“Koi Sikh, koi Jat Maratha, koi Gorkha koi Madrasi… sharad par marne wala harek tha Bharat wasi” were lines from Lata Mangeshkar’s “Aye mere watan ke logo”. It remains an inspiration when it comes to remembering the continuous sacrifices made by our Indian soldiers at the frontiers.
But are we aware of the everyday sacrifices and miseries of those families and communities who send their sons for the cause of the country? Among many of them are the brave Gorkhas who still live in insecure conditions in the world’s greatest democracy. The welfare state has very little consideration for this community whose bravery is written in golden words in popular history books. The everyday misery of the communities like the Gorkhas is often taken for granted. They have been struggling against an acute existential threat which has been hindering their growth for decades. Labelled as a martial race, the essence of their existence has been reduced to racial and communal stereotypes.
It is ironic that communities like the Gorkhas have to continue to prove their loyalty and contribution to the nation despite years of commitments and sacrifices. They are often seen suspiciously and are accused of not being loyal to a value system which runs in the veins of this country.
The silence of the good people and the skewed camera has made the lives of the oppressed communities and identities deplorable and filled with misery in this great and diverse country. Their just and legitimate demands for dignity have been ignored and ridiculed by the existing hegemonic forces. Is there anyone there who can see the plight of these people who are asking for their constitutional rights in their own lands in order to protect their identity, culture and dignity?
The recent imposition of Bengali language in Bengal is a slap on the democratic ethos of our country. It has threatened the identity of minorities like that of the Gorkhas whose issues have always been ignored and neglected by almost everyone including the self-declared progressive forces, intellectuals and even the mainstream media. Even though their demands are very simple and justified, the struggle for this legitimate and constitutional Gorkhaland empowered by Article 3(a) and 3(c) of the Indian Constitution has always been portrayed in the media as a publicity stunt. If anybody has already decided to be judgmental that the ongoing movement for the protection of one’s culture and dignity is not justified, then they should read more about the Indian Gorkhas.
Reading saves us from being judgemental and it also helps us understand our country better, especially those places which are only loved for its tea, toy trains, hills, rivers, tourist camps but not its people. The media reports that the tourists are trapped there for few days because ‘Darjeeling is burning’ but what about the reports of the vulnerability of the indigenous masses being trapped in north Bengal for more than 100 years by the treacherous tentacles of the Bengal government. So much of tea in the region, yet the people of the hills never got rich. I can understand the problems of the tourists but let us take some time to understand the misery of the people in these poorly administered areas of north Bengal and those labelled as ‘terrorists’ by some who claim to be ‘lovers’ of peace. It is time for people to start interpreting the interpretation of events in order to save themselves from getting infected by unnecessary prejudices and chauvinism.
Our history books do not tell us everything and they are just like our insensitive cameras. Had they narrated everything about everyone with the same enthusiasm, then the world would have been a better place for all of us. The Indian Gorkhas are always targeted, inspired by the majoritarian ethics, of being immigrants and foreigners. And such narratives have been successful in attaining the objectives of a few individuals and groups who are on a mission to destroy the existence of this already endangered community. Chauvinists use this narrative to push communities into homelessness and vulnerability during movements of exclusion. For every Gorkha at the border pierced by a bullet, there is a Gorkha stabbed with a knife in his back by his own countrymen. Anybody who thinks that Gorkhaland is a mere middle-class publicity stunt should come out of their comfort zone and explore the roads of history. One will surely understand why people are coming out of their houses and struggling for safeguarding their rights and even existence.
When we speak of Nepali-speaking Indians, we mean a diverse group of communities which are united by a common language Nepali, recognised by the Schedule 8 of the Indian Constitution. The diversity within this community is recognised by other sub-communities. It gets manifested in the respect for each other’s culture and values. The Gorkhaland movement is not the movement of a few sub-communities within the Gorkha community. It is a struggle of all the communities of Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars and many other areas in the country who share a common language – Nepali. Despite the diversity in this community, everyone is tied to a knot by a common Nepali language.
Gorkhaland is not an exclusive idea. Since the idea is based on one language, every Nepali speaker of Indian origin has a right over Gorkhaland and hence, the struggle for this separate statehood is everybody’s struggle. Respect for people’s culture, religion and language should be the guiding principle of any mass democratic movement. The feeling of chauvinism should not infect the ones who are fighting against it.
While there are histories of forced jingoism, there are histories of democratic movements too, which were carried out for self-dignity against the oppression of majoritarian rule.
Among the many struggles in India, one was the struggle of the Tamils against the imposition of Hindi in the Madras Presidency during the British rule and the struggle of the Bengalis in Barak valley against the imposition of Assamese language in Assam in 1961. Both the struggles were events of inspiring bravery. The recent struggle of the Gorkhas for the protection of a constitutionally recognised language Nepali is a similar act of bravery. Along with the protection of the Nepali language, the struggle for Gorkhaland is also a provision empowered by the Constitution of India.
Why, when most states in India (including West Bengal) have been formed along linguistic lines, does the majoritarian conscience of Bengal turn violent when it comes to the aspirations of the Gorkhas? Bengal is a big state and it has failed to understand the people of the hills, Terai and Dooars and many other minorities in the state. With the Bengali gentlemen at the centre, everybody else in Bengal has been kept in acute vulnerability in the peripheries of the power circle for decades. It is only with the formation of a separate state of Gorkhaland can the indigenous Nepali-speaking people of north Bengal protect their culture and identity. It is ironic that whenever people have demanded the right to self-governance in the form of Gorkhaland, the Bengal government has ridiculed and pushed them backwards with the use of physical force. The horrors of the state-sponsored violence of 1986 still haunt the hills and those wounds of betrayal have been reopened by the killings of the peaceful unarmed Gorkha protesters by the police in Darjeeling in 2017.
Languages and cultures are to be shared voluntarily and with love. When cultures unite by choice, they create a universe of happiness and when they are imposed by hegemonic forces, they bring only misery to the oppressed. Imposition of one’s culture on anybody is an act of chauvinism and jingoism. Every culture and language is unique and wonderful and efforts should be made to preserve and protect them and the state should volunteer to pioneer such efforts.
The Indian Constitution is a wonderful book which empowers the state to take positive steps to protect and preserve the language and culture of minorities. The Gorkhas, a petal in the flower of diversity, in this great nation of ours, are now in crisis because of the insidious plans of the Bengal government to destroy it through the encroachment of their cultural spaces. It wants its hegemony to be maintained by keeping the Gorkhas as second-class citizens in their own nation. Nepali language which binds every Gorkha in this country is being threatened by this deceptive state hegemony.
In this, the role of some media in dehumanising the constitutional and democratic struggle of Gorkhaland also cannot be ignored. The way they have been portraying the indigenous Gorkhas as ‘lovers of violence’, thereby ignoring the acute problems of survival and identity faced by them is something to be questioned. The sensationalism of the news is a theatrical representation of realities which is deliberately manufactured to program the masses and alienate them from the real things happening with real people in real time and space.
Why cannot the media take some time and survey the vulnerability of the local people in Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars? Why do they not explore why people are raising their voices and joining mass democratic movements? The thirst for ratings has made our media the zombie of democracy. Some Gorkhas have already sacrificed their lives. The life of a Gorkha is so cheap that even his death is not mourned by the national media. The modern pillar of democracy is weakened by the greed for ratings.
Darjeeling is often portrayed with violent images. Horrendous visuals are shown to delegitimise a mass movement of people demanding their constitutional rights. The symphonies running at the back and the flash messages in bold letters are subliminal programmings to incite violence in the minds of the viewers against the innocent people of the hills who are living in utmost fear under jackboots. It is ironic that the Gorkhas whose contribution to the nation has been immense and praiseworthy are misrepresented on screen. The visual vandalism and insanity must be stopped for the greater good of democracy.
Newsrooms are not theatres. They are a platform to disseminate true information to the people who believe in the testimonies of those good people who are believed to be the safeguards of the fourth pillar of democracy. The camera is supposed to be the eye and ear of democracy but it has decided to judge everything on behalf of the people. It prepares the news as food to be fed as baby cereals to the masses. It seems from the pattern of news reporting nowadays that the Indian media wants to replace our judiciary. It prefers judgment over news. We should come out of this before our conscience becomes a device controlled by some insane people, who, for their selfish motives will someday take humanity to its doom.
I believe that the Gorkhaland movement is not alone in its struggle. It is the struggle of everyone who believes that cultures are to be shared and not to be made obligatory on anyone. Every Indian who believes in the ethos of our Constitution should come forward to protect the rights of the oppressed communities and identities, like that of the Indian Gorkhas. Nepali is a constitutional language and the demand for Gorkhaland on linguistic basis is constitutional as well. It is the need of the hour that we, the people of India, join hands together to save the dignity of the oppressed communities and identities which are exposed to the cruelty of the majoritarian value system. It is the silence of good people over which wicked people exhibit their wickedness.