THE NEPAL INDIA OPEN BORDER
THE NEPAL INDIA OPEN BORDER
– By Dr. Vidya Bir Singh Kansakar
Before the signing of the Sugauli Treaty between Nepal and India and subsequent demarcation of the Nepal India boundary, there existed free and unrestricted movement of people of Nepal and India across the border. It was almost impossible to control and regulate the movement of people along more than 1400 kilometres long border. Nevertheless, there existed main thoroughfare for social relations, cultural exchanges (pilgrimages, festivities, fairs, etc.) and trade and commerce and they constituted the major road junctions and places for levying customs duties. Nepal-India border is unique in the world in the sense that people of both the countries can cross it from any point despite the existence of border check posts at several locations. The number of check posts meant for carrying out bilateral trade are 22 and however, only six transit points out of them, the movement of nationals of third countries who require entry and exit visa permitted to cross the border. As the whole length of the border except the check posts, is not patrolled by police or paramilitary or military forces of either country, illegal movement of goods and people is a common feature on both sides of the India-Nepal border.
It is not known how the system of free movement of people on either side of the border continued even after the delineation and demarcation of Nepal-India border after 1816. Prior to the 1814 war, movement of people of both countries was allowed, but they were not allowed to purchase land and settle in the Tarai. Nevertheless, Nepal has been the land of shelter for the refugees fleeing due to the fear from powerful enemies. The Lichhavis, the Mallas and the Shakyas who existed before the birth of the Buddha, took refugee in the Tarai and the Valleys of the Himalayas when their lands were occupied by Ajatasatru. Similarly, during the Muslim invasions of India, the Mallas and the Shahs were said to have taken refugee in Nepal. The growing domination of the British East India Company in India prompted the rulers of Nepal to restrict the movement of Indians into Nepal. Moreover, the Tarai could not be brought under cultivation through immigrants from India, because they were neither permitted to purchase land nor entitled to have tenancy rights. Thus the large tracts of the Tarai were covered by dense forests and infested with malaria. The cattle herders of adjoining Indian territories of Champaran and other districts used to graze cattle annually for four months (October to January) by paying duty. Duty was levied on buffaloes and the cows were exemp ted from the levy (Kirkpatrick, 1801:83). Similarly, the agreement on Dudhawa Range specially preserved the right of the Indian nationals to come to the hills for banks (a type of grass) by paying revenue. Prior to 1789, the Nepal Government established bazaars on the border of Nepal and India for regulating trade and decided that trade could be conducted at these points only. This hampered the freedom of trade, as the British (Indian) merchants had to cross the Nepalese in the bazaars, and return with whatever they could not sell. Anyone entering Nepal particularly the Kathmandu Valley and other places in the Tarai in general, prior to the restoration of Oudh Tarai to Nepal in 1860, had to get rahadani or visa from the district governor. This was relaxed during the festival of Shivaratri and after the festival the combing up operation to expel all those who had come to attend the festival. This system continued even after the insttallation of democracy in 1951 until the opening of the Tribhuvan Rajpath in late 1950s.
The Treaty of 1860 and the Nepal India Open Border
In recognition of the supply of Nepalese army at the disposal of the British East India Company to quell the Sepoy Mutiny, the Treaty of 1 November 1860 signed between India and Nepal restored the territory ceded to India by by the 1816 Treaty of Suguali. Prime Minister Jung Bahadur tried to develop the Far Western Tarai restored to Nepal by the British as his family property. In order to develop it he made provision in the first legal code of the country formulated during his time, in which the foreigners were entitled to purchase and sell land in the Tarai. He even invited the businessmen, traders and the landlords from India.. This led to the large scale immigration of the Indian into the Tarai for reclamation of forests for agriculture and for trade and commerce. In the eastern Tarai Yadav community exploited this opportunity and their significant number is the instance in point. There were also some of them settling over these places before that. Moreover, in the historical past after the draining away of the Kathmandu Valley lake, some of the cow herders from the south settled in Nepal and said to have established the Gopalbanshi Dynasty. Before the conquest of the Kathmandu Valley by King Prithvinarayan Shah, the culture and economy of the Valley was so rich that it not only attracted people from outside, but it also assumed the role of melting pot, wherein the in-migrants to the valley coming both from the south and north adopted the Newari culture and language.
The British Government kept the Nepal-India border open primarily for two purposes. The first was to maintain unrestricted migration of the Nepalese hill people to India and to secure them for recruitment in the Indian army. The recruitment of the Nepalese in British army was very difficult up to the period of Prime Minister Ranodip Singh, because Nepal Government was in principle against the recruitment of its people in a foreign army. The clandestine and secret operations adopted by the British to get Nepalese hill people in the Indian army were disliked by the Nepalese government who took strong measures to discourage it. Some of the Gorkhas serving in Indian army on their return home on leave were even put to death and property of those serving the Indian army was confiscated (Mojumdar, 1973:42-3). Sensing the harassment, meted to families of the Gorkhas in the Indian army by the Nepalese government and to make the recruitment easier, the British Government encouraged migration of the Gorkhas from Nepal with their families and established Gorkha settlements in the hills of India, such as Bhagsu, Bakloh, Almora, Darjeeling, Deharadun, Shillong, etc.(H.M.S.O, 1965:61) It was only during the period of Prime Minister Bir Shumsher that the Nepalese government freely allowed enlistment of Nepalese in the Indian army (Kansakar, 1982::77-124).
The second important factor for maintaining open border by the British was to have easy and free access of British and Indian manufactured goods into Nepal as well as to Tibet wherein Nepal was the only easy and accessible route from India before the discovery of Chumbi Valley route from Sikkim.. Moreover, the British wanted to have secure and easy supply of raw materials from Nepal into India such as timber and forest produce, herbs and medicinal plants, hides and skins, etc.
Treaty of Friendship between Great Britain and Nepal 1923 and the Development of the Tarai The large scale involvement of men from the hills of Nepal in the World War I led to the shortage of able-bodied youths particularly the Magars and the Gurungs and resulting drastic decline in agriculture activities and shortage of foddgrains in the hills. More than 200,000 Nepalese took part in the war with a casualty of 20,000 men or one in every 10. In recognition of this assistance the Britihs government gave Nepal an annual gift of Rs. 100,000 in perpetuity and the amount was increased to Rs. 200,000 after the World War II (Mansergh and Moon, 1976:62).Most of those who were retired and released from war duty after the war, instead of coming back to Nepal stayed in India where they could get employment in police and para-military services, security services in factories, offices as well as domestic servants in Indian cities where they were in great demand for their honesty, loyalty and hardwork. In recognition of the contribution of Nepal in the World War I, the Treaty of Friendship between Great Britain and Nepal signed at Kathmandu on 21 December 1923 recognised Nepal as a sovereign independent country. and this treaty erased from the mind the apprehension of invasion by the British. In order to meet the food grains need of the country and to resettle the landless, Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher initiated the development of the Tarai. The clearing of the forests in the Tarai provided agricultural lands on the one hand and on the other hand, the fell down sal tree provided much needed timber for the slippers in the expansion of the Indian railways. Due to the fear of malaria and unbearable heat of the Tarai, the hill people reluctant to move to the Tarai and the programme rather benefited the immigrants from India. Moreover, the development programmes of the Tarai during the period of Chandra Shumsher like railways from Amlrkhganj to Raxaul and Janakpur to Jayanagar, Chandra canal etc attracted more immigrants from India.
The Nepal India Treaty of 1950 and the Open Border
The Nepal India Treaty of 1950 which was signed in July 31 agreed to grant, on a reciprocal basis, to the nationals of one country in the territories of the other the same privileges the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of a similar nature was the major turning point in the movement of the Indians into Nepal and was further reinforced by the Nepal India open border. However, it was not materialised until the installation of democracy in February 1951, which replaced the oligarchic Rana regime within three and half months of the signing of the treaty. It is said that the evolution of incidents in Kashmir, Nizam State of Hydrabad and the Indian states and territories bordering China, during his assuming of the portfolio of Home Minister, Sardar Patel strongly pleaded and persuaded Prime Minister Nehru to impose some sort of control over Nepal and the result was the Treaty of 1950 and the reflection of it is clearly revealed by his letter to Nehru (See appendix). It is to be noted that the Rana government assisted Indian Government by sending Nepalese troops, when India has to face problems in Hydrabad during independence and in Kashmir in 1948.
(Excerpts: paper on Nepal-India Open Border: Prospects, Problems and Challenges)
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