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Madheshi people refers to people of Indian ancestry residing in the Terai of Nepal and comprising various cultural groups such as Hindu caste groups, muslims, merchants and indigenous people of the Terai.[1][2] Many of these groups share cultural traditions and marital ties with people living south of the international border in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.[3] In recent times, it's argued by some to be suitable for all Nepali citizens of plains origin.[4] Migrants to the Terai from the hills in Nepal and Tharu people do not consider themselves to be Madheshi.[5] Madheshi people comprise caste groups like Brahmin and Dalit as well as ethnic groups such as Maithils, Bhojpuri, Awadhi and Bajjika speaking people.[6] Indian immigrants settled first in present-day Terai of Eastern Nepal in the late 18th century, when the rulers of Nepal encouraged deforestation and agricultural development of this region.[7] The capital of ancient kingdom of the Videhas, Janakpurdham, is thought to have been in the same place as present day Janakpur.[8]

Madheshi people
Madhesh human chain 6.jpg
Madheshi people forming a human chain
predominantly Hinduism
also Islam, Buddhism, others

Madhesis make up almost 20% of total Nepali population. A diverse range of languages, culture and religion is found, with a rich history of arts and literature. A history of peaceful brotherhood between the Hindu and Muslim Madhesis stands out in contrast to the Hindu-Muslim conflicts in other parts of South Asia.

Madheshi people have been socially and politically marginalised in Nepali society for centuries. The perception among the Pahadi elite that Madheshi movements seek to foster Indian interests in Nepal, has created a significant hurdle in achieving political equality. Since the establishment of the Republic in Nepal, Madheshis have organised a series of political struggles, mostly peacefully, in various waves, collectively referred to as the Madhesh Movement seeking to overturn all discriminatory and marginalising legal provisions in the country, as well as challenge socio-economic discrimination and assert complete equality. By 2016, most of the demands of the Madheshi people had been met, however their implementation in practice remains a challenge. Madheshi people still face marginalisation from Nepali society, as well as other socio-economic challenges arising from cultural and traditional practices like the dowry system, witch-hunts and other forms of violence against women as well as casteism.



The word madhesh is thought to be derived from the Sanskrit madhya desh (मध्य देश) meaning "middle country", which refers to "the central region, the country lying between the Himalayas and the Vindhya mountains".[5][9]


Since the late 18th century, the Shah rulers of Nepal encouraged Indian people to settle in the eastern Terai through a series of subsidies granted to new settlers. A severe flood of the Koshi River followed by a drought caused famine-stricken Bihari farmers in the 1770s to 1780s to migrate to the Nepal Terai, where they converted forest to agricultural land. Immigration of people from neighbouring India increased between 1846 and 1950.[7] They settled foremost in the eastern Nepal Terai together with native Terai peoples.[10] In the mid 19th century, Muslim people from the Awadh region were invited to settle in the far-western Nepal Terai, where they received large forested areas for conversion to agriculture.[11]

Since the late 1940s, the term 'Madhes' was used by politicians in the Nepal Terai to differentiate between interests of the people of the Terai and of the hills.[12] In the 1950s, the regional political party Nepal Terai Congress advocated more autonomy for the Terai, recognition of Hindi as a national language and increasing employment opportunities for Madheshi people.[13] During 1961 to 1990, the Panchayat government enforced a policy of assimilating diverse cultural groups into a pan-Nepali identity. Legal directives made it an offence to address inequality and discrimination of ethnic groups.[12] After the Panchayat regime was abolished following the People's Movement in spring 1990, disadvanted groups demanded a more equitable share of political resources such as admittance to civil service.[14]

Adivasi, women and Dalits were offered some privileges but not the Madheshi people. High caste Pahari people continued to dominate the highest positions in civil service and governmental positions. Madhesis were denied citizenship for centuries until the first Madhesh Movement in 2007. Without the citizenship certificate, Madheshis were not able to obtain land ownership certificate, and could not obtain a citizenship certificate without the Land Registration Deed. Almost a trap by the government, Madheshis along with other minority groups were landless, did not have the right to vote, purchase and sell land, and apply for government jobs.[15]

The Nepal Sadbhawana Party started lobbying for socio-cultural, linguistic and political rights of Madheshi people. The discussions on rights and demands of Madheshi people increased after the end of the Nepalese Civil War, in particular among Madheshi intellectuals and political elites.[13] The political parties Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha and Madheshi Jana Adhikar Forum advocated the idea of an autonomous Madhesh province stretching all over the Terai and organised violent demonstrations in 2007 to enforce their demands.[16] The United Democratic Madheshi Front formed by Madheshi organizations pressured the government to accept this concept of autonomy under the motto "One MadheshOne Pradesh".[12] Several ethnic and religious groups in the Terai opposed and resisted this policy under the leadership of Madheshi parties, foremost Tharu and Muslim people.[12][13]

Conflicts remain between Madheshi people and ethnic groups indigenous to the Terai, between Madheshis and muslims, and between high caste and low caste Madheshis.[17]

In October 2017, the Alliance for Independent Madhesh became a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization.[18]


The Nepal Terai totals 33,998.8 km2 (13,127.0 sq mi), about 23.1% of Nepal's land area. As of 2001, about 48.5% of Nepal's population lived in the Terai, which had the highest density in the country with 330.78 people per sq km.[19] As of June 2011, the Nepal Terai's human population totalled 13,318,705 people comprising more than 120 different ethnic groups and castes.[20] The term Madheshi people is often given to people residing in Nepal Terai and comprises various caste groups such as Brahmins and Dalits as well as other ethnic groups. Madheshis constitute 19.30% of the human population in Terai.[21] Many of these people are closely associated with Indian states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal due to Terai's proximity with northern India. They have close cultural, linguistic, and marital ties with the southern international border of Nepal. The census of 2011 does not provide any definition or the enumeration of Madheshis.[22]

Tharu people

Many Tharu people do not consider themselves as Madheshi, instead identify themselves as indigenous people of the Terai.[5][23] They are resistant to malaria because of inherited alpha-thalassemia.[24][25] They are mainly involved in farming.[26] They decorate their houses using only natural materials like clay, mud, dung and grass.[27]

Some Tharus practice the badghar system and elect a village chief, whose task is to work for the welfare of the village.[28] Rana Tharus in the far-western Terai of Nepal traditionally live in longhouses with big families of many generations and pool their labour, income and expenditures.[29]


The culture of Madeshi people is complex and diverse. The Muslim and indigenous peoples speak their own languages and have distinct cultural traditions that differ from the Hindu caste groups. Latter comprise at least 43 distinct groups.[3]

Many Muslim Madheshis claim origins in India, Afghanistan, Arabia and Persia.[30] They are influenced by the hierarchy of the Hindu caste system, with the difference that it is not based on the principle of pollution and purity, but on occupation.[31]


The National Population and Housing Census of 2011 knows of 123 languages spoken in all of Nepal and lists:[20]

  • 3,092,530 Maithili speaking people (11.7% of Nepal's total population), of which 3,004,245 lived in the Terai;
  • 1,584,958 Bhojpuri speaking people (5.98%), of which 1,542,333 lived in the Terai;
  • 1,529,875 Tharu speaking people (5.77%), including 1,479,129 in the Terai;
  • 793,418 Bajjika speaking people (2.99%), including 791,737 in the Terai;
  • 691,546 speak Urdu (2.61%), including 671,851 in the Terai.

Muslim Madheshis speak Urdu primarily, but also Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Nepali and Maithili, depending on whether they live in the western, central or eastern Terai.[32]


Religions practised in the Terai according to the National Population and Housing Census of 2011 are[20]

The religious practices of the majority of Madheshi people are a mixture of orthodox Hinduism and animism.[33]


Muslim Madheshis practise the traditional nikah marriage, which is recognised by law.[11] Many practise endogamy.[34]


Crops commonly grown in the Terai include rice, wheat, maize, potato, peas, lentil, mustard, sugar cane, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, garlic and chili. Fruits comprise mango, lychee, guava, papaya, banana and jackfruit.[35] In 1989, a study on food consumption pattern was conducted with 108 people in a village in Chitwan district. Results of this study showed that the people consumed seven food items on average. Rice constituted almost half of their daily food intake, supplemented by vegetables, potatoes, milk and dairy products. Less frequently they consumed meat, fish, eggs and fruit. About 13.7% of the total food intake of men was alcohol, whereas females consumed far less alcohol.[36]

Sidhara is a mixture of taro root, dried fish and turmeric that is formed into cakes and dried for preservation. Freshwater snails are cleansed, boiled and spiced to make ghonghi. Immature rice is used to make a kind of gruel maar. Rice and lentil dumplings are called bagiya or dhikri. The cakes are broken up and cooked with radish, chili, garlic and spices to accompany boiled rice.[37]


Despite their significant representation in the country's population, the Madhesis have been subjected to political, economic, and social discriminations.[38] The Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) – composed of the Madheshi population in Terai region of Nepal – launched violent protests (known as Madhesh Andolan) after the end of the Nepalese Civil War in 2006. The Madhesh Movement was a political movement organized by MJF, joined with other national Madheshi groups such as United Democratic Janadhikar Forum (UDJF). Amidst these conflicts between the Madheshi protesters and the state, more than 1600[39] deaths were reported between 2007 and 2015. The situation exacerbated after the first elected Constituent Assembly (CA) failed to draft a constitution even after multiple extensions of the deadline. The major issues of Madheshi protesters in the conflict were over the current federal model and concerns around the proportional representation of various political groups.[40] The coalition that led the first Madhesh Movement sought to create a federalist state system under which it would be able to transform Terai into a single, autonomous province. The aims of the Madhesh movements included the inclusion of Madhesis in the state apparatus, demand for federalism, census before the Constitution Assembly election, and determination of electoral constituencies based on population.[41] Citizenship provision reform, language equality and division of electoral constituencies on the basis of population were also demanded.[42].[43]

Although democracy has been reinstated in Nepal, the Madheshi community has called for a more inclusive democracy as they are fearful of remaining an underprivileged group.[44] Some Madheshi people want secession from Nepal and have formed various organisations and groups to help achieve this aim. For example, the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha is a separatist organisation founded in 2004 by Jay Krishna Goit with the aim of gaining independence for the Terai region from Nepal.[45] Organisation members have been responsible for various acts of terrorism including bombings and murders.[46] Other armed outfits have appeared that also demand secession through violent means including the Terai Army, Madhesh Mukti Tigers and the Tharuwan National Liberation Front.[citation needed] There is also a movement that is demanding the secession of the Madhesh region led by C. K. Raut, called the Alliance for Independent Madhesh.[47][48] Madheshi Jana Adhikar Forum Nepal[49], Madheshi Youth Forum, Madheshi Janadhikar Forum Madhesh and United Democratic Madheshi Front are the major Madhesh-based political parties.[citation needed]

The parliament of Nepal made the first amendments to its constitution on January 23, 2016.[50] The amendments related to proportional representation and reservation in public jobs for the Madhesis and other underrepresented groups were validated by the major political parties - Communist Party of Nepal, Nepali Congress, and the Maoists.  In 2016, Economic Times quoted Indian politician, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari saying, “the recent amendments to the new constitution meets 99 percent of the Madheshi demands and the remaining 1 percent will also be fulfilled through dialogue”.[51] Recent constitutional amendments to citizenship clauses proportional representation were seen progressive and positive to the ethnic minorities. However, opposing parties claimed the amendments to be “unilateral” and have organized massive protests since the amendments.[52] The Madhesis have expressed dissatisfaction with the amendments because it says that population will be the primary basis, and geography will be the secondary basis for forming the 165 electoral constituencies of the Lower House. Ethnic groups such as Madhesis and Tharu believed that they found strength in their population and that is what united them.[53]


In 1952, a Nepal Citizenship Act was passed that entitled all those immigrants to obtain Nepali citizenship who had stayed in the country for at least five years. The Citizenship Act of 1963 entitled immigrants to receive Nepali citizenship if they were engaged in business and could read and write Nepali.[7]

In 2006, the Nepal Citizenship Act was amended to the effect that people born before 1990 and residing permanently in the country obtained the right to Nepalese citizenship.[13] About 2.3 million people received citizenship certificates.[54] The Constitution of Nepal 2015 contains provisions for a Nepali citizenship by naturalisation, which can be acquired by:[55]

  • foreign women who are married to a Nepali man;
  • children of a Nepali woman and a foreign man.

Indian influence in Nepal Terai

After the 2008 Nepalese Constituent Assembly election, Indian politicians kept on trying to secure strategic interests in the Nepal Terai, such as over hydropower energy, development projects, business and trade.[56] By supporting the people of Madhesh who led 2015 Nepal blockade, India tried to dominate Nepal's internal politics and foment the conflict in the Nepal Terai.[57]

The 2015 Nepal blockade began on September 23, 2015[58] and lasted for two months,[59] according to The Diplomat. Madhesh parties refused to sign the constitution and threatened to disrupt any elections in the state. The Unified Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF) and Tharuhat Joint Struggle Committee called an indefinite strike in the Terai region, the India- Nepal border, that disrupted all public and private services including schools, hospitals, transports, etc. The trade flow and supply of essential goods such as medicines, petrol, gas, and basic food items  from the Indian border were halted from this indefinite strike. In addition, frequent curfews were called off in Terai region that restricted the movement of people.

India had expressed dissatisfaction with the constitution of Nepal stating that Nepal's constitution denies the rights of the Madhesis living in the border. India backing up with the Madhesis created complication as it created a widespread perception of India being behind the economic blockade and perhaps doubted that Madheshi demands were framed by the strategic interests of India. Sushma Swaraj, the foreign minister of India denied Nepal's accusation regarding the blockade. She pointed out that India had been sending supplies; 4,310 trucks had gone to the border but they were stranded because Nepal could not take responsibility from that point.[58]

Notable people

See also


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Further reading

  • Deepak Chaudhary. 2011. Tarai/Madhesh of Nepal; An Anthropological Study. Kathmandu: Ratna Pustak Bhandar.