Following the restoration of democracy in 1990, the government, under great pressure from different groups and sections of Janjaties (indigenous nationalities), was obliged to form an ad hoc committee to create a permanent body to cater to the concerns of Janjaties. Subsequently, the National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities (NFDIN), affiliated to the Ministry of Local Development, Government of Nepal, was established, under the Chairmanship of the incumbent Prime Minister, in 2002 through an Act.
The main objective of the NFDIN is to ensure the overall welfare of the different indigenous nationalities who lives across the country. The foundation is an autonomous body, fully authorized to operate independently where the indigenous nationalities' interests are concerned.
The Constitution of Nepal 1990 failed to address some major concerns of the Janjaties. However, the Interim Constitution of 2007, has been able to address some of these issues by defining the country as independent, secular, inclusive, democratic and federal. This has raised considerable hope of the indigenous nationalities for a better future. The new constitution is expected to eliminate some of the discriminatory practices clandestinely practiced by the State and remove all the economic and social inequalities the Janjaties were subjected to.
The democratic atmosphere created following the end of dictatorial rule of the Ranas in 1951 greatly encouraged the Janjaties to assert them for a dignified and respectful place in society. This did not happen as easily as was anticipated due to various reasons. It was only after the Panchayat System was dismantled in 1990 that the Janjaties were able to become more assertive in demanding justice hitherto denied to them by the State.
The Indigenous Nationalities of Nepal
The indigenous nationalities are generally non-Hindus with their distinct identities regarding religious beliefs, social practices and cultural values. But after the annexation of the numerous principalities' by King Prithvi Narayan Shah in the second half of the 18the century, these groups were forbidden from following their centuries' old rituals and were coerced into abiding by the new rulers' dictates which were based on the Hindu hierarchical caste system. This Hindu doctrine virtually incapacitated the indigenous nationalities and they were subjected to servitude throughout the modern history of Nepal.
Although Nepal is a multi racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious country, in practice, the Janjaties were restricted from pursuing these democratic precepts and were governed strictly as per the Hindu hierarchical caste system. As a result of this state policy, the indigenous nationalities were completely sidelined with no voice in the running of the State. The concept of Hindu superiority prevailed overwhelmingly. It is only after the internal conflict ended in 2006 that bro9ught some relief to the Janjaties.
Characteristics of Indigenous Nationalities
- A distinct collective identity,
- Own language, religion, tradition, culture and civilization,
- Own traditional egalitarian social structures,
- Traditional homeland and geographical area,
- Written or oral history,
- The feeling of 'We', and
- Living in Nepal from time immemorial,
The national census 2011 has given the population of the Janjaties as 35.4% out of the total population of nearly 26.4 million. But the census enumerators have taken into consideration only 47 of the total 59 identified Janjaties and 12 indigenous nationalities were declared as 'others'. With their inclusion, the proportion of the Janjati population would go up.
The geographical habitations of the 59 identified indigenous nationalities are as follows:
Mountain Region (Himalaya): Total No. 18 - Barah Gaunle, Bhote, Byansi, Chhairotan, Dolpo, Larke, Lhomi (Shingsawa), Lhopa, Marphali, Mugali, Siyar, Sherpa, Tangbe, Thakali, Thudam, Topkegola, Wallung and Tin Gaunle Thakali,
Hills: Total No. 23 - Baramo, Bhujel (Gharti), Chepang, Chhantyal, Dura, Fri, Gurung, Hayu, Hyolmo, Jirel, Kusunda, Lepcha, Limbu, magar, Newar, Pahari, Rai, Sunuwar, Surel, Tamang, Thami, Kumal and Yakkha.
Inner Terai: Total No. 7 - Bankaria, Bote, Danuwar, Darai, Majhi, Raji and Route.
Terai: Total No. 11 - Dhanuk , Dhimal, Gangai, Jhangad, kisan, Kushbadia, Meche, Rajbanshi, Satar Santhal, Tajpuria and Tharu.