Gita Devi sits in the porch of her house in Sahasram Sundarpur Tola and speaks to Reena Devi from the house on the other side of the kachcha road, which marks the “no man’s land” on the India-Nepal border in Sitamarhi’s Sursand block.
On the right side of the kachcha road is India and to its left is Bathanaha village that falls in Nepal.
The width of the kachcha road would not be more than 5ft and there are no walls, barbwires or gates. But it surely divides the two nations.
It is also not like the Wagah border where army personnel of India and Pakistan perform the Beating the Retreat ceremony every evening.
Residents of Sundarpur Tola on the Indian side often visit the Nepali houses across the road in the evening to watch television, as power supply is “poor on the Indian side”.
Interestingly, almost all Hindu families in Nepal’s Bathnaha celebrate Chhath with their Indian neighbours on the other side of the road.
Twenty-five-year-old Reena is a Nepali by birth and has married a Nepali too. Her husband, Ravi Ram, works in a factory in New Delhi but Gita claimed that she has been forced to carry the Nepali tag.
“I would not be able to cast my vote on the polling day in Sitamarhi on May 7, as they (officials of the Election Commission) claim that I am a Nepali. I was born in Sitamarhi but my husband is a teacher in a middle school in one of the neighbouring villages in Nepal. Now, they say that since my husband works in Nepal, I have become a Nepali citizen,” said Gita.
In a similar citizenship row along the India-Nepal border in Sitamarhi, Nagina Devi’s election as MLA from Sitamarhi in 2005 was challenged. The Election Commission had even removed her name from the voters’ list in her constituency and a case challenging her election went on in Patna High Court for several years.
The “porous border” witnesses thousands of cross-border marriages every year. The irony is that those marrying into the Indian border do not get to vote even after spending years in India. They are not Indian citizens and do not bother to go through the complications of applying for Indian citizenship.
The international border spans all along the northern boundary of Sitamarhi. Hundreds of villages in Bairgania, Majorganj, Sonbarsa, Sursand, Parihar and Bitta Mor blocks, share the open border with Nepal.
While the Border Security Force (BSF) and Sashastra Seema Bal have set up check posts at numerous places in the villages and patrol the border round the year. But the border remains sealed on the polling day.
Except the voting day, movement of people is usually allowed across the open border but residents in the villages are at times irked with strict vigil on the inter-border movement of goods.
“We cannot buy goods from Sursand Chowk market because security forces at times don’t allow us to bring food and other material to the village, though it is very much in India. They apprehend that we might sell it in the neighbouring Nepali villages,” said Mohammad Ajeez, a lab technician and a resident of Sahasram Sundarpur Tola.
On being asked whether any candidate contesting the elections from Sitamarhi visited the village, Ajeez said: “Only Sita Ram Yadav from the RJD visited once.”
Though Indian villages along the “no man’s land” at times face trouble because of the porous border, the same proves beneficial to those from the Nepali village on the other side.
“Jalesar, the nearest market in Nepal, is around 8-9km from the village, whereas Sursand Chowk market is hardly 2-3kms. Hence, we buy almost all items of daily requirement, including food, groceries and clothes. Of course, there are chances of security personnel from either countries seizing those items but we take that risk,” said Shubh Kant Jha, a farmer and a resident of Bathnaha village in Nepal.
Jha’s mother is from Madhuban block in Motihari and his wife is from Sitamarhi. His two sisters have been married in Damaodarpur village in Madhubani district.
Most of the families in Bathnaha are either Brahmin or Bhumihar, and Maithili and Bajjika are the languages spoken here. Most of the 500 families in Sahasram Sundarpur Tola, on the other hand, are either Muslims or Mandals.
There are numerous people in both the villages, who have relatives from either side. Bilas, a tiller from Bathnaha is married to Harari Devi from Sitamarhi. His son, Biranjan is working as a labourer in Malaysia and his daughter-in-law, Dhanesari Devi, is also from Sitamarhi.
Fourteen-year-old Arun Kumar’s father, Suresh Mandal, is Indian but his mother, Lalita Devi, is from Nepal.
Many youngsters in both the villages have done their schooling from both the countries. Dinesh Kumar Mandal, a resident of Sahasram Sundarpur Tola, went to the government primary school in Bathnaha in Nepal and thereafter, studied in the government high school in his own village in India. Sahasram Sundarpur is 29km east of Sitamarhi, on the north of Sitamarhi-Sursand National Highway 104.
lSitamarhi votes on May 7