By Ashish Kumar:
Eminent scholar Ramachandra Guha, in the prologue titled ‘Unnatural nation’ of his widely acclaimed, marquee work ‘India After Gandhi’, citing many scholars and philosophers, tries to elucidate the dichotomy of existence of India as a nation in spite of the presence of “countries-within-the-country”, inhabitants of which speak different languages, look different and are more different than two countries of Europe. Although, it is remarkable achievement of Indian democracy and constitution that the patchwork of mosaics which was created at the time of independence has tethered together till date and there has been no secession or partition after the catastrophe which accompanied our Independence, pages of contemporary Indian history still can’t boast of a clean slate when it comes to insurgency and demands of autonomy and statehood from different parts of the massive nation fuelled many a times by the urge of being identified as the native of this massive landmass in addition to developmental and political reasons.
Just after the Independence, there were demands for redrawing of boundaries of Indian provinces on the basis of language. Telugu-speaking people, who were present in large number in Madras presidency, wanted a separate state of Andhra. Bombay presidency, having a milieu of Marathi, Gujrati and Sindhi-speaking people, Marathi being largest in number, wanted separate states for Marathis and Gujaratis, with the island-city of Bombay going to Marathis. The fast-unto-death of Potti Sriramulu and mass-protests led to creation of Andhra, but it wouldn’t satisfy dwellers of Telangana region. Sikhs in western-Punjab (after partition) wanted a separate Sikh state stating that their language and culture was entirely different from that of Hindus and Muslims. The State Reorganization Committee was set up to play the role of Mercator of India.
Today, our government faces statehood demands from Telangana. A stalemate has been prevailing between the government and the protesters for a long-time. The reasons cited are linguistic and cultural distinction, and alienation added to under-development. Naga insurgency for the creation of Greater Nagaland has been a chronic handicap for India’s policy-making in North-East. Anti-foreigner or migrant agitation in Assam and Tripura is rampant. In fact, every state of North-east, due to its porous borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar, has turned into a hotbed of militant insurgency.
The agitation over the statehood of Gorkhaland, unlike others, stems primarily from the identity-crisis of Gorkhas and less from the halted development in the hills. Gorkhas are still looked upon as migrants from Nepal whose only profession is to join the Gorkha regiment of the army or watch the entire country’s abodes at night. In spite of adhering to India for so many years, they still have to face questions like-“Which part of Nepal you are from?” from the dwellers of our more “civilized” cities.
The Gorkhaland as envisaged by its mongers would contain the northern-most hill-district of Darjeeling of West Bengal state, sandwiched between Nepal and Bhutan while some part of it adjoining Assam and Sikkim and Dooar regions of Jalpaiguri district. Darjeeling is the district headquarters while Kalimpong, Kurseong and Siliguri are three subdivisional headquarters of Darejeeling district. The population is about 2 million which mainly consist of tribes like Lepchas, Nepalis, Kochyas, Leches, Rajbanshis and Bhutias which are together termed as Gorkhas. Gorkha population in India is not restricted to only Darjeeling. In fact, out of 12 million Gorkhas in India, only 2 million live here. Other 10 million of these indigenous people live all along Himalayan belt and North-eastern states and inhabit states like J&K, Himachal, Assam, Sikkim, Uttarakhand. Â Â Â
Before Gorkhas invaded Sikkim and adjoining areas including Darjeeling and its Terai regions in 1780, these regions were administered by Chogyals of Sikkim. After being at the helm of its administration for around 35 years, Gorkhas were defeated in Anglo-Gorkha war and were forced to cede all the area acquired from Chogyals to British under the Saguali treaty. In 1817, according to the treaty of Titalia, the British reinstated Chogyals in Darjeeling, restored all the tracts of land between Mechi and Teesta River and promised to guarantee their sovereignty. Subsequently, Sikkim granted Darjeeling hill and an enclave to the British through a Deed of Grant while Bhutan gifted Bhutan dooars leading into hills and Kalimpong. Darjeeling district started taking shapes from these regions. The political denominations of Darjeeling has been swinging from “Non-regulatory area” prior to 1861 and between 1870-74 to “Regulated area” between 1862-70 to “Scheduled district” in 1874 to “Backward tracts” in 1919.
In 1907, a Joint petition for autonomy and recognition was filed by the Lepchas, Nepalis and Bhutanis. This petition was in the wake of Division of Bengal, in the aftermath of which the delimitation and redrawing of territorial boundaries took place as a result of which Darjeeling found itself as a Scheduled district of Bengal. 1917 saw the Hillmen Association’s petition to Secretary of State Edwin Montagu citing the fact that there was no similarity or adhesion between Bengalis and Gorkhas whatsoever- whether culturally, historically or linguistically. In 1929, a petition was filed to Simon Commission. After the Independence of India, Communist Party of India Memorandum to the Constituent Assembly was issued for separate Gorkhastan. In 1955, a memorandum was issued to visiting chairman of State Reorganisation committee.