Nepal draws India’s ire with new outlines of territorial map

In this picture taken on June 13, 2020, protesters hold a banner with a new map during a demonstration against the government's handling of the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Katmandu. Nepal's lower house of parliament on June 13 approved a new national emblem with a controversial political map that includes strategic territories disputed with its giant neighbour India. (AFP)
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Updated 15 June 2020

Nepal draws India’s ire with new outlines of territorial map

  • New Delhi says plan not “tenable,” violates current understanding

NEW DELHI: India has reacted strongly to Nepal’s decision to redraw the border between the two countries and issue a new map that includes disputed territories within its boundary.

India’s Foreign Ministry said late on Saturday that the plan was “not tenable.”

“This artificial enlargement of claims is not based on historical fact or evidence and (is) violative of our current understanding to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues,” a statement from the ministry said.

It is the latest volley in the diplomatic row between the two countries, which began in November last year after New Delhi issued a new political map claiming the disputed territory of Kalapani. 

This led to protests in Nepal, with Katmandu demanding a bilateral meeting between the two nations.

However, India did not try to assuage the Himalayan state’s concerns.

The crisis between the two neighbors — who share more than 1,800 km of border territory — reached a flashpoint on May 8 when New Delhi announced the inauguration of a Himalayan road link that passes through the disputed area of Kalapani.

Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli’s Cabinet then issued a new political map of the country showing Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura within its borders.

India objected to the move, saying the new Nepal map “included parts of the Indian territory.”

On Saturday, the simmering border dispute took a dramatic turn when the lower house of Nepal’s parliament passed a bill claiming sovereign rights over the disputed territories of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura in the Himalayan region. 

The bill goes to the upper house of the parliament on Sunday and could become law, after the approval of the president, if it is passed there.

Political analysts call the development a “failure of diplomacy” and the “result of a growing trust deficit” between the two.

“Tension between India and Nepal is not a good commentary on India’s foreign policy,” Professor Sukh Deo Muni of the New Delhi-based Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis told Arab News on Sunday.

He added that “in any bilateral relationship, 100 percent responsibility cannot lie with only one partner.”

“Yes, India has erred and offended Nepal’s sensitivities on many occasions, but all this is not India’s responsibility. Nepal also has a role to play in this escalation,” Muni said, before questioning the timing of Nepal’s claims on the disputed territories.

“Nepal has been silent on India’s position on these disputed areas for 150 years. Its map submitted in the UN does not show these territories as belonging to them. Even the constitution of 2015 does not show these territories as Nepalese territories. The problem is due to the trust deficit and lack of understanding of the change that has happened in both the countries over the years,” he said.

He reasons it is due to a more informed and nationalism-conscious youth in Nepal.

“Today, Nepal is a democracy, and its overwhelming youth population is more conscious of its identity and nationalism. Indian policymakers have not been able to recognize the change that has taken place in Nepal over the years. Nepal has also failed to understand new India,” he said before adding the role of China to the equation.

“China is a factor, and Beijing’s support has emboldened Nepal in going belligerent,” he said, finding fault in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-touted “neighborhood first policy.”

“There is a gap between policy intent and implementation. Be it Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, India has problems,” Muni said.

Professor Mallika Shakya, an academic from Nepal who is teaching at the New Delhi-based South Asia University, believes that the current belligerence of Nepal has its “roots in an incremental chain of events and India’s past mistakes.”

“India’s blockade of the Nepali border in 2015 immediately after the devastating earthquake in the region and New Delhi’s lack of support for the new constitution in 2015 when the whole country was rejoicing did not go down well with the people of Nepal,” Shakya told Arab News.

She blamed the Indian media for “contributing to this grave diplomatic failure and the breakdown of trust,” discarding the popular narrative in India that Katmandu was acting at the behest of China.

“Such narrative is problematic at many levels because it disacknowledges Nepal’s sovereignty and belittles it as a colonial master would do; it is unfortunate that liberal media has been as much a culprit of keeping this pseudo-narrative alive as pro-state media. This does not help anyone, and there is no truth behind it,” the Nepalese academic said.

She said that the only way out of the current impasse was “the engagement between the civil societies of both the countries.”

“The civil society must come forward to work toward rebuilding bridges and taking control of the broader narrative before things further descend to chaos,” Shakya said.

Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

Updated 11 July 2020

Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

  • Officials say a majority are under lockdown or afraid to perform last rites

NEW DELHI: Pratamesh Walavalker was always proud of living in a well-connected area with neighbors and relatives who look out for each other.

However, the resident of Dombivali East, nearly 70 kilometers from India’s financial capital Mumbai, experienced a harsh reality check on Thursday.

None of his neighbors or more than 100 relatives responded to his calls for help when his 57-year-old father died of coronavirus-related complications.

Help, he said, finally arrived in the form of Iqbal Mamdani and his group of Muslim volunteers, who took his father’s body to a cremation ground for his last rites.

“No one came to our help, not even my close neighbor. There is so much panic among people about COVID-19 that our own don’t come near us. The Muslim volunteers helped us in this hour of crisis,” Walavalker, 28, told Arab News.

That same night, 50-year-old Mamdani and his group of volunteers helped another family perform the last rites of an 80-year-old Hindu woman who had also fallen victim to the disease.

The group was formed in late March after a local civic body said: “All dead bodies of COVID-19 patients should be cremated at the nearest crematorium irrespective of religion.”

After reports of a Muslim man being cremated in the Malwani area of the city angered the community, several members met with the authorities and managed to revise the order.

Since then, Mamdani said members of Mumbai’s Bada Qabrastan — the largest cemetery in the city — have extended their services to other communities as well.

“We get calls from different hospitals and people, and they seek our help in taking bodies to their final resting place. We decided to help the victims at this hour of crisis when there was chaos and panic in the city with the number of coronavirus cases increasing every day,” he told Arab News.

So far, the group has buried 450 Muslim bodies and cremated over 250 Hindu bodies.

He said their efforts would have been impossible without the Jama Masjid Trust, which oversees the Bada Qabrastan.

“On our request, the government allowed us to bury the dead bodies in seven burial grounds in the city,” he said.

There was one problem, however.

“No one was willing to come forward to collect dead bodies from the hospital and bring them to the cemetery,” Mamdani said.

Through word of mouth, Mamdani said seven Muslim volunteers quickly offered to help out.

The first challenge the group faced was a lack of ambulances, due to a shortage in supply as a result of the pandemic.

At first, they tried renting a private ambulance, “but the owner would not rent their vehicles for carrying COVID-19 victims,” Mamdani said.

With no other option left, the group decided to pool their resources and buy abandoned ambulances.

Mamdani said: “We managed to get 10 such vehicles from different parts of the city. With the help of mechanics and other resources, within eight days we managed to roll out the ambulances on the road.”

When the volunteers began gathering Muslim bodies from the hospital, they realized that several Hindu bodies had been left unclaimed, as their relatives “were too scared to perform the last rites.”

Mamdani said another factor behind unclaimed Hindu bodies was quarantine. The lockdown forced relatives to stay indoors and avoid the cremation grounds.

Experts have praised the efforts of the group.

“The Muslim volunteers have been really great support. They started working at a time when there was total chaos and panic in Mumbai,” Dr. Sulbha Sadaphule of Cooper Hospital, Mumbai, told Arab News.

Of the 820,000 COVID-19 cases in India, 100,000 are in Mumbai, where around 5,500 people have lost their lives from the nationwide fatality count of around 22,500.

“The morgue was overflowing with bodies because of a lack of ambulances and staff. When hospital staff and health workers were short in numbers they were helping us and the people,” added Dr. Sadaphule.

Mamdani said they would not have done it any other way.

“India is a country of religious harmony and we believe there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion. With this motto we decided to perform the last rites on behalf of the Hindu families with the support of the police and relatives,” he said.