‘Roti-beti’ ties in Bihar border villages feel strain of changing ties

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Written by Santosh Singh | Janaki Nagar (sitamarhi) | Published: June 17, 2020 5:07:02 am

Ram Lagan Rai with wife Shailendra Devi, who comes a village close to the border in Nepal. (Express Photo by Santosh Singh)

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s remarks on India-Nepal ties on Monday – that the relationship goes more than just between two neighbours, bound as it is “roti aur beti” (bread and family ties through weddings) — will resonate with most people in districts of Bihar bordering Nepal.

Although no official data has been compiled, most villages on either side of the international border have marriage relationships, own plots and even houses on the other side. Most families in the eight Bihar districts bordering Nepal, including Sitamarhi, where last week’s firing by Nepal’s Armed Police Force (APF) left one person dead, have some member or the other married into families on the other side, who are also called Madheshis.

But dwindling marriage relations since 2015, and the extra vigil since Bihar implemented prohibition on April 1, 2016, indicates a growing chill, say locals in Sitamarhi.

Ram Lagan Rai, 53, who was freed from a nearly 20-hour detention after fellow villager Vikesh Rai, 23, died in firing by Nepal forces last week, said his wife, Shailendra Devi, and daughter-in-law, Archana, come from the adjoining village in Nepal. The tension, he said, is not good for India and Nepal, who have been “sharing roti and beti since ages”.

Rai said nearly 70 per cent men in his village — Janaki Nagar, under Sonbarsa police station of Sitamarhi – have married women villages in Nepal, and more than 30 per cent women from the village are married to men from Nepal. “We never felt the border all these years — we share a similar culture, castes and surnames. But things have been changing fast over the last five years. Nepal has suddenly started looking a different country; the friendly APF is getting hostile towards us,” he said.

Given the lockdown since March 25, Shailendra Devi said she has not met her parents for the last nearly three months, and daughter-in-law Archana has also not met her parents and siblings. “It was perhaps the longest separation from our parents in our memories,” she said.

Giving an account of the freezing relations, Sanjeet Yadav, who returned from Ludhiana last month, said less than 5 per cent men and women from his village married into families in Nepal this season. “Till as recently as seven-eight years, either the bride or the groom came from that side in six or seven out of 10 weddings. While people from our side would marry off fewer daughters in Nepal, this trend of families there finding a groom for their daughters in their own country is recent,” Sanjeet said.

Another villager, Shivlal Yadav, blamed additional restrictions since imposition of prohibition in Bihar: “There is nothing wrong in Shashatra Seema Bal (SSB) of India and Nepal’s APF keeping an eye on liquor traffickers, but asking too many questions and frisking by both forces are not going down well with our (people to people) relationship. All of a sudden, we have started doubting each other,” Shivlal, an uncle of the deceased, said.

Vikesh’s brother Santosh Rai said their mother, Sudama Devi, is also from Nepal. “My brother was shot dead in an orchard in which we grew up playing cricket with boys from Nepal,” he said.

An SSB officer agreed that there has been a strain in relationship in the last five years due to the changing political situations in Nepal, and both countries intensifying border vigil. “Dwindling marriage relationships could have sociocultural and economic reasons, but we are duty-bound to check liquor smuggling,” the officer added.

SSB, IG, Sanjay Kumar said: “We work in a very trying and difficult situation. The recent firing was an aberration. Local residents need to be restrained and take us into confidence. We were not informed about the scuffle by villagers, but we reacted fast and were the first responders.”

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