The Gorkha Land Conflict By Anurati Bukanam from Amity University, Mumbai
“Jai Gorkha, Jai Gorkhaland!”, a demand which is one of the oldest in the country and has the Darjeeling hills on fire and burning. Their demand is simple, “We do not want to stay with West Bengal. We want to be liberated from the colonial rule of the West Bengal government.”
A region in West Bengal is primarily occupied by the Gorkhas. Gorkhas are the soldiers of Nepali nationality, recruited in British Army, Indian Army, Gurkha Contingent Singapore, Gurkha Reserve Unit Brunei, UN Peace Keeping force and war zones around the world.[i] They are well known for their fearless military prowess, acknowledging which Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw once stated “If a man says he is not afraid, he is either lying or he is a Gorkha.”
Why Gorkhaland matters is because, what happens in Gorkhaland will affect India-Nepal relations too. How India treats the problems of the Nepali people of hill origin in Darjeeling will affect how Nepal deals with the people of Indian origin in Nepal, i.e. Madhesi in Terai. Gorkhaland also has a strategic location, it’s vicinity to the chicken neck that connects rest of India with North East. Its stability is a must for India’s strategic and economic interests. Moreover, Darjeeling is a tea city and a tourist hot-spot with a high level of poverty. It has the potential to become the economic engine of the East with a sustainable economic model. But such things will be possible only if there is stability in the region.
The recent bout of protests for a separate Gorkhaland were triggered by the Mamata Banerjee government's decision to make Bengali compulsory in schools across West Bengal.[ii] This has put Darjeeling on the boil for a week now. There have been widespread instances of violence including riots, arson, torching of vehicles, government properties and houses. Mass rallies are being taken out every day by the supporters of the Gorkhaland agitation. On 6 June, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) took out a procession in the hill during the visit of Mamata. Roshan Giri said that “A separate state is the only solution for the development of our people.” As of now, there has been reports of death of 9 Gorkhaland supporters and multiple injuries of both the Gorkhaland protestors and security personnel. The internet services of the region have also been suspended by the government for the past 32 days citing the need to stop the spread of rumours among the agitators.
Looking upon the history of this land, Darjeeling was never supposed to be a part of West Bengal. The Gorkhas had captured Sikkim and most parts of the North East including Darjeeling in 1780. But after losing to the British, they surrendered their territories too in the Treaty of Segoulee in 1816. Later in 1907, an administrative setup outside of Bengal made a memorandum for separation to Morley-Minto Reforms panel, after which numerous pleas were made over the next few years to British government first and then to Free Indian government for separation. Between 1986-1988, the protests turned violent and at least 1,200 people were killed. Ghising, a former soldier, led a prolonged violent struggle in the 1980s for a separate Gorkhaland state, before signing an agreement on 22 August 1988 with the central and state government for creation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), an autonomous governing body for the hills which is now side lined by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha that spearheads the movement.[iii]
Later in 2013, when the Congress Working Committee passed a resolution for Telangana, a three-day Bandh was announced by GJM. While the West Bengal government armed with Calcutta high court order declared the bandh as illegal, the government toughened its stand by sending a total of 10 companies of paramilitary force to quell any violent protest and arresting prominent GJM leaders and workers. After a marathon 'all party meeting' convened by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) on 16 August at Darjeeling, the pro Gorkhaland parties informally formed 'Gorkhaland Joint Action Committee' and jointly decided to continue the movement and exercise bandhs albeit through different names. 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.
Few roots and causes about the agitation are[iv]:
1. Cultural and Ethnic Reasons
The main cause of separation in the state is because of the difference in culture and ethnicity. The people of the Nepali-Indian Gorkha region have a culture and identity totally different from that of the Bengali culture. After their struggle to gain a separate identity, to feel bogged down by cultural norms, protesters are violent and persuasive. The recent imposition of Bengali as a language in schools from 1st to 10th is a direct attack to their cultural sentiments.
2. Interference with GTA
Gorkhaland territorial administration that was setup in 2011 failed to satisfy their demands for a separate state. The inference of the state with the affairs of the GTA were troublesome, the state failed to provide adequate funds, proper facilities and sufficient infrastructure as promised. All these things together made the GTA feel side lined and rather inferior.
3. Political reasons
With the recent foray of TMC in the municipal elections of the Darjeeling area, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha feels that its wings are getting clipped and fear the very existence of their party in the state due to the mainstream parties like TMC etc.
Hegel said, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history”. The repetition of history in the Gorkhaland issue is the living proof. Especially in the post-independence, where the rise and fall of momentum in demand follow the rise and fall of the party involved. The solution lies in pleasing the population rather than the parties. Gorkhaland can become an epitome of decentralisation or a failed divided state.[v]
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