No country can prosper alone, or in isolation. And as people from different countries often do not get along, governments play a big role in improving cross-border relationships. Trade is one such method that has brought countries together since time immemorial, by engaging them in commercial activities. It is also the primary way in which the governments of India and Bangladesh together are shifting the centre of attention from illegal trading to mutual gains by boosting their economy.
In 2011, India and Bangladesh established ‘border haats‘, that allow people living within five kilometres of the Indo-Bangladeshi border to practice trade as ‘vendors’ and ‘buyers’. The revival of local trade at the haats has transformed the idea of national borders, which are usually associated with fear and stringent security. These haats function largely as local markets along the border, and sell an innumerable variety of items, ranging from local produce to cosmetic products, garments and plastic buckets. They not only provide trade and employment opportunities to men and women alike, but also aid the marginalised communities by being an entry into the more mainstream world of trade and commerce. Working along the lines of both barter system and monetary payments, borders haats have improved the lives of the locals on either side of the border; they claim that this trade has increased their income exponentially and has also generated employment for the previously unemployed– after the installation of these haats, vendors and buyers claim to being able to afford their children’s education, especially in an English-medium school. Further, this weekly trade market allows these vendors and buyers to trade with people from the other country without undergoing the process of paying custom duties, which greatly encourages local trade and entrepreneurship.
Border haats have also helped these vendors and buyers to engage in trade characterised by a successful barter system, where the commodity desired by one party is exchanged for the item desired by the other party. For instance, wood apple is sold by the Indian vendors, and is in high demand amongst the Bangladeshis as it is considered exotic in their country. This is also why this initiative has been a huge success and increased the income of all sellers involved: it allows for exchange of commodities otherwise unable in the buyers’ country.Consequently, such business relationships across borders have created a thriving economy and a healthy cross-cultural environment. While borders have largely been established to keep one’s country safe from ‘untrustworthy’ enemies, such cross-border trading activities have managed to build a sense of trust, develop friendships and rekindle familial ties which had been forgotten in the partition after independence.
These local markets have also delineated an important space for women traders, whereby women across both countries have managed to secure a place for themselves in this highly patriarchal tradition of trade and commerce. However, since the trading system is still male-dominated, many women are still not allowed to enter into this profession; while sometimes it is the government which fails to release appropriate measures to support these women, on many occasions it is their own families that do not support their wish to engage in the trading business. Furthermore, it is important to note that not everybody is allowed to trade along the Indo-Bangladesh border, and the Haat Management Committee takes into account several factors before vendors are allowed to trade: the participants have to undergo a process of selection which is heavilt gender-biased. A majority of these Management Committees have no women members even though it is essential to have employ women in these places to ensure an unbiased system of selection. Another factor which hinders the participation of women is a lack of security; if one visits these markets, one will observe that there are hardly any women police constables to ensure women’s safety– there are not even basic facilities like separate washrooms for women and men. Moreover, the dimly lit borders living without electricity for most of the time add to the unsafe conditions along with poor network connectivity.
However, one does hope that such trade markets will eventually connect the lives of those living across borders while providing an opportunity for women to enter the mainstream world of trade and commerce. The initiative taken by our governments will hopefully eliminate the intense animosity along national borders to allow these vendors to earn more than just a subsistence living.
Picture Credits : newtimes.co.rw