And that is why your neighbors don’t like you: Anurag Acharya

Guest post by ANURAG ACHARYA, student from Nepal at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Peaceful coexistence among nations does not encompass coexistence between the exploiter and the exploited, the oppressor and the oppressed.

– Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara

The 1800 km open border between India and Nepal has always been a matter of dispute between the two countries. While India has glorified the open border as its grace and gratitude towards a landlocked nation, Nepal has had to accept the miseries of sharing an open border with a bigger and powerful nation as a price for a trade transit. It goes without saying that whenever there has been a proposal or a debate within Nepal about the possibility of opening a trade route across the Himalayas to our north to tap the world’s largest market for Nepalese goods, it has attracted serious concerns from the South block. Bound by the unfair Indo-Nepal treaty of 1950 which prevents Nepal from independently conducting its international affairs and thwarts Nepal’s ambition to exploit the huge trade potential with China, an end to Nepal’s historical dependence on India has not materialized yet. While the treaty gives India a free hand to interfere in Nepal’s foreign affairs, citing its own domestic security, it has seriously impaired Nepal’s right to trade access, as a landlocked nation under the International Law. The treaty also stands in clear violation and entrenchment of a sovereign nation’s  right to conduct its external and internal affairs independently. However, weak diplomacy on Nepal’s part and unsympathetic attitude on the Indian side has ensured that Nepal stays dependent on India for all its exports and imports.

Twenty districts of Nepal share boundary with India out of which 51 places in 21 districts are under dispute. Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, a noted border expert and former Director General of Department of Survey, Government of Nepal, says – as much as 60,000 hectare of land in these areas has been under intense debate between the two countries. As a member of the seven members Civic Committee for Border Concern team that visited Susta of Nawalparasi district in Nepal area to investigate the reported encroachment of Indian soldiers into the Nepalese territory, Mr. Shrestha said that 14,000 hectares of Nepalese land have been encroached upon. The team revealed that Indian farmers were found building houses in those areas and about 1000 Indian BSF were stationed there.

When the Parliamentary Investigating Committee comprising of Constituent Assembly members, Human Right Activists, Border experts and Journalists visited the border areas  of  Dang, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts in June after there were reports of atrocities from across the borders, the local people broke down before the camera. To the shock and horror of the entire country, the victims complained of the exploitation and abuse that they have been bearing for many years. As the television channels reported live, almost every village reported number of cases of torture and rape by the Indian BSF. Nur Jahan, a local resident of Susta was inconsolable as she revealed how Indian BSF would ransack the village and beat up poor villagers including women and the children. She complained that they sexually abused Nepali women and hit them in sensitive parts. But not everyone was as brave as Nur Jahan. The victims from areas like Lalbhuji and Bhajani of Kailali district and  Laxmipur, Tribhuwan Basti and Kalika in Kanchanpur district complained of similar horrific incidents. Many were so petrified of the consequence that they refused to show their face in the camera. It was shocking to hear that men and women who went across the border for work or to buy goods were often forcefully detained by the BSF who demanded ransom from the family. Nepali women in these areas are terrified of falling prey to BSF abuses but are still forced to go across since it is only market in the area.

During my Stay in JNU, many of my Indian friends have asked me “We like Nepal and Nepali people so much. Why do you guys hate Indians so much?”

Actually, Nepalis don’t hate Indians. In fact, we love Indian food, we enjoy Indian movies and music and we support Indian cricket team with as much passion because we feel a sense of nearness that the shared culture and kinship across the border has brought. What we do hate is the fact that Indian State has never treated Nepal with the respect and dignity that a sovereign nation is entitled to. From Nehru to Manmohan Singh, India has always used diplomatic coercion to meddle into Nepal’s internal matters citing its security interests. Prof. S.D Muni, the renowned Indian scholar and an expert in Indo-Nepal relation, in his article “Dealing with the New Nepal” (The Hindu, 15 September 2008) emphasized on the need for a change in the Indian attitude towards Nepal as he writes “India can no longer pursue its strategic and economic interests on the basis of its old colonial mindset and bureaucratised traditional tools of diplomacy.”.

Whether anybody in India wants to believe or not, India has been bullying Nepal all these years, influencing the formation as well bringing down the government. It is not a hidden fact that the Prachanda government had been unpopular with the South block after his statement that “Nepal from now on, will keep equidistance between its two neighbors and try to balance its interests.” Prachanda had made a historic blunder of having a dinner in Beijing before stopping by for Lunch in New Delhi for which he was ultimately made to pay the price. The South block saw these “radically changing air” in Nepal as a potential threat to Indian influence in the newly formed Himalayan Republic and Prachanda’s excitement over the prospect of opening a trade routes across the Himalayan frontiers couldn’t have made it worse. What followed then was one of the most blatant violations of diplomatic protocol by the present Indian ambassador Rakesh Sood, who went frantic making reckless statements in the media about an issue that was purely internal to Nepal, discussing the “grave issue” with the President and leaders from different political parties. Few people were surprised when Prachanda resigned from the government just before his much anticipated Beijing visit after the President bypassed his decision to remove the army chief and other political parties including the ones in the government refused to support him after the decision had been taken to remove the army chief. Debates on whether the decision to remove the army chief was right or wrong apart, what happened with the government proved once again that Nepal still has a long way to go before being sovereign de facto.

The bullying attitude shown by the Indian State at the diplomatic level has inspired similar attitude and behavior against the Nepalese at the local level – whether it is the misbehavior by the Indian BSF against the poor villagers in the borders, or a derogatory portrayal of Nepalese men and women in the Indian movies. It is wrong to say that India has imperialistic intentions against Nepal at policy level but it is also true that India has treated Nepal little more than a tiny buffer state where it can use its covert moves and its currency as it pleases. Today the truth stares right at the face of the Indian government as more and more victims have testified against the BSF assaults. People holding land certificates and living in the area for generations are being chased away from their land. Farmers who have worked sweat and blood in their fields have been robbed of their harvests. Even the Parliamentary investigating committee has gone on records saying that there has been encroachment and abuse by the BSF. But with the new government led by a rejected leader with no legitimacy to be in power, Indian Government will have little difficulty in ignoring the agony from across the borders. Ambassador Sood has already given his verdict nullifying all the victim pleas, claiming that these are only media rumors (may be he forgot to say that all those pleading victims were paid artists). And like an obedient pupil, Nepal’s new Minister for external affairs looked more like manager for Indian Affairs as she stood by his side acknowledging the verdict. However the recent visit from Indian foreign secretary is an indication that the agonies of the poor men and women in the bordering villages have not gone unheard and after disgraceful weeks of apathy, finally Nepalese government is trying to attract New Delhi’s attention to the case.
To be very honest, the present political crisis in Nepal is as much a contributor to what is happening in Susta and other border villages. Nepal is in a transition phase with law and order almost non existent in the country. These kind of tacit acts of aggression are not a new phenomena in international arena. It is natural for Nepal to feel insecure being a smaller nation in the power equation. The present crisis has brought out strong national sentiments among the Nepalese which is manifested in the form of an anti-Indian sloganeering in the country. Dejected at the incapability of its government to provide security to its people, the people are getting frustrated and taking to the streets. The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu witnesses protest demonstrations almost everyday.

To those Indians who have been following what has happened in the last six weeks in Nepal, it will be clear that Nepal has been denied a safe transition into a new republic and frustrated on all grounds with encroachment upon its government and the borders.  For such Indians,  the answer to the question –“why does my neighbour dislike me so much”- will be obvious.

17 thoughts on “And that is why your neighbors don’t like you: Anurag Acharya”

  1. Thanks Anurag. This is by far the most cogent essay I have ever read on India’s management of international borders.

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  2. Thank you for your encouraging comment Anant. I have simply put what was going through my mind in the last couple of months. I just wish Indian Government would stop letting Nepal be the victim of Bureaucratic politics….There needs to be a meaningful debate in the Indian parliament about the issue and tough decisions have to be taken to ensure that such shameful acts are not repeated…Although we are making high hopes here….if the matter is probed into…victims just might be compensated (if at all) with justice. Secondly, its been quite sometime since we’ve been hearing that 98% of the border has been mapped by the joint technical team…Well its the remaining 2% that has been causing problems for poor people living across the border..and they need both the governments to act immediately and save them for being victims of further bad politics and diplomacy.

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  3. Anurag bhai good post, you are absolutely right about nepal being so vulnerable to the whims and fancies of the south block and raw chaps.

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  4. Hi Anurag! You did good job dear. Am more than happy today that our youths are increasing the intellectual bargaining power. Go on …
    Thapa

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  5. >>> “Indian State has never treated Nepal with the respect and dignity”

    The truth is that the Indian State has not even learned to treat Indians with respect and dignity.

    Anyway, great article.

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  6. During my Stay in JNU, many of my Indian friends have asked me “We like Nepal and Nepali people so much. Why do you guys hate Indians so much?”

    Like Nepal? I seriously doubt this. You can test this by asking some of these alleged “Nepalphiles” a few simple questions about Nepali history and geography. The “elite” Indian (especially “Hindu”) attitude is one of condescension allied with little actual knowledge of the country itself. The fact that this is also our attitude towards Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives is, I’m sure, little consolation.

    How much this “superior” attitude (especially the pride in our “democracy) grates upon others is for the most part missed out and is indicated by the innocent “Why do you guys hate us so much?”

    I’m no admirer of the government of India but I doubt that the India-Nepal diplomatic conflict, including the border issue, is as one-sided as you present. I have tried to locate a “neutral” portrayal of India-Nepal relations but have not found much. At any rate, thanks for giving us a Nepali view of India and Indians.

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  7. Well Suresh, I admire the frankness with which you have expressed your doubts. Actually i did not intend to cover exclusively Nepali side of the conflict…but thanks to Indian media’s apathy on the issue its the only available version of the conflict. It was indeed disappointing that such a big country with so many printing and broadcasting media house and not even one of them followed up the issue. Is it because the Indian media believes in sacrosanctness of an institution like the BSF, that it does not want to get into the matter? We can only make speculations. As far as the neutrality of the issue is concerned, you will have to go through the Cartographical evidences for that, i.e, the World maps.I can provide you the names of some of the well known International maps that outline Indo-Nepal border. If you can access them then perhaps you can get a neutral view of yours. Please do let me know if you are interested.

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  8. How does one go about locating a ‘neutral’ account of an international border which embodies layers upon layers of colonial and post independence violence and is subject to all kinds of climatic vicissitudes ?

    The line between India and Pakistan drawn by the one ‘neutral’ authority acceptable to all sides – Sir Radcliffe – precipitated so much bloodshed that 40 years had to go by before people could even begin to talk about what actually may have happened those hundreds of thousands of human lives!

    what I like about this essay is actually not merely that it presents the Nepali side of the story, but that it pays attention to the accounts of people whose lives cannot be contained by the borders – and who have to pay a heavy toll for choices that are not in their power to make. These accounts are of a piece with what people at many places along India’s borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh also have to tell. These are not neutral locations. But I prefer them because they are more humane than what most authorities – can give, partisan or otherwise.

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  9. Should i trust the following news source?

    http://www.telegraphnepal.com/news_det.php?news_id=5630
    Now India resorts to man-eating Tigers to evacuate Nepal settlements
    TGW
    After forceful evacuation in the recent weks of some six thousand Nepali citizens by the Indian security forces in the bordering areas of the district of Dang, Indian side is planning to raise man-eating Tigers in the areas adjoining Nepal.
    “In the 83 kilometer long strip in the dense Jungle adjoining Nepal, the Uttar Pradesh State Government,India, is trying to construct a “Tiger Park”, reports debutant Nagarik Vernacular Daily June 18, 2009.

    “The assistant Commander of the 18th G-Battalion of the Indian SSB, Shakti Singh, told me personally that the Uttar Pradesh Government is constructing a Tiger Park along the Nepal-India border”, says Padma Lal Biswokarma who is heading the National Interest and Human Rights Preservation Committee of the Constituent Assembly, Nepal.
    “We have plans to raise two to four hundred Tigers along the border…we will then be able to evacuate Nepali settlements along the border and perhaps all the settlements till Lamahi in Nepal”, Shakti Singh is further quoted by Mr. Biswakarma as saying.

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  10. Dear Scribina,
    I am not aware of any Tiger Park project in the area…besides, it would be foolish to believe that SSB can build a park on its own without government sanctioning of the project.I am a bit sceptic about this one. Now , why would a SSB official reveal his “so-called” strategy to a Nepali CA member even if Tiger project is indeed being initiated…I guess thats a bit too far fetched….

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  11. hello anuraag….
    seriously well written…
    u’ve covered almost all d issues….Nepal indeed is facing so much of problems due to open boarder….

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  12. well written anurag.I agree to all your debates against what’s happening presently in our country.

    All the best sanu.

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  13. Bravo! you just hit the nail at right spot. Nepal has sided with the Indians for too long and has had to pay a serious price. I believe its about time, that Nepalis in Nepal realize India is neither a friendly neighbor nor wants Nepal to develop. What still boggles me, is the fact that, how some Nepalis are still hopeful, that India will change and things will become better. Nothing about India will change. If anything, they will become more greedy and selfish. A country that imposed 18 months long near economic sanctions over Nepal, that still occupies 100000 hectares of our land apart from those we lost in Sugauli treaty, that didn’t support our bid to be declared Zone of Peace, rather provided asylum and weapons to the terrorists to fuel a decade long insurgency within Nepal, that still refuses to provide us with routes via Bangladesh for international trade, that still sees 1950’s treaty as peaceful and friendly etc etc etc, cannot and should not be trusted at any cost. If anything we should further isolate ourselves from India to preserve our identity and independence. Wake up my people, wake up. We are making the same silly mistake that were made by Sikkimis, and look at the price that they paid. Wake up from your slumber sleep my fellow Nepali citizens wake up before its too late.

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  14. This article is a true eye opener, the Indian govt. have no rights to do injustice to any of our neighbors. I think a more people to people contact is needed between India and Nepal to neutralize the farce of a foreign policy being followed by the Ind-Nepal leaders. Nepal should be given access to the Eastern and Western ports of India for trade purposes. The boundary should be defined and the border should be designated as a no conflict zone. A joint Indo-China-Nepal-Bhutan trade agreement should also be formed, which would not only help the countries’ economy, but would also strengthen the trust on each other. Also India must stop playing a big brother in the region, it can however change its stance to a helpful friend. From Nepal’s part, a lot needs to be done too, first they have to forget that Sikkim and Darjeeling areas are part of Nepal, taken by India. Because neither the locals nor India would like to give it to Nepal.

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