After 13 years again Pashupati Nagar, a Nepal town across the border from Mirik in Darjeeling district, faced a shutdown after the insurgency of Nepal Maoists which had attacked police stations and government buildings in an offensive against the monarchy in 2004. Then the Maoists had used the hills on the Indian side to launch the attack.
Aftermath of that dark days of 2004 , in which 14 years today again inhabitants of Pashupati Nagar’s are struggling with fresh trouble, again from the Indian border. Gorkhaland agitation has been violent around Mirik, has arrested the business in this border town. The tourist inflow has stopped, and many of the inhabitants who’s main source of income is tourist for ‘hand to mouth’ are distressed that the Mamata Banerjee government has accused Nepal Maoist elements for playing a role in the agitation in Darjeeling hills.
This small hill town border between India and Nepal is 15 km from Mirik one of the sub- divisions of Darjeeling district which was once a major trading point for Chinese goods flowing into Siliguri’s markets. A lot of those goods were smuggled across the Pashupati Phatak customs gate. With the Indian economy opening up and bringing a flush of cheaper, legally imported Chinese goods. Pashupati Nagar today depends largely on tourists from Darjeeling hills, from both India and Nepal, who stop by for Chinese clothes and to get the mystic beauty of the mountainous border of Indo- Nepal.
Mani Kumar Basnet a resident of Pashupati mentioned that, “these days I am barely recovering the rent”. Mr. Basnet, runs a Chinese goods shop and pays Rs 50,000 annual rent. He said that “this town runs on tourism from India. Nepali people buy little. People from Sikkim also visit but because of the Gorkhaland agitation, no one is coming now.”
Bimal Dewan, who runs a lodge and is a member of the local Vanijya Sangh -traders’ union , says that only visitors these days are locals towards the Indian border. “But they are coming to buy rice, pulses and oil as essential supplies has been disrupted there. We hope the situation improves before Dussehra, which happens to be the peak tourist season.”
Shymal Gupta, who too runs a Chinese garment shop, is not so hopeful as he mentioned that, “this year is gone for us. We depend on tourists from Bengal. But I had to shut my shop for 50 days for lack of sales. Now even if Darjeeling opens, business is not going to improve. The goods I had picked up for the monsoon have not been sold. There is little money to buy fresh stock. Unlikely those tourists will suddenly come pouring in. Mr. Gupta and his family came from Ballia, UP, in 1992 and settled here. The family had a flourishing wholesale business for garments. He mentioned that, “all goods in Siliguri would go from here because Dhulabari used to be a tight border which lies towards Nepal territory. But business began going down after Chinese goods began coming freely.”
10 years ago, his brother Kailash moved the wholesale business towards Siliguri. Shailendra turned the Pashupati Nagar business into retail as wholesale was not sustainable. “Now even that looks in danger,” he exclaimed. Dewan puts his outlook that, “trade in Chinese goods began going down 10 years ago and has stopped in the last four years. We get our goods from Kathmandu. At Siliguri they now come directly from Kolkata ports. A jacket that sells at Rs 1,200 here is now available at Siliguri for Rs 900.
Marwari businessmen from here have already moved to Siliguri. So this town is now running entirely on tourism.” But concerns about Gorkhaland in Nepal’s border towns are about more than just business. Nepali citizens connect with the struggle of the Gorkhas on the other side. The Mamata government is blaming Nepal Maoists for the trouble has made them angry.
On 8th August, Siliguri police arrested a Nepali citizen, Udayhang Fago, for an alleged role in the Sukna violence of 29th July. Resident of Fekkal, 10 km from Pashupati Nagar in Nepal, Fago is a businessman and his family claims he had gone to get his mother treated at a hospital in Siliguri. “Why arrest people from here? We have nothing to do with Gorkhaland. Maoism has long been over in Nepal,” said Rovit Khadka, Fago’s friend in Fekkal. A friend of Saroj Rai, said, “people here are angry, they said, if Fago is not released soon, we will block cars coming from India.” Fekkal taxi stand, people engage in animated discussion about Fago as well the “legitimate demands of the Gorkha people”. “It’s a question of identity. The Nepali people in Darjeeling are considered neither Bengali nor Nepali. So what are they?”
Sunita Dewan from Pshupati Nagar too sympathises with the cause. “Mamata Banerjee should agree to the legitimate demands of the hill people. They are mostly Nepali, Marwari and Bihari. Bengali should not be imposed on them.” Sitting at her restaurant, Dorje Bhutia, president of the Mirik town committee of Jan Andolan Morcha one of the parties fighting for Gorkhaland, is not very hopeful. He is taking his family from Darjeeling to Kathmandu because of the extended trouble and security risk. We had met Home Minister Rajnath Singh and our MP S. S. Ahluwalia, recently and both have refused Gorkhaland a separate statehood demand. They say at most they could discuss the possibility of Union territory status to Darjeeling. But they don’t understand. This has become a people’s movement now”.
Swaroop Sharma | Editor (Northeast) newscaptured.com