In the early fifties when Nepal promised to be a democracy and extended its diplomatic ties beyond India and Britain, it solicited grant and assistance to build infrastructure, mainly roads, across the country and through the plains.
Vast stretches of the plains, areas often referred to as Madhes or Tarai, covered with thick forests and feared as a source of killer diseases like malaria, had for a long time dissuaded people from migrating to them. However, the launch of health schemes, development campaigns and the construction of highways led to the expansion of settlements. It beckoned people from Nepal’s hills as well as the bordering states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in India. This influx was encouraged by the state, and did not raise any protest from the locals given the low density population of the original settlers and the high mortality rate.
While the ancient city of Janakpur continued to remain a vibrant shrine given its religious symbolism from the Ramayana era, only few places like Biratnagar, Bhairahawa and Birgunj along the Indian border had been in existence as industrial hubs. The population influx helped the economy of Tarai grow with its fertile land and access to the markets– in Nepal as well as India.
While the `Hill (Pahad) People’ continue to retain their ‘pahadi identity’, certain clans like Brahmins, Bhumihar, Rajput and Kayasthas living there and migrants from across the border with similar demographic and caste composition in Bihar and UP, were referred to as Madhesis. The original settlers like Tharus continue to retain their own identity, different from the Pahadis and Madhesis.
Since the late 1980s, as signs of political liberalisation were visible, the ‘denial of citizenship’ to the Madhesis and the unequal treatment meted out to them at the policy-making level and in state representation became an issue. By 2006, the demand grew much strong and bigger in size as some Madhes-centric parties started to demand an entire Madhes – with 51 per cent population and 18 per cent of total geography — as one single province, a demand that stands rejected now in the new Constitution.
What has not been taken up, however, is the existing disparity among castes and gender as well as over property rights within Madhes. A spate of protests continue in some Madhes areas for autonomous regions and eleven political groups—large and small—refused to be part of the constitution making process that was completed on Sunday.