After travelling for two days from Delhi, Manisha Chunara arrived on 30 May at the border in Gauriphanta. Stepping on Nepali soil, she was wracked by two emotions: happiness at being home, and worry about her children who had not eaten properly for two days.
“They have been hungry ever since we left Delhi, there were no shops open along the way,” says Manisha, who is among the average 5,000 Nepalis crossing just this one border post every day after it was opened ten days ago.
Kailali district administration says one third of them are women – mostly young mothers with children, and all have similar stories. While some have husbands with them, many others are travelling just with their children.
Kamala Saud returned from Mumbai after a 3-day journey with her 10-month baby. She is tired and hungry, and says she was unable to breastfeed her child throughout the journey.
Kamala’s ordeal is not over, she now needs to find her way to her village of Bannigadi of Accham district, but has neither money nor food for the 24 hour journey. There are some buses, but they are charging up to Rs8,000 for the journey. “Will we ever make it home?” Kamala iasks, cradling her baby in the oppressive mid-day heat.
Hungry, tired and hot in the 40 degree heat of the plains, the returning families are also fearful they may catch the coronavirus from the thousands of others crowding the bus station.
The local government appears to be overwhelmed by the numbers, but there are some local volunteers that have begun to distribute food and water to those arriving at the border. Women are also being given dignity bags with sanitary pads and babyfoods.
Most of the women are from Farwestern Province, and do not have far to go after they cross into Nepal. But many are from Karnali Province and have been desperate to find transport, and even if they find a bus to have enough cash to pay the exorbitant fares.