We - the others
One of the most distinguished characteristics of the “bhadralok” community has been their ability to distinguish between “aamra – us” and “ora – them.” The “bhadraloks” have always presented (or thought of) themselves as the educated, and sophisticated class of people who are naturally elite. Post-independence, the “bhadraloks” automatically replaced the “gora sahibs,” of the erstwhile British India in the tea belts of Darjeeling and Dooars, inheriting their legacy of entitlement, which they carry to this day - to be served like our masters.
It is well acknowledged that the Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars are different than the rest of Bengal in almost every aspect. The people living in this region, our history, culture, traditions, language, and even our food and clothing habits are different than the greater Bengali population, thus making us the “ora – them.”
May be it is these factors that have resulted in a systematic and systemic suppression, and eventual discrimination of the people who have traditionally resided in these parts of West Bengal, as we do not belong to the “bhadralok” community, and are thus considered to be a lesser human being, even to this day. This discrimination is apparent, and not only confined to the people living in this region, but even the landscape, which stands as the evidence of indifference, apathy and utter neglect.
The scars of bearing the burden for the rest of Bengal has started to show in this region, and today both the landscape and the people, have risen in rebellion once again - against the years of abuse, exploitation and mistreatment at the hands of the educated and sophisticated “bhadraloks.” The moment people in the hills asked for development, better infrastructures, better education facilities, better services or anything of that nature, we have been labeled as foreigners and illegal immigrants and therein lies the crux of the Gorkhaland conundrum.
Contrary to the widely held belief, the demand for Gorkhaland is not a demand for separation from India, but rather it is a demand for the formation of a separate state within the geographical and constitutional contours of India. In fact, the demand for the formation of a separate administrative unit – a separate state in today’s terms – constituting the areas surrounding the Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars is one of the oldest such demands in India, and was first raised by the Hillmen’s Association in the year 1907.
Dr. Sonam B Wangyal an eminent local historian of the region had pointed out in the recent past that the demand for Gorkhaland had been raised on 27 different occasions in various forms and forums between the periods of 1907-2010. Thus, making the latest rounds of protest that has engulfed the Darjeeling hills 28th such occasion when the demand for the formation of a separate state has been raised. But never before in the history of the Gorkhaland movement has the state government been so blatantly chauvinistic, discriminatory, and colonial in its attitude towards the proposed Gorkhaland region, like now.
The average “bhadralok” is a well-meaning being, who pretty much like the colonial masters he replaced, cannot help being benevolent. Because of his benevolent nature, he is educated from the very childhood that he is “better” than those pahadi simpletons who don’t know much. Such indoctrination from childhood naturally allows the “bhadralok” to inherit an inborn sense of superiority over those mere mortals who dwell in the Darjeeling Hills, Terai and Dooars region majority of whom are “tribal” anyway.
Perhaps it is that benevolence, which continues to prevent the current Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee from accepting the fact that – the people in the proposed Gorkhaland region do not want to remain a part of Bengal any more. I am now convinced more than ever that the Chief Minister truly believes in her hearts of the heart that the people of Darjeeling actually want to remain with Bengal, but it is the politicians who want to raise the issue of a separate state for political gains.
Even her group of merry men, some of whom were known to be or regarded as intellectuals earlier, seem to concur with the Chief Minister in their analysis of the Darjeeling situation, which clearly indicates how highly the Chief Minister and her merry men regard the intelligence as well as the desire of the people demanding Gorkhaland.
It does not help either, that in addition to their sense of superiority, a certain section of the Chief Minister’s party are either blatantly racist or blatantly ignorant. As exhibited by a certain Trinamool leader, who insisted on a TV debate hosted by the 24-Ghanata news channel that the “Gorkhas are foreigners, those demanding Gorkhaland can go to Nepal or China.” This is not something new though, a certain section of ultra-right wing “bhadraloks” had already started to say that starting 1984 [when the demand for Gorkhaland was raised vocally]. People like Late. Subash Chakraborty, Samant Sen, Mukund Mazumdar and Asok Bhattacharjee are well known proponents of this line of thought, but this was the first time a Trinmool Congress leader had shown his true colours, and by extension his Party’s as well.
This well-meaning but misplaced sense of benevolence, and/or racism was apparent when the Chief Minister sent five buses to ply between Siliguri and Darjeeling, along with the rations to be distributed for free to prove that the “Janta - public” were not really in favour of the “curfew.” The people of their own accord had imposed the ‘janta curfew’, after the Chief Minister following eight days of strike threatened people with dire consequences if they did not come out in the streets within 72 hours.
The Chief Minister and her merry men must have sincerely thought that people will ride the buses and prove her correct, or at least the people will “naturally” line up for collecting the rations she had sent. But, seems like everyone close to the Chief Minister had failed to inform her the truth behind her new clothes. Just like the clothes, people willing to come out to accept the rations she sent were non-existent. The rations lay unclaimed in the police stations across the proposed Gorkhaland region, and the buses – well only the Trinmool Congress Members who had been sent from Siliguri rode them. Rest four of the buses went back empty.
Nothing could have been so clearer as the success of the three days of “janta curfew – public curfew” in telling those benevolent beings that their benevolence, superiority and racism will no longer be tolerated. By choosing not to come out of their houses for those three days, the people demanding Gorkhaland had given a unanimous mandate and referendum against remaining a part of West Bengal any more. And in a just, equal and truly democratic country, this mandate would have been respected. Because, the people by responding in the most non-violent and democratic manner to the threat given by the Chief Minister that she will go “rough and tough” on them if they do not call off the strike within 72 hours, had taken away from West Bengal and the “bhadralok“ community, any remaining moral authority they had over the proposed Gorkhaland region.
We - the denunciated
The loss of Moral authority forced the United States to pull out of Vietnam and later Iraq, the British out of India, the French, the Belgians, the Dutch and the Portuguese out of Africa; and the loss of moral authority forced the regimen of apartheid to come down in South Africa. However, none of these regimens could understand that their moral authority had started to ebb right when it happened, and they resisted their dominance with all their might till the last day.
But as history is our witness, every tyrant, every colonial power, every dictator had to let go – eventually. Those in power in West Bengal may hence not realize what it means to lose moral authority just yet, but let me inform them the days of their dominance over the Darjeeling region are numbered.
But like every colonialist, West Bengal is not ready to give in just yet and as expected they are going on an attacking mode. First they called the movement, undemocratic and illegal. In the land of Gandhiji, to call a people driven movement that seeks to fulfill their right to equality, dignity and self-determination, illegal displays the vain and colonialist approach exhibited by the West Bengal government.
When that did not work, the administration accused the movement of being political gimmickry. Well indeed, the demand for the formation of a separate state is politically motivated, but instead of being driven by the politicians, it is the people’s aspirations that has manifested in this form. When even that did not work, the state government accused the Gorkhaland movement to have been funded by Maoists in Nepal. It is interesting to note that the fascination shown by West Bengal Chief Minister for anything Maoist is unparalleled. She seems to label everyone not in tune with her views as a Maoist, right from a schoolgirl who dared to ask her a question to a farmer and a University of Jadavpur Professor whose only crime was to share a cartoon that depicted her in a comic light.
Everyone who is not liked by the Chief Minister is a Maoist and every movement that she does not champion are Maoist driven. The Nepal angle is interesting, because in suggesting that it’s the Maoists from Nepal who are funding the Gorkhaland movement, the Chief Minister is inadvertently exhibiting her deep-seated racist views on what she actually thinks of the greater hill populace.
The media is regarded as an essential ingredient for the democracy to prevail. In fact it is called the fourth estate or the fourth pillar of the democratic set up following the legislative, executive, and the judiciary. In fact democracy has flourished and fostered in those countries that have an independent, ethical and brave journalistic traditions. Sadly, India has stopped becoming one of those countries.
Important journalistic attributes such as ethics, morality, and integrity all seem to be a relic of the past. These days, journalism has taken a turn for the worse and it is clearly evident in how the Gorkhaland issue is being covered.
I will give two quick examples of how the newspapers can wretch up the rhetoric without even a single word of truth being written. “Will Guns Boom in Bengal’s Hill ” screams a headline in Kolkata edition of one of the leading dailies. Another headline in the same newspaper yells, “Army Intelligence Sees Foreign Hand in Gorkhaland Agitation.” Both of these report do not name names, every quote is attributed to the mysterious “Government Sources”. Such articles raise lots of false flags and manage to trigger off alarm in the hearts and minds of common Indians that may be, just may be, Gorkhaland is indeed a ploy by Nepal to take over Darjeeling.
It might sound ridiculous and preposterous to any rational being, but our’s is a country well known for its gullible people. How else do you explain people lining up for those sleazily advertised “get rich quick” schemes? Which are again publicized in these very newspapers and media outlets.
Finally, after 15 days of complete shut-down in the region, three of which was by people’s own choice – “janata curfew,” and over 700 arrested Gorkhaland activists went on a hunger strike, the national press and by extension the people across India seem to have started to take notice and become aware of to the flagrant disregard for popular sentiments and aspirations and human rights of the local people by both the West Bengal and the Central government.
But more than that, India finally seems to have woken up to realize the deep hidden racism, bigotry and hypocrisy of the mythical “Bengali bhadralok,” which stands exposed due to their non-reaction to the plight of the people from the Hills, Terai and Dooars.
Bengalis from Bengal and across India are starting to speak against the West Bengal government and have started to raise their voice in solidarity with the hill people. As I write this, two different Kolkata based groups organized two conferences in support of Gorkhaland statehood in Kolkata. A seminar was held in JNU and another somewhere else in Delhi. A daylong vigil was organized in Aizwal, Guwahati and Bangalore and a silent rally in Mumbai. A walk was organized from Sikkim to Darjeeling and a candle lit rally is being planned in Pune. The outpouring of support for Gorkhaland movement across India reflects the changing attitude of the people of India in favor of Gorkhaland.
It might be helpful if the “bhadraloks” started to support and champion the cause of Gorkhaland, instead of trying to be benevolent.