The checkpoint at the India-Nepal border here has a whole range of Nepalis crossing over: innocent Nepali workers in search of jobs in India so they can support families back home, quite a few Indian workers crossing over, Nepali girls being trafficked to India, young women snared into relationships with Indians via social media, or people travelling for medical treatment in both directions.
However, the open India-Nepal border is also associated with crime and smuggling of goods, drugs, and people. The problems seem to have got worse in the past year of the pandemic, according to participants at a crossborder conference of Indian and Nepali journalists organised by the Human Rights Journalist Association in Dhangadi last week.
The conference came soon after the disappearance of a young Nepali man who plunged into the swollen Mahakali as he tried to cross Nepal’s western border into India by hanging below a wire bridge. The SSB (Indian border security force) reportedly cut the wire with a hack just as the man was crossing.
The man’s body has not been found. The case got high profile coverage in the Kathmandu media, putting Nepal’s new government in a tight spot, and threatening once more to sour the rocky relations between the two countries.
Indian Journalist Rakesh Tiwari of the Hindustan Times in Dharchula claimed the Indian SSB would have never cut the cable on purpose while someone was crossing.
“Actually, the border guards must have been trying to stop smuggling and did not know that a person was coming across on the wire,” said Tiwari. “It would not have been done intentionally, and unlike other border points, there have always been good relations between Nepal’s Darchula and Dharchula on the Indian side even during the pandemic.”
Indeed, the open border between India and Nepal allows unrestricted travel in both directions, and during the pandemic checkpoints have had to deal with tens of thousands of Nepali and Indian migrant workers returning to their own countries.