Terai is in the news, concerning the recent bomb blast that happened on March 14th, 2021. According to media reports, at least eight persons were injured on Sunday when a pressure cooker bomb exploded at a crowded government office in Siraha district’s Lahan in south-eastern Nepal. With these incidences again the Terai Independence movement in Nepal is back into the news.
Terai Independence Movement in Nepal- History
The Terai or Tarai is a lowland region in northern India and southern Nepal that lies south of the outer foothills of the Himalayas, the Sivalik Hills, and north of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. This lowland belt is characterized by tall grasslands, scrub savannah, sal forests, and clay-rich swamps.
In northern India, the Terai spreads from the Yamuna River eastward across Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal.
In Nepal, the Terai stretches over 33,998.8 km2 (13,127.0 sq mi), about 23.1% of Nepal’s land area, and lies at an altitude of between 67 and 300 m (220 and 984 ft). The region comprises more than 50 wetlands.
The most significant border dispute of the Indo-Nepal boundary in the Terai region is the Susta area. In the Susta region, 14,500 hectares of land is generally dominated by the Indian side with the support of Sashastra Seema Bal (Indian border patrol) forces
The term Madheshi people is used by academics for people of Indian ancestry residing in the Terai of Nepal and comprising various cultural groups such as Hindu caste groups, Muslims, Marwaris, and indigenous people of the Terai. Since the late 1940s, the term ‘Madhes’ was used by politicians in the Nepal Terai to differentiate between the interests of the people of the Terai and of the hills.
The Terai incorporates 20 of Nepal’s 75 districts, includes close to half the population of Nepal’s 26 million citizens, and houses well over half of Nepal’s agriculture and industry sector outputs. The origin of the word ‘Madhes’ is contested but believed to originate from ‘medhya-desh’, a geographic marker distinguishing the plains from the hill region (or parbat, from which is derived Pahadi, meaning hill-dweller) of modern Nepal. A Madhesi, therefore, originally meant only an inhabitant of this region.
Terai Movement- Causes and Issues
In 2007, a coalition of some group created the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF). The UDMF’s stated goal is to transform the Terai into a single autonomous province of Madhes. To accomplish this, the UDMF has redefined the identity of those people living in the Terai and that outside of it, in turn provoking ethnic division and violence at the grassroots level.
This narrative has benefited the UDMF by binding otherwise disparate ethnic groups together, constructing a history of the Terai that makes it their exclusive political domain, polarizing society into a ‘Madhesi vs. Pahadi’ dichotomy that scape goat’s elite ethnicities for local problems, and dissociating Madhesi political leaders from their Maoist past.
While the mainstream Madhes parties have adopted a soft stand on the issue, the armed groups are demanding outright ‘independence’. Of late, the Madhesi movement has suffered because of differences (over objectives as well as methods) between various Madhes groups.
Agitations and Government Actions
The Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha is a group agitating for greater political and economic rights for the people of the Terai plains bordering India. The pressure cooker bomb exploded on the first floor of the Land Revenue Office, Assistant Chief District Officer Krishna Kumar Niraula was quoted as saying by The Kathmandu Post newspaper.
The Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha (Revolutionary), an armed outfit led by Jaya Krishna Goit, claimed responsibility for the blast, saying it was part of the outfit’s “campaign against corruption”. More stringent action will be taken if corruption continues, and the Government of Nepal and Provincial Government would be responsible for it, the statement added.
The issues of the terai people should be approached by the Government of Nepal. The problems are ranging from storms to international border issues to financial deficits in the area. Political parties, criminal organizations, and official forces all engage in heavy-handed tactics that breed insecurity among Terai citizens. These insecurities will encourage common people to support armed groups in the absence of state capacity. All this can be stopped and controlled by proper Government interference and subsequently leading to raise the living standards of common residents.