|Regions with significant populations|
|Hinduism, Buddhism, traditional beliefs|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Boksa (tribe) · Bhotiya · Pokhariya · Van Rawats|
The Tharu people (Nepali: थारू, Thārū) are an ethnic group indigenous to the Terai, the southern foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal and India. The Tharus are recognized as an official nationality by the Government of Nepal.
As of 2011, the Tharu population of Nepal was censused at 1,737,470 people, or 6.6% of the total population. In 2009, the majority of Tharu people were estimated to live in Nepal. There are several endogamous sub-groups of Tharu:
- Rana Tharu in the Kailali and Kanchanpur districts of the far western Nepal Terai; also in India, in Nainital, Uttarakhand and Kheri Terai, Uttar Pradesh. Rana Tharu claim Rajput origin.
- Kathoriya Tharu mostly in Kailali District and in India.
- Sonha in Surkhet district
- Dangaura Tharu in western Terai: Dang-Deukhuri, Banke and Bardia districts
- Paschuhan (Western) Tharu Rupandehi, Nawalparasi
- Rautar Tharu Rupandehi, Nawalparasi
- Purbaha Tharu Rupandehi, Kapilvastu
- Aarkutwa or Chitwania Tharu in central Terai: Sindhuli, Chitwan and Nawalparasi districts
- Kochila Tharu in eastern Terai: Saptari, Bara, Parsa, Rautahat, Sarlahi, Mahottari and Udayapur Districts
- Danuwar in eastern Terai: Udayapur, Saptari and Morang districts.
- Lamputchwa Tharu in Morang District
Smaller numbers of Tharu people reside in the adjacent Indian districts Champaran of Bihar state; Gorakhpur, Basti and Gonda of Uttar Pradesh state; and Nainital, Uttarakhand state. In 2001, Tharu people were the largest of five scheduled tribes in Uttarakhand, with a population of 256,129 accounting for 33.4% of all scheduled tribes. In the same year, they constituted 77.4% of the total tribal population of Uttar Pradesh with a population of 83,544.
The Tharu people themselves say that they are a people of the forest. In Chitwan, they have lived in the forests for hundreds of years practicing a short fallow shifting cultivation. They plant rice, mustard, corn and lentils, but also collect forest products such as wild fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants and materials to build their houses; hunt deer, rabbit and wild boar, and go fishing in the rivers and oxbow lakes.
The Tharus never went abroad for employment – a life that kept them isolated in their own localities. In this isolation they developed a unique culture free from the influence of adjacent India, or from the mountain groups of Nepal. The most striking aspects of their environment are the decorated rice containers, colorfully painted verandahs and outer walls of their homes using only available materials like clay, mud, dung and grass. Much of the rich design is rooted in devotional activities and passed on from one generation to the next, occasionally introducing contemporary elements such as a bus or an airplane.
In the western Terai, most Rana Tharu prefer living in Badaghar called longhouses with big families of many generations, sometimes 40-50 people. All household members pool their labor force, contribute their income, share the expenditure and use one kitchen.
Tharus from the mid west and far west of Nepal have been practicing the Badghar system, where a Badghar is elected chief of a village or a small group of villages for a year. The election generally takes place in the month of Magh (January / February), after celebrating the Maghi Festival and after completing major farming activities. In most cases, each household in the village which engages in farming has one voting right for electing a Badghar. Thus the election is based on a count of households count rather than a headcount. The role of the Badghar is to work for the welfare of the village. The Badghar direct the villagers to repair canals or streets when needed. They also oversee and manages the cultural traditions of the villages. They have an authority of punishing those who do not follow their orders or who go against the welfare of the village. Generally the Badghar has a Chaukidar to help him. With the consent of the villagers the Badghar may appoint a"Guruwa" who is the medic and chief priest of the village.
As Tharus society is mainly involved in farming, irrigation is one of the most important aspects of the community. Tharus in western Nepal built canals that irrigate thousands of hectares of land. Hundreds of years ago, without using any sophisticated tools, they built hundreds of kilometers of irrigation canals in the Kailali and Bardiya districts of Nepal. An irrigation canal could be used by several villages. Its water and diversion works need to be managed fairly. For this purpose, the Badghars of different villages elect a person for the position of Chaudhary to manage a canal system. When needed, the Chaudhary orders the Badghars to send people to repair or build the canals. In most cases the Badghars and Chaudharis are unpaid leaders of the community. However, they are exempt from compulsory physical labor for the betterment of the society. As a token of respect, the community members may also help them in farming for a day free of cost.
There is no one Tharu language unifying Tharu communities in different parts of Nepal and India. Several speak various endemic Tharu languages. In western Nepal and adjacent parts of India, Tharus speak variants of Hindi/Urdu and Awadhi. In and near central Nepal, they speak a variant of Bhojpuri. In eastern Nepal, they speak a variant of Maithili. More standard versions of these dialects are widely spoken by non-Tharu neighbors in the same areas so that there are no important linguistic barriers between Tharus and their neighbors. However, there are linguistic barriers between these dialects standing in the way of communication between Tharus from different regions. Tharu people have their own language often known as "Tharu Language". Many professors and well educated persons say that many others languages were derived from Tharu Language (like as Nepali, Maithli, Bhojpuri etc.) 
Tharu were already living in the Terai before Indo-Europeans arrived, raising the question of what they may have been speaking at that time. The only surviving pre-Indo-European language in the Terai is Kusunda, Santhali further west.
Traditionally, marriages were often arranged during the pregnancies of two women. If they gave birth to opposite sex babies, the two babies were supposed to be married if they grew up as friends. It was problematic if a boy or girl came of age and rejected their assigned fiance(e). Finding a replacement was difficult because most girls and boys were already engaged. However this custom has been disappearing. Most Tharus now practice conventional arranged marriages. They also practice love marriages, inter cast marriage, international marriage, inter world, marriage after courtship and eloping.
The spiritual beliefs and moral values of the Tharu people are closely linked to the natural environment. The pantheon of their gods exhibits a large number of deities that live in the forest. Though they didn't have their own religion till known.
Resistance to malaria
The Tharu were famous for their ability to survive in the most malarial parts of the Terai that were deadly to outsiders. In 1902, a British observer noted: "Plainsmen and paharis generally die if they sleep in the Terai before November 1 or after June 1." Others thought that the Tharu were not totally immune.
Contemporary medical research comparing Tharu with other ethnic groups living nearby found an incidence of malaria nearly seven times lower among Tharu. The researchers believed such a large difference pointed to genetic factors rather than behavioral or dietary differences. This was confirmed by follow-up investigation finding genes for thalassemia in nearly all Tharu studied.
History (200-120 BC)
Lumbini, and in this area most of the people are and were Tharu. The Tharu are a mongoloid people who have dwelt in flat Terai region of Nepal since before the 1st century AD.
Modern history (1846-1999)
According to Nepali author Subodh Kumar Singh, a series of invasions by the other races, from north India across the border and from the hills and mountains of Nepal, eroded the influence of the indigenous Tharus. 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 next to the bottom (lowest touchable, above untouchables) of the social hierarchy. Their land was taken away, disrupting their community and displacing the people.
In the 1950s, the World Health Organisation helped the Nepalese government eradicate malaria in the Terai region. This resulted in immigration of people from other areas to claim the fertile land, making many Tharus virtual slaves of the new landowners and developing the Kamaiya system of bonding generations of Tharus families to labour.
Recent history (2000-present)
The Government of Nepal outlawed the practice of bonded labour prevalent under the Kamaiya system on July 17, 2000, which prohibits anyone from employing any person as a bonded labourer, and declared that the act of making one work as a bonded labourer is illegal. Though democracy has been reinstated in the country, the Tharu community has called for a more inclusive democracy as they are fearful of remaining an underprivileged group.
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