Krishnaraj Gaire, a Nepalese man living in Delhi, is wracked with worry. It has been a little over four months since an unofficial blockade along Nepal’s border with India began to arrest supplies of fuel and essential medicines meant for the landlocked country. A month ago, Gaire went to see how people back home were managing.
“People in villages are going to the jungle and cutting wood for their fuel,” he said. “If there is any gas, it comes in half the quantity. People on both sides of the border are profiting from this.”
As a tourist operator in Delhi, Gaire has occasion to return home frequently and to send any supplies that they need urgently with his small fleet of vans and cars. Thankfully, he says, the situation has not become dire enough for him to consider bringing his wife, two children and parents to Delhi.
“I would have thought about it, but the children are in school and I don’t want to interrupt that,” he said. “And the border is becoming loose now, so they are getting medical supplies.”
Patriotism on the line
Most Nepalese in India come from the rural parts of the country, where jobs are few. Many of these migrants are men who have left behind their families.
“Eighty per cent of Nepalese here are from villages, so their families are not very badly affected,” explained Prakash Poude, editor of Nepal News, a Nepali newspaper in Mumbai. “They can manage to get their fuel and other needs from their own areas.”
It is people in cities, he added, who are affected by the blockade, and they are not the ones who are normally pushed by economic necessity to the kind of blue-collar jobs many Nepalese hold in Indian cities.
At times, said Nepalese politician Hisila Yami, in a speech to Nepalese community leaders in Mumbai, it seems the real capital of Nepal is not Kathmandu, but Bombay, Delhi, Chennai and other cities. This is because Nepal’s economy is dependent on them.
Though India has denied any role in the on-going blockade in Nepal, it is widely perceived to be informally facilitating it.
The Nepalese naturally see this as an infringement on their sovereignty. Yet those who live in India are torn between expressing patriotism for Nepal and their precarious dependence on their neighbour. Take Ramesh Vishwakarma, a 40-year-old security guard manager who has been working in Mumbai for 20 years.
“We have been such good friends with Bharat, we have a roti aur beti [familial] relationship with her,” he said. “Our friendship with Bharat is everlasting. But see, even though it will stay forever, why should they begin to bring in talk of betrayal? Their problem with Nepal is at the political level. Why should they punish the common people?”
The embargo is having a deeper impact than just on essential supplies. It is also creating anger at India’s highhandedness among the young people of Nepal, whether in India or back home.
“The blockade is making an entire generation that is anti-India,” said Anup Adhikari, a Nepalese man touring with Yami. “This is an internal matter of Nepal. We have tight religious and geographical links with India, and there are so many Nepalese staying there in the government, police, everywhere. Because of that in Kathmandu, we never talk like real patriots to India.”