Buddha’s ’sons’ oppose quota, call Terai shutdown

February 1st, 2009 - 4:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Feb 1 (IANS) The decision by Nepal’s Maoist government to reserve 45 percent seats in all state and public service enterprises for disadvantaged communities has begun to reap a whirlwind with a clan, regarded as the descendants of the Buddha, calling a two-day shutdown in protest.The Tharus were one of the first settlers in the fertile Terai plains along the India-Nepal border. Once rich and powerful, they were ousted by migrants from India as well as hill people from north Nepal and were forced in bonded slavery.

The community has now struck the first blow against the quota announcement made by the Nepal government Wednesday, saying they would close down the Terai plains Feb 7 and 8.

Led by the Tharu Kalyankarini Sabha, Tharus Thursday burnt the effigy of Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda near the interim parliament. They have also called for torch rallies across the Terai as well as a protest march waving wooden batons, the traditional weapon of the community.

“We condemn the move by the government to club us together with Madhesis,” said Raj Kumar Lekhi, president of the Sabha.

Since the Madhes movement began in Nepal three years ago, it has pitted Madhesis against Tharus and other indigenous communities.

Madhesis, a people of Indian-origin, are among the most neglected and spurned communities in Nepal. However, after the fall of monarchy in Nepal, the struggle by Madhesis for greater rights have led to the emergence of the community in politics.

Two debutant Madhesi parties that contested elections the first time in April are now the fourth and fifth largest parties in the interim parliament, leaving royalists far behind.

However, the Madhesi rise is regarded as a threat by Tharus and other indigenous communities who live in 24 of the Terai districts and are opposed to the carving of a Madhes state in the plains.

Lekhi says the 45 percent quota system would steamroll Tharu rights and see Madhesis take over.

“We want proportional representation on the basis of population,” Lekhi told IANS.

According to the census, Tharus comprise 1.6 million of Nepal’s nearly 29 million population. However, Lekhi says the census excluded large numbers of Tharus, whose total number is around 3 million.

The state of the Tharus is perhaps even more precarious than Madhesis.

Though Nepal has abolished slavery on paper, thousands of Tharu families still work as serfs, including children. They are also regarded as untouchables.

During the 10-year People’s War fought by the Maoists, the Tharus were drawn to the movement for equality and were subjected to brutal retaliation by security forces.

Ironically, the first Tharus were powerful kings.

According to Nepal’s scholars, Gautama Buddha’s father Shuddhodan was a Tharu king. So, they say, was Emperor Ashok, one of the mightiest Indian kings.

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