Gorkhas and Gorkhaland

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       We want Gorkhaland !!   We want Gorkhaland !!   We want Gorkhaland !!

The slogan can be heard on the streets of Darjeeling. The Gorkha community is screaming it out loud to reach people in other parts of the nation. They demand to separate from West Bengal and have an independent state for the Gorkha people. The protest was triggered a month back when the state government ordered to teach Bengali as the compulsory subject in all schools across the state.The voice that was raised as demands has now turned into the violent protest and has claimed a huge loss of public property and lives.

GorkhalandWell, this is not the first time when Gorkha community stood up for an independent state, the struggle has been long.

History of Darjeeling

Darjeeling was originally a part of Kingdom of Sikkim that was inhabited by Lepchas. In the 1780s the Gorkhas of Nepal invaded Sikkim and captured most parts of it, including Darjeeling and Siliguri. The British were then engaged in preventing the Gorkhas from overrunning the Northern Frontier. Later in 1816 after the British-Nepal war, Nepal ceded the captured territories back to East India Company as per the Treaty of Sugauli that was later given back to Sikkim under the Treaty of Titalia.

 It was actually later in 1829 when Darjeeling came under the vision of East India Company.  Captain Lloyd and J.W. Grant were sent to Darjeeling to resolve the ongoing dispute between Sikkim and Nepal. They both stayed at “the old Goorka station called Dorjeling” for 6 days and were impressed with the possibility of the station as a sanatorium. The then British Governor General of India, Lord William Bentinck agreed to acquire the area to set up a military outpost and sanatorium on responding to requests sent by Lloyd and Grant.

The court of Directors of the British East India Company approved the project and Captain Herbert, the Deputy Surveyor General was sent to Darjeeling to examine the area. Captain Lloyd who by now had become General was given the responsibility to negotiate with Raja of Sikkim a lease for Darjeeling, which he did successfully in 1835. The lease as per the Deed of Grant stated that Darjeeling was given as a gift to East India Company as a friendly gesture, and in return, the company granted an annual allowance of Rs. 3,000 to Raja of Sikkim. This allowance was subsequently increased to Rs. 6,000 per year. It was considered a huge sum of money in those days.

Gorkhaland
Darjeeling Tea

The export of tea from China was proving to be expensive and India was looking for an alternative. As the relation between British India and China was not doing good in the nineteenth century since both were engaged in the opium war, the idea to start tea plantation in Darjeeling came up as an option. The experiment conducted on the basis of a mere idea proved to be a boon for British and the rest became history.

Dr. Arthur Campbell was transferred from Kalimpong to Darjeeling to be the first superintendent of Darjeeling in 1839. It was under him the town started to be wealthier which drove the Lepchas back to Darjeeling who had migrated to Sikkim, Nepal, and Bhutan. A rumor spread among the migrants of Nepal that money is spread everywhere in the tea plantation which forced people to move for labor as the socio-economic situation in Nepal was at a bad phase during that period.

Gorkhaland
Group of Nepali and Bhutia people

The migrants were coerced to work, as with time they had themselves indebted to their employer. They didn’t have a chance to flee since they were not familiar with the terrain and the area was isolated from other parts of the country. Bounties were offered to the hill people who would track down the runners which minimized the escape plans. The Nepali migrants in the hills were kept far apart from the migrants of Chota Nagpur plateau by the colonial leaders. Eventually, the migrants settled in the area and made it their home.

Gorkhaland
Group of Lepchas in Darjeeling (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Few Bengalis present in the area had always been the babus who worked for the British. The babus were responsible for looking over the Nepalese and hence the relationship was never too good. The Marwaris came to Darjeeling only for the trading purpose and didn’t have much to do with locals. The hill people had their lives isolated from the rest of the world.

Political Development

The demand for independence was first submitted in 1907 under the memorandum Morley-Minto Reforms. There were several occasions when the demand was submitted again and again to form a separate from Bengal.

In 1947, the Communist Party of India submitted a memorandum to Constituent Assembly for the formation of Gorkhasthan comprising of Darjeeling and Sikkim. Later in 1952, the  All India Gorkha League  (AIGL)  was the first political party from the region to raise the demand and had submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.

In 1986, Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led by Subhash Ghishing started a movement which later turned violent, in which around 1200 people lost their lives. This agitation led to the formation of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in 1988, a semi autonomous body to govern certain areas of Darjeeling district.

In 2004, DGHC elections were due, but the government decided not to hold elections and instead made Subhash Ghisingh the sole caretaker of DGHC till Sixth Schedule tribal council was established.This led to bitterness among the former councilors of DGHC. Bimal Gurung, trusted aide of Subhash Ghisingh, broke away from GNLF and formed his own party Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).

Gorkhaland
Protest in Darjeeling

Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supremo Bimal Gurung led a mass movement in 2007 for Gorkhaland. It lasted for four years until Mamta Banerjee government signed a memorandum of agreement for the formation of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), a semi-autonomous administrative body for the Darjeeling hills and Gurung was made its leader.

On 20th July 2013, Telangana was declared an independent state after a long controversy, which intensified Gorkhaland movement. Later on 30th July 2013, Gurung resigned from the leadership of GTA stating that people have lost all faith.

As of July 2017, Darjeeling shutdown continues. The newly formed Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee (GMCC) has decided to stage a hunger strike from July 15 to press for a separate Gorkhaland state.

Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee resists the formation of a new state as it would cause another partition of Bengal while Bimal Gurung claims it to be the final call for Gorkhaland.

Our Point of View

I was in Sikkim for 4 years while pursuing my undergraduate and I had spent ample of time with people living in Darjeeling and in Siliguri to make a statement on Gorkhaland. Well before I proceed, allow me to clear the political clouds that my viewpoint is independent and irrespective of any political party and agenda, it’s wholly and solely based on my experience living with the locals.

Gorkhaland

The demand for Gorkhaland is totally legit and needs to be heard. Darjeeling has been a long part of West Bengal but the roots of Darjeeling will lead you to Sikkim. As mentioned earlier the original inhabitants of the place are the Gorkhali people and they don’t belong to Nepal. With the dominance of government in town, the ethnic culture of the inhabitants is fading away with the wind.The stand for Gorkhaland is by far not related in the name of development but to save a culture of whom a major population has never heard of.

The city has been shut for more than a month with schools and offices being closed which incurs a major loss to the city as well as to the state. Having said this, I believe that thousands of unheard voices will reach out to you and it will possibly make a difference for them.

Source: IndianExpress, Wikipedia, India Today, The Quint, NDTV, Google

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Written by:

An engineer by occupation and a traveler by heart, I also like to dabble in writing the occasional article. I am also a newbie in the world of books, finding my way. What I write here are simply excerpts from my curious mind.

3 Comments

  1. Gowtham
    July 22, 2017
    Reply

    Well researched article. Seems, the writer has Good insight of the Gorkhaland issue.

  2. Uttam
    July 22, 2017
    Reply

    This is the first time I hear about this issue not sure how long it exists. I don’t have any idea about it however no one have right to impose any regional language to anybody in India.

  3. Rupshi
    July 23, 2017
    Reply

    I hope the Gorkhas voices are heard and they soon get their well deserved justice.It has been a really long battle for them and it’s time that government should support them after what they have gone through for so many generations..
    To the Author: Your writing skills is quite profound and you don’t sound like a newbie to me.Keep up the good work.

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