Saturday, June 28, 2008

Say NO to Gorkhaland

Darjeeling must remain with West Bengal
In the summer of 1966, Hope Cooke, the American socialite-turned-Gyalmo, or Queen Consort of the ill-fated 12th Chogyal of Sikkim, created a furore in New Delhi by contesting, in an article published in the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology’s bulletin, India’s possession of Darjeeling that was ‘gifted’ to East India Company by Tsugphud Namgyal. In his book, Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim, Pioneer columnist and former editor of The Statesman Sunanda K Datta-Ray recounts how she argued that “no Sikkimese monarch was empowered to alienate territory”. According to Hope Cooke, Tsugphud Namgyal’s gift to the Company was “in the traditional context of a grant for usufructage only; ultimate jurisdiction, authority and the right to resume the land being implicitly retained”. She claimed Darjeeling’s cession was the “gift of a certain tract for a certain purpose and does not imply the transfer of sovereign rights”.
The immediate context of the Gyalmo’s assertion of the Chogyal’s indivisible rights was the web of deceit that was being spun, with more than a little help from the Kazi and other local players, by New Delhi to bring Gangtok within the orbit of its absolute control, converting India’s suzerainty into sovereignty over Sikkim. What happened subsequently is well known: Sikkim was annexed and made a part of the Union of India; the Chogyal was stripped of all powers and died a broken man; and, Hope Cooke, after separating from the Chogyal, returned to the US where she now lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York. These details are inconsequential today. What, however, is relevant is the history of Darjeeling, which is once again in the news, this time because Gorkha settlers are asserting their right to set up a homeland in the three hill divisions — Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong — apart from Siliguri and the Dooars, which they want to re-christen Gorkhaland.
History tells us how Sikkim’s borders once stretched up to eastern Nepal; how Prithvi Narayan Shah, who welded feuding clans and warring regions into a sprawling kingdom, grabbed Darjeeling; and, how General Ochterlony’s campaign against the Gorkhas resulted in the Treaty of Sugauli (also spelt Segouli) in 1816 when Nepal ceded 10,000 sq km of territory, including Darjeeling, to the East India Company. That’s where history begins and ends for the Gokhas both in Nepal and in India who are clamouring for Gorkhaland: Darjeeling was Nepali territory ceded to the British and, therefore, must now revert back to the Gorkhas.
But history also tells us, much to the discomfort of the champions of Gorkhaland, that the Treaty of Sugauli was followed by the Treaty of Titlya in 1817, whereby the British restored the land between Mechi and Teesta rivers to Sikkim, to which it legitimately belonged. Eighteen years later, the then Chogyal leased Darjeeling to the British who wanted to set up a sanatorium in its soothing, sylvan climes. In the brief lease agreement signed on February 1, 1835, the Chogyal is referred to as the ‘Sikkimputtee Rajah’. The Bengal Gazeteer informs us that in 1841 the East India Company granted the Chogyal a compensation of Rs 3,000; it was later raised to Rs 6,000.
This is how Darjeeling, till then an uninhabited mountain region, came to be inhabited. The British administrators needed ‘natives’ to first build and then maintain the picture postcard town that came up in Darjeeling. Some Bhutias and Lepchas were already there, others came from Sikkim. The demand for labour increased after planters cleared forests for tea gardens and Darjeeling Tea became a source of enormous revenue. The Gorkhas came, as did tribals from what is now Jharkhand, to work as ‘coolies’ in the gardens, plucking leaves and working shifts in the tea-curing and packaging factories. Bengalis sought and found employment as babus (clerks) in the tea gardens, in the municipal administration and other establishments, for example schools set up by missionaries primarily for the children of Anglo-Indian families.
In 1907, the Hillmen’s Association petitioned the British for a separate administrative set-up free from Bengal; the petition was contemptuously ignored, and rightly so. After independence and the reorganisation of States, Darjeeling, along with the Dooars, became a part of West Bengal. Darjeeling has since been designated a separate district, Siliguri is part of Jalpaiguri district in the foothills, and the Dooars are part of Cooch Behar district. The Gorkhas who came and settled in Darjeeling, Siliguri and the Dooars became citizens of India in 1950; a separate Gazette notification was issued to settle this point and remove any doubts about their citizenship.
The status of Darjeeling may have been considered a settled issue by Kolkata and New Delhi, and after Sikkim’s annexation, Gangtok, but not by the Gorkha settlers. In 1986 Mr Subash Ghising launched a violent agitation to press the Gorkha National Liberation Front’s demand for a separate Gorkhaland, citing West Bengal’s “step-motherly” treatment of Darjeeling and “exploitation” of its residents. He was clearly motivated by dreams of helping re-establish ‘Greater Nepal’ by creating a bridge between Nepal and Sikkim. The agitation ended with the signing of an agreement, which resulted in the setting up of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, an elected and empowered body that would look after development-related issues. Mr Ghising failed to deliver and became a Sagina Mahato, putty in the hands of the West Bengal Government and happy to have his snout in the trough.
Cut to 2008: Mr Bimal Gurung, a former associate of Mr Ghising, has parted company with the GNLF and floated his own separatist organisation, the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, and revived the demand for Gorkhaland. He has audaciously staked claim to the three hill divisions of Darjeeling as well as Siliguri and the Dooars. The revival of the agitation coincides with Maoists — who hope to re-establish the frontiers of Prithvi Narayan Shah’s ‘Greater Nepal’ — coming to power in Kathmandu. Mr Gurung’s agitation has little to do with “local aspirations” of Gorkhas; it is as insidious and dangerous as the assertion of ‘Kashmiriyat’ in Kashmir Valley.
Those who are “sympathetic” to the demand for Gorkhaland would do well to bear in mind that ‘Greater Nepal’ is not only about Nepal expanding its territory in the east up to Teesta, but also recovering the land ceded by Prithvi Narayan Shah which stretches up to Sutlej. If we concede the demand for Gorkhaland, we should be prepared to concede vast tracts of land in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. If the latter is not acceptable, then a third partition of Bengal is equally unacceptable.

(Sunday Pioneer, Coffee Break, June 29, 2008.)

(c) CMYK Printech Ltd


Anonymous said...

Nice article...good, keep writing, good way of keeping your pen away from rust, botton line is "WE WANT GORKHALAND".

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Mr. Gupta seems to have read all the history books available on how Darjeeling came into being and about Nepal and Sikkim Kings Queens and consorts…

Mercifully, he has also mentioned how the Gorkhas living in Darjeeling have been granted citizenship since 1950. Kind of him.

He however forgot to mention that there are Gorkhas living in all parts of India – just the way all Indians can and are allowed as “citizens” of Independent India. We Gorkhas are not just restricted to Darjeeling , Dooars or Siliguri, we are in large numbers in Himachal, Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh and have been living in these sates for centuries.

His theory of how Ghising’s dreams of “Gorkhaland” in the 1980s agitiation was fuelled to “re-establish Greater Nepal” by creating a bridge between Nepal and Sikkim is just that a THEORY.

By insinuating that the rightful demand of the Gorkhas for a separate state that has been pending for not one – ten or twenty years but more than one hundred years, has little do do with “local aspirations” of Gorkhas and more to do with the rise of Maoists in Nepal and the creation of Greater Nepal, Mr. Kanchan has deliberately chosen to cast aspersions on the loyalty and the integrity of the Gorkha community in India .

That the Gorkhas would even entertain such treachery would go against the common grain of all Gorkhas – it is not for nothing that members of our community have won the largest number of gallantry awards – posthumously. Yes posthumously, for protecting India ’s borders from 1947 until date, note not just protecting West Bengal ’s borders. And before that by being members of Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army. Even now the Gorkhas are proud of their association with the Indian armed forces in particular, and other profession in general, yes even tea-plucking that helps to garner India precious exports and revenues for a brand called “Darjeeling Tea”.

Mr. Kanchan should know most Gorkhas chose, yes chose to stay with the Indian Army rather than go over to the British Army.

And this is what we get even after 100 years our own countrymen call us “foreigners” our own countrymen and media label us as outsiders, and insinuate that we would side with other countries to encroach on India ’s territory. The whole point is that we Gorkhas are INDIAN and want to be seen and respected as Indians, not Chinese/Nepalese/North Easterns/Khasis/Mizos/Garos – we are Gorkhas, we are Indians. Believe it or not!

As Gorkhas we love India as much as any other Indian, it’s a pity that though we are in large numbers in India we are scattered as a community. We understand how the West Bengal government, ministers that hail from the state that have prominent positions and portfolios in the Cabinet including that of I&B, Foreign Affairs etc, the policy makers of which a large coterie is again from Bengal get more prominence than us poorly represented Gorkhas.

That is why the illegal immigrants of erstwhile East Pakistan/Bangladesh can and are infiltrating our borders at will and merging with the population of India, just because they look and speak – Bengali, therefore these immigrants are never subjected or challenged to prove their identity as Indians. We understand they are potential voter banks for political parties. These very same immigrants in North Bengal qualify for BPL ration cards and avail all facilities of the Government whereas the Adivasis – indigenous tribes of India and the Gorkhas have to fight and prove our identity to qualify for a ration card.

We are aware that many in the fourth estate too belong to Bengal and therefore to get a fair unbiased representation in the media may be a bit elusive but, as citizens of India we do expect that of the media. Sadly, the media perhaps has forgotten their role to be a mirror of society and instead is allowing their bias to show.

It is interesting to note how The Pioneer which we as readers are well aware has a definite soft corner for the BJP and Hindutva factor chooses to represent the Gorkha cause. The Gorkhas have taken their name from Baba Gorakhnath – protectors of “Gau” or cows that is holy to the Hindus. Also the BJP was quick to react to the Maoists winning the elections in Nepal and commiserating the fact that Nepal has chosen to become a secular state rather than the only “Hindu Kingdom” yet they protest and label us “anti-national” and “divisive” the call for Gorkhaland that would grant Gorkhas (Gau rakshaks) a state however small but bigger than Goa, that we can proudly call our own as Gorkhas all over the world.

Do note the call for Gorkhaland is for a separate state, repeat separate state not a separate country and therefore we are not dividing Bengal yet again. The media should desist from misinforming and resurrecting in the minds of the people the horrific bloody partition of Bengal in 1947 which led to the creation of East Pakistan – now Bangladesh .

Jai Gorkha! Jai Hind!


Anonymous said...

Finally an Indian that actually understands the history of the people of Nepal and Sikkim.

However, while the goal of the Gorkhaland activists might have initially been to bridge the gap between Darjeeling, Sikkim, and Nepal, they have become more realistic that Mr. Gupta gives them credit for. They know that Nepal will not reach the Teesta in the forseeable future. All they want is a state within India for ethnic Nepalis.

Furthermore even if in a crazy world Darjeeling and Sikkim were to be a part of Nepal, no way will Uttarkand Himchal Pradhesh be a part of Nepal. While a sizeable Nepali community has always existed there, the majority of the population there is Indian.

In fact this is the flaw in the Greater Nepal argument. It would be great to reunite Gorkhaland and Sikkim with Nepal (although I believe that Sikkim should be a country again). But the reality is that we can't reannex parts of India where the population has historically been Indian.