We have been indoctrinated into believing that borders are real and important for the preservation of our respective nations. We have been conditioned to believe in them by our history and geography books, the atlases and miniature globes we bought. Borders are accepted at face value and we tend to forget that they are outcomes of historical processes. They are imaginary lines dictating that there is an 'other' living beyond those lines, even though they belong to the same species. The purpose is not to debate whether a borderless society is a utopian dream or not but to inject fluidity and humanity into the idea of borders and challenge its rigid conception in society.
Let’s take the real-life example of the Gandak River, known as Narayani in Nepal. Since the colonial period, the river has been the international border between India (Bihar) and Nepal. But as time marched on, the river changed its course and the tiny village of Susta, which was initially on the west bank of the Gandak in Nepal, now falls on the east bank of the Gandak, an area under India’s dominion. This has sparked a debate regarding whether the nationalities of the local residents of Susta should change owing to the river’s changing course.
It is almost poetic when we see how water, the embodiment of fluidity, ushers in pliancy to the rigid idea of borders and national identity. But let’s forget, for a while, the territorial disputes and legal ramifications arising from this natural phenomenon and instead focus on the actual geopolitical impact this phenomenon has had on the people of Susta. Today, we are going to explore an evocative photo series titled ‘Change of Course’ by Prasiit Sthapit, that authentically captures the ground realities of Susta.
Prasiit Sthapit writes:
“The first time I arrived in Susta, I had to walk for around three minutes from the riverbank and across a sandbar to get to the village. There were two small huts there, selling tea and fish. Some months later, when I arrived again in Susta, there were no huts. When I asked where the huts were, a local woman, pointing towards the river, said, “Somewhere there.”
The settlement of Susta was once perched firmly on the west bank of the Narayani River, long considered the border between Nepal and India. But the river has changed course, cutting persistently into Nepali territory. Susta today finds itself on the east bank of the Narayani. India maintains that the new course of the river is the international boundary while Nepal disagrees. Susta, thus, remains contested — claimed by Nepal while hemmed in on three sides by India and on the other by the Narayani.
There is the ‘Save Susta Campaign,’ a local movement protesting Indian advancement, but locals are more concerned about the advancing Narayani river. Every monsoon, the Narayani expands further, eating into hundreds of hectares of farmland. “How many battles must we fight?” asks Laila Begum, a Susta local.
This is a petition to the people of Nepal, and the world, for change in Susta. A solemn request for a resolution of the dispute between the two countries and the building of retaining walls along the banks of the Narayani.
This is a poem dedicated to the people of Susta, their sorrow, their grief, their determination, their resistance, their persistence, their isolation:
The Dreamers, Bernardo Bertolucci
Borders reinforce the us versus them binary. But the people of Susta find themselves, through no fault of their own but through natural intervention, caught in a no-man's land — neither a 'us' or a 'them'. This powerful photo series draws urgent attention to resolving the crises that the residents of this village battle everyday.
Follow Prasiit Sthapit here.
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