Princess Shrestha writes from Kathmandu
Exactly one and a half months ago Indian Border Special Force (Sima Sasastra Bal) (SSB) began chasing Nepali families from Triveni Susta Village saying the territory lies under the jurisdiction of the Indian State of Bihar. About 1000 Indian farmers, who had entered Susta with the help of Indian forces, destroyed about 10 hectares of sugarcane planted by Nepali farmers and also manhandled men and women. This clearly shows India’s interest to displace about 350 Nepali people from their homeland.
Nepali farmers didn’t keep quiet this time. They formed a Committee for a “Save Susta Campaign” coordinated by Gopal Prasad Gurung. They took their appeal to Kathmandu, asking the government to intervene immediately and start fixing the border. The team met with the Home Minister Dan Bahadur Shahi and requested him to begin border demarcation talks with the Indian government. The villagers also requested the Home Minister to deploy security forces in Susta for the safety and security of Nepalis living there. Surprisingly, the minister did nothing, only saying that the forces were focused on fighting against Maoist rebels. The Royal government, which is more concerned with convincing the international community including India about its current position, is still quiet while Nepali farmers face harassment by Indian farmers and SSB personnel.
However, human rights defenders, researchers, border specialists and historians couldn’t keep quiet. They visited Susta village to inspect the problems last week. The situation they describe is horrific, created by the “big brother” of South Asia. Nurjaha Begum broke down when the team led by Chetandra Jung Himali of the Civic Committee for Border Concerns listened to what Susta dwellers have been going through. Nurjaha told the team: “Indians beat Nepali men; and women are beaten up too, particularly they hit on sensitive parts of women. Indian forces accuse us that we have relations with the King and Maoists; they harass us stating that we smuggle tiger skin, which is not true.”
The seven-member inspection team found the Indians to have encroached further into about 200 hectares of Nepali land. Indian farmers were found building houses in those areas, and about 1000 SSB were stationed there. “Now the total Nepali land that India has grabbed in Susta alone has reached about 14,000 hectares,” says Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, a noted border specialist and historian in Nepal. India has encroached onto Nepali land in Susta on several occasions in the past.
Nepal-India border dispute not limited to Susta
The Narayani River flows from north to south, from Tribenighat to Sustait, forming a 24 kilometer border between Nepal and India. No physical demarcation was made on either side of the river though “boundary delimitation and delineation” was done after Nepal and India signed the Sugauli Treaty in 1816. This has created room for border disputes.
The International “Fixed Boundary Principle” and “Fluid Boundary Principle” are in practice for border demarcation. In Nepal-India’s case, the 9th meeting of the Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee of the two countries in the first week of January 1988 had agreed to demarcate the riverine sector on the basis of the Fixed Boundary Principle. According to this principle, says the border specialist, Shrestha, “the borderline should be fixed along the course followed by the Narayani River in 1816 no matter whether or not the river flows along that area today.” India does not accept this principle in Susta, while it has created disputes in the Mechi River area in eastern Nepal by erecting new border posts inside Nepali territory as per the Fixed Boundary Principle. The two cases of Mechi River area and Narayani River area are exactly the same in nature but India has imposed two different principles for them.
To stop encroachment, a police post was established in Susta. The government also built a health post and school in order to maintain Nepal’s territorial integrity but time and again stories of confrontation between Nepali and Indian farmers have been coming to light. Also the locals narrate cases of Indian farmers trying to get Nepali citizenship by means of fraud and forgery in order to own those areas. However, Susta is not the only case, as Nepal shares over 1800 kilometers of border with India and border disputes exist in at least 85 different places. Boundary posts at dozens of points have disappeared; the 10-yard wide strip of no man’s land between the two countries is getting blurred day by day and in addition 372 square kilometers of the Nepali territory of Kalipani at the tri-junction of Nepal, India and China has been occupied by Indian troops since the 1960s.
A map was drawn with the help of the Canadian government in 1985 and in 1992, another map was drawn with the assistance of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). In both cases, the maps show the whole Susta area in Nepal’s territory.
The actual scientific demarcation of the Nepal-India boundary had started during the topographical survey of the whole of Nepal carried out by the Survey of India in 1926-27. But India has delayed making all the topographical maps available. For instance, it has not made available 17 sheets of which 12 sheets pertain to the Nepal-India border of the Kalapani area, and 5 sheets pertaining to the Nepal-China border. Several attempts have been made at the national level to resolve the Susta issue but nothing has happened due to a negative Indian attitude. Indian bureaucrats always suspect a ploy being hatched by Beijing or Islamabad when Nepal brings any agenda for discussion. Early this month the Nepal-India Joint Technical Level Boundary Team met in order to resolve border disputes, but like many previous meetings, it ended inconclusively.
What does Nepali Civil Society say?
Nepal is a sovereign country and the government should take immediate action against Indian encroachment. “In fact the issue should be internationalized as India, claiming itself a representative of South Asia, is seeking a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council,” says Gopal Siwakoti Chintan, a human rights defender. He questioned, “Would India’s hegemonic nature towards smaller countries in the region qualify it to achieve the permanent seat in Security Council? The government should raise this question while dealing with India, which needs smaller countries’ vote in UN elections.”
Other members of Nepali civil society say that only a political commitment in both countries may resolve the border problems. However, what is happening in Susta tells a different political scenario. Bihar State of India, which shares the border with Nepal in the South, is holding elections of its State Assembly in January next year; and Indian politicians are influencing voters by distributing disputed Susta land to Indian farmers. It may also be mentioned that Sima Sasastra Bal (SSB) told Nepali families that they would be provided a land ownership certificate from India if they said that the territory belonged to India.
“1000 Indian farmers have entered in Susta, it is not only encroachment in our land, but also an encroachment in our nationality,” said Ram Chandra Chataut, an activist. Adds the border specialist, Shrestha, “Historical documents should be collected in order to begin border demarcation immediately. If we remain quiet, those Nepalis living in frontier would become foreigners in future.”
The Civic Committee for Border Concerns is launching programs under the Save Susta Campaign both in Nepal and India. Border specialist, Shrestha, historian Dr Surendra KC, human rights defender, Chintan and others are seeking an audience with King Gyanendra to request him to intervene immediately for resolving the Susta border dispute, and ending harassment faced by Nepali farmers. They will also submit a memorandum to the Indian government through its embassy in Kathmandu. They will meet with the Chief of the Army Staff of the Royal Nepalese Army to ensure security for Nepali people living along border areas. The Committee will make a documentary on the reality of Susta and organize interactions in New Delhi in order to inform concerned Indian citizens.
“India is using its media to misinform even Indian citizens. Recently, Indian TV spread a false story about my book, which was published seven years ago and tells the reality of Nepal-India border issues. Thus, we should not keep quiet,” says Fanindra Nepal, a researcher.
By Princess Shrestha, Kathmandu