My friend Dipesh Dhakal is from Kathmandu, Nepal. He is a busy lawyer and since October he is angry too. Because now a days he spends most of his working hours at gas stations or shops designated for government rationing.
Everyday Dipesh waits in queue for hours to get few liters of petrol for his car, motorbike and for the electric generator during power cut. During the second week of November he waited 27 hours in queue to get 5 liters petrol. And the next week he paid four times extra to get one liter petrol from ‘black market’.
Power cut in the Nepal’s capital was on average for two hours, now it’s up to ten hours daily. Last week Dipesh sent me this message, ‘Hospitals are closing due to lack of medicine and supplies. Daily supplies like cooking oil and many more are scarce now’. They passed their Deewali, the national ‘festival of light’ also shared by vast of Indian and Bangladeshi Hindu people, in darkness too.
The Crimea Crisis of Nepal?
The Bangladeshis, arguably the people with most rich ‘general knowledge’ (thanks to Deshi enthusiasm and numerous recruiting exams) in the world might know that geographically Nepal is a ‘landlocked’ country. In absence of any sea-port and transit facility to and from the sea by india they depend on the neighborhood for buying things. And Nepal is no more the world’s only ‘Hindu’ state officially, post-monarchy Nepal adopted a ‘secular’ constitution which came into effect on September 20, 2015.
After the adoption of new constitution, we see huge protests by Nepal’s ‘Madhesi’ communities from border region of ‘Terai’, the only souther plain land of the daughter of Himalya. India says, they are just unable to allow commercial traffics due to fear of damages by protesters. But Nepalese says, it’s an economic blockade by indian government. On the other hand Indian officials daily ask that exactly how it can be termed as an ‘economic blockade’?
I asked the same question to Dipesh. He replies with a exclamation mark, ‘Do u believe in India saying that it’s pro-Bangladeshi!’. My reply was, ‘They say, it's the Madhesi protesters blocking the route’. Then he starts to explain.
‘Here in Nepal the total population comprises people from three ethnicity; one Himali (the people who live in high Himalaya), Pahadi (the people live in mountainous region comparatively little below than Himalayan region and the Madhesi (the people who live in Terai plain-land region). The Terai region is bordered to India. In Terai there are people from ethnicity, Himali and Pahadi and the people from Indian origin. The Indian origin people took the citizenship of Nepal via marriage, and some have even taken citizenship by bribing government officials. The present protest against secular constitution is mainly by Madhesi people who are of Indian origin.’
Then my Himalayan lawyer pitches a term from contemporary international politics, which I expected least. He says, it’s a ‘Crimea Situation’ for Nepal, same as one recently faced by the Ukraine at Crimea region and it’s ‘accession’ to Russia. He summarizes the Madhesi politics in brief; a portion of Madheshi people who is assured and supported by Indian government are trying to trash the secular constitution and demand more autonomy for Terai region just as step forward for their long term goal; separating Terai from Nepal and become a part of India. Same as the process Russia took about Crimea, he claims.
So, in fact Nepal’s ‘international trade’ is limited to bi-lateral trade with India which totally depends on the whims of Indian government. Since 1947 India is using this geographical advantage as a political leverage against its tiny neighbor. One can remember the 7 year long ‘economic blockade’ imposed on Nepal starting from 1971.
Well, for now I’m not sure about the politics of India or Indian origin Madhesi people in Nepal’s southern plain. But whether there is a protest in Terai or not, Nepal is helpless about carrying international trade, because India does not acknowledge it’s transit rights to and from the sea as a landlocked country under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Nepal has its own coastline
There is no doubt that geographically Nepal is land-locked, but high seas are the common heritage of mankind. Technically speaking, In the era of a United Nations and international cooperation Nepal has it’s coast which is off-course geographically situated on the southern edge of Bangladesh and India.
India should allow Nepal to exercise it’s right of access to and from the sea and freedom of transit. In case the Indian government finds it’s difficult to allow Nepal to use its sea ports, I guess Bangladesh can help. Nepal is separated from Bangladesh by just a 15 kilometers piece (famous as the Chicken Neck) of India in the southeast. India just needs to show a small gesture as a good neighbor and not a rouge member of the UN by agreeing about this 15 kilometer transit route.
Bangladesh already offered Nepal access to its seaports Chittagong, Khulna and Chalna and at the request of Nepal has constructed an Inland Container Depots (ICDs) at Banglabandha.
With hope of change of mind by indian policy makers, my last question to Dipesh was, ‘what do you think about what your government can do?’. He said, ‘we can lobby this issue to International court’.
The writer is a journalist and marine conservationist based in Chittagong. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org