Gorkhas like to think bravery and loyalty are the words that represent them. They like to think that everything they have done for India will be recognised by other Indians, some day. They like to think that the government they elect will work for their interests. They like to think that even after facing insults and abuses almost every day, the people who insult them have no ill intention, but are just ignorant.
However, they are not naive. Neither are they stupid. They are not naive when it comes to seeing the good in others. They are not stupid in believing that if they work hard, they will succeed – and if they don’t it’s their own fault. They are not naive in believing that a day will come when every Indian will recognise their loyalty and bravery.
They are just extremely tolerant. This word, which has been thrown around a lot in the media to describe Indians, is a perfect fit for the Gorkhas. They are tolerant of abuses, they are tolerant of differences and they are tolerant of governments that exploit them.
But, the one thing they can’t tolerate is an attack on their identity. They could have shed their identity a long time ago. It would have arguably made their lives simpler. They wouldn’t have been bombarded with the questions which cast doubt on their allegiance to the nation, and they wouldn’t have faced the discrimination that they face each day.
However, they will still recognise themselves only as Gorkhas. This is because, for them, being a Gorkha is the greatest achievement one can hope for. For them, this identity is not inherited. Rather, it has to be acquired – by being brave, loyal and by facing every obstacle without any fear.
Gorkhas are generally patient. They have been demanding a separate state in independent India since 1949, though the roots of this struggle can be traced further back. They are still putting forward their demands without getting tired of their failures. But, it seems that their patience has finally run out. And it is only now, when the hills of Darjeeling are on the verge of burning, that the matter has caught the attention of the government, the media and other Indians.
It is only in 2017, when the West Bengal government decided to impose the Bengali language on Gorkha students (most of whom speak Nepali) that the movement for statehood has gained momentum again. For the past few weeks, strikes and stone pelting have brought life to a standstill in the hills. But this expression of anger shouldn’t be seen as a feeling of hate against India. Instead, it is a feeling of hate against injustice and discrimination.
The leaders of the movement have changed – but the ideas that drive the movement haven’t. Ideas of self-determination, opposing any form of cultural imposition and that of preserving their cultural identity drive the movement forward.
Moreover, it’s not only an issue of that particular area. The issue at stake here isn’t only limited to Darjeeling. It is about every Gorkha who lives in this country – one in which they have served during wars and peace alike, but which has given them absolutely nothing. During wars, they are the ones who have shed blood, sweat and tears. However, once the war ends, they automatically become the enemy. For most Indians, they become foreigners who are just working in India and depleting its resources.
The movement is about all Gorkhas who fear to speak their mother tongue in public – not because they are ashamed, but because they are sick and tired of answering the questions they have to, if they speak their language. Therefore, the movement is about every Gorkha who probably won’t be asked these questions if there is a state called Gorkhaland in India. Besides, this movement is also about all Gorkhas whose loyalties won’t be questioned every time they reveal their identity.
If Gorkhaland does see the light of day, not every Gorkha in India will go and live there. Many Gorkhas may not even have visited the hills of Darjeeling. But they support this movement. After all, if Gorkhaland is created, it will be a matter of pride for these people. They will feel as though India is finally acknowledging them as Indians. The Gorkhas in the other states will also feel that India is collectively recognising them as its citizens. After all, this movement is not only about seeing Gorkhas as Indian citizens – it is also about seeing them as patriotic Indians, who also bleed saffron, white and green.
However, just like any other movement, this one isn’t devoid of internal politics, which may eventually shape the course of the movement. External politics has also made its presence felt in this movement. However, one hopes that the politics will never be greater than the cause of the movement.
The political groups seem to be divided on this issue. But, even the lines of division among these groups seem to be blurry. Going by past incidents, even the groups that publicly support the Gorkhas and have promised many things for them seem to have no intention of actually acting on their promises. The BJP government is generally seen as sympathetic to the movement. But there is a feeling of doubt in the minds of the Gorkhas regarding whether the BJP really intends on doing anything or whether they are just doing it to gain political mileage in the hills and West Bengal.
(Update: Recently, however, West Bengal’s state BJP chief, Dilip Ghosh, and the party’s national general secretary, Kailash Vijayvargiya have stated that BJP does not support the demand for Gorkhaland.)
The Gorkhas can’t just trust anyone in their struggle, because there is a high probability of their trust being broken. They have to trust themselves, they have to trust their own power – and they have to show everyone that no matter what, they will demand what is theirs.
It is true that the Gorkhas are tolerant and patient. But, the one thing about Gorkhas that no one should ever forget is that they are fearless. As Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw rightly said, “Anyone who says he doesn’t know fear is either lying or a Gorkha.” And a fearless Gorkha who doesn’t even fear death can achieve almost anything!
Image used for representative purposes only.