After the Jaigaon murder

The gruesome murder of two Bhutanese women in Jaigaon has disturbed the people of Phuentsholing and shocked many across the country. It has also raised several questions.

The Jaigaon police are investigating the case and hopefully, a clear report would come out soon. As the news of the murder went viral on social media, online gossip is throwing up many possibilities. Some are suspecting rape. Both the women were in their prime age. Some are suspecting drugs related issues while some are even questioning why the two women were still in Jaigaon.

Realising the insecurity of Bhutanese during the Covid-19 pandemic and to ensure the safety of Bhutanese, on His Majesty’s initiative, temporary shelters were built and handed over. As recent as last week, the Prime minister has urged Bhutanese in Jaigaon, if any, to return home and assured assistance.

The big question is the intention of the murder.

It happened in a place, where for ages, many Bhutanese have felt safe and called it their home. There are no exact records, but there are thousands of Bhutanese who live in Jaigaon and come to work in Phuentsholing.

Jaigaon is a bustling town even if it is disorganised. It thrives on doing business with not only Phuentsholing, but as a busy supply hub, with whole of Bhutan. There is inter-dependence as it is obvious that a problem in Phuentsholing or Jaigaon brings nearly all economic activity to a halt on both sides of border. Merchants or Marwaris in Jaigaon say that without Phuentsholing, there wouldn’t be a Jaigaon.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the border gate is sealed and there is no trading although with the help of the government of India, movement of essential-laden trucks are allowed. Jaigaon has returned to business as usual after the lifting of the lockdown. The five Covid-19 cases were also declared negative a few days after they were taken to isolation centre.

Jaigaon business people are waiting for the border to open. Others are even questioning the logic of the border closure knowing Bhutan has contained the virus well. Some Jaigaon businessmen felt the urgency for Kuensel to report on the five Covid-19 cases testing negative. Their business is affected, he wrote to Kuensel.

Police will come out with the cause of the murder, but if the intention was to send a threat to Bhutanese, like some are assuming, for keeping the gates closed, it is a major miscalculation. If it is a warning or a tactic to instill fear, it will not achieve anything. Bhutan and India shares exemplary relations. This is not at the government level alone. For ages, people along the border have lived in harmony. The interdependence has led to different level of relationship and trust. We cannot jeopardise the relation and the inter-dependence because of a few months of closure to prevent a global pandemic.

The incident is also a harsh reminder of our dependence on a single entry. The Phuentsholing gate has become so important that a strike in Jaigaon cuts us off for days. Worst, if our neighbours are not happy or businesses affected, a few of them can call a strike and bring Phuentsholing to a standstill.

A railway link to Pasakha from Hashimara had been announced 12 years ago. Yet, there is no headway. We know what is derailing the project, yet nothing was done. Two governments have come and gone. We also know that we share good relations with the neighbouring Indian states. What we don’t know is what is being done?

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