The origin of the Tharu people is not clear but surrounded by myths and oral tradition. The Rana Tharus claim to be of Rajput origin and have migrated from the Thar Desert to Nepal’s Far Western Terai region. Tharu people farther east claim to be descendants of the Śākya and Koliya peoples living in Kapilvastu.
Modern history (1700s-1999) Edit
Tharu families worked under the system of bonded labour known as Kamaiya which existed in Nepal since the 18th century; following the Unification of Nepal when members of the ruling elite families of Terai received land grants in those region and were entitled to collect revenue from those who cultivated the land. In 1854, Jung Bahadur Rana, the then Nepalese PM, enforced the Muluki Ain (General Code) which classified both Hindus and Non-Hindus castes based on their habits of food and drink. Tharu people were categorized under “Paani Chalne Masinya Matwali” (touchable enslavable alcohol drinking group) together with several other alcohol drinking ethnic minorities.
In the late 1950s, the World Health Organisation supported the Nepalese government in eradicating malaria in the forests of the central Terai. Following the malaria eradication program using DDT in the 1960s, a large and heterogeneous non-Tharu population from the Nepali hills, Bhutan, Sikkim and India settled in the region. In the western Terai, many Tharu families lost the land, which they used to cultivate, to these immigrants and were forced as Kamaiya.
When the first protected areas were established in Chitwan, Tharu communities were forced to relocate from their traditional lands. They were denied any right to own land and thus forced into a situation of landlessness and poverty. When the Chitwan National Park was designated, Nepalese soldiers destroyed the villages located inside the boundary of the park, burned down houses, and beat the people who tried to plough their fields. Some threatened Tharu people at gun point to leave.
Recent history (2000-present)
The Government of Nepal outlawed the practice of bonded labour prevalent under the Kamaiya system in July 2000, which prohibits anyone from employing any person as a bonded labourer, and declared that the act of making one work as a bonded labourer is illegal. Though democracy has been reinstated in the country, the Tharu community has called for a more inclusive democracy as they are fearful of remaining an underprivileged group.
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