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.
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.