Unrest In Darjeeling

By: Akshita Agrawal & Kunjal Jawaria

This country has a proud history of opening its doors to generations of ethnic mosaic fleeing personal persecution, civil unrest and war. Half of the multiculturalism unrest and dismal in the state of West Bengal comes from the vain idea that independent state is the solution to every difficulty faced by Gorkha community. India’s most popular hill station which was once a summer resort for the British Raj elite- Darjeeling, The Queen of Hills is currently a descry of burning vehicles and buildings, exploding tear gas shells, stone-pelting protesters, bleeding policemen and hunger strike. The violent protests appear to be Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s (GJM) resistance to the announcement by chief minister Mamata Banerjee that Bengali will be taught to all students in the state till class 10. GJM leaders described it as an imposition that was an assault on their identity and vowed to fight it tooth and nail. Though the government later said the subject will be optional, the GJM has refused to buckle down and fuelled by the determination to preserve their own culture, identity and language as words are singularly the most powerful force available to mankind and it has energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm and to humiliate. The protest soon turned into a fully fledged resurgence of the agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland. The causing factors for the pandemonium in Darjeeling dates back decades ago with a trigger in the recent past.

The demand for a separate administrative unit in Darjeeling has existed since 1907, the people of Darjeeling areas felt that on the basis of their ethnic history and distinct identity, a separate administrative unit for the Gorkhas would be an initiative for the greater good of the community. This separate administrative unit, with time, took the shape of a demand for a separate state within India. The commencement of the demand stems from the fact that region and it’s Nepali or Gorkhali speaking population do not identify themselves with the rest of West Bengal. The 15 lakh people approximately who are inhabitants of the region speak Nepali language; have distinct cuisine, customs and culture which are different from that of Bengal. In 2007, the demand for a separate state once again was raised by Bimal Gurung, who broke off from the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and floated a new party, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. An exogenous factor in addition to a host of other parameters is that the Nepali-speaking hill dwellers of Darjeeling who travel to ‘mainland’ India, are often regarded as ‘Nepalese from Nepal’, putting a question mark on their identity, have often consolidated the aspiration for identity within a community of people.[1]

The people thought language could help them out of cycles of revenge and animosity but the nation is disheartened by war and fighting over it. Though a riot is the language of the unheard but in the noise of war, demands cannot be heard as war breeds unfairness just as it breeds collateral damage along with it. There is no lacuna for repudiating the depth of emotions and the warmth attached around the sentiments of Gorkhas but to justify or nullify the demand for Gorkhaland as something black or white is a difficult proposition. Historically, they have been sharing cultural and societal values with Sikkim and Nepal since time immemorial when there were no nation-states, the way we interpret it at present and no closed boundaries. In the midst of all these commotions and turmoil from 1907 to 2017, there are some critical reasons because of which the Government is preventing the separation of Darjeeling from West Bengal.

The ongoing agitation for breaking West Bengal and creating another state is more for identity than for development. Independent India, in 1947, consisted of 16 states and 10 union territories which increased over time with the splitting of bigger states and the re-formation of union territories. New states have been created over the last five decades periodically, in the mid-60s; Haryana was formed out of Punjab. In 1971, Arunachal, Meghalaya and Mizoram were carved out of Assam and then, in 2000, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh were formed out of UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh respectively. And more importantly, economists say these creations contributed towards the economic development of the country.[2] Despite the fact that decentralisation of states may work for development but it requires good governance at smaller level but demand for Gorkhaland does not have enough reasons to stand on its own as smaller states do not signify small government.

The activists are demanding the inclusion of the hill areas of Darjeeling district, Kalimpong district and parts of Siliguri, Terai and Dooars of Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri districts in the proposed Gorkhaland state. But contradictions arise when we consider the demographic profile of these areas. Gorkhas constitute only 35% of the population, while the rest comprises Adivasis (20%), Bengalis (15%), Rajbangsis (25%) and Totos, Mech and others (5%).[3] Under such conditions, it becomes difficult for the activists to make certain that other populace gatherings and groups, who occupy the locale, will acknowledge the province of Gorkhaland.

Gorkhaland is a sentiment that no longer can be ignored to get rid of the stigma and for their own identity, they feel it’s essential that they have their own state but cogently creation of a whole new state would not help in getting rid of the stigma, however, the geographical composition of Darjeeling had stood in the way of its statehood. According to official records, Darjeeling district has a geographical area of about 3,149 sq km with three Assembly seats and only a part of a Lok Sabha seat. 

Acceptance for Gorkhland would open a Pandora’s Box, with other ethnic and indigenous communities which are as old as Gorkhas demanding a different state for them. There are multiple ‘aspirant’ states looking for a different state for themselves from the status-quo like western Uttar Pradesh’s demand for Harit Pradesh, Bodoland for Assam, Saurashtra for Southern Gujarat, Kongu Nadu for Southern Tamil Nadu and many more[4]. Though Article 3 of Indian Constitution provide us with such provisions wherewith consent of President of India, a bill can be introduced in either of the houses, on passing of which a new state is created in the country, but with increase in number of states, the onus of budget for development of a different state altogether increases on central government. Even after the demarcated size and political stability of the state of West Bengal, it suffers due to its on rising unemployment problems, moreover issues like national security remain a big threat on the demographic boundaries of the country, thus, if the state of Gorkhaland came in to existence the threat to national security would increase by ten folds, hence, not only there is a problem in making it a self-sustained state but it also creates the problem of safeguarding our boundaries as a nation. Being a hill station, the significant wage of individuals is from tourism and tea manor and on the off chance that it is made a state, it won’t have the capacity to grow financially on the grounds because for improvement of a state something more than tea estate as a wellspring of income is required.

People find it really incarcerated to be in a place where they are treated as foreigners in every way possible. They have lived in these circumstances all their lives, in this divide, in this bifurcation and in West Bengal, they feel the brunt of this discrimination where they have received the short end of the stick because Bengali-speaking politicians don’t understand or care enough about their needs or issues. The compulsion of Bengali language on the Gorkhas is like rubbing salt on the wounds of people who not only look different but are also culturally different from the Bengalis, who are always made to feel like outsiders and inferior. The Gorkha community and the government are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among themselves. It is an undoubted battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person’s sense of self-worth. If we cannot end our differences now, at least we can help make West Bengal safe for a diverse population and for accomplishing that, an alternate state would not offer assistance. If the Gorkha community and the West Bengal government would only keep their cool on both sides of the line, the trouble would come to an end, and the question which now distracts the country, will be settled. Policies and schemes ought to be formulated for the upliftment and equivalent rights for Gorkha community rather than dividing West Bengal. Thus, this is the opportunity for the central government that it takes cognizance of and interest in this century old agitation as nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government which is not ready to take care of its own residents.    

[1] Biswanath Chakraborty, ‘Understanding The Demand For Self-Rule In The Darjeeling Hills’ (The Wire, 2017) <https://thewire.in/154172/darjeeling-hills-self-rule-gorkhaland/&gt; accessed 10 August 2017.

[2]Prakash Nanda, ‘Darjeeling Unrest: Gorkhaland Movement Is A Question Of Identity, Not Development’ (Firstpost, 2017) <http://www.firstpost.com/india/darjeeling-unrest-gorkhaland-movement-is-a-question-of-identity-not-development-3741997.html&gt; accessed 10 August 2017.

[3] Biswanath Chakraborty, ‘Understanding The Demand For Self-Rule In The Darjeeling Hills’ (The Wire, 2017) <https://thewire.in/154172/darjeeling-hills-self-rule-gorkhaland/&gt; accessed 12 August 2017.

[4] Supriyo Mukherjee, ‘8 Regions In India That Are Trying To Be Independent States Within The Country’ (ScoopWhoop, 2017) <https://www.scoopwhoop.com/regions-in-india-trying-to-be-independent-states/#.oivjih4xr&gt; accessed 12 August 2017.

(Akshita and Kunjal are currently students at University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun.)