-determination such as Limbuwan, Magarat, etc will have nothing to gain and can merely exist on its own in economically integrated world if Terai segregates. The situation can be most unfortunate with huge disadvantages.

Second fatal demand is the stoppage of internal colonization. MJF has defined internal colonization as a condition wherein people of other communities settling down for residential and/or commercial purposes in Terai. According to MJF, madhes is being made a colony by people of hill-origin exactly as the Britishers had done with India. Thus, MJF is signaling at a condition wherein commercial transactions such as buying land and setting up of businesses will be legally closed to other communities (as in J&K, Arunachal in India) and these activities can be only undertaken by madhesis as defined by MJF.

The talks committee has been formed at the governmental level and it is wonder what it will negotiate. Because of two aforementioned conditions, the talks may not reach any reasonable conclusion.

The genesis of current agitation is outcome of politics-gone-bad. And the blame squarely lies in the shoulder of the Maoists who during their people’s war had sowed the seeds of communal hatred. Many cadres were lured to support the people’s war with a promise of ethical autonomy and political division on the basis of ethnicity.