Important Security Announcement for American Citizens in Nepal
From the American Embassy in Nepal, 13 MAR 09:
There is an ongoing strike in the Terai region of Nepal carried out by various indigenous groups . This strike, or bandh, has affected all vehicular movement in all of the districts of the Terai (the area bordering India), including the popular tourist district of Chitwan. The threat of violence as this strike continues is a real concern, and in one instance, clashes between Tharus and the Nepal police forces left 3 people dead and numerous persons injured. As a precaution, the U.S. Embassy is currently not allowing U.S. mission personnel to travel to the Terai region. As negotiations are ongoing between the Government of Nepal and demonstrating groups to bring a resolution to this conflict, it is unclear how long the strike may continue. American citizens are urged to defer non-essential travel to this region of Nepal while the strike is in effect. If travel is necessary, Americans are advised to exercise caution, to expect vehicular transportation to be disrupted, and to avoid demonstrations should they come upon them.
- - - - - - -
In the western lowlands of the country, the Tharu ethnic community has long been dispossessed of its land and the Tharu people have been turned into serfs by wealthier migrants from the hilly regions to the north. These powerful landlords, or Zamindars ,as they are called, are more often than not members of so-called higher caste groups, mainly Brahmin and Kshetri, who also have access to political power. These Zamindars wield positions in the bureaucracy, the military and business. Moreover, they control the mass media. In short, they represent the most important section of the ruling class in Nepal.
Having appropriated the land from the Tharu community, the Zamindars subjugated the Tharus and turned them into bonded laborers (in return for food, clothing and shelter) on the very land they previously owned. This is a system of slavery known as the kamaiyasystem.
The Tharus are an aboriginal people who inhabit the western plains of Nepal. They constitute a sizeable minority of the population, a national minority (around 1.2 million), who at one time were self-sufficient farmers. Several years ago National Geographic magazine graphically portrayed these people as exotic beings with their very quaint customs and traditions. For many years the Anti-Slavery Society, based in Britain, has been trying to reach a wider audience about the Kamaiya system in Nepal. In 1997, the Times of London carried an exposure on the plight of the Tharu people under the Kamaiya system.