Incomplete citizens of Nepal

Written by Tripura Oli

Nepal celebrates International Mother Language Day with a poetry festival

People from the Madhesi community, Source: Kathmandu Post


The scars of the Anglo – Nepal War

Historically, the discrimination against Madhesis can be traced back to the Anglo – Nepal war of 1814 -16 between Nepal and the East India Company[1]. It is believed that during the Anglo – Nepal war, some Madhesi rulers of the time took the side of the British East India company. This can be argued as the historical starting point of the structural discrimination against the Madhesi community. After that, Madhesis were perceived as a threat to national security and were prohibited from joining Nepal’s security forces.  For example, during the Rana regime[2], Madhesi had to obtain written permission to enter the Capital, Kathmandu Valley[3].


From 1960 to 1990, as part of one of nation-building, the Hill dominant higher caste group of Nepal imposed its values and norms– its language (Nepali), religion (Hindu) and culture (hill ̳high caste male) – on the Nepalese society as a whole. The languages, cultures and religions of other groups were marginalized to the extent that some languages are at risk of extinction.  This created soft borders for ethnic groups (Indigenous), religious minorities, particularly Madhesi people living in the southern plains of Nepal.  This ideological border has prevented Madhesi communities from equal access and fully participating in administration and governance, decision-making, and policy planning.[4]


Although, in the past few decades, Nepal has undergone enormous social and political changes, and the Government of Nepal has actively and aggressively launched several programs to include and integrate its marginalized and oppressed ethnic groups like the Madhesi community through quota systems in social, political and economic aspects, [5] but Madhesi community are still bearing the scars of the Anglo – Nepal war[6].  For example, Madhesi representation in the security forces of Nepal is still negligible. At the same time, Madhesis make up over 30% of Nepal’s total population. Still, their presence in Nepal Police is only 2%, in Armed Police Force Nepal 5%, and  Nepal Army 2%, which is hugely disproportionate considering their population.[7]


Incomplete Citizenship and Social Exclusion

The government’s responsibility is to ensure that all its citizens have equal access to resources and rights.  When a citizen does not have equal access to services from the government, it is incomplete citizenship.[8]  Therefore, it can be argued that Madhesis have incomplete citizenship in Nepal.


Social exclusion is a complex and multi-dimensional concept. It is both a ‘process’ and an outcome of a ‘process’ where individuals or groups are systematically isolated or prevented from participating in society, such as social, economic, and political-cultural spheres. The exclusion can be based on their gender, race, caste, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disabilities, language, culture, literacy, etc. As a result, the excluded may have lesser or no access to resources, legal protection and rights; thus, they may have reduced opportunities in society. [9] Therefore, social exclusion can be applied in the context of the Madhesi communities of Nepal as a section of society has difficulties in participating or exercising the same rights and access available to the dominant group of Nepal.  To fully understand the social exclusion of the Madhesi community, it is necessary to discuss multiple dimensions of Madhesi marginalization and their interrelationships.


Impact of Social Exclusion

As the Madhesi community does not share the dominant group’s culture and language, they often suffer from linguistic-based exclusion regarding “access to information and participation in the public life”.  They are excluded due to their own language’s lack of access to information. Due to the imposition of Nepali as the only language for teaching, the Madhesi people have been deprived of primary education in their mother tongue. Here, the Nepali language has become a barrier to equal access to education for Madhesi children who grow up speaking their mother tongue. As a result, a child belonging to the Madhesi community may underperform or fail in his formal education, leading to many other social exclusions in the society such as unemployment, unfavourable work conditions, lack of skills for the labour market, and subsequent poverty and ill health. [10]

Thus, there is a high possibility that an uneducated, unemployed, and in particular, a person belonging to linguistic minorities may have lower chances of coming out of poverty than the one from the dominant group.  Moreover, the recruitment policies to the armed forces and bureaucracy made it very difficult for Madhesi youth to join security forces, administration, and governance.  One of the barriers for Madhesi youth to join state organs is the requirement of Nepali language; significantly, for higher officer-level positions, proficiency in the Nepali language is a must. [11]



[1] Basnyat, P.S. (2017). Anglo-Nepal War: A Military Review.

[2] Period from 1846–1951 when the control of the government was in the hands autocratic Rana family

[3] Goait, J.K. (2007). History of Tarai in Nepal.  Available at:  (Last accessed 19/032022).

[4] Singh, P. (2015). Understanding the Conflict & Inclusion issues of Madhesh. Available at: (Last accessed 20/03/2022).

[5] Gurung, O., Tamang, M.S., & Turin, M. (2014). Perspectives on social inclusion and exclusion in Nepal. Department of Sociology/Anthropology, Tribhuvan University, Nepal.

[6] Ibid

[7] Lal, C.K. (2015). Most Nepalis are Not Celebrating their New Constitution. Here’s Why. The Wire, External Affairs, South Asia.

Available at: (Last accessed 20/03/2022).

[8] Rehnberg, A. (forthcoming) Australia Has Never Felt as Far Away as Now: Australians In Finland And Social Exclusion During the COVID-19 Era

[9] Levitas, R., Pantazis, C., & Gordon, D. (2006). Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain, Bristol, The Policy Press.

Levitas, R. (2005). The inclusive society?: Social exclusion and new labour. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Silver, H. (2007). The process of social exclusion: the dynamics of an evolving concept. Brown University Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Sen, A. (2000). Social exclusion: concept, application and scrutiny. Social Development. Asian Development Bank.

[10] Gurung, O., Tamang, M.S., & Turin, M. (2014). Perspectives on social inclusion and exclusion in Nepal. Department of Sociology/Anthropology, Tribhuvan University, Nepal.


[11] Ibid

Invisible Borders, Visible Impact: Social Exclusion of Madhesi in Nepal

Written by Tripura Oli

Geographic map of Nepal showing study area (Terai region).... | Download Scientific Diagram

Geographic Map of Nepal, Source:


Outsiders Within

My childhood friends Sunny and Amar were visiting me in Kathmandu in 2007, and the three of us went out sightseeing in the beautiful Kathmandu Valley. We stopped at a roadside vendor to have some snacks and cold drinks. Sunny asked the vendor in Nepali, “Dai, tinwota coke dinus na” (Brother, three cokes, please). The vendor replied in broken Hindi, “Yeh lo sardar ji” (here you go, Sardar ji).  I noticed discomfort on both of my friend’s faces because they were again reminded of their “otherness”.


My friend Sunny is a Sikh and wears a turban on his head as a symbol of his faith, but the vendor assumed by his looks that my friend was an Indian. My friend Amar is a Hindu and does not wear a turban but still faces a similar experience because he has an accent while speaking Nepali. The commonality between all three friends is that we were all born and brought up in the Terai region (known as Madhes), but I never had to experience the “otherness” they have been all their lives.  Because I am from the dominant Nepali speaking community, whereas they are from the Awadhi speaking Madhesi community.


Who are Madhesi in Nepal?

As shown on the map above, Nepal is divided into three geographical regions – Mountain, Hill, and Plains, also known as the Terai region. Madhesi are borderland communities of southern Nepal sharing borders with India. Madhesi are the native inhabitants of the Terai (plains) region in Nepal, with a long history of origin. Yet, they are considered outsiders – Indians – due to their family and cultural affiliations across the border with India[1].  Because of this connection, the Madhesis of Nepal have been facing structural exclusion and marginalization – political, economic, and social – in Nepal for decades.

The Madhesi community comprise over two-thirds of Nepal’s total population.  It’s a diverse ethnic group as there are over five languages – Maithili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Urdu, Hindi – spoken in the Terai region, and Madhesi are identified by the language they speak as their mother tongue, not by the geographical location where they were born in or where they live in the country. Similarly, they constitute Hindus, Sikha, indigenous Janjati ethnic groups, other native tribes and Muslims[2].


Borders and Boundaries

Humans create borders and boundaries, and initially, they were used to delimit the territorial possessions of sovereign states.  So, borders played a crucial role in forming the nationalist agenda and developing nation-states. However, international borders cannot divide the culture (ethnicity, language, and religion)[3]. Borderland communities of southern Nepal and Northern India are the perfect examples of this unity.  However, this shared ethnicity has been the core reason for the social exclusion of Nepal’s Madhesi community, who have been treated as outsiders in their own country. Therefore, while discussing the borders, we also need to reflect on the invisible soft borders created based on language, culture, gender, and race…  in our societies and how crucial these invisible borders play in social marginalization and exclusion of certain groups over others.


Breaking the Borders

Growing up in Madhes as a Nepali-speaking girl, I was also under the impression that Madhesi people were Indian migrants in Nepal. I was never taught anything about the Madhesi people and history in school or college. Secondly, I did not see many Madhesi people in the police, army, or government offices[4]. I saw that they speak the same language as Indians across borders, share the same culture, and get married across borders.

I could relate with my Madhesi friends because I was treated as an outsider in India, where I went for my further studies based on my looks. But the case of my friends was different, as they were treated as outsiders in their own country.  Seeing my friends go through such unpleasant experiences, I became interested in understanding Madhesi people and their history in Nepal and began to do my homework.

To my surprise, I discovered that Nepali speaking hill people like my family and me were the ones who migrated to Madhes less than half a century ago, and Awadhi, Maithili, and Bhojpuri speaking people who were perceived as Indian migrants were the native people of Madhes. Still, they have been structurally marginalized due to their close cultural affiliation across the border with India and are wrongly perceived as people of Indian ethnicity[5].

In my next blog, I will discuss the history and impact of this ideological border between the state and the Madhesi community of Nepal.




[1] Lal, C.K. (2015). Most Nepalis are Not Celebrating their New Constitution. Here’s Why. The Wire, External Affairs, South Asia.

Available at: (Last accessed 20/03/2022).

[2] Singh, P. (2015). Understanding the Conflict & Inclusion issues of Madhesh. Available at: (Last accessed 20/03/2022).

[3] Brunet-Jailly, E. (2010). The State of Borders and Borderlands Studies 2009: A Historical View and a View from the Journal of Borderlands Studies (eds) Iwashita, A. & Chi, H. N. (2010), Eurasia Border Review Part I: Current Trends in Border Analysis.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid