Ashim Sunam (AS): When did you first feel the need to highlight the issue of raising awareness about Indian Gorkhas?
Roshni Rai (RR): In a three days course of Landmark Forum in June 2011, Mumbai, people were sharing that they know Gujrati, Hindi, Marathi etc, somehow, I was feeling uncomfortable to say, I know Nepali. With some courage, I said I know Nepali and felt like 300 people staring at me in a surprised state. From that moment, I started enquiring, why I am feeling uncomfortable to introduce myself as a Gorkha girl or a Nepali girl? I realised that whenever, I said, I speak Nepali to people in Mumbai, pat came their reply, ‘so you are from Nepal?’ I have also heard many people referring to their watchman as Gorkha.
These two things have given me so much of inferiority complex that I was hesitating to introduce myself as Gorkha or a Nepali. In due course, I learnt that people are asking me such question because they are not aware as to how Darjeeling is an integral part of India and unaware that Nepali is already a recognized language under the Constitution of India. It is one of the language mentioned in Indian currency. So, by running marathons, I decided to bring the awareness about Nepali speaking people being Indians also.
AS: Have you ever undergone any sort of racial discrimination?
RR: Racial discrimination as such, I have been taunted by comments such as - ‘Chinese doll, Chinki minki’, while running marathons or normally walking on the road. I have slapped more than five people, who have taunted me with such comments in Mumbai.
AS: How did the thought of 'Run with Roshni' campaign kick-off? What is its objective?
RR: While doing ‘Self Expression and Leadership Program’ from Landmark Education, I had to take a project, close to my heart and it should benefit my community. So, I started the project ‘Run with Roshni’. Its objective is to empower Gorkhas and support Gorkha runners to run Olympic marathon representing India and enlightening the non- Gorkha community, how Gorkhas are Indians.
AS: How successful has this venture been in highlighting the identity crisis?
RR: It has been highly successful. Team ‘Run with Roshni’ ran Mumbai marathon 2012, 2013, 2014, Hyderabad Marathon 2013 and Chennai marathon 2013, wearing t-shirts with slogan-‘We are Gorkhas and Proud to be Indian. Jai Gorkha, Jai Hind’. And this slogan attracted many media houses. We have got media mentions in more than 15 national media houses.
Through media, after reading my interview, many colleagues confessed that they were unaware that Gorkhas are Indians. Further, Gorkhaland agitation is going on since the last 107 years in Darjeeling. Many people have died for the same but none of the media houses covered the issue of Gorkhaland, but our marathon running received huge media mention, hence I say that ‘Run with Roshni’ is highly successful.
AS: Why marathon and not other sport to support the cause?
RR: I chose marathon and not any other sports, as it is my ‘self expression’ and 'passion' as well.
AS: Was it from your school days that you were interested in running long distance?
RR: No, I was not an athlete during my school days in Kalimpong, Darjeeling. I ran my first Half Marathon in 2007 in Mumbai.
AS: You are a corporate lawyer by profession. How do you balance your work and passion (running)?
RR: Running gives me that special high to handle all issues in my profession.
AS: As a long distance runner, what are your major achievements?
RR: Till now, I have run 38 races. I have represented India in three international marathons - Prague International Marathon 2010, The Comrades Marathon 2012 of 89km in South Africa and Maiden head Half marathon 2013 in UK.
The longest distance I have run is 89 km Comrades Marathon 2012. Till date only three Indian women have completed this distance and I am still the fastest Indian woman out of the three. In Comrades marathon, one has to complete the distance of 89km in 12 hours otherwise, they will declare DNF (did not finish in marathon lingo). That’s why it is known as an ultimate human race. My Comrades marathon was a tribute to all the Gorkha sahids, who have sacrificed their lives for mother India.
AS: When marathon races are held, you sometimes invite runners from Darjeeling to run under 'Run with Roshni' flag. What is your purpose behind the move?
RR: Darjeeling being a hill station, people are very good in long distance running but they don’t know how to register for international marathon like Mumbai marathon. If they get support and enough encouragement, in another 3-4 years, they will start competing with Kenyans / Ethiopians and make India proud by winning International Marathons. Out of the 30 runners, whom I have been supporting since 2012, six runners are very strong. They can run 21km in between 1 hr 17 mins to 1hr 30 mins, without proper coach and guidance. Three runners from team Run with Roshni - Prabal Chettri, Sanjay Chettri and Puran Rai are recruited in the Indian Army, which is one of the pathways for these runners to reach Olympic Marathon.
Darjeeling has received enough dead bodies of her son with India’s flag on their chest, now she should start receiving sons with India’s flag on their shoulders, the way sportstars return home after winning Olympic Medals.
AS: Do you receive any financial help in the regard?
RR: I raise funds from my runner friends from all over India to support these runners from Darjeeling to run marathons.
AS: What are your future plans?
To empower and enlighten Gorkhas in India.
To support strong runners from economically backward class in Darjeeling to run national and international marathons.
To make India proud by winning International and Olympic Marathons by the runners from Darjeeling.
To eliminate the identity crisis faced by Nepali speaking Indian in their own motherland.
Bringing awareness among Indians, how the Nepali speaking people are Indians.
To bring awareness all over India that Nepali is a recognized language under the Constitution of India and it is one of the languages mentioned in the Indian currency.
To let the world know, who the Gorkhas are by getting media mentions through running and winning marathons.
AS: Will the current demand for Gorkhaland solve the identity problem?
RR: Gorkhaland, if achieved, will help a long way in solving the identity problem of the Gorkhas living in India as well as abroad.