Gorkhaland stir originated from sense of deprivation: experts

June 20th, 2008 - 12:37 pm ICT by IANS  

By Soudhriti Bhabani
Darjeeling (West Bengal), June 20 (IANS) The Gorkhaland movement in the Darjeeling hills is the outcome of a serious sense of deprivation and an identity crisis amongst local communities who have been agitating for separate statehood from time to time but to no avail, say leading academics of the community. Local communities like the Lepchas, Bhutanese and Nepalis, who have been living in Darjeeling over centuries, have raised their voice for a separate Gorkhaland state in the region, but were let down by the government and political leaders several times.

“We always feel like an outsider in this region. We are never recognised as sons of the soil. Now, with the Gorkhaland movement snowballing, we demand an ethno-regional identity of our own,” said Amar Singh Rai, a retired professor of political science in Loreto College, Darjeeling.

His comments come as a renewed demand for a separate state has led to an indefinite shutdown called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) and life in the Darjeeling hills is paralysed.

According to Rai, the demand dates back to 1907 when the Hillmen’s Association asked for a separate administrative unit in Darjeeling. Later, the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI), under the leadership of Ratanlal Brahmen - popularly known as Mailabajey - also advocated the same.

Ratanlal Brahmen was like a cult figure in the hills as he first started the unions in the tea gardens in three sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong.

“Over the years, several political and apolitical organisations voiced their demand for a separate Gorkhaland state. But the centre and West Bengal governments did nothing. Finally, the movement gained a momentum under the leadership of Subhas Ghising and his party Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF),” said Rai, who was closely associated with the Gorkhaland movement in the 1980s.

He said: “Unfortunately, the Gorkhaland movement, led by Ghising, lost its focus midstream and turned extremely violent.”

Ghising, a former Indian armyman, led a prolonged violent struggle in the 1980s for a Gorkhaland state before signing an agreement on Aug 22, 1988 with the central and state governments for creation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) - an autonomous governing body for the hills.

Ghising remained an uncrowned king of hill politics, heading the DGHC for two decades till March this year, when he was forced to step down after most of his men deserted him to join the GJM.

Udaya Mani Pradhan, a prominent citizen of Darjeeling town, said the Queen of the Hills had always been a land of the Gorkha people.

“According to historical records, two British citizens - Captain G.A. Loid and J.W. Grant - travelled through Darjeeling in the 1820s and they felt so one with the place that they recommended the place for a sanatorium. They made a formal request to the then governor general of India William Bentinck to include this place into British-Indian territory. That time the land belonged to the Maharaja of Sikkim,” Pradhan told IANS.

In an article, Loid penned his experience about the hill town and said: “I stayed six days in an old Gorkhaland - called Darjeeling.”

“Since the land always belonged to the Gorkhas, so why can’t they demand a separate homeland? We have always seen the land was caught in the crossfire between Nepal and Sikkim or the British-ruled India and Nepal during late 18th to early 19th century,” Pradhan said, adding that the sense of deprivation amongst Gorkhas has intensified with time.

“Our culture, topography and the religion is totally different from the Bengalis. The Gorkha people never raised any demand against their nationality. But now if they want a separate state in the Indian territory, I don’t think there’s anything wrong in that,” said academic Gautam Tamang.

“The innocence of the Gorkha people have been exploited several times. But how long can it continue? Already a century has passed and how long they would tolerate this,” he added.

“It’s very natural when a baby will not get milk it will cry out, and then it’s the responsibility of the mother to feed the baby. So we are protesting for our Gorkhaland after getting nothing all these years,” Tamang said.

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