Gorkhaland issue | Gorkhaland Demand | Movement | Gorkha identity

Indian Gorkhas are indigenous people living all along the Himalayan belt and the North-East states of India. The Gorkhas inhabit areas in J&K, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Darjeeling, Assam, and all other states in the North- East region of India.

In all of these regions the Gorkhas have a long history going back to the pre-independence days. In fact, the his- tory of some of these places begins with the history of the Gorkhas. They have contributed to the history of these places as soldiers, administrators, plantation workers, agriculturalists, and as educationists. Today, the Gorkhas also live in the major cities of India such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkota, Bengaluru, and Chennai.

The Gorkhas have made very significant contributions to the Indian Freedom Struggle. Many young Gorkha soldiers laid down their lives during the Freedom Struggle. Major Durga Malla, who was hanged by the British on 25th August 1944 at the Central Jail in Delhi, is a shining example of the Gorkha contribution to the Indian Freedom Struggle. The Gorkhas also participated in Gandhi’s Dandi March and were close associates of Gandhi and other national leaders at various fora.
Post-independence, Gorkhas have richly contributed to the nation-building as brave soldiers defending the borders of India, members of the Constituent Assembly, Parliamentarians, Chief Ministers, MLAs, educationists, academicians, administrators, journalists, writers, sportspersons, and artists.
Gorkhas speak Nepali language which is included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. Nepali language is also recognized by the Sahitya Akademi as one of the major Indian languages.

Eminent Gorkhas in the Indian Story

Enumerating the eminent Indian Gorkhas can be a huge, independent project in itself. Gorkhas have excelled
in all walks of life. Therefore, this section will limit itself only to mentioning a few Gorkhas in the context of the
narrative of the making of India. Durga Malla and Dal Bahadur Thapa were young soldiers of the INA who were captured by the British and sent to the gallows in 1944. These young soldiers were two of the dozens of Gorkhas who happily sacrifices their lives for the cause of the Freedom Movement. A statue of Durga Malla now adorns the precincts of the Parliament where it was unveiled in 2004 by the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in the presence of the UPA Chairperson Smt. Sonia Gandhi, the Leader of the Opposition Sh. L.K. Advani, and the Speaker of Lok Sabha Sh. Somnath Chatterjeee, and a host of other leaders.
In 1921, the Assam Association, which played a major role in maintaining the unity and integrity of Assam at the time of the Partition of Bengal in 1905, decided to merge itself in the newly formed Assam Provincial Congress Committee (APCC), an affiliate of the Indian National Congress. Chobilal Upadhyay, a Gorkha, was the first presi-
dent of the APCC. Thus, a Gorkha played a very prominent role in the Indian National Movement in Assam.
Dal Bahadur Giri was closely associated with the Indian National Congress and he attended several All India
Congress sessions in various parts of India. He was instrumental in mobilizing hundreds of Gorkhas for the Freedom Movement and was arrested several times for his involvement in the movement. His health was adversely affected by the imprisonments and he died in 1924 at the young age of thirty six. Gandhi condoled his death in Young India of 13th November 1924. Gandhi wrote: Dalbahadur Giri…was one of the bravest of national workers…. He was a cultured Gorkha and was doing good works among the Gorkhas in the nearby Darjeeling. During 1921, in common with the thousands, he was imprisoned for the non-cooperation activities. Pritiman Thapa was the editor of the revolutionary Nepali magazine, Gorkha Sathi, published from Calcutta in 1907. He called upon the Gorkha soldiers to fight against the British. The Commissioner of Police in Calcutta mentioned him in a telegram sent on 28th May, 1907 to the Director of Criminal Intelligence. The telegram mentions him and his activities: “A Nepalese, Prithiman Thapa, addresses a meeting at Calcutta Square, 27th evening. About 200 present. Advocated publishing monthly newspapers for distribution for Gorkha Soldiers…”Damber Singh Gurung and Ari Bahadur Gurung were among the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution. They were active participants in the debates of the Constituent Assembly of India. Ari Bahadur, Bar-at-Law from Darjeeling, was one of the signatories to the Constitution of India.
Helen Lepcha was actively involved in the Freedom Movement and was very close to Gandhi who gave her thename ‘Savitri Devi”. She was very active in the movement in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Ram Singh Thakuri deserves a special mention in any narrative of the Indian Freedom Movement. He was a great patriot who gave India some of her best loved patriotic tunes. His well known compositions include Kadam Kadam Badaye Ja, Azad Hind ke Jawan, and Laheraye Tiranga Pyara.
Subhas Chandra Bose was a great admirer of his compositions and presented him with a violin. Ram Singh Thakuri played this very violin when he was invited by Nehru to present the Quami Tarana (National Anthem) of the Provisional Government of free India on 15th August 1947. The song presented was:
Shubha sukha chain ki barkha barse,
Bharat bhaag hai jaaga.
Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha,
Dravid, Utkal, Banga,
Chanchal sagar, Vindh, Himaalay,
Neela Jamuna, Ganga.
Tere nit gun gaayen,
Tujh se jivan paayen,
Har tan paaye asha.
Suraj ban kar jag par chamke,
Bharat naam subhaga,
Jai ho, jai ho, jai ho,
Jai, jai, jai, jai ho.
The song was the Hindustani translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Jana, Gana, Mana.
Gorkhas take great pride in the fact that the tune composed by Capt. Ram Singh Thakuri has now become the tune of the National Anthem of India.
The demand for Gorkhaland is based on the provision in Article 3(a) of the Constitution of India.
3. Formation of new States and alteration of areas, boundaries or names of existing States.—Parliament may
by law—
(a) form a new State by separation of territory from any State or by uniting two or more States or parts of
States or by uniting any territory to a part of any State.
It is pertinent to note that the demand for Gorkhaland has always meant the creation of a new state within India and never has the demand had any separatist tone. The new state that the Indian Gorkhas have been demanding would be created out of Bengal the same way the state of Gujarat was created out of Bombay, Haryana out of Punjab, Andhra Pradesh out of Madras, Uttarakhand out of UP, Jharkhand out of Bihar, and Chhatisgarh out of Madhya Pradesh.
Just as the creation of these states have gone on to contribute to the richness and diversity of India and has also led to more efficient governance, so also the creation of Gorkhaland would only be in the larger interest of the nation.

Location of Gorkhaland

The state of Gorkhaland in the Union of India is to be created by carving out the Darjeeling District and the
Dooars area of Jalpaiguri in West Bengal.
The demand for Gorkhaland in this area is not a recent development fuelled by political motives. The demand
for the recognition of the distinctiveness of the region was made as early as in 1907 and has been represented
through various memoranda, Parliamentary bills, negotiations, and manifestly in the form of two mass-move-
ments- first in the 1980s and then in the first decade of this century. Experts following the history of the demand have listed twenty-six occasions when the demand for Gorkhaland has been articulated.
The long history of the movement not only proves its antiquity but also establishes the distinct history of the

Some of the major markers in the time-line of the demand for Gorkhaland are :

1907 – Joint petition of Nepalis, Bhutias, Lepchas.
1917 – Petition of the Hillmen’s Association to Edwin Montague, Secretary of State for India. An extract
from the petition:
“Darjeeling’s inclusion in Bengal was comparatively recent and only because the British were rulers common to both
places. …Historically, culturally, ethnically, socially, religiously, linguistically there was no affinity whatsoever between
Bengal and Darjeeling.” The petition further stated that, “In laying down the plans for the future, the Government should aim at the creation of a separate unit comprising of the present Darjeeling District with the portion of Jalpaiguri District which was annexed from Bhutan in 1865.”
Jalpaiguri District which was annexed from Bhutan in 1865.”
1929 – Petition to the Simon Commission
1947 – The Communist Party of India Memorandum to the Constituent Assembly
1955 – Memorandum to the visiting Chairman of the State Reorganisation Commission. An extract:
“The Kochayas, Meches, Lepchas, Bhutias, Nepalis and Rajbanshis are the original inhabitants of this district
whose customs, systems and traditions fundamentally differ from that of the rest of West Bengal. …I put for-
ward this profound demand of the creation of a part ‘C’ State of North Bengal inclusive of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri,
Cooch Behar districts…”
1986 – 1200 people killed in the mass movement for Gorkhaland.
1996 – CPM Sitting Lok Sabha MP from Darjeeling, R. B. Rai breaks away from the party on the issue of Gorkhaland. Along with his supporters, forms Communist Party revolutionary Marxist (CPRM) in support of Gorkhaland.
1996 – Resolution passed for creation of Gorkhaland in an emergent meeting of Council of DGHC on 5th November at Durbar Hall, Lal Kothi, Darjeeling.
2007 – Second mass movement for Gorkhaland.
2011 – Sikkim Legislative Assembly passes a resolution in favour of the formation

The Distinctiveness of Darjeeling-Dooars

There is absolutely no denying the fact that the proposed Gorkhaland area of the Darjeeling-Dooars does not
share a common history or culture with the rest of Bengal. In The Bengal District Gazetters A.J Dash records:
The District was part of the dominions of the Raja of Sikkim….. The District was included in the Rajshahi Division until October 1905 when, as a result of the partition of Bengal, it was transferred to the Bhagalpur Division. With the re-arrangement of the provinces it was re-transferred to the Rajshahi Division in March 1912.1
Dash, Arthur Jules, Bengal District Gazetteers : Darjeeling. Alipore, Bengal : Bengal Government Press, 1947. Interestingly, the Information Document titled Gorkhaland Agitation published by the West Bengal Government in the year 1986 to “set out in detail the essential facts and information” has this to offer as the history of Darjeelng-Dooars:
Historically, what is known as the district of Darjeeling today was parts of two kingdoms during the pre-
British period – the kingdoms of Sikkim and Bhutan. Following wars and treaties signed with these two king-
doms, this territory came under control of the British Empire in India2.
The Government of India Act (1919) Section 52 A (2) listed Darjeeling in Bengal as one of the Partially Excluded Tracts.
The Interim report of the Excluded and partially Excluded Areas Sub- Committee of the Constituent Assembly of ndia also took note of the distinctiveness of the region. The report notes that “the partial exclusion of Darjeeling was recommended by the Govt. of Bengal not because it was considered as a backward area but because it was felt that safeguards were necessary in the interests of the hill people.” The report also goes on to acknowledge the aspiration of the people of the region by recording that “the Gurkha League desires that there should be an elected Advisory Council in the District so that the interests of the Gurkhas in representation in the services, in the land and industry of the district may be protected.” That the proposed Gorkhaland region is a much later addition to Bengal is made amply clear by The Absorbed Areas (Laws) Act, 1954 Schedule V which lists Darjeeling District as absorbed in the state of West Bengal. It may be noted that while Darjeeling was ‘absorbed’, Chandernagore was ‘merged’ by the Chandernagore Merger Act, 1954.It is not difficult to comprehend that the Darjeeling-Dooars quite accidently came to be part of the present West Bengal map. The State Reorganisation Commission in its report of 1955 explains how states and provinces came to be organized in British India: The existing structure of the States of the Indian Union is partly the result of accident and the circumstances attending the growth of the British power in India and partly a by-product of the historic process of the integration of former Indian States….The map of the territories annexed and directly administered by the British was also not shapedby any rational or scientific planning but ‘by the military, political or administrative exigencies or conveniences of the moment’. ”3

Responses to Gorkhaland 

Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council

 Following the agitation that began in 1986, a tripartite agreement was reached between Government of India,
Government of West Bengal, and Gorkha National Liberation Front on 25th July 1988 to set up an autonomous Hill Council (DGHC) under a State Act for “the social, economic, educational, and cultural advancement of the people residing in the Hill areas of Darjeeling District”. The Council covered the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling district and a few Mouzas within the Siliguri sub-division.
The Council was given limited executive powers but in the absence of legislative powers the aspirations of the
people of the region could not be addressed. The non-inclusion of the Dooars region in the Council became a major reason of discontent. The people of the Dooars had equally participated in the movement and thus felt betrayed. The Council also created a divide between the Hills and the Dooars which till then had shared a common history and heritage.All of these factors had created serious fault-lines in the Council right at the time of its inception. Over a period, these fault lines, along with the apathy of the state government, led to a renewal of the voices demanding
Gorkhaland. Later, the elected councilors resigned en masse in support of Gorkhaland on 21st March 2005.
2. Government of West Bengal. Gorkhaland Agitation:The Issues. Information Document. Calcutta, 1986. p 4.3. Report of the State Reorganisation Commission, 1955. Part I, Chapter1, para1.
Proposal to Include Darjeeling in the Sixth Schedule In 2007, the Government of India, in consultation with the Government of West Bengal and the Council administrator, brought two amendment bills to the Parliament – Sixth Schedule to the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2007 and the Constitution (107th Amendment) Bill, 2007 These bills sought to provide Sixth Schedule status for the Darjeeling Hill Areas.Given the serious trust deficit in the Hills about the functioning of the Administration and the State Government, the two bills were seen as another conspiracy to deny the aspiration of the people. Following opposition the Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs which was headed by Sushma Swaraj. In the hearings held by the Committee, all Gorkha groups rejected the proposal and reiterated that the aspirations of the people could only be met by the creation of a State. Based on the hearings and consultations, the report presented to the Rajya Sabha recorded, “The committee would like to caution and advise the ministry of home affairs (MHA) to make a fresh assessment of the ground realities all over again before proceeding with the Bills in the two Houses of Parliament.”4
With rising discontent against the Council administration and the shelving of the proposal of Sixth Schedule status to the region, another wave of a mass movement for Gorkhaland began in 2007.The Chairman of the Council was dislodged and banished along with his party members. A new leadership took over the movement. After three years of agitation for a state of Gorkhaland, the party leading the movement reached an agreement with the state government to form a semi-autonomous body to administer the Darjeeling hills. The Memorandum of Agreement for GTA was signed on 18 July 2011 at Pintail Village near Siliguri in the presence of Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and movement leaders. A bill for the creation of GTA was passed in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly on 2 September 2011. The GTA will have administrative, executive and financial powers but no legislative powers.The GTA agreement too has apparent inbuilt fault-lines. First, lack of legislative powers means that the people
of the region have no control over laws to govern themselves by. The most basic instrument to meet the aspirations of the people has thus been denied to them. Second, Dooars again has been left out and instead a verifi-
cation team has been set to identify “Gorkha majority” areas in the Dooars. Once again, this is a political ploy to  divide Dooars. United Dooars has a distinct history and culture. Diversity has been the mark of Dooars culture as the Gorkhas, Adivasis, Rajbongshis, Bengalis, Meches, Boros and other people groups have lived alongside each other for decades. The move to identify “Gorkha majority” areas will not only deny the aspiration of the people of the region but will also divide the area along communal lines.

Demand for Gorkhaland still exists

Even though the GTA is signed, the voices demanding Gorkhaland refuse to die down. For fear of backlash, the signatory party to the GTA keeps harping about Gorkhaland and making ambiguous statements about both the GTA and Gorkhaland. Besides being seen as a major climb-down from the demand for a state, the agreement is also perceived as a betrayal of the peoples’ aspiration of a state of their own. Dooars, of course, continues to simmer.
The history of the movement and the responses to the movement clearly illustrate that the demand is for noth-
ing short of a full-fledged state and that any other administrative arrangement will only fail. As long as the complete power to legislate is not made available to the people of the region all arrangements will only prove to be temporary and futile.
4. 129th Report on the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution (Amendment) bill, 2007 and the Constitution (107th Amendment) Bill, 2007. Rajya Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi, February, 2008. Para 7.11.

Gorkhaland is NOT just about Darjeeling

Although exact figures are not available, most estimates put the Indian Gorkha population at 1 crore twenty
lakhs. Of these, only about 20 lakhs are in Darjeeling-Dooars region – the part of Bengal which now seeks to become Gorkhaland. That gives rise to a very pertinent question – how can a region that comprises of only 1/6th of the total Indian Gorkha population seek to champion the cause of a Gorkha State in India?
Before we go into the reasons for the demand for Gorkhaland, we would do well to remember that the demand has support from Gorkhas across the length and breadth of India. Gorkhas from all parts of India have supported the demand for Gorkhaland in Darjeeling Dooars area. It is therefore very obvious that the demand for Gorkhaland is not just a demand of the people of Darjeeling. And it is also very obvious that the demand does NOT pertain only to concerns that relate to Darjeeling. For had it been only about issues relating to Darjeeling,the demand would not have garnered the kind of pan India support that it now banks upon. Indeed, most of the Indian Gorkhas have very little to do with Darjeeling. Why should they then be bothered about the political developments in Darjeeling? What difference does it make to them if Darjeeling-Dooars is declared as another of the Indian states? Obviously none. And yet the support.

Gorkhaland is about the National, Political Identity of the Gorkhas

The reason why all Gorkhas support the demand is because all of them understand that the demand is about
seeking a solution to the problem that vexes all of the Indian Gorkhas. The one problem that all Indian Gorkhas face irrespective of which part of India they come from is the constant, irresponsible and extremely offending
interrogation of their Indian Identity. What this problem means is that every Indian Gorkha’s identity as an Indian is constantly put under scrutiny. Sometimes this suspicion comes in the form of such innocuous questions as “which part of Nepal do you come from?” to such serious allegations as being foreigners or illegal migrants. That Gorkhas are as much indigenous people as any other Indian would come as a huge surprise to many. For most  and that includes the so called respected academicians – Nepali speaking Gorkhas are from Nepal. The misconception is so widespread and deep rooted that it simply refuses to go away. No amount of references to historical facts seem to be able to dispel the ignorance.
The demand for Gorkhaland is therefore the demand that Gorkhas be recognized as Indians and be given their rightful place. It is the belief of all Indian Gorkhas that a state for Gorkhas would once and for all solve the crisis of Indian Gorkha Identity. A state for Gorkhas in India would prove that the Gorkhas are Indians.
It is this belief that unites Gorkhas all over India. It is clear that the demand for Gorkhaland is not JUST for economic reasons. It is not about the region of Darjeeling and Dooars being in a state of neglect. Yes, the region lacks in development and could be better administered but that is not the point. The people in Darjeeling know as much as the people outside do that the demand is about securing the identity of the Gorkhas as Indians.
Had it been about issues of development, the people of Darjeeling could have done without a state and have
easily accepted and lived with arrangements such as the DGHC or the Sixth Schedule status to the region. Such arrangements envisaged some autonomy in governance and could have paved way for increased economic development. However, the arrangements were just placatory gestures that sought to misread the aspirations of the Indian Gorkhas in general and the people of Darjeeling in particular. The Gorkhas do not aspire to merely having greater financial or administrative control. They aspire to completely immerse themselves in the Indian identity. And that is why all Gorkhas across the political and social spectrum unanimously rejected something that sought to address only the problem of Darjeeling. That the proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by the people of Darjeeling only proves that even for the people of Darjeeling Gorkhaland is not just about Darjeeling or its economic development; it is about the identity of every single Indian Gorkha.Only the creation of a full-fledged State can bring a lasting and complete solution to the issue of Gorkhaland. All other arrangements fall far short of the aspirations of the people and can only provide artificial and temporary solutions.

{A Very Short Introduction - Munish Tamang Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh}

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