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gorkhaland

gorkhaland

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commentary
june 6, 2009 vol xliv no 23
EPW
 
Economic & Political
Weekly
10
Gkhld rdux
 Anjan Ghosh
Comments and suggestions by MollicaDastider and Dwaipayan Bhattacharyyaare much appreciated. They, o course, areabsolved o the shortcomings.  Anjan Ghosh (
anjangh@gmail.com
) is with theCentre or Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.
The setting up o the Hill Councilin Darjeeling and the more recentattempts at including it under theSixth Schedule o the Constitutionto extend its autonomy have notmet the popular aspirations o theGorkhas. Yet the Gorkhahomeland question is no longer assimple as about autonomy. Doubtsremain about the representativeclaims o the Gorkha community over the entire Nepali populationin the country.
T
he Darjeeling hills o West Bengalare astir once again resounding to thedemands o a separate Gorkhaland.Twenty years ater the Darjeeling GorkhaHill Council (
DGHC
) was ormed as a resulto the Gorkhaland movement (1986-88),the prospect o a separate Gorkhalandstate within the Indian union has onceagain been raised on the eve o the 15thLok Sabha elections. Why has the demandbeen revived now? Is this a replay o theearlier movement albeit with a new leaderand organisation? Why has the
DGHC
notbeen able to meet the aspiration o theDarjeeling Gorkhas?The setting up o the Hill Council andthe more recent attempts at including itunder the Sixth Schedule o the Constitu-tion to extend its autonomy has not metthe popular aspirations o the Gorkhas.While the ormation o the Hill Councilquelled the violent movement o theGorkha National Liberation Front (
GNLF
)led by Subhash Ghising in the hills, it couldnot establish the Gorkhas as the hegemon-ic group in the district. This is because thedistrict o Darjeeling comprises three hillsubdivisions and the
terai
region in theplains. Siliguri town is located in theplains. The demographic prole o the hillsand plains are mirror opposites. Out o atotal population o one million in the hills,90% are Nepali speakers. On the otherhand o about 8,00,000 in the plains,3,00,000 are Nepali-speaking. In Siliguritown there are about 1,00,000 Nepali-speakers out o a total population o 8,50,000 (Devkota 2009: 28). The adversedemographic dynamics o the Gorkhas inthe plains has been attributed to the reu-gee infux ater Partition but augmentedmore recently by alleged illegal immigra-tion rom across the Bangladesh border.Population fows are intricately connect-ed with perceptions o ethnic dominance.The ebb and fow o migration in thetrans-Himalayan region has been a majormotivator o the Gorkhaland movement.Its initial phase (1986-88) under theleadership o Ghising was sparked o by the eviction o Nepali-speaking migrantsrom Assam in the early 1980s, as
bahira- gatas
(oreigners) just like the Bengalis,during the Assam movement. This wasollowed by the driving out o 5,000 Nepali-speaking workers rom the coal mines o the Jowai Hills in Meghalaya at the insist-ence o the Khasi Students Union (Ghosh1986: 36; Patra 2007: 320; Chattopadhyay 2008: 191). The anxiety that this evoked atthe time in the shadow o the Indo-NepalTreaty o 1950 or the Indian-born Gorkhas was echoed in Ghising’s statement toInder Jit (1986),
Mr Ghising explained that their demand ora Gorkhaland is basically a question o theiridentity and a ght or justice and economicprogress. “You have Bengalis, Biharis, Pun- jabis, Tamils, Marathis, etc. But who are we– Nepali-speaking people who have been liv-ing in Darjeeling and surrounding areassince the 12th century. We are only ‘recipro-cal Nepalis’ thanks to the Indo-Nepal Treaty o 1950, I want abrogated.”
The provision o reciprocal recognitionin the Indo-Nepal Treaty o 1950 hasblurred the distinction between Indian-born and Nepal-born Nepali-speakers.Consequently, the Gorkhas (Indian-bornNepalis) have been considered as oreigners.Even ex-Prime Minister Morarji Desai hadcalled Nepali a oreign language and re-marked “I you want Nepali, go to Nepal”(quoted in Inder Jit 1986). Anxieties o eviction looming large, prompted theGorkhas to demand Gorkhaland as a sanc-tuary, imparting an Indian identity to themas distinct rom the Nepalis. The spectreo alien-ness and eviction continues tohaunt the Gorkhas even in the present.These have been uelled during the1990s when Bhutan deported over a1,00,000 o its Nepali residents as illegalmigrants. Apparently, they were trans-ported to Nepal across the Mechi river inIndian army vehicles. Crammed into severalreugee camps in Nepal, these orgottenreugees are slowly beginning to maketheir way westwards to Europe and
US
orresettlement under the auspices o theUnited Nations High Commissioner orReugees (
UNHCR 
). Yet as the
BBC
docu-mentary lm showed,
1
only about hal the
 
commentary 
Economic & Political
Weekly
 
EPW
june 6, 2009 vol xliv no 23
11
reugees have registered or resettlementin third countries. The other hal do not want to relinquish their citizenship o Bhutan, or which they have documentary proo, and would like to return there even-tually. But the government o Bhutan isresolute in not accepting them back as it islikely to disturb the cultural homogeneity o the small mountain state. On the otherhand, Nepal is also unwilling to accept theBhutan reugees as it is unable to cope with the additional pressure on the popu-lation. Clearly, the movement or a sepa-rate Gorkhaland is not unconnected withthe accommodation o ethnic minoritiesin the trans-Himalayan region.
His 
To distinguish Gorkha rom Nepali it isnecessary to delve into history, languageormation and colonial classication. Thehill area o Darjeeling excluding Kalim-pong was transerred by the Raja o Sikkim as a git to the British in 1835.Kalimpong and the terai areas known as theDuars were annexed rom Bhutan in 1865(Chattopadhyay 2008; Ghosh 1986: 38).Darjeeling district comprises the threehill subdivisions o Darjeeling, Kurseongand Kalimpong along with Siliguri townand the surrounding Duars area. TheGorkhas who primarily inhabited the hilldistricts had also been numerically pre-ponderant in the Duars area till the early 1940s. It was the reugee infux ater thecreation o Pakistan which tipped thebalance against the Gorkhas. Between1941 and 1959 Siliguri town grew by 61.2%, while rom 1951-61 Siliguri grewby 101.5% owing to the reugee infow(Thulung 2008). This meant that otherthan in the hill subdivisions the Gorkhashad become a minority in the plains. Theinclusion o Siliguri and the adjoiningDuars area in the revamped demand o aseparate Gorkhaland is an attempt toreclaim lost territory.There are at least two other aspects toGorkha ethnic identity. First the questiono language. While the Gorkhas speak Nepali their linguistic pattern has a certaindistinctiveness embedded in their languageormation. The Nepali language used inDarjeeling has emerged out o an amalga-mation o numerous separate
kura
(dialects)and is known as Khas Kura or Gorkhali orParbatiya. The dierent castes and tribesamong the Nepalis had their distinct dialectslike Sherpakura, Limbukura, Raikura,etc. As the dierent communities engagedin public social intercourse in the teagardens and marketplaces, Khas Kurabecame the lingua ranca in the hills. Anamalgamation o the dialects in Khas Kuraconstituted a
 jatiya bhasa
which unlike inNepal was not the royal imposition o acourt language, but grew out o the grass-roots interaction in everyday lie. Thuseven the other hill communities like theLepchas, Bhotiyas and Tibetans took toGorkhali or Gorkha bhasa or communica-tion. This syncretic development o thelanguage served as a oundation or theemergence o Gorkha ethnicity. The trend was consolidated through the ormationo the Nepali Sahitya Sammelan in 1924 which became the orum o the emergentGorkha intelligentsia. The
 NSS Patrika
 became the vehicle o communication o Nepali language and literature among theliterati (Ghosh 1986; Das 1982). The inclu-sion o Gorkhali or Gorkha bhasa in theEighth Schedule had been a long-standingdemand o the Gorkhaland movement. Ne-pali was declared the ocial language inthe hill subdivisions according to the WestBengal Ocial Language Act o 1961. TheGorkha intelligentsia also demanded thatNepali should be made the language o instruction in schools. In 1977, the WestBengal legislature passed a resolutionrequesting the Parliament to amend theConstitution and include Nepali as ascheduled language. While this resolu-tion was tabled in Parliament by AnandaPathak, the Communist Party o India(Marxist) member o Parliament rom Dar- jeeling, its implementation would take an-other 15 years. In 1992, the Constitution was nally amended to include Nepali inthe Eighth Schedule with this claricatory statement by the home minister in theRajya Sabha on 20 A ugust:
While including Nepali language in the EighthSchedule o the Indian Constitution, the Gov-ernment o India has also noted that in someareas this language is also known as Gorkhabhasa. In act, the Autonomous DarjeelingGorkha Hill Council has declared Gorkhabhasa to be its ocial language. The Darjeel-ing Gorkha Hill Council will thereore be reeto continue using Gorkha bhasa as its ociallanguage (quoted in Pradhan 2007: 312).
Gorkha ethnic identity has also beenconstituted through the manner o colonialclassication by the British who had estab-lished the Gorkha Regiment in the British Army since 1815. Recruitment into theBritish Army entailed the Gorkhas’ classi-cation as a martial race. Gorkha recruit-ment centres were set up in Shillong,Darjeeling and Dehra Dun. In 1902, theBritish set up a recruitment centre inGhoom, Darjeeling. The Gorkha identity actually derives rom a place-name, thecity o Gorkha which is about 40 miles west o Kathmandu. As the capital o theShah d ynasty which ruled Nepal in the18th century, the king o Gorkha was theking o Nepal. In 1742, king PrithvinarayanShah built his army through the inclusiono a large number o castes and tribes o Nepal like the Magars, Khas, BagaleThapa, Tamangs and Sunuwars. While theGorkhas are said to have been o Rajputdescent, the other communities acquiredthe Gorkha identity through their partici-pation in the army. This composite tradi-tion was ostered by the recruitment to theBritish army as Magar, Gurung, Rai,Limbu and others were recruited to theGorkha Regiment. It has been continued inthe Indian army. Gorkha identity was in- variably connected with the martial tradi-tions o the hill people (Chattopadhyay 2008: 187-88).The disillusionment with the
DGHC
andGhising has emerged in recent times ow-ing to the (mal)unctioning o the HillCouncil and Ghising’s apathy towardssecuring a niche or the Gorkhas. The
DGHC
was ormed to accord sel-rule to theGorkhas ater the Gorkhaland movement(1986-88). Its purpose was to allow orthe autonomy o Gorkha governance inthe hill subdivisions o Darjeeling. WithGhising as the
DGHC
chie, the state gov-ernment ound in him a stable conduit.Once the Hill Council was ormed, Ghisingdid not again raise the demand or a sepa-rate Gorkhaland. The administrative auto-nomy or the
DGHC
was conned to thehill subdivisions and did not include theterai region. The purse strings o the HillCouncil were controlled rom WritersBuilding in Kolkata and hamstrung theprospects o development in the hills.Coupled with rampant corruption, ailureo governance and the increasing isolation
 
commentary 
june 6, 2009 vol xliv no 23
EPW
 
Economic & Political
Weekly
12
o its chairman, the hill people’s con-dence in the
DGHC
was undermined overthe two decades. In an eort to shore upthe autonomy o the Hill Council a demandor inclusion o the Council under theSixth Schedule was gaining ground. TheSixth Schedule o the Indian Constitutionproposes the ormation o autonomousdistrict councils or the tribal areas o thenorth-east in order to enable the tribalcommunities to enjoy sel-governanceover their territory. However, or theHindu Gorkhas, the attribution o tribalstatus was demeaning. The caste HinduGorkhas resented the homogenisation with the scheduled tribes who are mostly Buddhists (i e, Lepchas, Bhotias).
r-g f ‘Gkhld’ Dd
The disaection with the unctioning o the
DGHC
crystallised into the re-emergenceo the Gorkhaland demand under theleadership o Bimal Gurung and theGorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (
GJMM
).Gurung had been Ghising’s lieutenantduring the earlier phase o the movement.He had led the Gorkha National VolunteerForce under Ghising. Later when the
DGHC
  was ormed he became an elected Councilmember. However, as dierences withGhising suraced he kept himsel apartand took up residence in Kurseong. It wasthe short message service (
SMS
) campaignin 2007 or Prashant Tamang, a promising young Gorkha singer rom Darjeelingcompeting or the Indian Idol crown, thatonce again brought Gurung into the lime-light. Unlike Ghising who was disdainulo the young lad’s eorts, Gurung actively campaigned or Tamang who eventually  won. It was this electronic campaign whichagain brought Gurung into the oreront o Gorkha solidarity. The
GJMM
was ormedsoon ater in October 2007 and took upthe cause o a separate Gorkhaland stateagain. Its rst move was to scuttle the in-clusion o the Hill Council under the SixthSchedule. Secondly it united the veteranGorkha army personnel and led them toexpress their solidarity or Gorkhaland.The
GJMM
called or a number o 
bandhs
during May-June 2008 thereby haltingtrac on Hill Cart Road, the main thorough-are to the hills o Darjeeling and Sikkim.For Sikkim the stalling o trac meant adisruption o its principal lieline. It led tothe Sikkim government ling a suit against
GJMM
. When a
GJMM
supporter was alleg-edly shot at by a
GNLF
supporter in thehills during a procession, popular anger was directed at the
GNLF
chie, Ghising who was unceremoniously driven out o Darjeeling in July 2008 and ultimately had to take shelter in Siliguri town. Securein the knowledge o people’s support inthe hills Gurung now turned his attentionto the plains, mainly Siliguri town. In orderto extend their infuence in Siliguri andthe adjoining
duars
area, protest actionsin the orm o bandhs, meetings anddemonstrations were initiated by 
GJMM
.While the protests were by and largepeaceul, there were some incidents o ethnic conrontation between
GJMM
sup-porters and members o Amra Bangali andJan Jagaran Manch. These revivalist andethnically chauvinist organisations o erstwhile reugee Bengali youth andadivasi workers rom the tea-gardens, arealleged to have sprung to lie through thecovert ministrations o some Let leaders.This has added an ethnic edge to Letpolitics in the state.
 a mjii rsps
The state government’s response to therenewed agitation in the hills was predict-ably majoritarian. It maintained that thedemand or a separate Gorkhaland was anattempt to urther divide West Bengal,thereby evoking the bogey o partition andits association o loss. Further while thegovernment was willing to accede to de-mands o greater autonomy and had evenproceeded to initiate consultations to in-clude the
DGHC
under the Sixth Schedule,it was not amenable to suggestions o aseparate Gorkhaland. Moreover, it eltthat the confict between Ghising’s
GNLF
 and Gurung’s
GJMM
was internecine con-fict among the Gorkhas. All the opposi-tion parties in the state including theIndian National Congress (
INC
), TrinamoolCongress (
TMC
) and Bharatiya Janata Party (
BJP
) have been united in their oppositionto the idea o a separate Gorkhaland. Inother words political parties with stakes inthe plains were hardly willing to jeopardisetheir electoral chances by supporting thedemand or a separate Gorkhaland. Hereeven the
BJP
which had deputed its seniorleader Jaswant Singh to ght the Lok Sabhaelection rom Darjeeling at the request o the
GJMM
, had engaged in doublespeak.While in the hills, Singh had promised toraise the issue o a separate Gorkhaland inParliament i elected, his compatriots inthe plains had maintained that “the party had not made any commitment to ullthe demand or Gorkhaland, but only tolook into the matter sympathetically” (
The
 
Telegraph
, 17 April 2009). This equivocationsuggests the quandary in which the
BJP
 ound itsel. By elding Jaswant Singh asthe
BJP
candidate rom Darjeeling supportedby 
GJMM
, it had ound itsel isolated in theplains. Consequently it sought to dissociateitsel rom the promise o a separateGorkhaland made in the hills, even as the
GJMM
had welcomed the candidature o Jaswant Singh as an ex-army man and aprospective weighty voice or a separateGorkhaland in Parliament. This o coursehas allowed a certain national exposureto
GJMM
and bore ruit in the electionsas Jaswant Singh won the seat with anoverwhelming margin o 2,53,000 votes.Signicantly, the
BJP
candidate polled85,000 votes in the plains, 30,000 morethan in the 2004 elections (
The Times of  India
, 18 May 2009). But has Singh’s victory served
GJMM
’s purpose o a separateGorkhaland? For the National Democratic Alliance’s (
NDA
) deeat at the national levelhas plunged the prospect o Gorkhalandinto uncertainty. Yet by aligning with the
BJP
,
GJMM
hasanned the upper caste Hindu sentimentsin the Darjeeling hills which has mirroredthe majoritarian impulse o their Bengalicounterparts in the plains. In an eort toemerge as the dominant voice the Gorkhashave silenced the autochthonous Buddhistminorities (e g, Lepchas, Bhotias, Tibet-ans, Magars, etc) in the hills. A section o the Kamtapuris have supported the
BJP
 stalwart’s candidature rom Darjeeling. Atul Roy o the Kamtapur People’s Party (
KPP
) had expressed willingness to with-draw his candidature in avour o the
BJP
 candidate. But this does not imply completeadivasi support or Jaswant Singh in theterai region. The Adivasi Vikas Parishad (
 AVP
)had opposed the inclusion o the plainsarea into Gorkhaland. They eventually called or a poll boycott which benetedthe
BJP
candidate. Moreover, even Ghising

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