Indo-Nepal Open Border: Implications for Bilateral Relations and Security

Smruti S. Pattanaik,Res. Assistant,IDSA


The implications of free movement of population across the international boundaries are varied and complex. Open border facilitates cultural continuity through interaction between countries having socio-religious affinity. This cultural continuity can be stretched to consolidate ethnic identity of minority groups staying across the border. In an advanced stage of political development, a well bonded ethnic entity may evolve where people and groups inside the boundary 'are likely to exhibit 'opportunism' in their alliances, interaction patterns and cultural borrowings, as they seek personal and group advantage unhampered by border restrictions of rigid loyalty.'1 The political risks associated with changes in the ethnic composition of the receiving country and the bilateralization of such issues can lead to complications in other areas of mutual cooperation. Apart from socio-cultural implications the open border can prove to be a safe haven for smugglers, criminals and terrorists to carry out their activities in an uninterrupted manner.

Population movement across the international boundary have even wider ramifications. Depending on the ethnic composition of the receiving society and its geographical size, the ethnic identity of the migrants have not only the potential to threaten the identity of a nation, but fear is often expressed about their tendency to pose demographic threat by swamping the indigenous people in a small nation. An ethnically homogeneous nation is more likely to be repugnant to the immigrants who can be a threat to its ethnic identity. Moreover, the ideological orientation of the migrants may also be incompatible with that of the establishment in the host country. In multiethnic societies, immigrants having socio-cultural similarities with an ethnic group of the host country are more likely to be welcomed by that group, but opposed by other groups, who do not share such an affinity. Thus the dynamics of migration and its impact varies from group to group, and society to society. 'Perceived cultural affinity-or its absence-clearly plays a critical role in how various communities respond to population influx...".2 Conferring of citizenship rights also depends on whether the receiving country considers the migrants as potential citizens or not.

In South Asia the borders of most of the countries are penetrable. The cultural heritage of the subcontinent is converged in such a manner that ethnic groups residing in different regions in different countries exhibit an overlapping cultural bond cutting across the physical boundary of a nation state. As an observer has put it: "The identity question of India's neighbouring states; at least on the cultural plane, has thus been rendered extremely vulnerable, because India as the oldest country in the region, seems to prompt all their cultures. The vision of India's unity in ancient times was based on its cultural entity and now it is a cultural name to begin with."3 Population movement across the Indo-Nepal border has devoid Nepali nationalism of its unique characteristics through cultural penetration.

According to Myron Weiner, 'what is most troubling to the governments in South Asia is the unwanted ethnic mix that migration brings into community anxiously seeking to assert their own identity.'4 In this context, the Indo-Nepal border reveals an interesting mixture of socio-cultural continuity and at the same time, it is considered a threat to national identity. The socio-cultural compulsions that have motivated policy makers to keep the border open can be attributed to the following historical, strategic and socio-cultural facts.

History of Socio-Cultural Continuity

The overwhelming presence of people of Indian origin in and the presence of Nepalese population in the Terai region contiguous to the Indo-Nepal border has made socio-cultural intercourse indispensable. The 1700 km long Indo-Nepal open border has not only facilitated socio-cultural exchanges that date back to centuries but have been strengthened by age old historical ties. The geographical proximity and socio-cultural affinity have determined the contour of the relationship between both the countries.

Throughout history, the movement of people between Nepal and India was unrestricted. Some archaeological remains in the Lumbini garden attest to the fact that since the third century B.C. till about the fourteenth century A.D., Lumbini was regularly visited by a large number of people from various regions of India, Tibet and Nepal (Khandadesa).5 In the post-Mauryan period also there existed very congenial relations among the people and that promoted their commercial activities smoothly.6 During the reign of Lichchhavis in the first century A.D, the region from the Ganges up to Mahabharat ranges was marked by uniformity in governance, socio-cultural activities and economic pursuits.7 During this period, Nepal received Gupta script, Sanskrit language, Hindu and Buddhist religious architecture from India.8 All these point to the fact that before its unification, Nepal was a part of Indian empires and thus within the sphere of the broader Indian cultural domain.

In the medieval period, the Mallas of Kathmandu Valley traced their ancestry from the Karnatas of Simaraunagarh and the Baisi, Chaubisi and Sen Kings of the Western Himalayas and the Terai region of Nepal from Rajasthan.9 In the past, both the countries belonged to the same political domain and administration which explains their cultural affinity. Till the end of eighteenth century, i.e. 1774, Terai region of Nepal was under the Sen Kings of Palpa, Makwanpur and Vijayapur. "...the territories of the Sen kingdom included the whole of Terai region of Nepal as well as some parts of northern India in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar."10

In the early modern period, the Sen kings of Vijayapur and Makwanpur had accepted the suzerainty of the Sultans, the Mughals and the East India Company and annually they used to pay rents for utilising the resources of their territory.11 Moreover, from the 10th century to 13th century when Muslim invasion shook northern India, the Hindu kings from Mewar, Chittor, Kannuaj, Kumaon, Mithila and Videha fled to Nepal. The age old historical ties were also consolidated by matrimonial relations between the royal houses of Nepal and India.

The religious ties between both the countries have reinforced the bond of relationship between the people of both the countries. In the Pasupatinath temple there is a tradition of worship by Bhatta brahmins of Karnataka in India. The Hindus of Nepal have high reverence for sacred religious places like Varanasi, Kasi etc. Though India has a preponderant Hindu population, Nepal is the only confessed Hindu Kingdom of the world. The existence of bonds between the people in both the countries have made it imperative for the policy makers to keep the border open.

The concept of a separate sovereign nation having a distinct political entity remained blurred due to the British annexation and expansion and unification of Nepal under Prithivi Narayan Shah. It was only after 1860 that the boundary between both the countries was more or less stabilised when British ceded certain part of the territory between the rivers Mahakali and Rapti to Nepal as a mark of recognition for the help it had rendered during the Sepoy mutiny. However, Nepal was regarded as a buffer zone between India and China by the British.

Indian Migration to Nepal

The fertile land in Terai was the only source of revenue for the Nepali Kings. It financed their military conquests and provided for their luxurious life. The unwillingness of the hill folk to settle and cultivate lands in the Terai region due to malarial climate led to substantial migration from the Indian side with official patronage and encouragement. Thus Indian settlements in Terai were accomplished without taking into consideration its long-term implications.

British government's formal recognition of Nepal as a sovereign independent nation under the Treaty of 1923 led to the opening of Terai for Indian traders. Nepal neither had the capital, nor infrastructure and technology to build industries. Lack of industrialisation provided the Indian businessmen with incentive to open up new ventures in Terai. Indian businessmen took advantage of the rail transport system built by the British and established industries in the Nepal side of the border and exported the surplus commercial goods and other agricultural products to India. In many cases, people had shops both in India and Nepal. The businessmen of both areas constantly shuttled from one place to another, and foreign goods passed more easily from one shop to another because of the open border. Moreover, any bussinessman who wanted to set up business in the Terai was given two bighas of land.13 The reluctance of Nepalese businessmen to settle in the Terai region can be attributed to the fact that Nepalese were agriculturists by tradition and they call themselves agriculturists even today.... A few domiciled Nepali businessmen do not rely completely on business but also do agricultural work.14 In the industrial sector that is dominated by the Indians, preference is given to the Indian workers as common ethnic factors enhance the predictability of their behaviour and make them trustworthy. Moreover, mobility of labourers from the hills could not be accomplished because of the problem of ecological adaptation.

Many people cross over the border to the Indian side, work as seasonal workers during the harvesting time, sometimes as vegetable sellers and hawkers. Because of the available educational opportunities many Nepalis cross over the border to attend the schools and colleges in India. The most significant among the places which attract Nepali students is Benaras, where mostly Nepali brahmins come to seek Sanskrit education. Many others prefer to migrate to India due to high wages and highly prestigious social positions accorded by the hill society to the people working in the foreign army.15 The voluminous presence of both Nepalese and Indians on both the sides of the border supports the system of open border, in spite of some negative implications.

There is a general perception in Nepal that Indians are taking up jobs which would otherwise have gone to the Nepalese. According to an observer on population migration, 'Indian contractors dominate in big contracts in governmental and non-governmental sectors because of their better organisation, investment and entrepreneurial capacity...A large number of immigrants working in urban areas have a strong hold on trade and commerce, even displacing Nepalese traders....Their business entrepreneurship and extensive linkages in India and abroad are not matched by their Nepalese counterparts'.16

Nepalese Migration to India

The Nepalese migration to India can be attributed to the following reasons. From the beginning, Nepal disliked the idea of Gorkha recruitment in the Indian army. The clandestine method adopted by the British resulted in repressive actions by Nepali government against the Gorkhas on their return home on leave. In some cases their property was confiscated and they were given death penalty. Consequently, they were encouraged by the British to settle in Dharmashala (Bhagsu), Bakloh, Darjeeling, Dehradun and Shillong.17 Apart from this, many Nepalese also migrated to the districts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri of West Bengal to be employed in the tea gardens. Sikkim was under Nepali domination since 1775. The status quo was restored in 1812 and it became a British protectorate in 1861. This explains substantial Nepalese settlement there. Many Nepalese labourers were taken to Sikkim for working in various developmental works undertaken by the British government. After Youngshusband mission to Tibet and discovery of Chumbi valley of Sikkim, a new trade route opened between British India and China. Some of the traders and artisans, mostly the Newars and a few Sherpas, managed to move to Kalimpong and Sikkim since Nepalese were the only foreigners from South Asia permitted to carry on trading activities within Tibet.18 Moreover, on the Indian side of the border, many Nepalese were settled because of British policy and many of them were transfered with the territory to the British India as a result of Sugauli Treaty of 1816. The overwhelming presence of Nepalese on the Indian side of the border makes close cross border interaction inevitable.

A Case for Open Border

As has been discussed elsewhere, the historical ties between both the countries explain the necessity of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 between India and Nepal to provide an impetus to the historical socio-cultural relations. Two clauses of the 1950 Treaty are significant and have aroused much debate and misunderstanding. Article VI of the Treaty states that 'each government undertakes, in token of good neighbourly friendship between India and Nepal, to give to the national of the other, in its territory, national treatment with regard to participation in industrial and economic development of such territory and the grant of concessions and contract relating to such development'. Article VII further states that, 'the government of India and Nepal agree to grant, on reciprocal basis, to the nationals of one country in the territories of the other the same privilege in the matters of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of a similar nature'.19

Although both the countries are bound by the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, it is pertinent to point out that though the treaty has given legality to the movement of the people across the international boundary, their socio-cultural links were deeply imbibed into the socio-cultural history of both the countries. As an analyst has put it: (India being a) "Hindu majority state where the life of its people is governed by the ethos of Hindu religion largely, in which it finds itself so close to Nepal.... ...Nepal's Hindu identity makes its cultural boundary contiguous with India."20

The Terai region of Nepal bordering India is an extension of the Indo-Gangetic plain. The "geographical factors have been reinforced by religious, cultural and ethnic affinities between the inhabitants of Terai region and their counterparts across the border. The Terai region has, therefore, remained practically an expansion of the Indian society and economy through the centuries."21 The border was not regulated because as a British protectorate its southern border was secure. Moreover "the arrangement of open border was preferable to the restricted border because it saved the rulers from incurring the administrative expenditure necessary to check and regulate the border and the task involved in the control of movement of people through the border to and from India."22

The concentration of Indian born population in the Terai region explains the present relations. The number of India born population in Terai according to 1991 census is 97.21 per cent of the total foreign born population residing in this region.23 Out of the total foreign citizens in Terai, the Indians constitute 77.6 per cent.24 These people cannot be prevented from maintaining familial relations by a restricted or regulated border.

Nepali Nationalism and Open Border

The issue of open border was never a problem with the ruling elites in Nepal in the early 1950s because India had played a significant role in the democracy of Nepal. But in subsequent days, the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship became a contentious issue between both the countries after the introduction of Panchayat government. Most of the Nepali elites considered it as undemocratic since it was concluded by the autocratic Rana regime which did not have popular support and who took the step to consolidate their position against the growing anti-regime activities.

The Treaty has been frequently criticised by different regimes of Nepal who have, time and again, resorted to the strategy of whipping anti-Indian sentiments in a bid to prove themselves as nationalists. The settlement of Indians and the open border was exposed to bitter criticism. During the period between 1960-90, anti-Indian postures were almost synonymous with nationalism in Nepal. During this period various clauses of the 1950 Treaty were frequently violated. This can be attributed to two factors. First, the assertive monarchy and erosion of democracy after the introduction of the panchayat system. Secondly, India's overbearing role and its sympathetic attitude towards the democratic forces in Nepal led to an increase in anti-Indian feelings in certain sections of Nepali population. Moreover, reports were rife about Nepali Congress operating camps for armed training of its volunteers in India.25

In this context, the King to assert his control over the throne and to legitimise his rule, encouraged Nepali nationalism with its unique ingredients of national identity and symbol, having more similarity with hill culture symbols. This could not have been possible without giving the foreign policy an anti-India tone. Legislations were passed curtailing Indians' rights and restrictions were put on further migration. A separate cultural entity was evolved by rigid implementation of national language, and measures were taken to curtail the special relations and minimise the emphasis on historical ties with India.

The reciprocal clause in the Indo-Nepal Friendship Treaty was given scant regard when laws like Industrial Enterprise Act, 1961, the New Mulki Ain of 1963, the Citizenship Act of 1964, the Land Reforms Act of 1964, the Ukhanda Land Tenure Act 1964 were enacted crippling Indians interests. To assert Nepali national identity, Nepali language was promoted and restrictions on other languages were imposed citing the reason that other languages would hamper the development of Nepali as a national language. Hindi bulletin on radio Nepal was stopped. This was done because the close socio-economic ties of the people of Terai with India were perceived by Nepal with anxiety. As a Nepali scholar has put it, 'the Terai is the channel through which Indian influence can infiltrate into Nepal...some concerned members of Nepal's governing elite look upon the Terai as their nation's vulnerable underbelly."26

Population Commission Report of 1983

As a means towards this end, in 1983, the Panchayat government decided to appoint a population commission to prepare a report on internal and international migration, which was submitted to the government in 1988. Most of its 70 recommendations for controlling internal and international migration were related to the regulation of the Indo-Nepal border. It recommended three stages for the regulation of human traffic across the border. In the first stage, people crossing the border should be made to register their name at specified border points. In the second stage, to be introduced a year after the first stage, was the entry permit system and people residing within 10 kilometers of the border would be provided with multi-entry permit system to be renewed each year and others would be issued only entry permit system. In the third stage, to be implemented at an appropriate time, regular passport system would be introduced between both the countries.27

The Commission while criticising Indo-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 commented that 'the treatment which Indians are successfully getting in Nepal are far from being bilateral.'28 Further, the report accused that due to the appointment of Indians in the skilled sector, the process of skill development among Nepali workers is retarded.29 To restrict the foreigners from being employed in the organised sector, the report further stressed that the work permit should be limited to the shortest possible duration. Moreover, employment of foreigners should be allowed only in proportion of foreign investment and technology in the industrial establishments, but it should not be allowed to exceed the number of the Nepalese employees. The foreign contractors employing more Nepalese in the construction works should be given concession in contract tax and other levies to discourage the trend of employing foreign workers.30

In a clear violation of the 1950 Treaty, work permit was introduced by the Nepalese authority to allow Indians to work in the Kingdom. The justification for this work permit was referred to the provisions of the letter exchanged along with the treaty. According to this letter, "it is necessary for sometime to provide safeguards to the Nepali nationals from uncontrolled competition. The nature and scope of such safeguards will be determined through mutual agreement between the two governments according to need."31 Nepal not only took the decision unilaterally citing this letter but India's protest was dismissed. Defending the work permit system, the chief spokesman of Nepali government reportedly said that, "no grounds for objection can be advanced either at the decision to require work permits, as these are required for Nepali as well as foreign nationals for registration."32 The usefulness of the treaty was also questioned by Kirtinidhi Bista, the Nepali Prime Minister in 1969.33

The open border has given rise to a blurred national identity and has further complicated the issue of citizenship. From time to time, Nepal has imposed various restrictions on citizenship. In the process of distinguishing migrants from genuine citizens, the people of Indian origin have suffered the most. Whereas the people of hill are accepted as citizens matter of factly, the Terai people have to go through a rigorous process to prove their citizenship. In 1988, at the peak of Indo-Nepal irritations due to the trade and transit problem, the then Minister of State for Home, Prakash Bahadur Singh stated in Kanchanpur district of Nepal that "since the pressure of external population can skew the country's economic balance, citizenship from now be available only on the basis of descent."34 Nepal not only started registering its citizens but stated that it would grant citizenship only to the descendants of Nepalese citizens. This was done in a move to exclude people of Indian origin.35 To avoid any settlers from India getting citizenship, it was decided that a genuine Nepali who possesses documents of landholding would be registered as a citizen. People not possessing such documents would require to get recommendation from ward chairman, Pradhan Pancha, Upa Pradhan Pancha, Village Development Committee, President of Class organisation, area member of district Panchayat and district level office bearer of the class organisation in this regard. A certificate proving one's continuous service in the government or semi-government office was taken as a proof for providing citizenship certificates.36 Many Indian landless labourers staying in Nepal for generations were harassed through such rigid procedures. However, several citizens of Indian origin who have acquired citizenship faced the prospect of disenfranchisement. Fear regarding this surfaced when the then Home Minister, Narayan Thapa made a statement on April 9, 1989 saying that Nepal would have a fresh look at the status of the 6.48 million people of Indian origin, including even those holding citizenship certificate.37

Economic Implications

The economic insecurity posed by these Indian immigrants can be gauged from the view of a Nepali scholar: "Indian immigrants to Nepal are engaged in the urban and industrial sector. They comprise a significant percentage of regional population (6.4 in Terai). This may further enhance Nepali dependency with India in term of skilled labourers. It might be that the productive sector of Nepali economy will remain more outside the control of natives....The situation is more exacerbated by the control over many industries in Nepal by Indian businessmen and their preference for Indian labourers."38 Justifying this, another Nepali scholar has ventilated similar opinion. According to him "the employment of skilled and semi-skilled immigrants might have added to the productivity of concerned industries/sectors but at the same time, it has also increased an acute sense of dependency...while nationals emigrate in search of jobs elsewhere, emigrant effectively compete and takeover jobs created within the nation."39

Socio-Cultural Implications

The Indian migrants in Nepal do not consider themselves as a separate 'nation.' Yet, they resent a dissolution of their ethnic identity. Many of them have been citizens of Nepal but have retained their primordial identity. This has been a significant factor for cultural insecurity among the Nepali elites. Expressing similar sentiment, a Nepali scholar has observed: '...the smaller and economically weaker countries are more sensitive to the issue of national identities.'40 The socio-cultural identity of the Indians has been perceived by the elites of Nepal as a threat to the identity of their nation. There is a great degree of cultural differentiation between the people of hills and the plains, mostly immigrants from India. The people in the plains are looked upon as Madhesias, a terminology which is used more in a derogatory sense than the etymological meaning of 'people staying in the plains.'41 They have been perceived as an extension of Indian culture and tradition in Nepal. Their living style, language, culture, religious celebration etc. are considered as impediments to Nepali nationalism. The social insecurity of not being culturally and socially accepted in Nepal make the Indian settlers look back to India for support in case of ill-treatment and discrimination. India has not let them down as was evident when it protested the Land Reform Acts which affected the Indians in 1964, against the Gurung report of 1984, and the work permit system of 1987. Apart from this, the inherited customs, tradition and culture compel them to maintain an emotional attachment with their homeland.

In this context, population movement across the border gives rise to the apprehension that India's cultural intrusion through Indian settlement would make the Nepali identity extinct. India is considered to be the home of Hinduism. Even Buddhism is regarded to have originated from India, with few being aware that Lumbini which is in Nepal is the birth-place of Buddha. This has given rise to the apprehension as expressed by a scholar that '...Nepal's cultural identity can get sucked into that of India."42 The size of India, combined with its economic potential, cultural richness and military power has been perceived by the Nepalese with considerable apprehensions. Moreover they fear that through Indian settlers India can exert a great degree of influence. As an observer has pointed out, 'with their variable capacities, opportunities and propensities to exert influence on behalf of their domestic and external interests, diaspora community (Indian) can be regarded as an interest group and as a political actor.43 This is one of the major factors which induces a great degree of political insecurity among the Nepali elites.

After the restoration of democracy, the issue of open border still continues to dominate Indo-Nepal relations. The Communist government was apprehensive about the impact of unrestricted demographic flow on Nepal but expressed the view that the movement of Nepalese to India should not be restricted considering the vastness of India.44 This itself unfolds the reality about India providing a safety valve for the unemployed people of Nepal.

Security Implications

The geographical proximity and concentration of migrants within the territorial confines proximate to the border of their native country, intensifies their potential for demand articulation and aggregation. In this context, "it is virtually impossible to stop the streams of ideas, information, weapons and money moving through the trans-state networks...and these networks have become more sophisticated as a result of recent development in communication and transportation."45 The geographically contiguous and open border in this context has serious implications. The open border has the potential to facilitate such transactions very smoothly. This is possible because diasporas often create trans-state networks that permit and encourage exchanges of significant resources such as money, manpower, political support and cultural influence, with their homelands as well as their ethnic community living in other parts of the world. This creates potential for conflict between the homelands and host countries, which in turn is linked with highly complex pattern of divided and dual loyalty within diasporas.46 There have been many instances where ethnic groups have helped in the homeland movements in the native country. This has been true in the case of Gorkhaland movement. "Primarily through the trans-state networks established by diasporas, these groups engage in myriad activities which may affect the security...use these trans-state networks to transfer less innocent resources, such as fighter weapons, military intelligence and money. These networks are used for various types of communication and the shipment of the resources needed for international networks of terrorist and liberation fighters."47 Open border facilitates such kind of transaction with perfect ease.

The Indo-Nepal open border has been a factor of inter-state tensions, particularly, the issue of cross border support to various internal conflicts inside the country. The open border has contributed to the exacerbation of such conflict. During the 1980s, the movement for a separate Gorkhaland by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) had caused a serious strain in relations between both the countries. Many Indian Nepalis in Darjeeling fled to Nepal in order to avoid arrest or hardship caused by the government action against the GNLF militants. As many of them lived in Nepal, the Indian authority alleged that they were being trained in camps within Nepal, so much so that some reports also mentioned few names of districts in Nepal where the GNLF militants received training.48 The press reported brisk collection of funds.49 It was also reported that the movement got support from Nepali businessmen.50 Though the charges were later refuted by Nepal, the cross border inter-ethnic affinity makes such hypothesis quite credible. The implications of such linkages, as an analyst has pointed out, "For the imperatives of real politik compiled with that of cross boundary ethnic links have at times created situations in which the externality of such movements induces a pressure of sorts leading to an interventionist role of the neighbour through mediation or confrontation."51 Open border strengthens such assumptions.

The protagonists of Gorkhaland movement are critical about the Indo-Nepal open border. Its leader Subash Ghising also demanded the abrogation of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 to give the Indian Gorkhas a distinct identity and separate them from the Nepalis who have migrated recently to India. He categorically stated that the Treaty, particularly the clauses VI and VII relating to open entry and settlement of Nepalese for an unlimited period of time have overshadowed the genuine status of the Gorkhas and has rendered all of them to be treated as domicile citizens. They claimed that they were the people who were ceded to British India at the time of Sugauli Treaty when the east of Mechi was ceded and thus at par with other Indians. Thus, they were entitled to the status of genuine citizens as different from naturalised citizens.

Base for Third Party Intelligence Activity

The presence of other migrants hostile to the third country can be a threat to security by establishing transnational networks to undertake subversive activities. The reported ISI activities in Nepal is another facet of bilateral relations which has caused serious security concerns for India. The diasporic connection and help rendered by co-religious groups has facilitated an operation of such organisations. According to the 1991 population census of Nepal, Muslims constitute 3.5 per cent of the total population of Nepal.52 It is also reported that "it is very easy for the Muslim terrorists of Kashmir to take refuge in Nepal. With the support of Madarasas, the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, will have no difficulty in operating anti-India activities in Nepal.52 According to a report published in Panchajanya, an organ of Bharatiya Janata Party, 'Pakistan is engaged in different activities.... In this connection, citizenship certificates are being arranged in an illegal manner to those who are collecting unlicensed arms and explosives, as well as to non-Nepali Muslims. Training camps have been started in some border areas such as Tribeni, Ratanganj and Susta in order to carry on anti-Indian activities. The ISI has been providing money and weapons and training to hundreds of Muslim youths in the border villages. Sufficient evidence has been collected to show that the ISI is giving Hindu names to Muslim youths and arranging certificates of Nepali citizenship for them....".54 It was also reported that the Muslims are steadily intensifying their activities in Pokha, Birat Nagar, Birtamod, Bhadrapur and Kakarbhitta . The ISI has set up various organisations such as Muslim Volunteer Force, Muslim Liberation Front, Islamic United Liberation Army, Islamic Movement of India, Islamic Revolutionary Force and Saddam Baini to operate its subversive activities. The ISI has threatened to stop all assistance to them unless they help and supply weapons to Muslim terrorist organisations. These terrorist organisations have been creating disturbances in India.55 There were also reports about RDX being smuggled into India to be used by the terrorists for creating disturbances.

In 1994 there were reports that arms were being smuggled to India through western border areas of Nepal. Employees of Jamunaha checkpost at Nepal gunj detained some Indian Muslims who are regarded as close to a Nepali member of Parliament. It is evident from all these anti-Indian activities that open border is taken advantage of to cross into Nepal, where they find patronage of their kinsmen. These kind of reports keep flowing in inspite of Nepal's assurance that it will not permit its territory to be used for such purpose against India. It has been easier for the terrorists and other forces to commit crime in one country and cross the border and take asylum. In 1993, the Indian police had crossed the border in a bid to nab certain anti-social forces which created furor in the political circles of Nepal.

The open border has given rise to a threat to stability and harmony of a country. This has assumed significance in the context of an assumption that "...ethno-demographic trends appear to be more alarming than the perceptible threats of conventional nature. Moreover, socio-economic discrepancies might be exploited by the collusion of dissatisfied, alienated people and external forces."57 The alleged discrimination against the Indian migrants can open up such conflict. The activities of these dissatisfied groups can include "aid to the militants, mobilisation of public opinion in the country of their adoption...depending on their organisation, skill and motivation they do provide a clout to ethnic separatism...".58

The open border has resulted in a demographic threat to a small nation like Nepal. In the words of a Nepali observer, "through immigration, it is bringing another nation...immigration undermines the notion of sovereignty in political as well as economic terms." Nepal's perception of threat is not only from the Indian immigrants residing inside the country but the presence of a larger ethnic community just across the border.

Smuggling is another issue which is confronted by both the nations. "The low tariff between Nepal and India but a common tariff with respect to the third country trade did provide incentive for smuggling. In 1981 India complained about large scale smuggling in the Indo-Nepal open border. ...The monthly seizures of such smuggling were fast rising, their value exceeding several crores. These goods which were smuggled into India were electronic goods and other items commanding high premium in Indian market and items smuggled from India into Nepal for re-export to third countries were items banned for exports or exported with quota restrictions from India such as snake skin etc...".60

Political Implications

The open border has given rise to the problem of dual citizenship. Due to the free movement of people it is very difficult to distinguish a genuine Indian Nepali from other Indians. The open border has been used to further the interest of the individuals crossing the border and settling in a part that suits his job prospect. This has created citizenship problem in both the countries. A Nepali scholar who has conducted extensive study on Indian immigrants found that there are cases where the father was an Indian but his son was Nepali. In some cases if a brother owned lands in Nepal another might be cultivating their farms in India. They constantly switched their residence causing more confusion. These cases are mostly seen among businessmen and farmers.61 Thus the immigrants' devotion on both the sides of the international boundary is characterised by dual loyalty where allegiance to their homeland overshadows their devotion to their host country. Moreover in case of bilateral relations the immigrant population can exert influence on the host in support of the policies of their native country.

The Indian side of the border is greatly dominated by the ethnic groups which has considerable presence in Nepal's contiguous Terai region. This explains the close marriage and kinship relations between the people of both the countries. Apart from the economic motives which have been playing an important role in the movement of people along the open border is marriage-related migration. These migrations are a two way process. "Marriage relationship represent a continual and active reinforcement of the cultural ties between the people of Nepal and India. As per the 1991 census of Nepal, Indian females are predominant in Terai towns, with a sex ratio of 62.9 per cent reflecting a high prevalence of marriage migration from across the Indian border."62 Of those who migrated to India, 66.1 per cent of the population went for employment, 17.0 per cent were dependents. From among them 69.9 per cent of males who went for employment, 14.6 were dependents. Among females, 27.2 per cent went for employment and 32.5 as dependents. These large number of dependents may constitute many who went on marriage-related migration.63

The 1950 Treaty which is considered as a basic parameter for Indo-Nepal relations has been a ground for much misunderstanding between the two countries. The open border has not only been beneficial to the Indian immigrants but to the Nepalese immigrants who have their traditional links with the people of Nepal. India has provided a safety valve for a large number of Nepali population who have taken advantage of being employed in India. India's vast market not only has space for Nepali goods but the level of industrialisation has provided them with employment opportunities. Similarly, Nepal has provided a fertile ground for the Indian businessmen. The free movement of people itself implies the fact that opportunities for employment still exist in both the countries. Both the countries are indispensable to each other. In the changing international politics no nation endeavors to be bound by a treaty with only one nation and conferring it the status of benefactor (patron). In the words of G.P.Koirala, "Because of geography, social and cultural affinities, as well as industry and commerce, it is clear that our relations with India must be more practical....we are not tilting towards India. Rather, we have only underlined the reality of our interdependent relations with that nation."64 Though both the countries have started discussing various clauses of the Treaty that need alteration, nothing concrete pertaining to its revision has yet materialised. Notwithstanding its varied social, political and security implications, the Indo-Nepal open border can be termed as a necessary evil. Movement of people can be restricted but not the emotion and socio-cultural bindings which have bound the people of both the nations since time immemorial. Thus, any restriction on the border cannot be accomplished without causing hardship to the people on both sides of the international boundary. In conclusion, one could quote Jawaharlal Nehru, a great advocate of close Indo-Nepal ties, "Broadly speaking, our relations depend not really on any person's goodwill, on Nepal's goodwill, on that government or this government.... They depend on geography and history, which cannot be easily done away with."65



1. Robert A. Levine and Donald T. Campbell, Ethnocentricism: Theories of Conflict, Ethnic Attitudes and Group Behaviour, (Canada, 1972), p. 99.

2. Myron Weiner, The Global Migration: Challenge to States and to Human Rights, (London: Harper Collins, 1995), p. 137.

3. Prayagraj Sharma, "Nation-Building in South Asia: The Case of Nepal," South Asia Journal, vol. 2, no. 3, 1989, p. 258.

4. Myron Weiner, "Rejected People and Unwanted Migrants in South Asia," Economic and Political Weekly, August 21, 1993, p.1731.

5. Babu Krishna Rizal "Archeological Remains of Kapilavastu, Lumbini and Devadah" (Kathmandu, 1979), pp.13-14 as cited in Ram Niwas Pandey, "Historical Perspective of Nepal Border Relations" in Hari Bansh Jha, ed., Nepal-India Border Relations (Kathmandu, 1995), p.6.

6. Rizal pp.3-50 as cited in Pandey, in Jha, Ibid., p.7.

7. Pandey, n.5, pp.7-8.

8. For details see Ram Prasad Rajbahak, Nepal-India Open Border: A Bond of Shared Aspirations (New Delhi: Lancer Publishers, 1992), pp.31-32.

9. Pandey, n.5, p.9.

10. Ibid., p.11.

11. Ibid., p.12. For details refer pp.12-14.

12. Dilli Ram Dahal, Indian Ethnic Group in the Nepal Terai: A Study of Immigration and Socio-economic Behaviour, mimeographed, (RCNAS, Tribhuvan University, 1978) p. 191.

13. Vidya Bir Singh Kansakar, "Indo-Nepal Migration: Problem and Prospects," Contribution to Nepalese Studies (Kathmandu), vol.11, no.2, p.53.

14. Dahal, n. 12, p. 195.

15. Kansakar, n.13.

16. Dahal, n.12, p.233-7.

17. Kansakar, n.13, p.51.

18. Ibid., p.52.

19. Refer to the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, July 31, 1950.

20. Sharma, n.3, p.257.

21. Regmi, The State and Economic Surplus: Production, Trade and Resource-Mobilisation in Early Nineteenth Century (Varanasi, 1984), pp.10-11.

22. Rajbahak, n.8, p.8.

23. Nepal, Population Census, vol.1, Part-IV, Central Bureau of Statistics (Kathmandu), pp.1-81.

24. Ibid., pp.82-162.

25. S.D.Muni, India and Nepal: A Changing Relations, (New Delhi: Konark Publishing House, 1996), p.70.

26. Fredrick H.Gaige, Regionalism and National Unity in Nepal, (Berkley: University of California Press, 1975), p.2.

27. Government of Nepal, National Commission on Population, Task Force on Internal and International Migration (English Translation), 1984 p.52.

28. Ibid., p.50.

29. Ibid., p.34.

30. Ibid., pp.63-64.

31. A.S.Bhasin, Documents of Nepal's Relations with India and China, 1949-66, (Delhi: Siva Exim Pvt. Ltd. 1970), p.105.

32. Times of India, (Delhi), April 17, 1989. Nepal even threatened to approach UN General Secretary or UNHCR if India continue with the allegation. See The Patriot (Delhi), September 4, 1983. A Spokesman of GOI said that if Nepal clubs Indians and equates them with other foreigners it would amount to an attempt which knocks the bottom of 1950 Treaty. See The Hindu (Madras), April 27, 1989.

33. The Rising Nepal, (Kathmandu) June 25, 1969 as cited in S.K.Chaturvedi, Indo-Nepal Relations in Linkage Perspective, (Delhi,1990), p.43.

34. The Rising Nepal, May 17, 1992.

35. The Patriot, February 5, 1988.

36. The Rising Nepal, May 27, 1988.

37. Hindustan Times, April 15, 1989. India threatened to reciprocate see The Statesman (Delhi) October 11, 1988.

38. Bhim Prasad Subedi, "International Migration in Nepal: Towards an Analytical Framework," Contribution to Nepalese Studies, vol.18, no.1, January 1991, pp.93-94). In a study conducted on the Indian immigrants in the Morang district of Terai region of Nepal in 1978, revealed the apprehension that "the skilled and highly competitive Indian people have proved to be a serious handicap to the employment of Nepali workers who are not as skilled as their Indian counterparts." For details of the study see Dahal, n.12, pp.164-5.

39. Pitamber Sharma, "Immigrants Worker and the Work Permit System: Perspective and Issues," CNAS Forum (Kathmandu), Current Issue Series, December 5, 1987, pp.6-7.

40. Prayagraj Sharma, n.3, p.253

41. See Gopal Singh Nepali "Nepal-India Border: Social Relations," in Jha ed., n.5, p.35.

42. Sharma, n.3, p.257.

43. Milton J. Esman, "Diaspora in International Relations" in Gabriel Sheffer ed. Modern Diaspora in International Politics, (London: Croom Helm, 1986) p.335.

44. Hindustan Times, April 10 & 13, 1995.

45. Anthony D. Smith, Ethnic Origin of Nations, (London: Basil Blackwell, 1986), p.39.

46. Gabriel Sheffer, "Ethno-National Diasporas and Security," Survival (London), vol., 36, no.1, Spring 1994, p.60.

47. Ibid., pp.64.

48. Lokraj Baral, Regional Migration, Ethnicity and Security: A Case of South Asia (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1990), p.100-1.

49. Blitz (Bombay), August 30, 1986.

50. Indian Express, August 29, 1989

51. Urmila Phadnis, Ethnicity and Nation Building in South Asia (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1989), p.239.

52. Nepal, Population Census-Social Characteristics, vol.I, Part IV, Central Bureau of Statistics (Kathmandu, 1991), p.1.

53. Biswadeep (Kathmandu), November 18, 1995, as reproduced in the Nepal Press Digest, vol.39, no.48, November 27, 1995, p.441.

54. Jana Asatha (Kathmandu), June 14, 1996, as reproduced in Nepal Press Digest, vol.39, no.48, November 27, 1995, p.441.

55. Nepali, Nepal Press Report, no.52/95, March 22, 1995, pp.89-90.

56. Saptahiki Bimarsha, no.222/95, December 9-11, 1995, Nepal Press Report, Kathmandu, p.34.

57. Baral, n.48, pp. 102-3.

58. Rajbahak, n.8, p.100.

59. Subedi, n.38, p.95.

60. Rajbahak, n.8,p.100.

61. Ibid., pp. 26-27. n. 31, A.S.Bhasin also see p.55.

62. Bal Kumar K.C., "Trends Patterns and Implications of Rural-to-Urban Migration in Nepal," Asia Population Studies Series No.138, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (New York: UN, 1995), p.124.

63. For details see Central Bureau of Statistics 1994b, vol III, table 5, as cited in Bal Kumar, n.18, p.118.

64. Nepal Press Digest, vol.38, 15 July 1991, p.28

65. A.S.Bhasin ed., n. 31.