Nepali Indians-Gorkhas-Want Their Own State Under the Union of India
By Swaroop Chetry
A routine day in Darjeeling begins with cabbies waiting for tourist to clamber on to their seats and rush to Tiger Hill to see the majestic Kanchanjunga change colour as the Sun rises from the far horizon, but nothing of this is quite happening now, the tourist numbers are thin and the people who are otherwise dependent on tourism are suddenly at loss, when I ask one of the taxi driver, he lamented things will all change for good once the State of Gorkhaland is created. This is the mood in the Darjeeling, people here seem to understand that this may be long drawn struggle and are ready to sacrifice and sustain. As the day progressed, the market starts to buzz with people buying essential commodities as nothing remains certain as when the next shutdown is imposed, evenings in Chuarasta is seemingly dull, interestingly there seems little of Government machinery functional, offices are either shut or the employ do not return to work voluntarily, only the traffic points are manned by unarmed police personnel obscure by the fact that many vehicle plying on the street bear Gorkhaland- registration.
Going by what is emerging as a major political and social upheaval in Darjeeling and the Dooars, the Govt. of West Bengal, visa-vis the Govt. of India is bound to have some sleepless night as to how to bring about an amicable solution to the decade old vexed issue of Gorkhaland, a homeland for the millions of Nepali speaking Indians settled in Darjeeling and its adjoining areas. This time around the agitation seems to embrace the Gandhian ideals of non violence and non cooperation, lead by Bimal Gurung and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The eye sore is fast becoming a major headache for the West Bengal Government to contain with.
The genesis of this uprising dates back almost a century when the Nepali speaking population resented the move of the then East India Company to en-bloc the Hill tract and its adjoining areas to what is present Bihar for an administrative unit, which was later incorporated into the State of West Bengal this too with much reluctance of the then Leaders of All India Gorkha League, Kalimpong and parts of Dooars fostered from Bhutan. The present case of people’s movement in Darjeeling is primarily because of total failure to bring about desired change by Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council(DGHC) and its autocratic chief Subhas Ghising, the West Bengal Government also seems to miss out an opportunity to consolidate largely because of its inept handling and internal bickering within the communist party and the writers building about the healing touch which the people of Darjeeling needed most after the Gorkha National Liberation Front(GNLF) struggle for statehood ended.
With the DGHC accord, people’s expectation ran high but the paradigm shift eluded and remained a far fetch dream, the quality of living and basic services did not change for good, majority of people were pushed to the brink of suffocating poverty, compounded by the cultural isolation of the people in the Hills. All of it can act as super catalyst to ignite chain reaction which is now evident in the Darjeeling Hills.
In the last quarter of a century India has emerged as one of major Global Economic power house and this had in fact multiplied people’s aspirations, the idea to better achieve in life has also become a near reality for thousands of Nepali speaking Indians of Darjeeling and Dooars and more so if Governance is brought to their door steps. It may sound little absurd but the fact is people’s aspiration and development today in the Indian democratic context depends to an extend to the state which a person hails from, as state boundaries are all drawn on linguistic parameters, therefore the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland becomes pronounced, the Gorkhas and the Nepali speaking population otherwise remain vastly unrepresented in every spheres of decision making even in the state of West Bengal. The window of better hope and future is what fuels the present agitation of separate statehood.
In the realm of this demand there seems a section of the media and vested interest who would like to play the card of pan-Nepali movement which again is only a figment of imagination as is obvious that to cave out a state of greater Nepal out of superior India is a bogey, one has to agree to cultural integration and cultural exchanges, but again cultural integration always transcends national and international boundaries as is seen in many vibrant cultures of India.
History has it, the treaty between the East India Company and the Raja Vikram shah of Nepal of 1815 lead to cessation of land between river Meitchee and river Teestah, from the Rajah of Nepal along with its subjects residing in this area. Census of 1871 shows the predominant population of Darjeeling are Nepalese, True that a small section of this population is migrant almost two century and beyond, it is also believed that a section of the Nepali speaking people once migrated from the princely state of Rajasthan and Maharastra during the Mughal invasion and forth, but one has to also examine the circumstances that propelled this migration, like all other migratory behavior of mankind this is no difference, in search of greener pastures and in case of Darjeeling the same people were amongst the first settlers.
The British and the East India Company, knowing the tenacity recruited the Nepali speaking people as foot soldiers to serve them and take control of all hostile territory, bringing them under a single administrative umbrella. Many were roped in as laborers to build new roads and cattle grazers, to cultivate crops primarily Tea in the Darjeeling and adjoining areas. With the socio economic fabric slightly improving the same people also started to participate in India’s freedom struggle, To name a few Dal Bahadur Giri, Bhaktabir Lama, Agam Singh Giri, Dambar Singh Gurung, Paras Mani Pradhan, and Ari Bahadur Gurung who later became the member of the constituent assembly of free India. The war memorial at Batasia Loop speaks volumes of those decorated soldiers who laid their life for the nation.
The cry for a homeland for majority of the people irrespective of caste and creed in Darjeeling is high pitched, but what remains to be seen is will the Government of West Bengal and Government of India agree to carve out a new state from the present map of West Bengal, ask Bimal Gurung and GJM, they are confident, only time will tell, but for the people of Darjeeling it is in their heart soon to be addressed.