Dhulabari Market at East Jhapa Nepal:-
JUL 16 - Dhulabari. A place many people remember as a one-time shopping hub, where they might have bought a radio, a pair of Levi’s jeans, decorative artifacts to hang in their living rooms or even some diamond jewellery. Established in 1977, the market was an icon of sorts this side of Jhapa, and often referred to as the “foreign goods market” by customers scouting for overseas-made products in the area.
But Dhulabari no longer remains the vibrant marketplace it was a decade ago. Though there still exist more than 400 shops in the 1 km-long shopping strip, the turnout of visitors is relatively low these days compared to the past. It used to be that Indian customers from nearby places like Siliguri, Darjeeling, Sikkim, and even Calcutta would come, lured by the Chinese and Thai goods available in Dhulabari. But now these Indian shoppers have dwindled owing to the availability of foreign products in their own markets after the Nathu La border—which connects Sikkim in India and Tibet in China—had been unblocked, allowing Sino-Indian trade to resume. Nathu La is one of three trading border-posts between the two countries. Sealed by India after the 1962 Sino-Indian War, Nathu La had been reopened in 2006 following numerous bilateral trade agreements.
As Chinese goods flowed into Indian markets unimpeded, the shopkeepers at Dhulabari began moving into India themselves. According to a member of Mechi Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries (M-FNCCI), many thriving businesses like Manjushree Traders, Puja Stores and other local Dhulabari stores were soon shut down. Some have reportedly started business anew in Siliguri and Calcutta.
“There was a time when we’d have long queues of customers in our shops, but that rarely happens nowadays,” says Dhruva Oli, a shop-owner at Dhulabari, and one of the few who have stayed behind. Locals say that the parking area on the side of the road would have been jammed with vehicles brought in by Indian customers in the past, but at the moment, few such vehicles are seen on the road. “Even during the time of festivals, the market is very quiet. It’s a disappointing sight for all of us here,” adds Oli.
While certainly one of the driving forces, the reopening of Nathu La isn’t the sole reason for the waning of the Dhulabari market. “Currently, agreements between India and China limit trade across the border to 29 types of goods from India and 15 from the Chinese side, which is quite an insubstantial exchange if you consider the size of the market,” says a local entrepreneur. Instead, businessmen and the locals unanimously cite the lack of security in the area as a significant cause for the desertion of Dhulabari by traders. The decade-long Maoist insurgency, for instance—which affected Jhapa and nearby regions after 2001—had been a major setback for business in Dhulabari. It was only after the second Jana Andolan and the restoration of democracy in the country that the area had become relatively peaceful, and entrepreneurs had seen reason for hope.
Before long, however, their newfound enthusiasm was once again incapacitated by the insecurity that prevailed following the looting and killing in 2008 of Aatma Ram Agrawal, one of the more well-known entrepreneurs in the area. “Other minor lootings and thefts that occurred in the meantime also discouraged the businessmen,” says Prahlad Oli, the vice-chairman of M-FNCCI. According to Oli, more than a dozen shops were looted in the last month alone. “If this the way things are going to be, it will become impossible to continue our business here,” says Pawan Agrawal, owner of a business firm. The culture of bandas has been another deterrent. Jhapa has long-been a fertile breeding ground for different ethnic outfits, who frequently call bandas. According to Keshav Raj Panday, the chairman of M-FNCCI, “On these days, everything comes to a standstill. Entrepreneurs are understandably
frustrated with the uncertainty that’s come to rule their lives. You can’t blame them for wanting to move elsewhere.”
The above-mentioned factors have thus collectively affected the market in Dhulabari, a market that was once a veritable landmark in the area, and one known particularly for its selection of foreign goods. If the lax security situation is to continue, and if nothing concrete by way of protection is offered to shopkeepers and entrepreneurs, this little gem of a shopping strip could very well be on its way to becoming completely abandoned, reduced to nothing more than a blip in history.
Posted on: 2011-07-16