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Torrential rain floods the Chinese Lane road that separates Phuentsholing and Jaigaon. It is 3:30pm.

Women wade through the knee-deep floodwater on the road to the lane’s gate to pick up their children from school. 

Sherab Tshomo, 39, has found a shed under a roof extended from a shop.

“I am waiting for my elder daughter,” she said. Her younger daughter is with her.

Married to a driver, she lives at Gumba Road behind Chinese Lane. 

She said house rents have been increasing and there are frequent power disruptions at Chinese Lane. 

High electricity bills, robbery, and security issues are some of the major concerns Bhutanese living across the border in Jaigaon face every day.

Dhan Bahadur Gurung, 40, from Tsirang has been living across the border for more than 20 years. He rents a house for Rs 5,500 per month at Subash Pali. His family of five pays Rs 10 per unit of electricity. 

“When the power supply is disrupted, the water connection, which is provided twice a day also gets disconnected.” He said he uses the ceiling fans judiciously. “There were times when I paid Rs 1,800 a month in electricity bill.”

  Empty jerry cans outside a Bhutanese family’s house at Deokota Tol

Empty jerry cans outside a Bhutanese family’s house at Deokota Tol

Dhan Bahadur, who recently resigned from a private firm,    said he is eagerly waiting for the National Housing Development Corporation Ltd (NHDCL) to complete constructing the housing colony in Phuentsholing.

“I have registered for an apartment,” he said. “I want to shift immediately if I get a chance.”

Recalling how a burglar had attempted to steal his cell phone, Dhan Bahadur also said that he and his family live in constant fear. 

During the Gorkha Janmukti agitation in 2017, his family had to stay at a friend’s place in Phuentsholing for safety.

Residents like Sherub Tshomo and Dhan Bahadur are not alone.

Another Bhutanese at Subash Pali, Tshering, 36, said she goes to sleep at her friend’s house whenever her husband, a driver, is not home.

“I have lost a handbag, clothes, and money,” she said. “Miscreants attack during rainy days when there is no electricity.”

Tshering also said that her house owner asks her to pay in INR.  “I have applied for a NHDCL flat,” she said.

She said she pays Rs 5,500 as monthly rent and more than Rs 1,500 for electricity bills. 

Bhutanese living across the border said high house rents in Phuentsholing force them to live across. 

They claim it is mostly people from the low-income group, especially those working in factories and private firms, who live in Jaigaon. 

Official records indicate that more than 3,000 Bhutanese live across the border today. 

Subash Pali, Manglabarey, Gopi Mohan, Deo Kota Tol, and Gumba road are some areas where Bhutanese live. Chinese Lane is however, home for most Bhutanese. 

They say they resort to cheaper housing across the border to save for their children’s education.

Several alleys from Chinese Lane at Deokota Tol, Kavita Sunar and her daughter comes out of a small room away from her house. 

“It is the toilet,” she said, adding that the kitchen, toilet, and bathroom were outside her rented house.

Her family pays Rs 4,500 a month as rent. The water pipe is also located outdoor. “I lock the house every time I go outside,” she said. 

Meanwhile, talks of the recent rape of a Bhutanese woman living in Jaigaon have reached many ears. 

Women in Chinese Lane also said that young Bhutanese men and women are often seen hanging around late at night under the influence of alcohol. “We have to be careful here,” a woman said. “It’s risky.”

Meanwhile, it hasn’t stopped raining and Sherab Tshomo is still waiting for her daughter. “The Nu 10,000 my husband earns a month is not enough for us to live in Phuentsholing,” she said. “This is how life is here.”

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

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