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Explained: Who are the Tharu tribals of the UP terai whose home and land the govt wants to open to tourists?

The government's intention is to put Tharu villages on the tourism map, and to create jobs and bring economic independence for the tribal population.

Written by Divya A , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 8, 2020 8:12:39 am
tharu tribals, tharu tribals UP tourism, who are tharu tribals, tharu tribals culture, UP tourism places, uncommon destinations uttar pradesh, express explained, indian expressThe Tharu community belongs to the Terai lowlands, amid the Shivaliks or lower Himalayas. (Photo courtesy: UP Forest Department)

The Uttar Pradesh government has recently embarked upon a scheme to take the unique culture of its ethnic Tharu tribe across the world. The intention is to put Tharu villages on the tourism map, and to create jobs and bring economic independence to the tribal population.

What is this scheme about?

The state government is working to connect Tharu villages in the districts of Balrampur, Bahraich, Lakhimpur and Pilibhit bordering Nepal, with the home stay scheme of the UP Forest Department. The idea is to offer tourists an experience of living in the natural Tharu habitat, in traditional huts made of grass collected mainly from the forests.

The Uttar Pradesh Forest Corporation will train the Tharu people to communicate effectively with visitors, and encourage villagers to acquaint them with aspects of safety and cleanliness, and with the rules of the forest.

Tharu homeowners will be able to charge tourists directly for the accommodation and home-cooked meals. The UP government expects both domestic and international tourists to avail of the opportunity to obtain a taste of the special Tharu culture by staying with them, observing their lifestyle, food habits, and attire.

The homestay scheme will be expanded to include the Tharu villages in a few weeks’ time, according to Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Eva Sharma. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

The Tharus live in both India and Nepal. In the Indian terai, they live mostly in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. (Photo courtesy: UP Forest Department)

Who exactly are the Tharu people?

The community belongs to the Terai lowlands, amid the Shivaliks or lower Himalayas. Most of them are forest dwellers, and some practice agriculture. The word tharu is believed to be derived from sthavir, meaning followers of Theravada Buddhism.

tharu tribals, tharu tribals UP tourism, who are tharu tribals, tharu tribals culture, UP tourism places, uncommon destinations uttar pradesh, express explained, indian express Members of the tribe survive on wheat, corn and vegetables grown close to their homes. (Photo courtesy: UP Forest Department)

The Tharus live in both India and Nepal. In the Indian terai, they live mostly in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. According to the 2011 census, the Scheduled Tribe population in Uttar Pradesh was more than 11 lakh; this number is estimated to have crossed 20 lakh now.

The biggest chunk of this tribal population is made up of Tharus. Members of the tribe survive on wheat, corn and vegetables grown close to their homes. A majority still lives off the forest.

What is unusual about the Tharu language, food, and culture?

They speak various dialects of Tharu, a language of the Indo-Aryan subgroup, and variants of Hindi, Urdu, and Awadhi. In central Nepal, they speak a variant of Bhojpuri, while in eastern Nepal, they speak a variant of Maithili.

Tharus worship Lord Shiva as Mahadev, and call their supreme being “Narayan”, who they believe is the provider of sunshine, rain, and harvests. Tharu women have stronger property rights than is allowed to women in mainstream North Indian Hindu custom.

Most Tharu tribals consume alcoholic beverages, and some eat beef. Standard items on the Tharu plate are bagiya or dhikri – which is a steamed dish of rice flour that is eaten with chutney or curry – and ghonghi, an edible snail that is cooked in a curry made of coriander, chili, garlic, and onion.

Also in Explained | The Miyas of Assam, and their char-chapori culture

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