Unifying Nepal via Marriage: Pahade Wives and Madhesi Hubbies

At a time when some people are trying to create rift between the Madhesi and Pahadi (lowland-hills) communities in Nepal, we look at some exemplary personal stories and marital bond between folks from Madhes and Pahad.


Sanjib Mishra and singer Nalina Chitrakar

By Deepak Adhikari

Sanjib Mishra, executive director of Urban Pixel had not set foot in Balari in Sarlahi district for three years. Three months ago, he went to the district headquarters Malangawa to attend a relative’s wedding. While driving to his hometown, a strike called by the Chure Bhawar Ekata Samaj forced him to postpone his journey. He had to leave his four-wheel drive behind at Hetauda and get to Sarlahi via Raxaul, India. When Sanjib married Nalina Chitrakar, a Newari girl and one of Nepal’s top pop stars, in 2003, he received many congratulations. Their son, Sakchham, is now a twenty-one month old toddler and times have changed.

Almost as soon as the decade long bloody Maoist conflict ended, the country was plunged into another crisis. The news of violence and counter violence coming from the southern plains hurts both Sanjib and Nalina. Nalina, who dislikes the way the Madhesis are treated in Kathmandu and is writing a song about the harmony among the people of Madhesh (plains) and Pahad (hills).

Sanjib’s father, Ramananda Mishra is a former secretary of the Ministry of Education. As a son of a bureaucrat posted to different parts of Nepal, Sanjib got the opportunity to mingle with people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. “The demands raised in Madhesh are genuine,” he says. “But the means are wrong.” He feels that the private and public lives of our leaders are in a state of complete disorder. “The same lawmakers who gheraoed the rostrum in the interim parliament have married women from the Pahade community,” he says.

Sanjib and Nalina were married five years ago, at a time when Nepali society was gradually opening up on the matter of inter-caste and love marriages.

madhes pahad marriage

Jitendra Dev and Sandhya Manandhar

But one can only imagine how difficult it must have been for a Pahade woman and a Madhesi man to tie the knot three decades ago, that too in a foreign country.

A wedding reception was held on the premises of Lumumba University in Moscow, Russia on the eve of Lenin Day (April 22) in 1971. The groom was clad in a blazer while the bride wore a sari. The wedding guests included Jagadish Samsher Rana, then Nepal’s ambassador to Russia, embassy staff and students studying in Russia. The couple exchanged rings, while two Nepali Brahmin priests chanted mantras.

This was the marriage of Ganesh Shah, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal (Samyukta) and Kalyani Sapkota, central committee member of the same party. After completing his ISc from Amrit Science Campus, Ganesh, from Lohana VDC Ward NO: 7 of Dhanusha district and Kalyani, from Kathmandu, who finished her I Com from Tri-Chandra Campus, were both in Moscow for further studies. Ganesh took up engineering, while Kalyani attended law school.

Ganesh had met Kalyani during a familiarization trip he spearheaded for new students. As the days passed by, their friendship grew. But the memory of a particular night is etched in Ganesh’s mind forever. At a cultural programme some thirty-five years ago in Moscow, Kalyani’s dance, accompanied by just the flute, mesmerized Ganesh who sat in the audience. “I was spellbound,” he reminisces. That was when he realized he was in love.

Jaya Prakash Prasad Gupta and Saraswati Puri

In 1972, on a trip to Almata city of Kirgistan, their relationship was further consolidated. Again, they were together on another visit to Kharkov, Ukraine. “Then our friends started to see us as a couple,” reveals Ganesh. Both of them decided to marry but they did not tell their family members back home in Nepal. Though Kalyani had come to Nepal in 1971, she did not reveal anything about the relationship. After finding out, her family did not write to her for six months. “My father was disappointed,” Kalyani says. Back in Russia, when their first baby was born, they had to move out of the student quarters.

When they finally returned to Nepal in 1974 with a son, they were greeted with astonishment. Most of their relatives were at the airport. When his father in law asked Ganesh about Russian vodka, he realized that the in-laws had accepted the marriage. Back in Nepal, Ganesh joined a government job but soon left disillusioned. He eventually entered politics. Shortly after that, both Ganesh and Kalyani attended the Tikapur Congress of their party.

But there were still some hurdles. Ganesh’s brothers who had married into their own caste seemed to carry an inferiority complex. “Since Kalyani’s family was affluent, we were conscious not to hurt her,” he says. The problems emerged due to cultural differences. “When I denied wearing a headscarf people talked behind my back but I always strove to strengthen our relationship,” he says.

Ganesh Shah and Kalyani Sapkota,

The story of Ganesh and Kalyani finds an echo in the story of CPN-UML leader Jitendra Dev and Sandhya Manandhar. In 1979, Jitendra, a resident of Boriya VDC Ward No: 3 of Saptari district, was studying economics at Tribhuvan University. He was also a district member of the Nepal National Students’ Federation Committee, Kathmandu. Sandhya was the general secretary of the Nepal Democratic Women’s Association. They met at a programme in 1984. Their party was the same, and they also decided to make a single home.

With both families agreeing, they tied the knot on April 8, 1985. No one was against the marriage. This was largely due to Sandhya’s maternal uncle, Bishnu Bahadur Manandhar being a communist leader himself. “I was accustomed to the Madhesi culture as I used to go to my maternal uncle’s house at Gaur, Rautahat,” says Sandhya who has a Masters in Economics and Sociology.

Jitendra was jailed immediately after the marriage. Sandhya’s father, a merchant from Maruhity, Kathmandu was worried about his daughter. But Jitendra showed up at his in-laws following his release. “Except for that, not a single difficulty occurred,” he says. As Jitendra keeps himself busy attending political meets, Sandhya teaches at the Siddhartha Banasthali Institute. “We have such an understanding that differences never occur,” she says.

Jitendra also feels that he was fortunate enough to have wealthy in-laws. He lives with his family of five in a three-storey building in the Dallu residential area of Kathmandu. Their eldest daughter Reski is studying MBBS in Pune, India while Rubi and Megha are studying in Kathmandu.

Not all marriages between Madhesis and Pahades are based on love. A case in point is the marriage between Jaya Prakash Prasad Gupta, a leader estranged from the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum and Saraswati Puri from Mangalbare, Morang. Gupta does not like to call it a love marriage. “We got acquainted at social gatherings,” he says. He met her when he was a student leader. Saraswati was studying at the Certificate Level at Padma Kanya Campus, Kathmandu.

Gupta says it was easier for him to meet her because he was active in student politics in Morang district from where Saraswati comes from. The meetings, which lasted for a year, culminated in a marriage on July 6, 1988. They organized a small ceremony in the presence of near and dear ones. But disapproval brewed in Saptari. The older relatives were upset with him. Gupta’s hometown, Kanchanpur village of Saptari has a mixed population of Madhesis and Pahades and the reaction to his wedding was not unusual. “As a person involved in politics I was always a subject of discussion,” confesses Gupta. “But, my family did not expect anything from me since I was in politics,” he clarifies. He says his best childhood friend was a Pahade.

Another issue that plagues marriages in Terai is dowry. “If the groom is well-educated, his family will definitely demand a lot of dowry,” informs Gupta. But, his family didn’t expect a dowry since his cousins had also married non-Madhesi girls. Saraswati felt a tinge of uneasiness because of Bhojpuri, the language spoken in Gupta’s household. She could only speak Nepali. Just a few Bhojpuri words confused her. Her son Anuska is now facing another kind of problem: his surname. A graduate from Dr Graham’s Homes school in Kalimpong, India, he used to write his father’s title ‘Anand’ as his surname at school. Now, after joining a Kathmandu campus, his surname has been changed to Rauniyar. Anuska finds this quite bewildering.

Currently, the issue of discrimination against Madhesis is being widely raised. Did Jay Prakash feel discriminated against in his village? “There was perfect harmony in my village. In fact, it is the state that has discriminated against us,” he says. During the Panchayat era, the village chief was elected from the Pahade community whereas the deputy was from the Madeshi community, just to strike a balance, says Gupta.

There are several Madhesi leaders who have married Pahade women. Dr. Banshidhar Mishra, a UML lawmaker is married to Durga Khadka. Similarly, Hridayesh Tripathi, leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (Anandadevi) married Shobha Kandel when he still was a communist. Bishwanath Shah, Central Treasurer of the People’s Front Nepal is married to Sita Pokharel. Both of them work full-time for the party. People’s Front Nepal’s leader Ramrijhan Yadav has married Sita Adhikari from Jhapa. Bijay Gachchhedar, leader of the NC Democratic is also married to a Pahade woman. Similarly, Bidhyadhar Mallik, secretary at the Ministry of Finance is married to Anita Acharya. Raj Kumar Sharma, General Secretary of Madeshi Janaadhikar Forum, has a Pahade wife.

But, the cases of Pahade men marrying Madhesi women are very rare. The main reasons: lack of freedom among Madhesi women and their parents almost always choose the groom.

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7 thoughts on “Unifying Nepal via Marriage: Pahade Wives and Madhesi Hubbies”

  1. its quite good informaton ,and a good way indeed to try to maintain social harmony, but agree with your reasons on why pahade men marrying madhesi women are very rare. u should have also opened the fact why madhesi women are so backward, is it not due to the state’s negligency?,

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  2. At a time, when fight within communities and political parties have left a torn, economically doenload and inflation inflicted nepal, this research on intercastial can cast light upon how people are more than races, colors and politics. This venture of unity that people have shown or rather preferred by living a happy life despite the usual discrepancy that people might expect from them can really be an exemplary issue on how unity between people can turn to a happy reality. Yeah, it’s for sure ir’s not a complete picture, but it is an issur or moreover a new culture that can counteract the usual issues and stereotypes pertaining to races. Not only people can associate, they can mix as it’s said in hindu communi ty that husband are wife are a unit, and comprise a happy and merry basic.

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  3. I was astonished to see such examples of inter-castial marriages between so called Pahade & madhesi communities, especially of political leaders of various parties.
    Then I wonder where this issue of difference came between them.
    Being an engineering aspirant in India.
    I wished to view this issue as I am a madhesi boy and I am married to a pahade girl too: her name being Kalpana Raya, she belongs to chhetri community.

    She is very happy with me and I too am……….

    I really SALUTE this blog as it was well contented with clever examples.

    Thank You

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  4. History of interracial marriage:
    In the Western world certain jurisdictions have had regulations banning or restricting interracial marriage in the past, including Germany during the Nazi period, South Africa under apartheid, and many states in the United States prior to the Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia. In both Nazi Germany and certain American states, such laws have been linked to eugenics programs.

    In many Arab countries, laws and customs continue to exist which revoke the civil rights of women who marry men not native to the woman’s country of birth, or to men who are non-Muslim in particular. Women who follow through on this choice run a high risk of being subjected to honor killings by male family members.Saudi-Arabia, Syria, Morocco, Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan and the Palestinian Authority retain laws in which violence against women on the grounds of “adultery” is condoned or mitigated by the legal systems. In 2008, Pakistani senators defended the practice of burying young women alive who were judged guilty by tribal elders of having engaged in a relationship with men not of their tribe

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