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Mainstream, VOL LV No 26 New Delhi June 17, 2017

Ethnic Divide

Saturday 17 June 2017

by Samit Kar

The Right to Cessation among the people of Darjeeling began to snowball since the formation of Sikkim as a separate State in 1975 at the behest of Indira Gandhi. The creation of Sikkim also led to a gradual deterioration of Sino-Indian relationship as the State primarily emerged as a military State of our country. The establishment of a strong military base bordering China did have a strategic reason to safeguard our national interest in the aftermath of repeated Chinese incursions into the Indian mainland. However, considering the lingual, ethnic, cultural, social and physical features of the seven States in the North-Eastern part of our country, the decision of the colonial rule might have played the real mischief. For example, the incorporation of Darjeeling within the Bengal Presidency by the Britishers was largely dictated to have Darjeeling as the summer capital till 1911 as the summer of then Calcutta proved to be unbearable for the Britishers.

Like many major problems plaguing modern India, the ethnic trouble between the Gorkhas and the Bengalis began to grow ever since Darjeeling was brought under Bengal to serve the interest of the colonial government. The Britishers had a special attraction towards this place as they found the chilly weather round the year very endearing. Darjeeling has almost all the major centres of entertainment and leisure to satiate their pompous desire. Since then, the Darjeeling citizen had to lead the life of a coolie town-settler practically deprived of the bare minimum scope of basic education, basic health and almost all forms of minimum necessities of leading a decent life-style. Occupations like those of darwan, lift operator and servants happened to be their main source of earning whereas people across India, including the Bengalis, thronged Darjeeling to take a view of the paradise on earth.

Since the beginning of the annexation of Darjeeling by the Britishers within the fold of Bengal, the right to cessation among the sons of the soil began to gather momentum. Instead of the Britishers, the main opposition began to brew against the Bengalis since they were the main beneficiaries of the British rule in India. Whether it is the CPI-M or any other major political party of Bengal, the Gorkhas were found to be completely against them since they believed that a ruling party of Bengal was a party led and controlled by the Bengalis. An Opposition party in Bengal may win their confidence temporarily. But once the party secures majority support, the party would be deserted by them.

Darjeeling was annexed by the British Raj in 1850, taken from an exceedingly weak Sikkim, a princely state itself annexed by India in 1975. Bundled into the Bengal Presidency by the British, Darjeeling has remained in Bengal even after 1975. This is even after the 1955 States Reorganisation Committee had successfully arranged Indian States according to language. The Nepali-speaking Darjeeling district is an incongruous part of the Bangla-speaking West Bengal.

The States Reorganisation Committee considered a large number of factors to reorganise different States of our country while laying stress on the lingua-cultural features of a place or a region. But there was also a strong emphasis on how many people were having a particular feature and the extent of the geographical expanse. In the Darjeeling-Sikkim region, Gorkha is not the only community inhabiting the entire space. Apart from them, Bhutia, Lepcha, Sherpa and many other communities have been living here for centuries together. But their close proximity to the traditional monarch and later the Britishers gave them extra mileage whatever little they could secure to gain a higher position among the ethnic groupings living on this mountainous terrain. For example, they could have ‘The Gorkha Regiment’ wherein only the Gorkhas were recruited while recognising their commendable spirit and valour. Moreover, they had shown an exemplary form of patriotism and devotion to their masters. Still, like any other tribal community of our country, they happen to be the most backward despite many Gorkhas having wide contacts with many illustrious people owing to their regular visits to Darjeeling, a paradise on earth.

The scenic and mesmerising beauty of Darjeeling had charmed almost everybody who could visit the place. The Begalis consider Darjeeling their second home and many have the habit to spend a substantial period here during the unfriendly summer. Though there are now 30 States in our country, no Bengali can imagine Darjeeling to part company from this State. Since independence, many Opposition parties, having their base in the plains of Bengal, did support the cause of the Gorkhas to gain political advantage. Even Ratan Lal Brahman, a candidate of the undivided CPI who won from Darjeeling, supported the cause of the Right to Cessation of the tribals, that is, the Gorkhas. But once the Left could form their own government in West Bengal, the trouble started with them. The trouble touched a feverish pitch in the 1980s until the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was formed from a tripartite meeting of Rajiv Gandhi, Jyoti Basu and Subhas Ghising. But the incessant corruption and poor performance of the DGHC frustrated the aspirations of the Gorkhas and a new torrent of agitation began to sweep the hill since 2007. This led to the formation of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) with more administrative and financial autonomy than the DGHC. But the GTA leaders, who once befriended the Opposition party in Bengal, now began to adopt a similar stand as the Gorkhas historically did with the ruling party of Bengal. In this way, the ordeal of Darjeeling based on the ethnic divide between the hill people and the plains people seems to be an endless saga of sorrow as their ultimate demand to create a separate Gorkhaland State fails to hold enough water.

The author is a former Sociology faculty in Presidency University, Kolkata.

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