5 1 2017

Politicising ethnicity: Tharu contestation of Madheshi identity in Nepal's Tarai

Krishna Pandey


The Madheshi agitation of 2007 and the Tharuhat agitation of 2009 redefined the ethnic relation between the self-identifying Tharu and Madheshi communities. At that time, the Tharu not only contested Pahadi (hill-origin) identity but also vehemently confronted the increasing hegemony of Madheshi caste groups by challenging the notion of Madhesh, Madheshi labelling, and the demand for a single Madhesh province across the Tarai, as put forward by the Madheshi community. Tharus that enthusiastically participated in the 2007 Madheshi agitation, appeared to be against the same identity just two years later. Why did they turn around? This article argues that the Tharu sensed the systematic initiation of Madheshisation of their centuries-long indigenous identity, while Madheshi activists and leaders undermined the concept of the Tharuhat, Tharu language and culture, by continuously insisting on the Madheshi label, a Madhesh province, and the Hindi language. Their eventual challenge to the Madheshi label raised questions about the legitimacy of the Madheshi agitation, a fact that some Madheshi leaders claim is political blackmail. This article seeks to bring out the Tharu-Madheshi contestation in relation to identity claims and state restructuring in Nepal, particularly with reference to the Tarai.

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