This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Abhishek Singh. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why 100 Days Of Unrest In Darjeeling Should Matter To The Rest Of India

More from Abhishek Singh

“Gorkhaland is not just a demand for separate statehood; it’s a dream to be called Gorkha. We are fed up of being called ‘Chinese’ and ‘Nepali’. We are not that. We are Gorkhas who belong to India. And that is exactly why we want Gorkhaland.”

GJM calls off stir in Darjeeling,” read a headline on the front page of a national daily, a few days ago. It wasn’t surprising that the indefinite bandh was finally called off because it had become inevitable once the new president of GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) had been appointed. However, what was surprising was the way the common man’s sacrifice of over 100 days was robbed by the privileged leaders for their political gains. Firstly, by Bimal Gurung, and then by Binoy Tamang for their own political mileage.

Why And How Did The Bandh Materialise

Early this year, Partha Chatterjee, the Education Minister of Bengal announced“From now on, it will be compulsory for students to learn Bengali in schools. English medium schools will have to make Bengali an optional subject from Class I so that the students can study it either as a second or third language.”

It offered more than enough opportunity for the leaders in Darjeeling to start a protest for a separate state once again. Right from 2013, when Telangana was given statehood, the leaders wanting a separate Gorkhaland had been waiting for an opportunity. And that opportunity was finally served to them on a platter by the foolhardiness of Mr Chatterjee.

Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of Bengal, tried her best to control the damage saying that, “I have never said Bengali will be made compulsory in the Hills. This is an absolute lie. You can have Nepali, English or Hindi as first language if you want. We want to introduce a three-language policy where students have to learn Bengali as an optional subject.” But the damage had already been done.

The unrest was soon converted into a protest leading to an indefinite bandh. Section 144 was imposed and paramilitary forces were deployed.

Then came the tool used by most administrations in the country of late, the dreaded Internet ban. Internet remained banned for since June 18 while the strike went on unabated. Local cable TV news channels were also banned.

Instead of pacifying the stir, all this led to its intensification. People were deeply annoyed because of all these dictatorial bans. They responded vehemently. There were cases of attempted self-immolation, of arson and robbery at government offices, heritage buildings and railway stations.

A Little Bit Of Background

Darjeeling was part of the Gorkha Empire which ruled the entire hilly region from Sutlej in the west to Teesta in the east. The British got the control of it after winning the Anglo-Nepal war in 1816.

The first demand for separation of the hills from Bengal was submitted to Morley-Minto Reforms panel in 1907. In 1952, a memorandum was again submitted to then PM Jawaharlal Nehru asking for separation once again.

However, the movement was intensified during the leadership of Subhas Ghising in the period of 1986-1988. The violent agitations of that period left almost 1200 people dead. After this, a separate body called, Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was formed.

In 2007, the demand was revived. It happened in the backdrop of Darjeeling hills being made part of the sixth schedule by the Central government in 2005. This would have made the region autonomous but a separate statehood would not have been realised. Hence the people protested. It went on for four years, stopping intermittently.

In 2011, CM, Mamata Banerjee formed the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) which became the autonomous body replacing the DGHC.

Why Should It Matter To Us?

The bandhs should not be seen in isolation. It is rather a conscious movement of the people for realising their long cherished dream of statehood. Darjeeling is very important as it shares its borders with two of our neighbouring countries – Nepal and Bhutan. Therefore, a problem in Darjeeling should be considered a problem of India as a whole.

Moreover, any crisis in Darjeeling has major effects on the following.

1. Sikkim: It is a geopolitically sensitive state for India as China keeps lurking by its borders. It is largely dependent on supplies from the Centre and its economy heavily relies on tourism. Any disturbance in Darjeeling not only hinders its supply chain but also paralyses its tourism industry as the only way to reach Sikkim is via Hill-cart road or NH 31-A which passes through the proposed Gorkhaland.

For instance, Sikkim’s tourism industry literally starved to death from mid-June to September this year. Its tourist graph came down from 1.2 million in April-May to virtually zero in July-August.

2. Tea gardens: Just as tourism runs Sikkim, tea gardens, combined with tourism, are the source of livelihood of the hills. Because of the bandh, the tea gardens, which were already incurring losses had to give bonuses to workers lest they run off never to return again.

The tea gardens of Darjeeling provide the best quality tea in India and is demanded all over the world. But with such long bandhs, it affects production and hence is a loss to the Indian economy and to the people of the hills as well.

3. Loss of life and property: Eleven people died during the bandhs. Two stations, Sonada and Gayabari, of the great Darjeeling Himalayan Railways, which is also a UNESCO world heritage site, were torched. Apart from that, the protests also caused a loss of income for the entire hill region as all activities were shut down.

All this has always led to losses for the people, be it of Darjeeling, Sikkim, or, for that matter, Silliguri and Dooars.

Be it the agitations of 1986, 2007 or the current one, it has only produced leaders who did not care for people’s rights and led them vehemently towards their losses financially and mentally. Rather than guaranteeing peace and tranquillity in the hills, along with accountability in the elected autonomous bodies such as DGHC and GTA, all they did was sow the seeds of unattainable and almost impossible statehood for their own political gain.

What Is The Way Forward?

Fueling anti-Bengal sentiments won’t serve the purpose. Being in power, even the BJP has realised that carving a Gorkhaland out of Bengal is not the ideal solution. This would lead to two major problems.

  1. It would put burden on the Centre to run another Sikkim.
  2. It would lead to a loss of revenue for Bengal. This might cause a bigger protest in mainland Bengal. Moreover, Mamata Banerjee has already announced that she would not let another partition of Bengal occur.

So what Kolkata needs to do is give real powers to the GTA. Making it a paper tiger hasn’t served any purpose till now and won’t do so in the future either.

The GTA should be given execution, financial and administrative autonomy along with legislative and judiciary powers. It should have an elected chief and subsidiaries. And Kolkata must realise that there is a difference between Gorkhali and Bengali. It would have to leave its autocratic approach. And the people of hills should perhaps then consider the GTA as their own govt.

This, according to me, is the only way out as of now. But the question here is whether both parties would leave their egos behind and reciprocate equally.  And whether the Centre would be able to play a good mediator.

You must be to comment.

More from Abhishek Singh

Similar Posts

By Akanksha kapil

By Avinash Tavares

By shakeel ahmad

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below