Gorkhas of Northeast India and their Socio-political Status

Gorkhas of Northeast India and their Socio-political Status
The recent clarification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on the citizenship status of the Gorkhas living in Northeast India will go a long way in removing the long-drawn confusion among people and would, once for all, put a stop to the social and political harassment they are often subjected to undergo branding them as foreigners. On many occasions the Gorkhas are equated with Bangladeshis, called as illegal infiltrators, harassed in many ways and even booked under the Foreigners Act, 1946.

Recently, the Home Ministry, by its letter dated 24 September 2018, addressed to the Government of Assam, clarified that any member of the Gorkha community holding Nepalese nationality who has arrived in India from Nepal even without a passport or visa and staying in India for any length of time shall not be treated as an illegal migrant. For, they are under the protection of the bilateral terms and condition of the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, 1950. Article No. 7 of the above treaty “grants on a reciprocal basis to the nationals of one country, in the territories of the other, the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of similar nature”. Thus a Gorkha, even if fresh from Nepal, is free to move anywhere in India (except the areas declared as Restricted Areas), live any length of time as a Nepali citizen, carry out any trade or occupation and own any property.

As regards the Gorkhas who have been living permanently in India, the Home Ministry clarified that the members of Gorkha community who were Indian citizens at the time of the commencement of the Constitution ( that is, 26 January 1950), or those who are Indian citizens by birth, or those who have acquired Indian citizenship by registration or naturalization in accordance with the provisions of the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955, are not foreigners in terms of Section 2(a) of the Foreigners Act, 1946 as well as the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939. They will enjoy all the legal and political rights and privileges as citizens of India. It is hoped that the above clarification would also help the Government of Assam to take appropriate steps in the processing of the NRC update.

The Gorkhas came to Assam nearly two 200 years ago as recruits in the Army and subsequently as civilian immigrants and settled down permanently in Assam. They are multi-cultural and multi-lingual like the people of Assam. Historically speaking, a large section of them, those belonging to Tibeto-Burman linguistic group, had their original homeland in Assam. They were the descendants of Kirata race and their king Ghataka who ruled over Kamrupa with his capital at Pragjyotisa.
Eminent historians have confirmed that the Kiratas entered Northeast India during the pre-historic time through various passes from the Southeast Asiatic countries. Tripura was also their homeland, and, therefore, the Tipperas and the aborigines of the Northeast like Boros, Garos, Cacharis, Koches, Hajongs, Miris, Mikirs, Kukis, Karbis etc are all the consanguinities of the ancient Kiratas. Thus the Gorkhas’ immigration from Nepal to Northeast India is like their homecoming (ghar waapsi).

In Assam, the Gorkhas have fitted themselves well with the larger Assamese society, most of whom were their ancestral cousins. They have forgotten their erstwhile country Nepal and cut off all political interests with it. A vast majority of them have never seen Nepal. They have loved their newfound land, its people, surroundings, hills and valleys, and made it their permanent home. They have adapted themselves well with the local people and their culture and language, and fully integrated themselves with the national mainstream. The people of the Northeast too found the Gorkhas to be simple and amiable, and welcomed them with their open heart. “They were largely well-accepted and well-treated in larger Assamese society” was the opinion of Manirul Hussain.
Eminent historian Amalendu Guha writes: “In course of time the Nepalis became acultured with Assamese in respect of language, culture, tradition, but the Muslim immigrants remained as before even to this day. They even did not mix up with the Assamese Muslims who speak Assamese, follow Assamese culture except profess Islam.”

The Gorkhas participate in local festivals and cultural activities of the Assamese people like Bihu, Raslilaa, Sankardeva or Madhabdeva tithi, etc. The Gorkhas do not send their children to Nepali-medium schools. They study in Assamese-medium schools right from pre-primary standard to matriculation.
Trailokya Bhattarcharya wrote in the Khadiniya Khangbad dated 23 January 1992 thus: “…these people (Gorkhas) who can speak Assamese so fluently as to put an Asamiya to shame, are writing in Assamese. One of them who secured the highest marks in Assamese language in his Degree examination is publishing his Assamese translation of the Act (drama) Mukhyamantri.”
Many Gorkha litterateurs like Hari Prasad Gorkha Rai, Hari Bhakta Katwal, Puspalal Upadhyaya, Bishnulal Upadhyaya, Gitadevi Upadhyaya, Lil Bahadur Chhetri etc have written novels, articles, poems and dramas in the Assamese language and enriched Assamese literature.
The noted journalist and social activist of Assam, Homen Bargohain, wrote the following lines: “During the last 100 years, the Nepalis living in Assam have played a significant and historic role in the formation of a new Asamiya race by integration with various tribes and communities of Assam. The Nepali community, being itself a peaceful and culturally conscious race, has not only preserved and protected its own culture and language but also has greatly contributed to the development of Assamese language, culture and national pride.“

Mahim Bara, who was president of the Asom Sahitya Sabha, appreciated the Gorkhas of Assam, and described them as those who can be truly considered as Asamiyas. He wrote the following words: “…those who remain close to Assamese society both during their national festivities as well as their adversities, are the real children of mother Assam ; they are the Asamiyas.
We have seen from the foregoing paragraphs that the Gorkhas living in Assam have already achieved a considerable amount of integration with the greater Assamese conglomerate (Brihat Asamiya Janagosthi) by adopting Assamese culture, language and customs. The Gorkhas have proved their integration with Assamese race not only by adopting their culture, language and tradition, but also by actively involving themselves in their socio-political aspirations and problems which is well known to everybody and needs no mention here.

KK Muktan
(The writer is a former Meghalaya Civil Service officer and can
be reached at muktankk@yahoo.co.in)

The recent clarification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on the citizenship status of the Gorkhas living in Northeast India will go a long way in removing the long-drawn confusion among people and would

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