This paper examines the relationship of the Tharu, one of the more numerous of the ethnic groups that inhabit the Tarai, to the various states that encompassed them during the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These include the British colonial state and its Indian successor, the Shah and Rana states of nineteenth and early twentieth century Nepal, and the modern Nepali state as it has developed since 1951. The paper argues that the political ecology of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the Tarai made the Tharu an indispensable part of state building for both the British and for Rana Nepal. The capacity of Tharu society to survive in often extreme malarial conditions made them an irreplaceable source of labor in the Tarai while the Tharu elite furnished the state with a necessary cadre of lower-level administrators. However, following on the economic and political transformations that took place in the post-1951 period, the Nepali state’s interest in the Tarai changed, both as a function of bureaucratic development that made the administrative role the Tharu had played largely irrelevant, as well as the emergence of the Tarai as a crucial site of national identity building. The consequent marginalization of the Tharu was an important factor shaping Tharu ethnic consciousness in the modern period.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/arjun_guneratne/52/