Ritu Dokania, a Nepalese expatriate in India, in her debut novel The Red Corridor, plays her protagonists against the backdrop of economic migration. Two star-crossed lovers — Timila, a Nepalese of Indian origin, and Manian, a south-Indian, meet and fall in love in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. "Nepal has always been in the news for many reasons — Maoist attacks, political instability, the royal massacre and communal [sectarian] riots — in short, the country has become synonymous with disruption," she writes in the author's note.
Dokania states that what is rarely addressed is the "astonishingly porous frontier" that separates India and Nepal. The story of The Red Corridor has its beginning in Birgunj, a "dusty and ravaged town, torn asunder by violence and besieged by political upheavals". This border town in Nepal shares a frontier with Raxual in Bihar, India. The author was born in Birgunj and is a migrant herself, living first in Chennai and then moving to Kolkata to live with her husband, a businessman.
Dokania says she tried to connect Birgunj with Bihar, "a much condemned state in India". She points out that ironically, both regions are similar — culturally and socially. This is a story about economic migrants, who leave their home and country to better their lives in another land but face discrimination in their adopted country. The Red Corridor focuses on the question of identity. Here, that question is of the Madhesi people, residents of Nepal who are of Indian origin, and marginalised.
Nepal, the former kingdom on the Himalayan foothills, has a history of violence and turbulence, leaving many jobless and in dire conditions. A ten-year civil war by the Communist Party of Nepal, and several weeks of mass protests in 2006, ended in the abdication of the last Nepalese monarch, Gyanendra Shah. A federal democratic republic was established two years later in May 2008.
Migration between India and neighbouring Nepal is a major irritant in relations between the two countries. Every year some 250,000 young Nepalese leave their country for greener pastures abroad.
A youth leader notes that many professionals leave for the Gulf states to work on infrastructure projects. They also migrate to South India to work as IT professionals.
Nepal lacks basic infrastructure, technology or knowledge, says the youth leader.
The Red Corridor brings to the fore the "baggage" people carry with them wherever they go. In a chapter called Madhesi, the author explores how people are trapped in their past. Ramu, her compatriot, begins to complain how they have been marginalised in Nepalese society. Ramu tells her that 20 years ago, his father, a resident of Birgunj, had wished to set up his own business. He had wanted to buy land but was not allowed to do so as he did not have Nepalese citizenship. But he conveniently forgets a new rule (that Timila points out) — those who live in Nepal for 18 consecutive years are eligible for citizenship automatically. Timila learns that the upheavals in her country have extended from Nepal to Chennai like a "red corridor". She learns that racism spreads its tentacles far and wide and it traps many innocent people. "We are all victims," she bewails.