Madhesi people

This article is about Nepalese people. For American people, see Madhesi tribe. For Territory in the United States of America (USA), see Madhesi Valley. For other uses and disambiguations, see Madhesi.
Madheshi People
Total population
c. 6.12 million (2011 census)
Regions with significant populations

5.19 million (17.3% of total Nepali population) [1]

(excluding NRN and migrant workers in foreign)[2]

356,199 [3][4][5]

Nepalese Migrant Workers
 Saudi Arabia

199,757 [6]

Nepalese Migrant Workers

176,748 [7][8][9]

Nepalese Migrant Workers

97,874 [10]

Nepalese Migrant Workers

over 23,000 [11]

Non Resident Nepali
 South Korea

22,878 [12]

Nepalese Migrant Workers
 United States

19,000 [13]

Nepalese Americans

18,476 [14]

Nepalese Migrant Workers


Non Resident Nepali

By majority in descending order

  Maithili   Bhojpuri   Tharu  Urdu   Rajbanshi  Awadhi  Nepali  English[16]  Satar (Santhali)   Hindi[17]


  Arabic  Korean  Malay  Mandarin Chinese  Standard Chinese[18]

By majority in descending order

  Hinduism  Islam  Christianity  Non Religious  Buddhism [19]
Related ethnic groups

Native peoples

  Nepali Muslims   Maithil   Tharus   Rajbanshi   Dhimal   Satar   Awadhis

Indian peoples

  Bihari people   People from Uttar Pradesh

American peoples

  Madhesi tribe
Madhesi People
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 馬德西
Simplified Chinese 马德西
Japanese name
Kanji マデシ
Bengali name
Bengali মধেশী জাতি
Nepali name
Nepali मधेसी / मधेशी
Tamil name
Tamil மதேசி மக்கள்
Hindi name
Hindi मधेसियो / मधेशियो
Sanskrit name
Sanskrit मध्यदेशी
Russian name
Russian Мадхеси

The Madhesi (Nepali: मधेशी), also referred to as Teraibasi Nepali (Nepali: तराईवासी नेपाली),[20] are an indigenous ethnic group[21] of Nepalese people[22] who are natives of the Madhesh plains of Southern Nepal in Terai belt of South Asia. Although the Madhesis make up the majority of Madhesh, non-citizen residents, dual citizener, expatriates, Bihari residents and Pahari residents may claim Madhesi identity.[23]


The word "Madhesh" derives from the Sanskrit term Madhyadesh which means "middle country" between India and Nepal, referring to the ancient kingdoms such as Videha and Shakya whose main capital regions are now a part of Nepal and remaining in India. Middle country including Awadh is now in India and partially in Nepalgunj and Tulsipur Dang region of Nepal.Makwanpur was a part of Madhesh which served as trade route between India and Tibet of China in ancient times as it was between them.The term Madhesi is a modern Nepalese term for Madhyadesi, the adjective of Madhyadesh. The terms Madhyadesh and Madhyadesi started to be called Madhesh and Madhesi respectively by Pahari people after the unification of Madhesh into Kingdom of Nepal in 1769 by King Prithivi Narayan Shah and is now a part of Modern Nepal. [24][25][26] [27] The word Madhesh in modern days is used by the Pahari people to refer to the entire flat Terai region within Nepalese territory.[28]

Teraibasi Nepali is used as a synonym of the Madhesi people since they are Nepali citizens who inhabits Madhesh which is a part of Terai that lie along the southern Nepal.[29][30]

Area and population

Madheshi Martyrs who lost lives in Madhesh Civil Rights Movement I.

The total land area of the Madhesh is less than 34,109 square kilometres (13,170 sq mi) and comprises 20 districts which account for 23.1% of Nepal's total area. According to the population census in 2011, the Madhesi people made up about 35.9% of the total Nepalese population.[31] In 2001, 47.79% of Nepal's total population of 23.2 million lived in Terai districts with a density of 329 persons/km2.[31]

Madhesi Race can be further divided into 3 endogamous groups :[32]

  Hindus — Brahmins, Rajputs, Vaishyas, Shudras, Teli, Dhobi, Darzi and Dalits.

  Tribals — Maithil, Tharu, Rajbanshi, Poddar (Nepalese Mithila origin), Poudar (Dev) Dhimal, Satar and 13 others.

  Muslims — Ashraf, Sheikh, Sayyid, Pathan, Ansari, Hajjam, Qasai, etc.


2007's Naturalized Madhesi people trace their origin to the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, Islam Madhesi trace their origin to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Arab, Tibet, Egypt, Persia and India.[33] However, the origin of the Ancient and Indigenous Madhesi people is not clear but surrounded by myths and oral tradition. One of the ancient and indigenous Madhesi - Maithil people, claim to be originated from Janakpur in Mithila region of Nepal and a descendants of King Janak of Nepal. While, Tharu people claim to be of Rajput origin and have migrated from the Thar Desert to Nepal's Far Western Madhesh region. Tharu people farther east claim to be descendants of the Śākya and Koliya people living in Kapilvastu.[34]


Modern history (1846-1999)

In 1854, Jung Bahadur Rana, the then Prime Minister of Nepal, enforced the Muluki Ain, Nepal's first legal system. It comprised applications of traditional Hindu Law and clauses to accommodate ethnic practices. In the Muluki Ain both Hindus and non-Hindus were classified as castes based on their habits of food and drink.[35] Ancient Madhesi people were considered "enslavable alcohol drinkers" together with several other ethnic minorities.[36]

In the 1950s, the World Health Organisation supported the Nepalese government in eradicating malaria in the forests of Madhesh. People from the hills migrated to the Madhesh and claimed the fertile land. Tharus and many other Madhesi people lost their traditional land and became slaves of the new landowners. This resulted in the development of the Kamaiya system of bonding generations of Madhesi people, mainly Tharu families to labour.[37]

When the first protected areas were established in Chitwan, Madhesi people, particularly Tharus and Maithil 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 gunpoint to leave.

Recent history (2000-present)

The government of Nepal outlawed the practice of bonded labour prevalent under the Kamaiya system on July 17, 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.[37] Although democracy has been reinstated in the country, the Madhesi community has called for a more inclusive democracy as they are fearful of remaining an underprivileged group.[38] In 2007, Nepalese parliament passed a controversial Citizenship Act which allowed many Biharis and Uttar Pradesh origin Indian immigrants inhabiting Madhesh for a long time to acquire Nepalese citizenship and become Madhesi by naturalization. The indigenous Madhesi people criticized the Nepalese government for providing citizenship to non-Madhesi under their identity.



















Madhesi Races on 2011 Nepali Census [57]
Self-identified caste/ethnic group Percent
Indigenous peoples
Terai Dalits
Bihari (Only Naturalized Nepali citizens of 2007 and Naturalized Maritial Madhesi)
Dusadh(Paswan, Hajjara, Pashi)
Some Others
Total Madhesi

Ancient and indigenous Madhesi

Ancient Madhesi were those Madhesi people who inhabited Madhesh for the first time and had empires and kingdoms in present Madhesh's boundaries of Nepal. The Licchavi and Malla dynasties who built empires and structures in Kathmandu were also the ancient people of either Madhesi origin or migrated from Madhesh. King Janaka, Sita and Gautama Buddha were the prominent ancient Madheshi people. Janaka was a king of Videha, Sita was a princess of Janakpur in Videha and Buddha was a prince of Kapilvastu in Shakya Republic. Since the capital region of the Videha kingdom and Shakya republic lies in present Madhesh region, the leaders, prince, princess and people of these kingdoms at that time are now the federal subject of Madhesh and hence called Madhesi people.[58]

Indigenous Madhesi (Nepali: आदिवासी-जनजाति मधेशी) are the descendants of the ancient Madhesi people. They are Nepalese origin tribal groups native to Madhesh such as the Maithil, Tharus, Dhimal, Satar and Rajbanshi people[59] and not the migrants from outside. There are 18 tribal Madhesi groups known to be indigenous people of Madhesh.[60][61]

Naturalized Madhesi

Naturalized Madhesi (Nepali: अंगीकृत मधेशी) are the Madhesi people who holds Nepali Citizenship by naturalization upon marrying Madhesi man or those who became Nepali citizens in 2007 according to the controversial Citizenship Act of Nepal which allowed many Indian origin peoples, particularly Bihari people inhabiting Madhesh to acquire Nepalese citizenship and Madhesi identity by naturalization.[62] According to Home Ministry of Nepal, there are 362,027 Naturalized Madhesi people which accounts for 6.97% of total Madhesi population of which 353,721 have become naturalized Madhesi in 2007 through marriage with people of Madhesh while 8306 were immigrants from Bihar inhabiting Madhesh for a long time.[63] During Mughal as well as various Muslim invasions in India, various Indian people, mostly of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh origin started migrating to Nepal and married native peoples of Madhesh. Most who had migrated to Nepal were assimilated into the already existing indigenous Madhesi society native to Madhesh. Many aspects of indigenous Madhesi are different from Indian origin Madhesi but they are culturally close to each other. New immigrants from the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh after 2007 will get Nepalese citizenship by naturalization with the completion of 10 years of residence under Indian Nepalese ethnic group instead of Madhesi identity to prevent further controversy with native Madhesi people.[64]

Maritial Madhesi

Maritial Madhesi (Nepali: वैवाहित मधेशी) refers to any woman who becomes Madhesi by marriage with Nepalese man of any Madhesi Race. They are further divided in two categories:

Naturalized Maritial Madhesi

Naturalized Maritial Madhesi (Nepali: वैवाहित अंगीकृत मधेशी) refers to any woman who were ever citizen of any foreign country but is now a Nepali citizen who holds Naturalized Nepalese citizenship upon the marriage with Madhesi man. According to the Home Ministry of Nepal, there are 353,721 Naturalized Maritial Madhesi in Nepal who were mainly of Bihari origin.

Bihari(Only 362,027 Naturalized Nepali citizen who Migrated Before 2007 or married native Madhesi recently)



Cross Maritial Madhesi

Cross Maritial Madhesi (Nepali: अन्तर्जातिय वैवाहित मधेशी) refers to those Madhesi woman who are of same Nationality — Nepali but were previously belonged to different ethnic group of Nepal, before marrying Madhesi man.[67][68]

Islam Madhesi

Further information: Nepalese Muslims

Islam Madhesi (Urdu: نیپالی مسلمان) refers to Madhesi people who are the adherents of Islam and native speaker of Urdu and Awadhi language besides Arabic and Pashto languages. While the smaller groups provide diversity, more than 74 percent—of the Nepali Muslims belong to Madhesi Race and they migrated into Madhesh during the 19th century onwards as wage labourers from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Arab, Tibet, Egypt, Persia and India. [69] While most are small-time proprietor farmers, a substantial number still work as tenants and agricultural labourers. At home they primarily do speak Urdu, but also Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Nepali and Maithili depending on whether they are of the Western or Central or Eastern Madhesh.[70]

Islam Madhesi are organized along the principles of caste, but differs in many respects from the caste system found among the Madhesi Christians and Hindus communities. Although their groupings are endogamous, and there are elements of hierarchy, there are no religious and ideological principles providing a foundation for the concept of caste. For example, there is no question of ritual pollution by touch or restriction on interdining. But each grouping does maintain a separate and distinct identity, especially with regard to intermarriage.[71] [72]


The Madhesi people are culturally close to people from the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and shares some cultural similarities to the Pahari people of the hills in terms of religions and common festivals.

Historically, Madhesi people went to abroad mainly to Gulf countries and Malaysia[73] for employment,[74] a life that kept them isolated in their own localities.[75] In this isolation they are now developing a unique culture free from the influence of adjacent India and from the mountain and hill groups of Nepal. The most striking aspects of their environment are the decorated rice containers, colourfully painted verandahs and outer walls of their homes using only available materials like clay, mud, dung and grass. Much of the rich design is rooted in devotional activities and passed on from one generation to the next, occasionally introducing contemporary elements such as a bus or an aircraft.[76] The Maithil people are known for their Mithila painting, colorful shell and/or feather decorated basketry, including ram topne water jug covers.

Udit Narayan Jha is a Nepalese playback singer of Madhesi ethnicity.

Madhesi people are mainly involved in farming, irrigation is one of the most important aspects of the community. Madhesi people in Eastern and Western Nepal built canals that irrigate thousands of hectares of land. They plant rice, mustard, cereals and lentils, but also collect forest products such as wild fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants and materials to build their houses; hunt deer, rabbit and wild boar, and go fishing in the rivers and oxbow lakes. Hundreds of years ago, without using any sophisticated tools, they built hundreds of kilometres of irrigation canals in the Jhapa and Morang districts of Nepal.


Nepalese cuisine is quite varied and Madhesi cuisine is most popular among them. Maithil cuisine predominantly in Mithila region and Tharu cuisine in Tharuhat region are most popular Nepali cuisine in Madhesh. Further west, there is Mughlai-influenced Awadhi cuisine—particularly eaten by the substantial Islam Madhesi population around Nepalganj. Madhesi diets can be more varied than Pahari cuisine because of the greater variety of crops grown locally together with cash crops imported from cooler microclimates in nearby hill regions, as well as from different parts of Greater Nepal. Fruit commonly grown in the Madhesh include mango (aam), lychee (litchi), papaya (armewa/mewa), banana (kera/kela) and jackfruit (katahar/katahal).

Nepal has seven low elevation Inner Madhesh valleys enclosed by the Sivalik and Mahabharat ranges. Historically these valleys were populated mainly by Tharu and Maithil people who had genetic resistance to malaria. Since the valleys were isolated from one another, different enclaves spoke different dialects and had different customs. They may have had different cuisines, although this has not been very well studied. Nevertheless, they historically obtained a varied diet through hunting and gathering as well as shifting agriculture and animal husbandry. This contrasted with diets of other Hindus that were predominantly agricultural and utilized only a few sources of animal protein because of religious or caste prohibitions. In the 1950s, when Nepal opened its borders to foreigners and foreign aid missions, malaria suppression programs in the Madhesh finally made it possible for people without genetic resistance to survive there, so they faced an influx of Bihari and Pahari people. Conversion of forest and grassland to cropland and prohibitions on hunting shifted them away from land-based hunting and gathering, toward greater utilization of fish,[77] freshwater crab, prawns and snails from rivers and ponds. They also raised chickens and are reported to employ dogs to hunt rats in rice paddies and then roast them whole on sticks. Mutton may be obtained from nomadic hill people such as Kham Magar who take herds of sheep and goats up to sub-alpine pastures bordering the high Himalaya in summer, and down to Inner Terai valleys in winter. Increasing competition for land forces them away from shifting cultivation toward sedentary agriculture, so the national custom of eating rice with lentils gains headway. Nevertheless, they also have unique ways of preparing these staples, such as rice and lentil dumplings called bagiya or dhikri[78] and immature rice is used to make a kind of gruel maar. Taro root is an important crop in the region. The leaves and roots are eaten. Sidhara[79] is a mixture of taro root, dried fish and turmeric that is formed into cakes and dried for preservation. The cakes are broken up and cooked with radish, chili, garlic and other spices to accompany boiled rice. Snails are cleansed, boiled and spiced to make ghonghi.[80]

Household structure

In the central Madhesh, most Madhesi people prefer living in longhouses called badaghar with big families of many generations, sometimes 40-50 people. All household members pool their labour, contribute their income, share the expenditure and use one kitchen.[81]

Social structure

Madhesi people from the mid west and far east of Nepal have been practicing the badghar system, where a badghar is elected chief of a village or a small group of villages for a year known as mukhiyas. The election generally takes place in the month of Magh (January/February), after celebrating the Maghi Festival and after completing major farming activities. In most cases, each household in the village which engages in farming has one voting right for electing a badghar. Thus the election is based on a count of households count rather than a headcount. The role of the badghar is to work for the welfare of the village. The badghar direct the villagers to repair canals or streets when needed. They also oversee and manages the cultural traditions of the villages. They have the authority to punish those who do not follow their orders or who go against the welfare of the village. Generally the badghar has a chaukidar to help him. With the consent of the villagers the badghar may appoint a "Guruwa", who is the medic and chief priest of the village.

Madhesi society is mainly involved in farming, irrigation is one of the most important aspects of the community. Madhesi people in eastern Nepal built canals that irrigate thousands of hectares of land. Hundreds of years ago, without using any sophisticated tools, they built hundreds of kilometers of irrigation canals in the Jhapa and Morang districts of Nepal. An irrigation canal could be used by several villages. Its water and diversion works need to be managed fairly. For this purpose, the badghars of different villages elect a person for the position of Chaudhary to manage a canal system. When needed, the chaudhary orders the badghars to send people to repair or build the canals. In most cases the Yadav and Jhas are unpaid leaders of the community. However, they are exempt from compulsory physical labor for the betterment of the society. As a token of respect, the community members may also help them in farming for a day free of cost.[82]

Marriage system

Most Madhesi people practice conventional arranged marriages. They also practice love marriages, inter-caste marriage, international marriage, inter world, marriage after courtship and eloping.

Religious practices

Religious fractions of Madhesi Races[83]
Religion Percent

The religious practices of the Madhesi people are a mixture of orthodox Hinduism and animism.[84] They worship Shakti and Shakti peeths in various forms; some are also Shaivites and Vaishnavites.[85] The spiritual beliefs and moral values of the Madhesi people are closely linked to the natural environment. The pantheon of gods comprises a large number of deities that live in the forest. They are asked for support before entering the forest. According to the 2001 Census of Nepal, 71.50% of the Madhesi people were Nepali Hindus, 15.75% (1,144,000) of Madhesi people of Nepali Muslim ethnicity follows Islam while 8.95% Madhesi people are predominantly Christians followed by 3.8% Buddhists. While majority of Madhesis are Nepali Hindus while many of them are now slowly transforming towards Christianity as nearly half of their population are employed in Europe, Arabs, Malaysia and South Korea[86]

Resistance to malaria

The ancient Madhesi people, mainly Maithil and Tharu people, were famous for their ability to survive in the most malarial parts of the Madhesh that were deadly to outsiders. In 1902, a British Indian observer noted: "Plainsmen and paharis generally die if they sleep in the Madhesh before November 1 or after June 1." Others thought that the Tharu and Maithil were not totally immune.[82]

Contemporary medical research comparing Tharu and Maithil people with other ethnic groups living nearby found an incidence of malaria nearly seven times lower among them.[87] The researchers believed such a large difference pointed to genetic factors rather than behavioural or dietary differences. This was confirmed by follow-up investigation finding genes for thalassemia in nearly all Tharu and Maithil studied.[88]


Dr Ram Baran Yadav, the first president of Nepal of indigenous Maithil origin.

The Madhesi people have been predominantly engaged in Nepalese politics to promote rights and equality despite the historical political and social domination by the Pahari people who have nearly 90% of representation in all government services to date. The major Madhesi national political parties are:

Notable people

Some well known Madhesi people are:

See also


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Further reading

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