By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
The border between Nepal and India is so open, smooth and easy to cross that it doesn’t even feel like an international border separating two countries that once fought under different rulers. There is not much difference between the landscapes, bazaars and people on the two sides of the border. There’s no language problem; Nepalis understand Hindi and many shop owners on the Indian side of the border speak fluent Nepali. For many Nepalis who travel to India for work or religious purposes, crossing into India is like going to offices or temples in Nepal. Tens of thousands of Nepalis and Indians cross the border each day to do business, get education and treatment, visit relatives and seek divine blessings.
That’s one version of the story. A feel-good version that epitomises the best of the relationship between Nepal and India. Unfortunately that’s not the only version of the Indo-Nepal border crossing story. That’s not the only truth. If you are poor, illiterate and badly dressed, crossing the border becomes a harrowing experience. The policemen on both sides of the border who are supposed to facilitate the crossing suddenly become a bunch of thugs who harass travellers and extort their hard earned money. The scene at some border crossing points at times is so horrific that you may want to compare them with rape.
The Banbasa (India)-Mahendranagar (Nepal) border crossing point is one of the busiest and probably the most notorious of the transit points between two countries. India has two separate checkpoints within the distance of about 100 metres. If you are entering Nepal your luggage will be searched by Indian policemen first. Then you are allowed to cross the bridge over the Mahakali River. The structure is actually the barrage (Indians call it Sarda barrage as a canal with the same name originates from here. The inequality in Indo-Nepal relationships is aptly reflected on the sizes of the canals that go towards respective countries from the Mahakali River. The canal on the Nepali side is about a tenth the size of the Sarda canal that flows into India.) Soon after crossing the bridge will come another checkpoint operated by Seema Surakshya Bal (SSB), India’s border security force along the border with Nepal. This controversial check post came into existence a few years ago almost overnight provoking much anger from the Nepali population. Continue reading