An Experience of Crossing the Nepal-India Border

A kid and his mother: India bound- expecting to a earn living that Nepal, their country, couldn't provide. At the bus stand in Banbasa, Indian town bordering far west Nepal

India bound- expecting to earn a living that Nepal, their country, couldn't provide. At the bus stand in Banbasa, Indian town bordering far west Nepal

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.

crossing the line kathmandu post p6.Oct26.2010

Kathmandu Post. 26.10.2010 (click to enlarge)

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.

The SSB has a mixed reputation among Nepalis; many believe the SSB represents the worst of Nepal-India relationships.

In a recent morning at this border crossing point, I saw hundreds of Nepalis lined up at both of these check points to get their belongings inspected by the Indian police and SSB. Soon the whisper spread among Nepalis at the police check point that the policemen were demanding IRs.20 from each person. But not everyone was asked. They didn’t ask me to pay and neither were two students who had come from Dehradun. But a few migrant workers told me that they were asked to pay IRs. 20 each so that they could take their luggage without further hassle.

At the SSB check point, too, not all were not asked to bribe, but those who had heavy luggage had to pay up to IRs. 100. The horse cart drivers acted as mediators between the SSB officers and their passengers. They collected money from passengers with lots of belongings and passed that to the SSB.

An official from the SSB check post came to the horse cart I was riding on. The driver, pointing to the two students seated next to me, said we didn’t have heavy luggage. “And at the back there are Indians,” he said.

“Don’t talk like this,” said the official. “We don’t differentiate between Indians and Nepalis. For us, everyone is equal.” The cart driver, an Indian, smiled apologetically.

I believe if such words are translated into deeds the situation at this border crossing point would improve vastly. It’s not the same case at other Indo-Nepal border crossing points. For example, Pashupatinagar (Ilam-Darjeeling) and Kakadvitta (Mechi bridge) in the East are more organised and peaceful. Indian policemen and officials are friendly. Of course, landing directly at New Delhi’s airport is a far more enjoyable experience as one doesn’t have to face harassing questions for carrying a laptop like my friend faced from both Indian and Nepali policemen at Banbasa-Mahendranagar border a few months ago.

Thousands of Nepalis cross the border at this point daily. The majority of these people are poverty-stricken migrant workers from the Far- and Mid West regions of Nepal. They go to Indian cities for low-paid and physically demanding jobs because their country doesn’t provide them any employment opportunities. Delhi, less than 400 kilometres away from Mahendranagar, is more accessible to them than Kathmandu about 700 kilometres away.

The infrastructure on the Indian side is much better compared to that on the Nepali side. That is why people of western Baitadi and Darchula districts still prefer to travel from the Indian side to reach Mahendranagar. Roads are better and travelling on them is cheaper.

In the past decade or so a lot of road has been constructed (though the work hasn’t been completed) in the region which has definitely eased daily life, but the pace of development is frustratingly slow. Politicians in Kathmandu are busy in a power struggle. “We have had two prime ministers from this region,” said a man from Baitadi who was travelling back to his home from neighbouring Dadeldhura last week. “Lokendra Bahadur Chand from Baitadi and Sher Bahadur Deuba from Dadeldhura. We have many government officials from Baitadi. But look at this place. Look at the people. Still backward and destitute.”

We also talked about the border crossing experience of which he was familiar. “It’s terrible,” he said. “It’s humiliating. But why blame Indians when our own leaders have humiliated us and let us down?”

[This article first appeared in yesterday's Kathmandu Post]

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10 responses to “An Experience of Crossing the Nepal-India Border

  1. All understand that we have touched bottom, the trilateral discussion suggested by Former Prime Minister Dahal is the only way out. Enough anti indian sentiments, China remains a super power with an equally doubtful human rights record…

    I feel we from outside could never explain how and why no ngo remains for long, but then every time another problem rises. Now USA and Europe went down so fast no one believed. Still all survive everywhere and jobs will return. We need international normality and gratitude for any collaboration and cooperation. ww. It is by the way obnoxious to dive into materialism when there is hunger in the country, this is due to ignorance. Maybe the media can help?

    In the west hunger is back too, there are new charities to help new homeless….The generalized anti muslim feeling is openly directed to all foreigners, I had to leave Italy being dutch so to say.
    Very very hostile agressive catholic villagers. Like your hindu fanatics. We must cooperate for tolerance. It is basically irrelevant to be a christian or a muslim or a hindu, high or low caste, but somebody has to work in this house and country.
    I am at loss after 16 years of Nepal there is no hope at all, so how come the old structures are destroyed and the elderly do not educate the younger any longer this is the big question for me.
    In my time volunteer jobs become paid jobs or at least a way to survive happily giving service. But all go for the big money or suffer abroad, then try to come back nepalese always always always feel homesick included the foreigners.

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  2. Well presented…:-) Luckily laptop ko paisa tirna pareko thiyena yar…natra mero pani Rs 100…chirippa…hahaha..

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  3. Nice article Dineshji !!
    I am also the victim of the Indian system there!!

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  4. Whereas the mentality of Indian government and its officials still could not completely come out of mentality of former British colonial power,that’s why Indian still behaved like slave with Nepali.Its almost proven fact that Indian Official knowingly causing trouble Nepali people in general.The weakeness and puppet-minded attitude shown by so-called leaders and politicians are more to blame for the pains and suffering that Neapli are getting from Indian.

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  5. Here or there… Nepalese are always the victims, and yes; the hospitality of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi is an epitome all Airports around the World that most passengers are compelled to missing their connecting flights or was that only for Neplalis? I missed mine 4 times…

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  6. I really found this article interesting. It is a great read and i agree the crossing can be horrible.

    “The scene at some border crossing points at times is so horrific that you may want to compare them with rape.”

    Only I find this line somewhat offensive and and maybe insensitive to the horror that some of your Nepali sisters go through. I know it is a deliberate exaggeration but maybe you should actually talk to some rape victims and see if they enjoy you using the example. It is as if you see rape as an inconvenience that some women go through that one can compare to missing a plane or an appointment.

    Like I said I really enjoyed the article just not the implication this sentence has for women’s rights and standing in the Nepali community.

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  7. I am an Indian, and I feel bad about harassment by security agencies. But please bear in mind Indians face the same from their own agencies.
    Generally Indian have welcomed Nepali people to come, and there is hardly any anti Nepali feeling anywhere in India. But there is strong anti India feeling in Nepal.
    If things continue this way, there could be anti-nepali backlash(The way it happened for Bangladeshis) and probably GOI will be forced to close the border.

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  8. an average guy

    kudos for the well-meaning article. a few remarks fwiw:

    nepalis have worked in the fields and homes of neighbouring kumaon and garhwal for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, long before they began migrating to indian cities in large numbers. the kumaon-doti border (as it was called long before entities called india and nepal came into being) was far more than the “feel-good” version you make it out to be. in local parlance it spanned the bonds of “beti aur roti” (marriage and livelihood).

    i am sure you will agree that the border pickets have been enlarged only in recent years (as you have indicated regarding ssb). i am surprised that while you touch upon the harassment to an average nepali/indian by the border police, you choose to miss out completely on why the policing has been ramped up in recent years on a border that till about 20 years ago was just a geoographical demarcation. it will help balance your analysis if you can also touch upon the incidents about farmers in kumaon villages, bludgeoned to death by their nepali hires, who then decamped with valuables to the other side of the “border”; or the maoists from across the “border” arriving for gun-shot treatment at places like tanakpur, pithoragarh, dharchula, and even haldwani; or maoists running camps in pithoragarh/champawat districts, desecrating the same bonds of “roti and beti” that have existed for thousands of years between kuamon and doti.

    what was that about someone’s honesty being matched only by their supreme foolishness?

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