It’s a pity fact but the reality is Nepali-speaking community outside Nepal in South Asia always struggled to manifest their loyalty and live in constant suspicion of treason, while continue face trouble in establishing their identity.
Current discourse is of course from the northern India – Darjeeling and Kalimpong.
Queen of the Hills is burning again – in yet another hope to get recognised with a separate state. In fact, Darjeeling has not seen peace since the 1989 violent protests led by Subash Ghising, which witnessed the death of over 1,500 people.
The unrest fuels up and goes silent for a while as leaders get cosy with political pundits in Delhi when their personal interests are addressed. The latest episode, erupted out of Mamata’s announcement to enforce Bengali as compulsory language in state schools, has already taken lives of three civilians.
The recognition battle is not new. It dates back long before Indian independence. It is in fact 110 years old.
“In 1947, brothers and sisters, the British left granting India her freedom, granting the Muslims Pakistan, granting special provisions for the Scheduled castes and tribes, leaving everything taken care of, brothers and sisters —
‘Except us, EXCEPT US. The Nepalis of India. At that time, in April of 1947, the Communist Party of India demanded a Gorkhasthan, but the request was ignored… We are labourers on the tea plantations, coolies dragging heavy loads, soldiers. We are Gorkhas. We are soldiers. Our loyalty and character have never been in doubt. And have we been rewarded? Can our children learn our language in schools? Have we been given compensation? Are we given respect??
‘No! They spit on us (1).’
The excerpt reflects the current sentiments of Darjeeling hills. The hills are now cut off all forms of communications and connection. The national media avoid covering the unrest or portray them as agitation against peaceful India.
Not only the Bangla speaking population in the state but most northern India suspect the motive behind a separate Gorkhaland adjacent to Sikkim which is dominated by Nepali speaking population. Despite repeated statement from Sikkim government that it has no intention of merger anywhere in foreseeable future, separate Gorkhaland injects unwarranted suspicion that it will merge with Sikkim and fight for an independence.
Gorkhaland has bigger and more conscious population than Sikkim. Merger certainly means Darjeeling domination in Sikkim affairs which the Himalayan state prefers not. Despite larger mass speaking same language, Sikkim has its own history and glory which it does not want to dilute with Darjeeling. The merger theory was derived from the fact that Darjeeling was ceded to Sikkim when British snatched it away from Nepal. It was later taken back for political reasons.
Indian federation is founded on the principles of ethnic and linguistic identity. Gorkhaland movement is highly inspired by the very principle. Development or lack of it could be one reason of the rebellion but not the ultimate. Some advocates of separate state cite example of Tibet ‘where large scale development by the Chinese could not undermine the peoples’ aspiration for self-respect and self-esteem’(2) . The Gorkhaland movement, unlike other underground warring groups in India, does ‘not indicate a secessionist motive or anti-national rhetoric’(3) .
India proclaims the success of democracy in a union federated along ethnic lines. However, not many ethnic groups get their voice heard or get recognised. There are over 30 groups across India currently fighting for recognition. Gorkhaland is by the oldest of them all. Many of the newly formed states were demands of recent years but they grew stronger and larger forcing the centre to bow.
The union and state governments have never made a separate Gorkhaland their agenda. The popular rise of Narendra Modi in hills has its root in his commitment for smaller states thereby supporting partition of Gorkhaland from West Bengal. Once placed to the Delhi Palace, BJP turned deaf year to the demands and commitments. The hills residents have always voted an outsider as their representative in hope for an independent state – without any success.
The fact that concerns and demands of the Nepali speaking population in India not reaching to the parliament and not being included in the political debates was the absence of their true representatives in the house. The issue of Gorkhaland is discussed at smaller scale in Delhi only when agitations turn violent in hills. The Gorkhas have never been represented in the federal parliament. Mani Kumar Subba from Assam, the only Nepali speaking MP in the upper house was abused, mistreated and alleged of forgeries – finally getting out of the parliament in 2009.
Gorkhaland is not just a demand for Nepali-speaking population in the hills – it’s the emotions and sentiments coming out of Indian-Gorkhas who live across the country. Darjeeling hills have become the fertile ground for refuge to those Gorkhas who were forced out of their ancestral places in other states such as Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Manipur. Gorkhas in Meghalaya faced the wrath of the tribal-government clash in 1986-87(4) clearly threatening the survival of small-Nepali speaking community there. Many of them still continue to fear their future in the state despite them being the first recorded settlers dating back to 1886(5).
Gorkhas served British and Indian army as the most disciplined, sturdy and loyal regiment. The tradition continues today. If any foreigner feared attacking India was sometimes credited to the presence of Gorkhas.
Despite their loyalty, Gorkhas in India continue their status to be a second class citizen. All parties manipulated them for their interest, played with Gorkha emotions and sentiments but hardly did anything that benefits the Gorkhas. The federal parliament, seeing any trouble in the border or any internal security threat, immediately enters discussion on sending Gorkha soldiers. However when it comes to recognising their status, their language and culture, their separate identity – it remains practically silent.
The Gorkhas find themselves reduced to second class citizens, at the hands of these otherwise miniscule inhabitants. A certain amnesia prevails in the hills; the history of the Nepalese has been erased. With little to hold on to, the relationship with ‘maato’ and the tea-bushes their ancestors planted, has grown stronger(6).
A separate Gorkhaland is not only a dream for hill people but a symbol of self-respect, recognition and passion for all Indian citizens who speak Nepali. It does not only gives them sense of security but inculcates in them the sense of pride as an Indian national.
1. Desai, Kiran. The Inheritance of Loss, Desai, page 158
2. Giri, Manoj. Demand for Gorkhaland: What Is It and Why? FreeThinker, dated 21 June 2008. http://www.srai.org/demand-for-gorkhaland-what-is-it-and-why/ retrieved on 20.06.2017
3. Samanta, Amiya K. Gorkhaland Movement: A Study in Ethnic Separatism, page 107
4. Menon, Ramesh – Without a home, India Today, dated 15 February 1988. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/nepalis-in-meghalaya-face-tribal-wrath-amid-official-apathy/1/328949.html retrieved on 22 June 2017
5. Passah, Amena. Nepalis in Meghalaya: Diaspora and Identity, ed. Tanka Bahadur Subba in Indian Nepalis: Issues and Perspectives, page 238
6. Agarwal, Kritika. Darjeeling unrest: Here is a history of the Gorkhas and a lazy hamlet called Dorjeling, The Indian Express, dated 20 June 2017 http://indianexpress.com/article/research/darjeeling-unrest-here-is-a-history-of-the-gorkhas-and-a-lazy-hamlet-called-dorjeling-471033a3/ retried on 22 June 2017