Friday, 18 May 2012




The identity battle
RANA THARUS IN FAR-WEST

Rana Tharus in India mostly reside in Udham Singh Nagar district of Uttarakhand and Kheeri as well as in Pilibhit and Gonda, districts of Uttar Pradesh. They are recognized as a scheduled tribe by the government of India. The Indian constitution gives several special social, educational and economic benefits to those categorized as the scheduled tribes. 

In Nepal, Rana Tharus have been native residents of Kailali and Kanchanpur since the 16th century and are, in fact, the first settlers of the two districts. The four districts, namely Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur, were under British administration from 1816 to 1860 and were included in Nepal by the British before they left India. Prior to the inclusion of Kanchanpur and Kailali in Nepal as ‘naya muluk’, the settlers in these two districts were Ranas and Katharias followed by Tharus from Dang and later by others. 

Being natives of two districts, Rana Tharus were prosperous land owners with big houses and livestock. They were old land lords (who owned or held land before the introduction of the land reforms in 1964) of both the districts. Though the Rana community was economically and socially powerful, the literacy rate among them was low, a condition that prevails even today. However, their native places were gradually encroached upon by other groups and even by the Panchayat in the name of rehabilitation (punarvaas) and by the democratic government in the name of sanctuary broadening (aarachhya bistaar).

In 1854 Jung Bahadur, the first Rana Prime Minister of Nepal, developed Muluki Ain, a codification of Nepal’s indigenous legal system which divided the society into a system of castes. The Tharus of Nepal were placed at the bottom of the social hierarchy, just above the ‘untouchables’. During this period, the Rana Tharus of Kailali and Kanchanpur were under the British administration (1816 to 1860). After the inclusion of these four districts in Nepal, anthropologists and experts have been largely biased against the Rana Tharus as well as other Tharu groups.

This injustice was further perpetuated by the government of Nepal which placed Rana Tharu in the same category of Tharus as in the previous census, even though they claim to be very different in reality. This reminds me of what famous American anthropologist Ralph Linton had said, “The way of life of people is one thing, what we study and write about, is another dimension of culture. The former is reality, the latter our understanding of the same. If the former is to be culture, then the latter may be called only culture construct.”

Although physically the Rana Tharus are similar to other Tharu people in the area, they speak their own language. Rana Tharus differ from other Dangaura and Chaudhari Tharus in most respects, including language, attire and culture. According to sociology, “Indigenous group is any ethnic group originating and remaining in an area subject to colonization and have retained their distinctive identities. Such groups often appear to go through a sequence of defeat, despair, and regeneration, if they have not been exterminated or their culture completely destroyed by the external or colonial power.” This supports the theory that Rana Tharus have a different identity, which has survived for years and cannot be erased at the peak of political transition when every group is fighting for its identity.

The functionalists who are trying to maintain their strategic advantage and the utopians in their endeavor to usurp the rights of others are using different tools to obfuscate the main debate surrounding self respect and unique identity of minor groups. This makes the federalism process contradictory.

Few leaders who enjoy the facilities of both hill and Tarai regions fear losing their strategic advantage with growing demands for Tharuhat because the inclusion of two districts, Kailali and Kanchapur, in proposed Tharuhat has resulted in a counter protest for a ‘united Far-west’. This is an attempt to maintain status quo in the region so that there is no change in the condition of communities who have been deprived of any stake in power and governance. Ramesh Lekhak, one of the CA members has said that Rana Tharu, Dangaura Tharu and hill people in Kailali and Kanchanpur have been living in harmony. On the surface, there is harmony in the sense that there have been no violent clashes between the hill and Tarai inhabitants; but if you plunge deeper, both the Rana and Dangaura Tharu have felt slighted since the hill people have been enjoying strategic advantage in terms of authority, power and caste superiority. 

Tharus have been rarely included in the societies and bodies formed in the name of the ‘Far-west’. These societies have merely highlighted cultural traits of the hills, while ignoring the Tharu culture. For instance, no Rana or Dangaura music has been played on Kantipur radio program touted as the ‘voice of Far-west’. Leaders from the hills who belong to major political parties get the opportunity of picking constituencies both in the hills and Tarai while Tharus who have this option only in Kailali and Kanchanpur struggle to get candidacy even in these districts.

The reluctance to consider Rana Tharus as a different group and recognize its independent identity has now put the community in danger of becoming extinct. Failure to acknowledge and respect the separate identity of Ranas is likely to affect the community and the future of the proposed Tharuhat. 
Rana Tharus have a different identity, which has survived for years and cannot be erased at the peak of political transition when every group is fighting for its identity.

In the past, being more economically comfortable, Rana Tharus felt less suppressed and were satisfied with their land holding and did not feel the need to educate their children. However, the other Tharu groups have felt strong discrimination ever since the promulgation of ‘muluki ain’ in 1854 and have placed comparatively more emphasis on education while participating more in the politics of Nepal. 

Now with the implementation of positive discrimination policies, the census classifying the Rana Tharus as Tharus, Tharuhat obstructing the recognition of a separate Rana Tharu identity and the ‘united Far-west’ acting as a functionalist, the Ranas feel their very identity is under threat. Thus, organizations like Rana Tharu Sangharsh Samitee, Rana Tharu Welfare Forum and Nepal Rana Tharu Samaaj are raising their voice for a separate Rana Tharu identity.

Geographical delineation alone cannot determine a federal state unless adequate space is created for all, while ensuring a fair distribution of power and authority. The solution is to create what could be a ‘win-win situation’ for Rana Tharus, Dangaura Tharus and the hill people. This requires some give and take by politicians from the hills who enjoy the strategic advantage as residents of both Tarai and the hills. 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

An Account of Rana Tharu

Account of Rana Tharu in Nepal: Bikram Rana Suda-3, Kanchanpur, 2011

In 1567, when Crown Prince Pratap Singh was only 27, 54th ruler of Mewar in line with Sesodhiya Rajputs, the Mughal forces of Emperor Akbar surrounded Chittor. Maharana Udai Singh II decided to leave Chittor and move his family to Gogunda, rather than capitulate to the Mughals. In 25th February 1568 led the downfall of Rajputs of Chittor the capital of Mewar. Though the capital was in the hands of the Mughals but the whole state Mewar was not won by the Mughal forces and the Rajputs emerged as the savior of Hinduism by creating a slogan “garba se kaho hum hindu hain “meaning be proud to claim that you are Hindu.The Sesodias had shed their best blood in defending Chittor and the remnants of the clan had fled to the shelter of the Aravalli hills and a group also left for Nepal.

Now the question who is the real Rana in Nepal seeks answers. Are they the so called Rana family of Junga Bahadur who ruled Nepal from 1846 to 1950? Or the Rana living in kailali and Kanchanpur district ? One should not forget that “Bir narsingh kunwar”(later Junga Bahadur’) son of Bala narsingh kunwar recived “Rana” title as a token from king Surendra of Nepal in 1849 A.D. through a red seal ( Lalmohar). Later this ruling Rana family descendents of Junga Bahadur have claimed to be the descendents of Tanta Rana (a ruler of Rajasthan, India.) This ruling class so called Rana was also able to establish relations with the Rajputs of India may be this was due to the power they possessed in Nepal and there was no endeavor to find out who really they were. We cannot neglect the human nature to get the warmth from a burning fire than to care about the fire which has died out.

In Fatalism and development Dor Bahdur Bista writes “in 1847, a khas general secured a position of power soon after he became the prime minister and took the title of Rana for himself and his family imitating the Indian Rajput style and his family later became the hereditary prime ministers and effectively ruled the country until 1950 A.D. (page 26) By referencing ( Whelpton 1987). He further elucidates that “Bahuns are the writers, the repository and the interpreters of history and for appropriate consideration have been quick to document the ancient illustrious status of new reign. The last historic incident was when they had Jung Bahadur Kunwar, a khas adopt the title of Rana, developing a fictitious ancestry of Rajput origin from the southern plains. Jung Bahadur and his advisors posit a connection with the Rajputs of the plains, even though any study of the ancestors of Jung Bahadur Rana leads to the conclusion that the Ranas were khas, who took the title of Kunwar (prince) during the medieval period but had no connection with Indian Rajputs. (Page 37)


The Rajput version is provided by a few books written by Hindu writers of a later period but the most important sources of information are the songs and tales of the bards of each Rajput clan. These songs were passed down orally from generation to generation in the same tradition as the Vedas of ancient India---they were finally put down in writing by European historians in the 19th Century. The bards sang praises of their patrons but saw events with their own eyes on the battlefield---they provide interesting stories and details that are absent in official chronicles. These songs also relate the chronology of Rajput kings and the time periods of their rule. Where the bard's version falters is in the pronunciation of Muslim names and titles.
It is true “Victor always writes history.” Rana Tharus have been losers, since the downfall of Chittor (capital of Mewar in Rajasthan of India). I presume that the publications about Rana Tharus rest mainly on the British resident's reports in India, very often second- hand material or simple repetitions of previous ones. In 1854 Jung Bahadur, the first Rana prime minister of Nepal, developed the Mulki Ain, a codification of Nepal's indigenous legal system which divided society into a system of castes. The Tharus were placed at the bottom of the social hierarchy above untouchables. Their land was taken away, disrupting their community and displacing the people. During this time the Rana Tharus of Kailali and Kanchanpur were under the British administration (1816 to 1860A.D.) After the inclusion of these four districts in Nepal the anthropologists and others by their prejudice have been treating Rana Tharus as well as other Tharu groups as a single group in reality they claim to be different. This reminds me Ralph Linton’s quotation “The way of life of people is one thing, what we study and write about, is another dimension of culture. The former is reality, the latter our understanding of the same. If the former is to be culture, then the latter may be called only culture construct.”
It becomes hard to find written documents about the Rana Tharus as they have been living in isolation from 16th century in Kailali and Kanchanpur where as the European historians started to write about Rajput in 19th century. Thus it is really hard to write about them without spending time with scripts, books, and language and with tales, songs and riddles of the community. What you see might be an illusion in the sense of eliciting truth and to find the truth you might need to explore by interacting with the elder members of the community and understanding the meaning of songs and tales. For instance in your observation you can observe some of the Rana Tharu household making liquors but the truth is Rana are not the original liquor makers they have learnt from other Tharu groups migrated to Kailali and Kanchanpur from their origin Dang.
In India Rana Tharus of Khiri, and Nainital are under scheduled tribes. In case of Nepal in terms of habitats Rana Tharus are the native residents of Kailali and Kanchanpur since 16th century and are the first settlers of the two districts later they were joined by Dangauras of Dang and after the eradication of malaria and resettlement plan of Panchayat regime, khasiyas joined. According to dictionary of sociology “indigenous group is any ethnic group originating and remaining in an area subject to colonization and have retained their distinctive identities. Such groups often appear to go through a sequence of defeat, despair, and regeneration, if they have not been exterminated or their culture completely destroyed by the external or colonial power.”

Well Rana Tharus claiming a Rajput origin and the claim for ethnic groups seems to be dichotomy but the dictionary meaning makes one thing clear. In terms of Kailali and Kanchanpur it can be argued that Rana Tharus do fall in the category of adivaasis of the two districts of Nepal. It should not be forgotten the four districts namely Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur were under the British administration from 1816 to 1860 and were rewarded to Nepal by the British before they left India. Prior to the inclusion of Kanchanpur and Kailali in Nepal as “Naya muluk” the settlers in these two districts were Katharia and Rana followed by Tharus from Dang and later by others.
Being the native of two districts Rana Tharus were well off with the properties as each house hold held chunk of land and animals for their livelihood and are old land lords of these two districts. An old land lord is a person who owned or held land before the introduction of the land reforms in 1964, where as a new land owner refers to a person who got land after the reforms. Though Rana community was economically and socially rich the education or literacy rate was very low which prevails even today. Rana villages have been looted many times by the dacoits to have the inherent properties they brought from Rajasthan and earned by their hard work. Their native places have been encroached by other groups and even by the panchayat government in the name of rehabilitation (punarvaas) and the democratic government in the name of sanctuary broadening (aarachhya bistaar).
Necessity is the mother of invention the Rana Tharus never felt destitute in terms of economy and food thus they never felt suppressed in the early days and were happy with their holdings and did not felt impetus for their children education and lacked in education where as other Tharu groups have felt suppression since the promulgation of muluki aain in 1854 and comparatively they have sped in education and politics of Nepal than the old well off Ranas of Kailali and Kanchanpur. Now positive discrimination approach pervasive in the country and injustice of government census putting the Rana Tharu as Tharu in the 2001 census data is worrying Ranas that they may lose their identity thus Rana Tharu Welfare forum and Maha Rana society are raising voices for their separate identity. Recently with the state heading towards federalism even so called Rana (the ruling) elite is starting to claim as “Khas”.
Differentiating Rana from other Tharu is not from the point of view of claiming high status it is just for the identification who Rana are and where they sprang from. To be honest the relation between the Rana and other Tharus is very harmonious than any other group residing in these districts.

Sunday, 19 February 2012


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