Nepali vs Bangla in Darjeeling: Demand for Gorkhaland leaves Queen of Hills boiling again

Protest against CM Mamata in Darjeeling
The demand for a separate Gorkhaland is a 110-year-old one. The Gorkhaland movement had turned violent in 1980s, when over 1,200 people lost their lives. The GJM has renewed the demand after West Bengal government's decision to make Bangla mandatory in schools from Class I-IX.

Fondly called the queen of hills, Darjeeling is boiling this summer over the question of language and renewed demand for Gorkhaland by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).

Last week saw violence as the GJM supporters clashed with security forces after the West Bengal government announced its decision to impose Bangla language in schools across the state from Class 1-IX. The GJM led by Bimal Gurung is vehemently against the idea and took to streets with full force.

Army was called last Thursday after nearly four decades in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and adjoining areas to bring situation under control. The GJM's call for indefinite shutdown began today. The state government has responded with heavy deployment of security forces including six columns of Indian Army jawans and five companies of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) besides Rapid Action Force (RAF) and local police.


Giving a call for shutdown, the GJM asked the tourists staying in Darjeeling and Kalimpong to leave the region. "If they wish to stay back, they may do so at their own risk," Bimal Gurung said.

West Bengal Tourism Minister Goutam Deb called the warning by Bimal Gurung an 'extra-constitutional' act saying that being a member of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), he is not above law.

The GJM said that it would enforce shutdown of all the government offices except schools, hospital and emergency services. It asked the employees working in these offices to stay away from government work.

The Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, warned the employees from taking leave of absence. The government notification said that any leave during the period of GJM shutdown would be considered as 'service break' in the record of concerned employees.

Bimal Gurung announced that the GJM is back with its old demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland by partition of West Bengal.


Bengal has a rather unusual history of partition. The first partition of Bengal happened in 1905 when the British rulers, afraid of growing pace of freedom struggle, divided the huge province along religious line. Though, officially, Bengal was divided for administrative ease.

The Muslim majority region of East Bengal was placed under a separate administration. The remaining part got its name as West Bengal.

In 1911, West Bengal was divided along linguistic lines. Bihar - which was divided to create Jharkhand decades later - and Odisha were carved out of Bengal as they were regions dominated by Hindi and Oriya respectively.

Agitation for a separate Gorkhaland has a 110-year-old history. It can be traced back to 1907. But, before a timeline of the agitation for Gorkhaland, it is pertinent to have a look as the recent history and geography of Gorkhaland.


The proposed Gorkhaland comprises the hills of Darjeeling, areas of Dooars and Siliguri terai regions in West Bengal. Present autonomous GTA covers three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Mirik, and some areas of Siliguri subdivision and the whole of Kalimpong district.

The claim for a separate Gorkhaland lies in the history and perceived distinct identity of Nepali speaking people living in the area. Before the British stamped their authority over the region, the Gorkhas were the ruling power in the region.

After the capture of Sikkim by the Gorkhas in 1780, their empire extended from Teesta in the east to Sutlej in the west along the Himalayas. Their empire included Sikkim, Darjeeling, Siliguri, Shimla, Nainital, Garhwal, Kumaon and Sutlej.

But, in early 19th century, the British engaged the Gorkhas in war and forced them surrender a big chunk of their empire including Darjeeling, which was initially handed over to the kingdom of Sikkim only to be taken back in 1835.

Darjeeling survived the partition of Bengal first in 1905 and also in 1911-12. But, by then the movement for a separate Gorkhaland with Darjeeling as its centre had begun.


The first demand for a separate Gorkhaland was submitted to the British rulers in 1907, when the Morley-Minto panel was touring various parts of the country to introduce some political reform under the supremacy of the UK parliament.

The first such demand was submitted after Independence to the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1952. Pt Nehru did not pay much heed to the demand.

Three years later a delegation of the District Shamik Sangh submitted a memorandum to the State Reorganisation Committee (SRC) formed by the Nehru government. A separate Gorkhaland was proposed comprising the areas of Darjeeling, Siliguri and Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. While, some other states were carved out on the basis of language and culture, the SRC did not consider demand for Gorkhaland strong enough.


In 1981, a similar demand was made to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Pending a decision by the Centre, Subhas Ghising of Gorkha National Liberation Front launched a massive agitation for separate state of Gorkhaland.

The Gorkhaland agitation passed through a very violent phase during Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre. It is estimated that around 1,200 people were killed between 1986 and 1988, when the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was formed.

The movement continued through 1990s. In the first decade of the present century, dialogue entered meaningful stage as the authority of Subhash Ghising weakened and a new leader in GJM chief Bimal Gurung emerged.


In 2005, the Centre and West Bengal government agreed to place the Gorkhaland region in the Schedule VI of the Constitution giving it some form of autonomy and special status. But, the GJM opposed the move and launched the agitation afresh.

In 2011, another compromise was reached and GTA was formed. GJM is part of the GTA, which is headed by Bimal Gurung. However, there have been sporadic voices demanding separate state of Gorkhaland ever since the formation of Telangana in 2013.

The GJM is part of the NDA, which is ruling at the Centre. It is also alarmed at the growing popularity of the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee in the hills.

Recently, the TMC won the Mirik municipality and opened accounts in the civic bodies in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong - a first of its kind for any political party from the plains in many years. A rising TMC in hills may have been the real reason for GJM intensifying its agitation for Gorkhaland.

The demand for a separate Gorkhaland is a 110-year-old one. The Gorkhaland movement had turned violent in 1980s, when over 1,200 people lost their lives. The GJM has renewed the demand after West Bengal government's decision to make Bangla mandatory in schools from Class I-IX.

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