SSB border killing
It’s an open and shut case. According to eyewitnesses, Arbind Kumar Shukla, an officer of India’s Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB), fired on a crowd of Nepalis who were protesting against the intervention of the Indian side in the construction of a culvert by some Nepalis. The fourth bullet Shukla fired hit 30-year-old Govinda Gautam, a Nepali citizen, around his waist. Gautam died en route to a local hospital. Some Indian nationals of the border region and the SSB were trying to disrupt the construction of the culvert, which they said fell in the no-man’s land. This is untrue. All the credible maps show that the site of the firing is well within Nepal. To make matters worse, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu tweeted, well after the incident of SSB firing had been widely reported in Nepali media, that “it is categorically denied that there was any incident of firing by SSB” in Kanchanpur. In effect, the embassy was saying that the Nepali media that had reported on the incident were lying. The tweet was also a cruel reminder to Nepalis of the Indian highhandedness in 2015, when it had imposed a nearly six-month-long blockade on Nepal.
Clearly, Indian embassy officials in Kathmandu feel powerful enough to say and do pretty much as they please, diplomatic decorum be damned. The death of a citizen of one country in the firing of another country is a serious issue and something that needs to be dealt with utmost care and finesse. But instead of trying to diffuse the tension by sounding contrite, or even assuring that it would look into the matter, the Indian Embassy looked to reject an established fact outright. If this is the way embassy officials will behave, Nepal-India relations, already strained after the blockade, could hit rock-bottom. It is hard to see how the resulting anti-India paranoia in Nepal will in any way serve Indian interests in Nepal. And as the mood sours on India, there is bound to be a corresponding increase in public pressure to improve Nepal’s ties with China—which is seemingly the worst-case scenario for India. This is why we urge Indian officials in Nepal to be more sensitive to the public sentiment. Nepal-India ties are already complicated; don’t complicate it more.
Time has also come to clearly mark the Nepal-India border so that such incidents are not repeated.
Thursday’s incident at Anandbazar of Kanchanpur, which borders India’s Uttar Pradesh, could have been avoided had the border pillar (pillar number 200) there—which had mysteriously gone missing a couple of years ago—been replaced on time. Without the pillar, it’s the claim of those on the Nepali side of the border against the claim of those on the Indian side on where the actual border is. Such pillars have either worn out or gone missing all along over 1,700-km-long Nepal-India border.
Thankfully, after badly bungling its initial response, India seems to have realized the gravity of the Kanchanpur killing and has now said it will investigate. The two governments have since spoken at the highest levels. Now India must show good faith and punish the SSB officer who killed Gautam. A public apology from India will also do a lot to diffuse tensions. The two governments should then immediately start the process of properly marking the border again, thereby removing all potential flashpoints between the two countries.