This article is written by Khyati Basant, from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. This article contains a brief description of the status of the Gorkhaland movement.
Darjeeling’s claim for a separate administrative area is from 1907. Although, in the 1980s, the word “Gorkhaland” was invented by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) member, Subhash Ghising. The Gorkhaland Movement is a movement focused primarily on West Bengal’s Darjeeling Hills, which demands the creation of a separate Gorkhaland state. Gorkhaland comprises the Nepali-speaking people of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and other West-Bengal hilly districts. The people who belong to these areas have differences in behaviour, culture and language with the West-Bengal population.
Influenced by the move of the Center to create the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the National Gorkhaland Committee (NGC) has requested the establishment of Union territory of Gorkhaland in the Darjeeling hill region of West Bengal. The question of statehood and the introduction of the Constitution’s sixth schedule have been the main demands in the hills since the launch of the protracted Gorkhaland movement in 1986. The decision of the Center to revoke Article 370 provisions and to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir has rekindled hope among the major hill parties, who want Darjeeling to also be a separate Union territory with a legislature. Darjeeling’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP, Raju Bista, said that he was optimistic that by 2024, the assurance by the saffron party of a “permanent political solution” in the hills would become a reality.
Nonetheless, the ruling Trinamool Congress said it would condemn any attempt to bifurcate West Bengal. The Gorkha Territorial Administration’s Binoy Tamang says that the Modi government’s decision to bifurcate Jammu & Kashmir left the Gorkha group wounded. The Buddhist-majority region now carved into a separate union territory, Ladakh, had never even sought independence from Jammu and Kashmir. And, then he laments that there are the Gorkhas, who, after seeking one for 100 years are yet to get a separate State. Jammu & Kashmir’s bifurcation into two union territories seems to have given new hopes to call for an independent state of Gorkhaland, to be separated from West Bengal. Driven by cultural and ethnic disparities between the predominantly Bengali community of the state and the northern Gorkha inhabitants, the agitation continued for decades, taking a violent turn recently in 2017, when more than a dozen people were killed. The demonstrations culminated from the 1980s and then in 2017 when hundreds for statehood were killed in the strike.
Kalimpong, Kurseong and Darjeeling hill towns, which come within the seat of Darjeeling Lok Sabha, form the centre of the Gorkhaland movement and have witnessed many protests over the years. The Bimal Gurung led Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) faction, which is supporting the BJP, said the saffron party should keep its poll promise of a permanent political solution in the hills that have witnessed violent agitation over the demand for separate statehood for the past few decades. GJM Secretary-General Roshan Giri told PTI that for many years they have been seeking a separate Gorkhaland state. The BJP had also promised in its manifesto a permanent political solution, quoting Supreme Party Gurung. We assume now is the best time for the Center to carve out jurisdiction in the Union with the legislature. Darjeeling experienced one of its most violent agitations, a 104-day strike, over the June 2017 appeal for separate statehood, which culminated in the deaths of many local and security personnel.
Why does the Gorkha demand separate status
- Owing to the disparities in race, culture and language is the primary explanation for the independent Gorkhaland campaign. In the northern part of West Bengal, the people of Nepali-Indian Gorkha ethnic origin claim a state based on their cultural heritage, which is quite distinct from Bengali society.
- The Indian Nepali speakers often feel that they are treated as foreigners. This is true to a large extent. The middle Indians often get confused between the Indian Nepali and the Nepali’s of Nepal. During and after British rule the Gorkhas, an ethnic group originally from Nepal, migrated to India. As essential bases of articulation, the campaign has organized questions of ‘primordiality’ language, community, ethnicity, common history, dress and civility, nationality and citizenship. Far ahead a distinct management structure for the Darjeeling Hills Gorkhas. As such the well-intended Indian Nepali’s feel physical and physiological pain.
- The field covers West Bengal zone Dooars and Terai are renowned for its beauty and tea which are the primary sources of its profits. By tourism, these beautiful places earn lots of money. But there is a growing perception that government spending on other parts of West Bengal is not using this money for these areas. People pro-Gorkhaland argue that if Gorkhaland is made as a separate state, it will become economically rich, and thus help the Indian economy as well.
- Most were enlisted into the colonial army for service. The term Gorkha tends to be applied to all Nepali speaking people in Darjeeling today. This is a cultural rather than a racial mark to accept a multi-ethnic community consisting of the area’s indigenous tribes and Indian born Nepalese immigrants. Their common objection towards the Bengali majority is probably what unites them all.
- The Bengalis own several business places in the major towns of the hills. However, the Nepali-speaking locals frequently do menial jobs and lament the prosperity of the Bengals, whom they consider as outsiders in the hills. Besides, they accuse the West Bengal government of its underdevelopment of the Gorkhas.
Separatist leaders used Gorkhas’ fears over Bengali oppression and domination to unite the Darjeeling hills Nepal-speaking community, stressing their common heritage of Gorkha. Yet the very name is contentious, and there’s a lack of agreement among the locals about what “Gorkha” entails.
According to Rajat Ganguli (author of ‘Poverty, Mal Governance and Ethnopolitical Mobilization: Gorkha Nationalism and Agitation of Gorkhaland in India’), it was a governance deficiency combined with politicisation that bred the Gorkhaland problem. He notes the historical pattern, in particular post-independence, that the problem only erupts as political ambitions pamper it.
The four-month Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJMM) party and its chief Bimal Gurung want nothing less than an autonomous Gorkhaland within India. The former militant Subash Ghisingh scrapped the proposal in favour of a more realistic solution that is greater autonomy. He and the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) waged a brutal two-year independent state war in the 1980s. He signed a political settlement in 1988, signing a tripartite agreement with the governments in Kolkata and New Delhi which gave much autonomy to the newly formed Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), the governing body for Darjeeling district. Ghisingh was chairman of the DGHC.
The Gorkhaland Movement
- 1907 – Gorkhaland’s first proposal was presented before the council of Morley-Minto Reforms. After that and on many occasions, requests for independence from Bengal were made to the British government and then Independent India government. Hillmen’s Darjeeling Association sent a report to Minto-Morley Changes requesting different administrative structure.
- 1941 – It requested that Darjeeling be separated from Bengal and that it became a province of the Chief Commissioner in 1941.
- 1947 – India’s undivided Communist Party sent to the Constituent Assembly, a memorandum, requesting the establishment of Gorkhasthan comprising the Darjeeling district and Sikkim in 1947.
- 1952 – The Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) met with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and called for Bengal to split in 1952.
- 1955 – President of Shramik Sangh District, Daulat Das Bokhim, submits a memorandum to the Chairman of the State Reorganization Committee calling for the establishment of a separate state comprising Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar District.
- 1977-1981 – The Government of West Bengal passes a unanimous resolution supporting the creation of an autonomous district council consisting of Darjeeling and related areas. In 1981, Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister, issued a letter from Pranta Parishad, requesting a separate State.
- 1980 – Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) incorporates the Subhash Ghising. The Gorkha National Liberation Front is a political party in West Bengal, India’s Darjeeling District.
- 1986 – In 1986, GNLF initiated a most violent uprising in the history of the Gorkhaland movement. It was led by Subhash Ghising.
- 1988 – The movement of 1986 eventually led to the formation of a semi-autonomous body named the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in 1988 to administer certain areas of Darjeeling district. The Council of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill became independent. GNLF dropped the separate state demand.
- 2004 – The fourth elections to the DGHC had been due in 2004. However, the government decided not to hold elections and instead made Subhash Ghisingh the DGHC ‘s sole caretaker until a new tribal council for the Sixth Schedule was formed. Resentment among DGHC ‘s former councillors grew rapidly. Bimal Gurung, once Ghising’s trusted assistant, chose to break away from the GNLF, between them.
- 2005 – In 2005, the same parties signed an in-principle settlement memorandum to include Darjeeling in the Indian Constitution’s Sixth Schedule, which addresses tribal area administration.
- 2007 – In 2007, Bimal Gurung launched Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), calling Gorkhaland ‘the Sixth Schedule solution’ a betrayal. The same year, agitations for the separate demand for Gorkhaland increased. The new party had once again increased the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state.
- 2011 – In 2011, the memorandum of understanding for the establishment of a Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), a semi-autonomous governing body for Darjeeling, passed by the legislative assembly of West Bengal to appease the GJM. West Bengal state assembly election held on April 18, 2011, GJM candidates won three Darjeeling hill assembly seats, proving the demand for Gorkhaland in Darjeeling was still high.
- 2013 – On 30 July, 2013, the Congress Working Committee unanimously adopted a resolution proposing that the INC-led central government establish a separate Telangana state from Andhra Pradesh. Due to Andhra Pradesh’s division, demand for separation once again rose high in 2013. Under GJM leadership, the campaign became a pacifist. GJM followed the revolutionary “Janta Bandh” form of protest In response, GJM declared a specific form of ‘Janta Bandh’ protest in which people in the hills were asked to peacefully stay indoors on August 13 and 14 without picketing or using intimidation. That proved to be a major success for the government and an embarrassment.
The 2017 Protest
Protests started after the government of West Bengal declared on 16 May that the Bengali language would be a mandatory subject in all schools throughout the state. It was viewed by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha controlled region where the majority of residents speak Nepali as an invasion of a foreign civilization. The demonstrations were initially peaceful. The Government changed its tone after briefly dismissing the situation as the demonstrations and rallies escalated. The protesters then rekindled the old appeal for a separate Gorkhaland state.
On June 9, the government called for monitoring of the situation in the para-military. When the police searched a GJM office and confiscated spade, sickle, spear, arrow, hee, and shovel, the condition escalated on June 15. This was followed by violent clashes between the agitators and the police. After this, the GJM called and shut down an indefinite strike in the region. There have been significant incidents of crime, including protests, vandalism, car torching, etc. The members of the Gorkhaland movement had frequently carried out mass rallies.
The protests hit New Delhi on July 9. Supporters staged a march from Raj Ghat to Jantar Mantar. This was followed by the GJM refusing the talks offered from the state government. The Government of the State held a conference with the hill parties on 29 August. But, the meeting was fruitless and they had not been able to conclude.
This was followed by another round of talks where an agreement was reached on stopping the shutdown. On 19 September, the supporters spoke with the Home Minister. Following this, the hills slowly returned to normal. Internet services in the region were restored on 26 September. GJM headed by new chairman Binay Tamang then finally called off the strike after 104 days on 27 September.
There has been a crisis in the Gorkhaland for many decades. It is one of India’s oldest movements (begun in 1907) What happens in Gorkhaland will also impact relations between India and Nepal. How India tackles the issues of hill-origin Nepalese people in Darjeeling would influence how Nepal deals with Indian-origin people in Nepal, that is. Madhesi, from Terai. The problem was of people speaking Nepali vs. people speaking Bengali. Its stability is important for the nation’s geopolitical and economic interests in India. Giving Gorkhaland Territorial Administration more powers and creating a transparent and open electoral process. It has to be remembered that GJM grew because of the government’s inability to hold 4th DGHC elections.
There were demands for separate Statehood in India even before the Independence of India. Even after the state reorganization of 1956, demands for the creation of a separate state came from various corners of the country. The underlying reasons behind these demands can be traced to linguistic, political, racial and economic differences.
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