BANBASA: Women pedalling weather-beaten and shining bicycles with tinkling bells are a common sight on the picturesque Sharda barrage at Banbasa in Champawat district. Essentially a simple means of transportation, the bicycle presents an avenue of livelihood for these women - mostly from lower income households - from Nepal who pack Indian goods in gunny bags for delivering them to destinations across the border.
The Kumaon region of Utarakhand shares a 263 km-long border with Nepal. The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel man the border. Heavy vehicles are not permitted to pass through the Indo-Nepal border. It has presented an earning opportunity to hundreds of women from Nepal’s border areas as ‘carriers’ to ferry goods on bicycles from India.
The families of these women are dependent upon the cross-border trade and are all for ‘open border’ without any tension. The reason is obvious: daily wages. The humble cycle is the ubiquitous choice as the carriers don’t have to spend money on fuel and are able to make saving on transportation.
With goods laden on their cycles, the women cross over to Nepal, mainly to Mahendranagar about 8 km from Gadda Chowki which is the entry point to the neighbouring country. On reaching Mahendra Nagar and other nearby cities, they hand over the goods to shopkeepers and receive their payment for transporting the goods.
Not all are merely carriers. Some of the enterprising lot sell goods to shopkeepers. The items range from household goods, cosmetics, spices to electrical goods and FMCG products bought at wholesale rates in India.
Narmada from Nepal says cycling has become a means of employment for hundreds of women from Nepal whose daily chore is to pedal into India, pick up goods from shops, pack them inside gunny bags and pedal their way back and hand over goods to shopkeepers and traders.
Cycles are a part of their lives, Hema Thapa concedes. “We have formed bonds with each other and sometimes go around in groups, enjoying the camraderie. It is hard work involving a lot of sweat. We are able to earn Rs 300-400 per day,” she says.
SSB commandant KC Rana asserts these women are merely carriers and facilitate cross-border trade as heavy vehicles are not allowed to pass through the barrage from Banbasa. “These women pass through the check post where customs duty is levied and goods are checked for security purpose. There are no security problem due to the checks,” Rana says.