Rajiv Bansal, a businessman from Sitamarhi in Bihar, made Kathmandu his home over a decade ago. But for the first time, he is regretting his decision to relocate.
Like millions of Nepalis, Bansal’s family of five is facing hardship because of the three-month blockade of border points by Madhesis or people living in the southern Terai plains who have close ties with India.
“Our daily schedules have become disoriented. Due to scarcity of LPG, we are using induction heaters to cook, but that too is difficult when you have 11 hours of load shedding daily,” Bansal told Hindustan Times.
Indian medicines, which his mother uses to keep her blood pressure in check, have disappeared from the market and he has been forced to rely on locally made drugs.
Bansal is also spending an additional NRs 60,000 (Indian Rs 37,500) each month to buy petrol from the black market, at NRs 300 a litre, for his 10 employees.
“Work is suffering as spares are not coming from India and customers aren’t interested in repairing their products now,” he said.
Political parties representing the Madhesis launched protests after Nepal’s parliament passed a new constitution in September, saying it didn’t address their demands for proportional representation and delimitation of constituencies.
The protests resulted in the blockade of key border trade points through which a wide range of essential goods and fuel enter Nepal from India.
Deepak Kumar, a barber from Motihari in Bihar, wasn’t directly hit by the blockade but his wife and son moved to India last month as cooking with firewood was affecting her health.
“I couldn’t buy LPG cylinders from the black market. So I thought it would be better for my wife to go home till this thing gets settled,” he said.
An LPG cylinder costs NRs 1400 but dealers are selling half-filled ones at half the price to cater to more customers because of the scarcity. Even these are not easily available and hoarders sometimes charge almost NRs 10,000 for one.
Bansal and Kumar aren’t alone. Many of the nearly 500,000 Indians who live and work in Nepal are having a difficult winter because of the border blockade and shortage of essentials.
Most Indians in Nepal are from the border states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and come to work as labourers, masons, carpenters, cobblers, barbers and vendors of fruits, vegetables and fish.
There is another category of Indians that works in Indian companies, owns businesses or is employed in schools, hospitals, the hospitality sector and other businesses.
Most Indians are concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley and in border towns in the Terai, where most of Nepal’s industries are based.
Soon after this year’s devastating earthquakes, India evacuated thousands of its nationals by air and road. But the two countries share a 1,800-km open border and Indians can enter and leave without documentation. This, officials say, has made it difficult to keep track of Indians who have left Nepal because of the blockade.
“We do keep a record of people registered with us but since many leave Nepal without informing us, it is difficult to know the exact figure,” said an official in the Indian embassy’s consular wing.
Indian diplomats are also worried by the spurt in anti-India sentiments. Their worries are not unfounded as many in Nepal blame India for “supporting” the Madhesis – a charge that has been denied by New Delhi.
Dipak Adhikari, deputy spokesperson of Nepal’s foreign ministry, said: “Sometimes we get information about crimes against foreigners, but there has been no incident of targeting of Indians because of the blockade.”
Indian companies with business interests in Nepal are also suffering. Dabur Nepal, which supplies nearly 40% of Real juices sold across India from its plant, has seen profits plummet since October.
The inability to import raw materials from abroad has resulted in a sharp decrease in production. Brands like Asian Paints and Surya Nepal (the Nepal wing of ITC) too are operating below their total capacity, industry experts said.
The last time Indians in Nepal felt vulnerable was during riots in December 2000 that were sparked by actor Hrithik Roshan’s alleged slur against Nepalis. The violence then claimed at least four lives.
Though there is considerable anger against the Indian government across Nepal, thankfully, Indians in the Himalayan nation haven’t been targeted this time around.