Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 14:07 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Nepal

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Nepal, 16 July 2009, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The year 2008 was a historic one for the Nepalese people, who went to the polls to elect 601 members to a Constituent Assembly tasked with writing a new constitution acceptable to all of the country's diverse communities. Decades of conflict between Maoist rebels against the Nepali monarchy and government ended in 2006 in the 'people's revolution', which saw the ousting of the country's monarch. Nepal's former Maoist rebels emerged victorious in the 25 April polls. The Constituent Assembly has a substantial representation of minority and indigenous communities, but progress in drawing up a constitution that meets the expectations of all the different groups is a huge challenge. The delays have also caused frustration among the different ethnic and religious groups. Through 2008 and in early 2009 there were several incidents of protest by ethnic and religious groups in Nepal. In most cases the government reached agreement with some sections of the communities, which were hailed by the media and government as a success and saw the end to protests and disruption. However, in many cases, sections of these communities refused to sign up to the agreement, leaving scope for continuing uprisings that could seriously jeopardize peace prospects in the country.

In February 2008, for instance, Madhesi plains-people in the Terai region started to strike over the right to self-determination, regional autonomy and proportional representation. Ethnic Madhesis make up about one-third of Nepal's population. The strikes affected health, education and transport services across the country. The strike action turned violent by the end of February, killing at least one person and injuring more than 20. Amnesty International expressed concern that the Nepali police were using excessive force against the demonstrators. The strikes ended in March after the government and the Federal Republican National Front (FRNF), an alliance of seven groups, reached a deal that promised a federal system with autonomy to Libmuwan, Khambuwan, Tamangsaling, Tharuhat and Madhesi communities. Other groups, such as Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum and Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha boycotted the agreement.

The ethnic Madhesis, indigenous Janjathis and Dalits were among the minority groups whose support helped the Maoists win 220 of the 601 seats in the Constitutional Assembly. Out of the 62 seats won by indigenous representatives, 40 belonged to the Maoist party. But ethnic and indigenous divides continued. The new Nepali Maoist government's strong allegiance to China saw violent crack-downs against Tibetan refugees living in Nepal, in April and August of 2008, in some cases leading to arbitrary arrest and detention. In April the Nepali Home Ministry threatened to use force to stop Tibetans protesting against China while the Olympic Torch passed through the country. Amnesty International said that in previous silent protests by Tibetans on the same issue some 400 people had been arbitrarily detained. By August 1,000 Tibetan protesters had been detained, and in September the pro-China government announced that they would push Tibetan exiles to leave the country and return to India. Over 100 Tibetans were detained by police checking the validity of their refugee status. Nepal has some 20,000 exiled Tibetans.

Religious minorities continued to face targeted attacks. In March 2008 bombs were thrown into a mosque where some 60 people were praying in Biratnagar in eastern Nepal. A one-day general strike was called by Muslims in the area demanding compensation.

In July 2008, just prior to becoming prime minister, the chair of the Maoist party Prachanda, promised to form a 'Muslim commission' for the welfare of the minority community.

Also in July, Father Johnson Prakash Moyalan, a Catholic priest, was gunned down in Sirsia town, about 15 km from the India-Nepal border. A little-known group, the Nepal Defence Army, which wants to restore Hinduism as the state religion in Nepal, claimed responsibility for the killing. The previously Hindu kingdom was declared a secular state in 2007.


Smaller political parties in the Constitutional Assembly in January 2009 interrupted proceedings and demanded that the government withdraw an education scholarship bill because it did not fix a quota for scholarships for Dalit children. Dalits are one of the most marginalized minority groups in Nepal. The literacy rate for Dalit men is 10 per cent and for women is 3.2 per cent. According to the Feminist Dalit Organization, only 3.8 per cent of Dalits complete the School Leaving Certificate, the basic secondary school qualification.

Religious minorities and indigenous Nepali children continue to be severely disadvantaged in education. According to a study done jointly by the World Bank and Department for International Development, participation of Muslim boys and girls in school remains low. The percentage of Muslim girls going to school between the ages of 11 and 15 has remained at 23 per cent from 1995 to 2004. The literacy rates amongst the Chepang and Bote indigenous groups are as low as 14 and 20 per cent. A major reason for this is the lack of mother tongue education.

Early in 2008 the UN and the Nepali Human Rights Commission expressed concern that children participating in protests organized by Madhesis across the country were subject to violence and their education was disrupted.

The Nepali government has offered to help fund religious schools to develop in exchange for taking on board the national curriculum. This could benefit Muslim and Buddhist minority schools. According to official data, some 82,624 Muslim students are registered in 832 madrassas, and 6,512 Buddhist children are educated in 236 monasteries.

Progress has been slow on two of Nepal's key educational policies: Education for All (EFA) and the Education Sector Development Program I. Both these progressive policies are expected to increase primary school attendance, but other issues remain unaddressed for minority children. The lack of mother tongue language education, cultural barriers, having to travel long distances to school, and the opportunity cost of educating children all affect the education of minority and indigenous children in Nepal and require government attention.

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