Nepal’s stateless: Lives between two countries

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In the border between Nepal and India along Mohana river, there lies a small settlement called Bandiya gau, the resident of which are technically Nepalese but do not have citizenship. They claim to have come to Nepal in 2020 B.S. so almost 60 years of living in Nepal! Their children were born and raised here but their lives are divided between Nepal and India.

60 years back, these people had suffered massively from flood and came to Nepal for refuge. They have built their lives here farming and fishing and have raised their families.

I got in contact with them back in 2021. It took us about 50 minutes to reach their village from Khakraula ghat. Not knowing whether there would be any settlement there we went there on a hunch for conducting survey on fishery activities. Upon reaching there, we found about 10 houses with thatched roof with no electricity access except for a solar panel to light the house.

It was early afternoon when we got there and we had already consumed a good breakfast in the morning. We could see that the people were curious to see us. I have been to many places because of my work and almost everywhere I have gone, the people have already interacted with other surveyors like me. But it did not seem the case there. As the people were really far off and since they did not even have citizenship they were not considered by any groups for interest.

My mother has always said the people who have the least, are also the most generous. And true to this case, they requested us to stay and dine with them. They spoke in Hindi and we conducted our survey in Hindi as well.

On interaction with them, fishery was a big part of their livelihood and almost every household had boats. But the reason for every household to have a boat was not for fishing. Not every household requires a fishing boat as it can be easily shared between close knit communities. But the reason that they did have boats was that during rainy season, they have to consider the possibility that they will be swept away by the floods. The boat is their literal means of survival.

As monsoon is at its peak right now in Nepal, I am anxious of their condition. Are they gonna survive this flood?

Another thing of worry was since they did not have citizenship, they also did not own any land on paper. Though they had cultivated their lands for almost half a century they had no right to their land.

As we bid farewell after our survey, we asked for their contact number and the number given was an Indian mobile number. The people here at Bandiya gau live their lives between two countries but are citizens of none.

Anu Rai

I am an aspiring environmental researcher.

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