Q. Who are Gorkhas in the Indian context?
A.The ‘Gorkhas’ in the Indian context are Indian citizens of Nepali ethnicity, who live across the length and breadth of India. The term ‘Gorkha’ in the Indian context is used to differentiate the Indian citizens of Nepali ethnicity from the citizens of Nepal, who prefer to be called ‘Nepalese.’
Many a time, people mistake the Indian ‘Gorkhas’ with Nepalese 'Gorkhali'. It is to be noted that in terms of Nepal, ‘Gorkhali’ refers to the people from the ‘Gorkha’ region. However, the use of the term ‘Gorkha’ in the Indian context is very different than in Nepal's context. Therefore, the term ‘Gorkha’ refers to different groups of people depending on the country they are being used in reference to.
Q. Did the Gorkhas immigrate to India?
A. Majority of the people who identify themselves as ‘Gorkhas’ in India are sons and daughters of the soil, and their forefathers ‘came with the land.’ They did not immigrate to India. However, it is well recognized that there are many immigrants from Nepal, who have also settled in India, post-independence.
Q. What do you mean by ‘came with the land’?
A.The Nepali kingdom in the 17th and 18th Century was spread all over the Himalayas. In the year 1777, Nepal had appropriated the Kingdom of Sikkim (that included most of the present day Darjeeling district) in the east and had also successfully invaded and conquered the Kingdoms of Kumaon, Garhwal and Kangra in the west. The Nepali Kingdom was spread from the east of rivers Teesta to the west of river Sutlej.
However, following the Anglo-Nepal war of 1814-1816, Nepal agreed to cede most of the Terai region, the lands of Sikkim, Kumaon, Garhwal and Kangra to the British through the Treaty of Sugauli (Sugauli Sandhi), which was signed on 4 March 1816. After the Anglo-British war of 1865, the British appropriated the lands that are today known as Kalimpong and Dooars. Therefore, all the people of Nepali, Sikkimese and Bhutanese origin, who were living in these tracts automatically came under the British and subsequently under India (after the British left), hence the term – ‘came with the land.’
Q. Were there Gorkhas in Darjeeling region prior to the British coming to India?
A.Recorded history shows that the region was inhabited as early as the 9th century. When Guru Padmasambhava had passed through this region in the 9th century, he had established Buddhism in the region – which indicates the presence of people living in the area way, before the British ever landed in Asia.
In the Indian context, the word ‘Gorkha’ is an umbrella term used to identify a varied group of people, as one unified entity, in terms of Darjeeling, communities such as the Róng – Lepchas, the Tsong – Limbus, the Kirat – Rai, the Dukpas and the Magars are the aboriginal/ethnic/native people of the region, who constitute a large chunk of the ‘Gorkha’ people living in the Darjeeling region. Hence, it can be safely said that the majority of the ‘Gorkhas,’ who belong to these communities and are living in Darjeeling, ethnic to the region.
In addition, other groups of people such as the Gurungs, Thapas, Chettris, Newars, Sunwars, Bahuns, Kamis, Damais, Sarkis, Bhutias, Thamis etc., came to the region following subsequent wars. For instance, the establishment of the Kingdom of Sikkim in 1642 brought in a large Bhutia population from Tibet and Bhutan into the region. Similarly, the Nepali incursions starting from as early as 1700s brought many present day Nepalis to the region. Hence, it can be safely concurred that the ‘Gorkha’ presence far supersedes the British arrival in the region.
Q. What historical claims does West Bengal have over the Darjeeling-Dooars region?
A.Ironically None! There is no shared history between the Darjeeling-Dooars region, and the rest of West Bengal till the year 1935. The only common thread that connects Darjeeling and the rest of Bengal prior to 1935 is that they shared a common Governor (for administrative ease).
It is interesting to note that following the partition of Bengal in 1905, the administration of Darjeeling was handed over to the Bhagalpur Division in Bihar Presidency between 1905-1907, following which a demand for a separate administrative unit for the Darjeeling-Dooars region (a la Separate State in today’s term) was first raised by the Hillmen’s Association in 1907, making the demand for a separate state constituting the hills, Terai and Dooars region the oldest demand for statehood in India.
The only reason as to why such a demand was not entertained by the British Government, is because the Darjeeling and Dooars region were already declared a “non-regulated area”, which meant that the rules and laws developed for the rest of India would not be automatically applicable to the region.
Q. Why is Darjeeling a part of West Bengal?
A.The Darjeeling region only became a part of West Bengal Presidency in the year 1935, when it was required to send an elected member to the Bengal Legislative Assembly. It was done purely for the then administrative ease, as the British could control the Darjeeling region better from Bengal than from Bhagalpur in Bihar.
Q. Why are people in Darjeeling demanding Gorkhaland?
A.The demand for a separate administrative unit (separate state in today’s term) for the Darjeeling region had started as early as 1907. However, the influx of Bangladeshi refugees starting in 1965 and later state sponsored illegal immigrants from Bangladesh post-1971 for vote bank by subsequent West Bengal governments led to marginalization of the ethnic Gorkha, Kamtapuri and the Rajbanshi communities of the region. The demand for Gorkhaland is a demand to protect the identity, culture, history, traditions and the rich bond of people from Darjeeling region, which they share with their land.
Furthermore, the Gorkhas from the Darjeeling region have continued to be labeled by the fascist and state sponsored Bengali organizations such as Bangla O Bangla Bhasa Bachao Samity, Amra Bangali, Jan Jagaran Morcha, Jan Chetna Morcha as illegal immigrants and the demand for Gorkhaland illegal. They have rendered the ethnic Gorkha people as an intruder in his/her own ancestral lands. This has caused widespread socio-economic and political marginalization of the Gorkhas. All these factors have resulted in the Gorkhas being under-represented, stereotyped and communally discriminated in almost all sectors.
Moreover, Bengal has always been colonial in its approach to this region. The large revenues collected from Darjeeling region have been used to develop other parts of Bengal, while neglecting even the basic infrastructure in the region.
Case in point: the National Highway 55, which used to be the artery connecting the hills of Darjeeling to the rest of India, has been closed due to land slide since 2009 and the West Bengal government has done nothing to rebuild it. Last year alone, there were over 20 malnutrition related death (death due to starvation) reported from the Dooars region and yet the West Bengal government did nothing to alleviate the sufferings of the people in the region.
Q. Is the proposed Gorkhaland region economically viable?
A.The proposed Gorkhaland region is rich in bio-diversity, scenic views, hydro potentials, tourism, NTFP, Tea and numerous other resources. Darjeeling Tea has been accorded the Geographical Indicator status recently by the WTO, which has caused the price of Darjeeling Tea to double in the world market. The demand for tea from the Dooars region is also at an all time high. Even the most conservative estimates put the revenue potential from tea, tourism and hydro from the proposed Gorkhaland area at over 1600 Crores per annum. It is estimated that the revenues from Tea and Tourism alone will make the proposed Gorkhaland region a revenue surplus state. The revenues collected from hydro development, NTFP, cross-border trades and other resources will make the proposed state of Gorkhaland as one of the most economically vibrant states in India.
Q. Is the demand for Gorkhaland illegal?
A. No, to demand for a separate state is the democratic right of every Indian citizen, and the formation of new states is enshrined in our constitution.
Article 3 of the Indian constitution specifically deals with the issues regarding the formation of new states:
Article 3. Formation of new States and alteration of areas, boundaries or names of existing States—Parliament may by law—
(a) form a new State by separation of territory from any State or by uniting two or more States or parts of States or by uniting any territory to a part of any State;
(b) increase the area of any State;
(c) diminish the area of any State;
(d) alter the boundaries of any State;
(e) alter the name of any State:
Hence, the demand for Gorkhaland is a legitimate demand.
Q. Why is West Bengal opposed to the formation of Gorkhaland?
A. The state of West Bengal is one of the most economically backward states in India. Even though, it is the 5th largest in terms of its size, but due to the high debt burden of over Rs. 2.5 lakh Crores, West Bengal is practically bankrupt and is highly dependent on the Central Government and the revenues generated from the proposed Gorkhaland region for its sustenance and economic survival. A conservative estimate indicated that if the proposed Gorkhaland state is formed, West Bengal is expected to lose over 40% of its revenue stream.
So despite all the rhetoric stating, “Darjeeling is Bengal’s Abhinno Aanga,” Bengal is scared of loosing its hen, which is currently laying the golden eggs. It is scared of losing the cash cow that has continued to discount the development of Bengal’s other regions over and over since independence.
Further, Bengal has always held a parochial, colonial and discriminatory attitude towards the proposed Gorkhaland region and continues to do so. Late. Subash Chakraborty a Minister in the CPI(M) Government had said to the Gorkhas “khetey diyechi, sutey chai?” [Meaning: “we have given you food to eat, now you want a space to sleep?”] Hinting that the Bengalis have been benevolent towards the Gorkhas in allowing the Gorkhas to live in Bengal, while ungraciously ignoring the fact that the Gorkhas are ethnic to the land. Similarly, many Bengali scholars [such as Sumanta Sen of The Telegraph] and politicians [such as Dr. Mukund Majumdar and Mr. Ashok Bhattacharjee] continue to call the ethnic Gorkhas foreigners and intruders, which gives a sense of insecurity amongst the ethnic Gorkhas – thus, the demand for Gorkhaland.