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“We fought a lot for Susta, we suffered a lot in Susta. We didn’t know when we would be killed. Even after all that, we survived. But in the end, Gangaji swept us away,” Rajkumari Rana (Muwa), reminisces. I met Muwa, 79 years old and blind, at her house in Keulani,Triveni. She was one of the first settlers of Susta. Having come here from Kathmandu with her daughter and a small bag of belongings in 1967, she worked as a schoolteacher, headmistress, local leader and also as night patrol. She remembers times when even women had to patrol at night, with sticks in hand as protection against dacoits from Bihar. There had been numerous clashes in the past, which had wounded many and killed some.
Susta was once perched firmly on the west bank of the Narayani River, which has long been considered the border between Nepal and India. But with the river changing course, and cutting persistently into Nepali territory, the village today finds itself on the east of the Narayani. India maintains the new course of the river as the boundary while Nepal disagrees, making Susta a small, contested portion of Nepal within India, surrounded on three sides by Indian land, and on the fourth by the Narayani. The original settlers now express anger at the fact that they have been sidelined by both India and Nepal.
The flood of 1980 shifted the land to the east, displacing the whole village in the process. Muwa was among the displaced. The government gave each family a small plot of land in nearby villages of Triveni Susta VDC for temporary settlement, but this generosity was limited to those with Nepali citizenship. There were quite a few who were originally from India, and others needing a place to hide.
After the floodwaters receded, the people who were not given land parcels started returning to Susta, although it was now nothing but sand and rocks. They worked in these barren conditions, trying to get whatever little they could out of the land.
It is estimated that 14,860 hectares have been appropriated through Indian encroachment thus far.
What I found in Susta left me dumbfounded. I had essentially nothing but the numbers that the media quoted, a few reports on incidents from the recent past allowing me to acquaint myself with a few names. But to actually be there, and to see the place, the people and their pain firsthand, meant I was suddenly immersed in Susta’s past, and more importantly, its future.
The Himalayan Times reported on 30th June 2011 that the Narayani had breached 135 hectares of farmland during the monsoon, in Susta alone. This has been occurring at an accelerated rate for almost a decade now, and will very likely continue in the coming years. Vast stretches of land dotted with stones and sharp rocks were farmland just a year ago, and the transformation hasn’t yet come to an end. “There is the ‘Save Susta Campaign’ on one side and also the resistance with the river,” Laila Begum, a local, states, “How many battles must we fight?” The ‘Save Susta Campaign’ is a movement started by the locals of Susta as a platform to protest against Indian advancement into their land.
I could sense a sort of triangular tension between the people currently living in Susta, those who had been displaced in the past and Indian authority. But what are the issues that will be left to resolve if the land itself doesn’t exist anymore?
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