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Another shutdown call in Nepal's Terai

With less than 80 days left for the promulgation of a new constitution in Nepal, the nascent republic went on the boil once again Saturday with its Tharu community, believed to be the descendants of the Buddha, going on the warpath.

world Updated: Mar 13, 2010 12:54 IST

With less than 80 days left for the promulgation of a new constitution in Nepal, the nascent republic went on the boil once again Saturday with its Tharu community, believed to be the descendants of the Buddha, going on the warpath.

Eight Tharu organisations have called a shutdown of nearly one-third of Nepal's 75 districts in the volatile Terai plains Sunday to show their opposition to the major parties' plans to carve up the Terai in one or a couple of states when the country is restructured.

"The government is trying to turn the Terai into Madhes," said Tharu leader Raj Kumar Lekhi whose Tharu Kalyankarini Sabha is leading the shutdown as well as a torchlight rally on Saturday.

"The rights of indigenous communities, Muslims and other minorities are being trampled on."

The Tharus were the original residents of the Terai who were evicted from their own land by migrants from the hills and India across the border.

Landless, they became bonded slaves in their own country, and regarded as untouchables.

Tharus were also among the most affected during the 10-year Maoist insurgency that saw security forces train their guns on the community.

After a pro-democracy movement saw Nepal become a republic and the government announce it would reserve 45 percent jobs in all state organisations for disadvantaged communities, Tharus have been on the warpath, saying they were being clubbed together with Madhesis, people of Indian origin.

Now they are also opposing the major parties' bid to carve out just one or two federal states in the extensive plains, fearing it would give undue advantage to the Madhesis, who have four parties in the ruling alliance.

The Terai closure will also affect tens of thousands of Indians living across the border as well as the supply of essential goods, including food and fuel, from India.

It comes ahead of yet another Terai closure call given by a Madhesi party next month.

The general strikes come even as Nepal's major parties have pledged they would not declare any more closures to help the government boost tourism and draw one million visitors next year.