Immigrants Stoke Fears in New Delhi
Immigrants Stoke Fears in New Delhi
TANAKPUR - In this grimy Indian border town, most of the faces on the streets belong to Nepalese who have come through the open border post across the river Sarda.
Most are men, but it is said that many women also come across, some trafficked by flesh traders.
In Tanakpur, as in many similar small towns dotted along India's border with Nepal, almost anything goes. Shops are awash with cheap Chinese goods, and it is here that Nepalese in search of work come.
For the moment, New Delhi is not worrying so much about Chinese goods as about Nepalese Maoists, who are locked in a struggle with Kathmandu that has brought Nepal's tourism industry to its knees.
About 6 km upstream from Tanakpur, at a small village called Boom surrounded by thick jungle, the only people usually found at the forest resthouse two years ago were forest officers and the odd irrigation department engineer.
Today, a Border Security Force contingent with more than two dozen men are encamped there, keeping a round-the-clock vigil on the swirling river that forms the border.
Tanakpur is towards the western end of India's long border with Nepal. A little further east at Maharajganj, Uttar Pradesh (UP) police last January seized a truck carrying arms procured from Naxalites in India and bound for Nepal.
In April, UP police seized a huge cache of arms at Siddarthnagar near the Indian border and arrested the couriers, who confessed that the arms were being sent to the Maoists and that they had already delivered three consignments.
There are also reports of injured Maoist soldiers crossing the border into UP for medical treatment. In May, police arrested eight Maoists who had come for treatment to Lucknow, the state's capital.
New Delhi is also concerned over evidence that Nepalese Maoists have set up training camps in India.
The vision of a link between Nepalese Maoists and the Naxalite People's War Group - a banned Maoist group active in Bihar, parts of UP and Andhra Pradesh - has for years been one of New Delhi's worst nightmares.
Analysts warn that such links could expand to other insurgent groups in India.
'There is an imminent danger that the Maoist insurgency in Nepal may affect the internal security scenario in India, with inextricable and strengthening linkages between the Nepalese Maoists and left-wing extremist groups - generically referred to as Naxalites - active in different parts of India,' notes research associate Sanjay K. Jha of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.
More than a dozen Maoist insurgents - including mid-ranking leaders - have already been arrested in Bihar.
During interrogations, the insurgents said they had been trained at jungle camps along the border - on the Indian side.
'The idea of a 'compact revolutionary zone' across a significant swathe of South Asia may, at the present juncture, seem somewhat fantastical, but the diffuse networks of existing violence constitute a very serious challenge for security planners in India and Nepal,' said Mr Jha.
At Tanakpur, only one Nepalese would speak to The Straits Times. Giving his name simply as Thapa, a common surname in Nepal, he said they had to watch out for police harassment.
He said he had lost his job as a labourer on the construction site of a hotel when the Maoist insurgency escalated earlier this year and the tourism industry nose-dived. The hotel project was abandoned.
'I have no choice, I have to come to India,' he said. 'Otherwise I will die of starvation or from the war.'
India allows Nepalese to work in the country without work permits. There are currently millions of Nepalese in India working mainly at jobs such as watchmen, labourers and household helpers.
But while the broader mass of Indians sees little distinction between themselves and Nepalese, there can be an undercurrent of mutual mistrust which may get worse if there is a flood of immigrants.