Darjeeling locals throng Nepal, Bhutan to beat Internet ban

Darjeeling is the only district in the country to share borders with three countries: Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, and locals have found light in the neighbours’ networks.

india Updated: Jun 26, 2017 21:59 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times, Siliguri
People buy newspapers in Darjeeling amidst the strike for separate Gorkhaland.(PTI/REPRESENTATIVE PICTURE)

The government’s attempts to control communication in unrest-hit Darjeeling hills through an Internet ban, has not brought locals to a standstill as many are crossing into Nepal and Bhutan to access the web.

The bandh for separate Gorkhaland entered its 12th day on Monday, and the internet ban — imposed since June 19 till June 27, Tuesday — is expected to be extended, but locals have found light in the neighbours’ networks, just a few kilometres away.

Though no numbers are available, every day dozens of people, including youths, businessmen, and even the unemployed, are walking or riding over for a few hours. A few also have SIM cards from Nepal and Bhutan for use in bordering areas.

Darjeeling is the only district in the country to share borders with three countries — Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

There are two check posts on the Darjeeling-Nepal border at Pashupati and Kakarvita that offer almost free access to Nepal. One has to produce a document of Indian citizenship if intercepted by the SSB guards who man the posts. Besides, there are many village roads connecting the two countries.

The access to Bhutan is through Bindu and Todey Tangta villages in Kalimpong district. Residents from here visit Tendu, Sipsu and Gempang villages in Bhutan along the border.

There are two tea gardens Thurbu and Okty (near Mirik) in Darjeeling that share their borders with Nepal.

“Initially I thought that Internet services would be back in 2-3 days. As the ban was extended, I became restless. But soon, I realised that I can walk 4 km and reach Pashuati Phatak and access Nepal’s internet services,” said Sukman Rai (27), a resident of Simana village.

For Prakash Kattel, a farmer-cum-businessman based in Paren in Kalimpong district, the Bhutan border is just across the Jaldhaka river.

“We can cross over using a bridge. I have crossed the border a few times since the Internet ban,” he said, adding that one could get Bhutanese SIM cards easily.

“SSB guards know almost all the villagers, but they will be sure to check unknown faces,” Kattel said.

GJM and other political parties, agitating for a separate state of Gorkhaland, students and academicians have all condemned the ban on Internet, dubbing it as the denial of the right to express themselves.

“After I got the connection in Nepal, I felt relieved, satisfied and empowered,” said Rai.

Sitaram Gupta, a businessman based in Sukhia Pokhari, was affected as his transactions are mostly done through net-banking. Now he visits the Nepal border and comes back after completing his work, although at a higher cost.

“Youngsters form a majority of those rushing to the border to use the web, which has become a part of their life,” said Gupta.

Journalists based in Mirik are also making use of Nepal’s Internet facilities.

“Most of the journalists in Mirik are walking for about an hour to places like Samalbung and Antu in Ilam district of Nepal,” Binod Parsai, a correspondent of a popular Nepali daily based in Siliguri, said, adding that it takes only 15-20 minutes on a bike.

Prativa Chettri, a class 11 student and a resident of Rangbhang Bustee in Darjeeling, said, “With no school, Internet and local television channels, life has become boring.”

Chettri and her friends get updates on the Gorkhaland movement (in which they haven’t taken part yet) through social media platforms only when they visit Nepal.

First Published: Jun 26, 2017 13:27 IST