I have no regrets that I can easily forget many things which I anyway do not intend to remember. However, there are certain incidents that I want to overlook and yet, they refuse to become forgotten history, to be discounted and lost forever. Unfortunately, two of such painful and sticky incidents of my life took place in the Indian cities of Bangalore and in New Delhi in 2003 and in 2006 respectively.
On both the occasions, my family and I were singled out, humiliated and treated extremely shabbily. The first incident at the Bangalore airport was beyond anybody’s imagination. The immigration official, who had taken our passports asking us to wait in the lobby until he came back after checking the validity of the documents, never returned. After over three hours of anxious wait with my six-month-old daughter requiring immediate medical attention, when I approached the enquiry window, I was told to my utter frustration that they had no idea about our passports and who had taken them.
Thankfully, there was this very generous and locally influential gentleman from Whitefield, Bangalore who felt pity on us and did everything to explain to the officers that Nepali travellers do not need visas to travel to India, just as Indians don’t need visas to visit Nepal.
What was even more shocking was that the officer on duty who had taken our passports coolly took them out from his drawer and handed them to us after the gentleman threatened to initiate action against him. I am sure he would have given us a very hard time if that gentleman had not come to our rescue.
In the second incident, by the time my wife received her luggage at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi in February 2006, her last transit to Nepal, it was broken and a few hundred US dollars were missing, among other expensive gift items. While reporting the incident to the authorities, she was advised that she should not have kept the money and such expensive items in the luggage. Even today, many Nepali visitors shy away from booking their air tickets via India or using it as a transit route, although the air-fare is cheaper compared to other routes.
Niharika Adhikari was in tears when she recalled how shoddily she was treated by immigration officers at the Delhi airport. “When they learn that the traveller is a Nepali, they immediately change their attitude and start badgering, humiliating and making fun of us,” said Niharika, adding that her fellow Kathmandu-bound Nepali travellers had also faced similar situations.
Memories of these old wounds of humiliation came rushing back after it was reported that the Baburam Bhattarai-led government was considering an Indian infrastructure development company to handle the BOOT (Build, Operate, Own and Transfer) program at Nepal’s only international airport in Kathmandu—the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA).
After the news broke, I visited some prominent news and blog sites and the comments left by Nepalis. If the comments on the blog, mysansar.com, are any indication, it is not just the Nepali diaspora—using India as a transit route—that was troubled by Indian high handedness but the general Nepali experience is also similar. It is no secret that a lot of Nepali workers get robbed off their year-long wages in the porous Indo-Nepal border areas while they return to their homes for vacations.
The fact that all comments on the airport news story were against the present government’s consideration prompted me to write this piece. Dear readers, these incidents have nothing to do with Nepal-India relations. I am not ready to believe that these incidents exhibit the average Indian’s mind-set when it comes to dealing with Nepal and the Nepali people. Nepal and India have had deep social and cultural conversations for a long time. I do wish Nepal-India relations become even stronger and remain as friendly as always.
In this write up, I do not intend to talk about the big-brother attitude of some Indian politicians, bureaucrats or businessmen towards Nepal, but highlight our very own weakness of being their tormented victim. I am not raising the issue of some Indian intellectuals’ misplaced claims about the birthplace of Lord Buddha, that Nepal once was part of India etc.
We become tormented victims at the hands of Indian authorities largely owing to our own weaknesses.
Before awarding the TIA contract to the Indian company, the Baburam Bhattarai-led government must understand that TIA is not just an airport where planes land or take off but it is a symbol of our national character. It is the representation of our national cultural heritage. It is a medium in itself which speaks much more loudly than any conventional media, about what Nepal is and how good or bad its people are.
Prime Minister Bhattarai should also not forget that any Indian company will not come to Nepal merely to work in a robotic fashion. It will bring with it the mind-set which may actually defame Nepal’s hospitality reputation. It is, thus, very important that these things are kept in mind before making any decisions.
However, I do not believe that a prudent leader like Baburam Bhattarai would award the BOOT of TIA to an Indian company ignoring national sentiments and without making the bid transparent. He would well be aware that the voters will boot him out in the upcoming November elections if he does so.
Sharma is associated with The Washington Post, reports to BBC Nepali Service from Washington DC, and also hosts a weekly TV talk-show “American Conversations: Connecting Frontiers” on Nepal issues.