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. About a year later, when I arrived again in Susta, there were no huts. When I asked a local woman, she said, “Somewhere there,” pointing towards the river.
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, hemmed in on three sides by India and on the other by the Narayani. It is estimated that 14,860 hectares have come under Indian encroachment thus far.
There is the ‘Save Susta Campaign’, a local movement protesting Indian advancement, but locals are also concerned about the advancing Narayani river, which is an immediate threat. Every monsoon, the Narayani expands further. Locals surmise that the river has advanced roughly 100 meters inland this year alone. Caught between India and the Narayani, Laila Begum, a Susta local, asks, “How many battles must we fight?”
This is a petition to the people of Nepal and the world, for change in Susta – 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.
“A petition is a poem, a poem is a petition.” (The Dreamers, Bernardo Bertolucci)