-By Shweta Raj Kanwar
August 2, 2017: July 30, 2017 saw the culmination of thousands of Gorkhas (and also some non-Gorkhas) in Shillong take part in a Global Rally for Gorkhaland, a demand that has taken the lives of many in West Bengal’s Darjeeling city a few months ago. What began as the West Bengal Government’s bid to promote their native language ‘Bengali’ by making it compulsory for the higher secondary schools flared up a long impending demand for Gorkhaland that has lead to unprecedented violence and agitation since the past few months. The spark from Darjeeling spread and has turned into a Global Gorkha movement now with Gorkha’s worldwide extending their support to the demand by various means of expression. But what is it that reignites this demand time and again? Is there no solution to it? Will this be an ongoing process? Will this rally be just another historical date to be noted down in the records of Gorkhaland Movement?
An important aspect of Global Gorkha movement to be pointed out is not only the demand for separate statehood but more so, the demand for one’s constitutional rights- the fight against the atrocities and more so, the imposition of something that is not compatible to a certain section of the population, and which is totally uncalled for, in a democratic set up. While many sections of the population have put the demand for Gorkhaland under the scanner by referring to it as being a biased demand saying, “In that case, there should be a demand for separate state by each caste or religion“, I would request such people to go through the history of the Gorkhas in India, their contributions and the reason why this demand has reignited all of a sudden.
As Kumar Thapa, a volunteer at the Global Gorkha rightly points out, “Gorkhaland for us is that entity which transcends its physical significance as far as the identity struggle of Gorkhas in India is concerned. The demand for a separate state for all its historic significance may have always been sparked off from Darjeeling but the longing for the self determination of our people in the hills had always been brewing up in all of us for quite some time now. It is to be noted that the first memorandum towards setting up of a separate administrative unit was submitted to the British by Hillmen’s Council of Darjeeling in 1907”.
Dorjee, a participant at the rally opines, “It is no secret that several basic human rights are being infringed upon by means of the open and outright caste/community appeasement politics that the Mamta Banerjee government employs repeatedly in West Bengal. Furthermore, the blatant accusation by Banerjee that this movement is an attempt by the Chinese government to create problems in India in general, and Bengal in particular, clearly shows her nonchalant lack of plans and intentions to resolve the issue, and her myopic and racist outreach initiatives towards people who cannot relate to her illogical dictats. Banerjee has conveniently chosen to ignore the fact that this movement is not one of separation, but of carving a niche and an identity within the constitution and the framework of the country. She has confidently gone on record stating falsely that the Gorkhland movement has been orchestrated by the Chinese to incite trouble within India. And, this is the sermon that she pollutes the minds (or whatever they have) of her loyal subjects with”.
He goes on to say, “That being said, the movement for a different state began more than a hundred years ago- more than even India attained its freedom from the British. This delay in granting a separate state shows a severe malady on the part of the Indian government that has been worsened with additional doses of discrimination and racist discriminatory resolutions. India must not forget that it was the mutiny within the army ranks employed by the British that finally saw India see the dawn of freedom. With such heavy handed and insolent discrimination, and the disdain with which the country has been overlooking this century old peaceful struggle shall only make things worse in the generations to come. Every candle that burns for peace, finally dies. Every incense laden prayer that prevents outbreaks of violence gradually runs out of stick. This current BJP government must find a way to fulfil its promises of a separate Gorkhaland. Otherwise, the creation of Telangana and the rejection of Gorkhaland shall only carve deep scars of hatred in the hearts of this loyal and hard working ethnicity. Mamta has made her intentions clear that she does not want peace and cordial relations with communities other than her vote banks, the central government must be wary it does not birth another Kashmir”.
With regard to the above statement, let us trace back the history of Gorkhaland demand that dates back to 1907:
The demand for a separate administrative unit in Darjeeling has existed since 1907, when the Hillmen’s Association of Darjeeling submitted a memorandum to Minto-Morley Reforms demanding a separate administrative setup. In 1929, the Hillmen’s Association again raised the same demand before the Simon Commission. In 1930, a joint petition was submitted by Hillmen’s Association, Gorkha Officers Association and the Kurseong Gorkha Library to the Secretary of the State of India, Samuel Hoare for separation from the province of Bengal. In 1941, the Hillmen’s Association under the presidency of Rup Narayan Sinha urged the Secretary of State of India, Lord Pethick Lawrence, to exclude Darjeeling from the province of Bengal and make it a Chief Commissioners Province.
Also, it may be mentioned that in 1947, the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) submitted a memorandum to the Constituent Assembly with copies to Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the Vice President of the Interim Government, and Liaquat Ali Khan, Finance Minister of the Interim Government, demanding the formation of Gorkhasthan comprising Darjeeling District and Sikkim.
In 1980, under the presidency of Indra Bahadur Rai, the Pranta Parishad of Darjeeling wrote to the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi with the need to form a new state in Darjeeling.
Later, a new violent movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland was started in 1986 by Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led by Subhash Ghisingh. The agitation ultimately led to the establishment of a semiautonomous body in 1988 called the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) to govern certain areas of Darjeeling district. However, in 2007, a new party called the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) raised the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland once again. In 2011, GJM signed an agreement with the state and central governments for the formation of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, a semiautonomous body that replaced the DGHC in the Darjeeling hills.
The Gorkhaland agitation has been going on since the 1980s with regular eruptions of agitations by the members of the community pertaining to the rules of the West Bengal Government.
The demand for Gorkhaland took a new turn with the assassination of Madan Tamang, leader of Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League. He was stabbed to death allegedly by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters on 21 May 2010. On 8 February 2011, three GJM activists were shot dead (one of whom succumbed to her injuries later) by the police as they tried to enter Jalpaiguri district on a padyatra led by Bimal Gurung from Gorubathan to Jaigaon. This led to violence in the Darjeeling hills and an indefinite strike was called by GJM that lasted 9 days.
The 2013 agitation was also one to rememeber wherein for the first time in 106 years, all the major political parties of the hills agreed to come together and jointly take the agitation forward.
As of 2017, there is an ongoing agitation in Darjeeling. Protests first started on June 5, after the West Bengal government announced that the Bengali language will be made mandatory in all schools across the state. The people of Darjeeling and the adjoining areas who are predominantly Nepali speaking, saw this as an imposition of an alien culture upon them. Fueled by the determination to preserve their own culture, identity and language, this protest soon turned into a full fledged resurgence of the agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
As Kumar Thapa points out, “The Gorkhas have contributed to the nation building no less than other communities. We have sacrificed our lives second to none on battle fronts. From fighting the Britishers forming a major chunk of the Azad Hind Fauz of Subhash Chandra Bose to composing the music of our national anthem, “Jana gana mana”, our people have loved this country no less than others. We have actively participated to the cause of the nation through thick & thin, both before independence and after independence. As a Shillongite, the proposed Gorkhaland will, in no way, give me any tangible benefits but it will only consolidate our Indian Identity once and for all. Furthermore, Gorkhaland will provide us that Constitutional safeguards”.
He further adds, “There are generally three accepted principles to determine the legitimacy of contemporary statehood demands in India: a different ethnic/linguistic identity (as in the case of north-eastern states), a separate history and economic disparity. The demand for Gorkhaland scores on all the three counts. If I may, I want to add an additional principle to it. We need and we should get Gorkhaland to free ourselves from the clutches of a chauvinistic, discriminating and colonial masters deciding our future from the confines of Kolkata.”
Kumar is not the only person who is enthusiastic about this. Alleging West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee of playing dirty politics, Jyoti Sharma, a participant of the rally said, “Her vote bank is costing us (indians) dearly but strangely that is not seen as a threat while our age old struggle for what is rightfully ours is dealt with bullets and being labelled as terrorist. Shame”.
“We the Gorkhas of Meghalaya extend our full support to our brothers and sisters in Darjeeling and the demand for Gorkhaland,” echoed Sachin Rai.
Jayati Gurung, another participant also added, “A peaceful march held on July 30 in our beautiful city Shillong for the right of our land “Gorkha Land”which showed a Unity among all the citizens of Shillong. I heartily thank our respected D.C., CM and the local khasi organisation members for supporting us. You have supported us to the extent that we really hope to get our land after all we are the citizens of this country right from the inception of our nation”.
Men, women and children of all age groups gathered in thousands at the Gorkha Patshala School playground in Shillong on Sunday morning to participate in the march- to show their resentment against the Mamata Banerjee Government towards their atrocious nature upon the Gorkha population residing in Darjeeling. Political leaders including UDP legislator from West Shillong Paul Lyngdoh and NCP legislator from South Shillong Sanbor Shullai along with people belonging to other communities too joined in the march to exhibit their support for the cause of the Gorkhas. The silent global march started from Garikhana and passed through Jhalupara point, Rhino Point, Civil Point, Keating Road, Police Bazaar, IGP, Barik, Civil point and back to the same venue.
The rally was organised by a Joint Action Committee of members from different Gorkha organisations of Shillong. But the major portion of credit goes to the women folk who helped in making it a reality- Saraswati Rai, Madhu Malati Thapa, Sumitra Pradhan, Jasuda Newar, Manju Gurung, Manju Rai, Neelam and Ganga Gewali. They were well supported by Milan Baghdas and Pema Lama acting as conveners among many others. Leaders of Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh Meghalaya Unit, C M Adhikari and S P Adhikari addressed the rally. It may be mentioned that the rally saw a massive turnout of approximately around 10000 people who initiated and concluded the same on a peaceful note.
On an ending note, it may be stated that whenever there has been an infringement of rights, be it at an individual level or a community level, there has been resentments and this issue is just one of those instances whereby an attempt has time and again been made to alienate a section of the people by imposing on them certain incompatible rules, rules that calls for agitation. Since the 1907, the demand for a separate state exists but the government seems to choose to unlearn from its agitated history and commit mistakes of nature that manifests such uprisings. Will the 2017 uprising also lead to formation of yet another autonomous body? If yes, then will it be dissolved again to make way for other agitations? Only time will tell. Until then, the Gorkhas of Shillong and all over the world stand together, waiting for a solution. Justice delayed is Justice denied!
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