Lockdown limbo in no man's land

Dilendra Singh Mahata, 40, had gone to Uttarakhand state in India to see a relative who was not well. But while he was there, the Indian government suddenly announced its three week nationwide lockdown with just four hours notice on 27 March.

Public transport stopped, and Mahata’s money ran out and he had nowhere to stay. With some other relatives, he walked for three straight days up to the Mahakali River across from Nepal’s Darchula district in Nepal — only to find out that the Nepal authorities had padlocked the only bridge that would allow them to cross over to Nepal.

Mahata and his friends have been camped out by the banks of the river on the Indian side, they are hungry. They are also angry about not being allowed back into their own country.

In fact, from where he is on the Indian side of the border, Mahata can clearly see his village in Nepal and looks out to it from time to time. So near and yet so far, he misses his wife and two children. “I might die without ever seeing them,” he sighs.

Returnees maybe taking coronavirus to rural Nepal, Mukesh Pokhrel and Sonia Awale

Nepalis stranded on the other side of the border in India. Photo: NARENDRA KARKI

There are about 800 other Nepali workers from India who have been stranded on the other side of the border. They have no idea how long they will have to wait, or if they will ever be allowed in.

At the daily briefing in the Ministry of Health in Kathmandu on Monday, the spokesman said the Nepal government had no plans to bring the stranded Nepalis in. “They should stay where they are, and try to make the best of the situation. We will be trying to arrange food and lodging in cooperation with the Indian authorities,” the spokesperson said.

Nepali workers overseas toil through the pandemic, Upasana Khadka

On Monday, the local Indian government provided the 800 food and shelter so they did not have to spend another night in the open. The Indian side has handed over a list of 641 names of the Nepalis who are stranded there.

When he got a call from a correspondent in Kathmandu, Mahata was at first hopeful, but quickly realised that his own government was not going to help him get back to his family.

“Sir, please help us return to our homes, we do not want to die here, we want to die in our own country,” Mahata said. “The Indians tell us they are willing to let us go across, but they are rude and mistreat us.”

As of now, checkpoints between Nepal’s Darchula district and Dharchula on the Indian side are closed due to increased risk of coronavirus. Darchula district officials say they have no order from higher-ups in Kathmandu to let the Nepalis in.

“If the government doesn’t have money for our treatment, we will pay for it. We will even quarantine ourselves not only 14 days but for a month,” pleaded Mahata, who says no one among the stranded Nepalis has fallen sick yet.

In the meantime, photos and videos (courtesy of journalist Narendra Karki in Darchula) of young men risking their lives to enter Nepal have gone viral on social media. Ramesh Bista of Darchula and Baitadi’s Indra Khatri and Dhan Bahadur Dhami swam across the fast flowing Mahakali River. But they were arrested by Nepal’s police and sent them to quarantine.

Most of the stranded are Nepali seasonal workers in various cities of Uttarakand state in India, others were they for studies or medical treatment. With both Nepal and India locked down for another 1-2 weeks, the Nepalis will have to wait some more before they will be allowed back to their families.

Read also: 

Nepal and India stop citizens from returning, Nepali Times

 Nepal COVID-19 lockdown extended till 7 April, Nepali Times