The Gorkhaland Journey – A Review of the book Gorkhas and Gorkhaland

Gorkhas and GorkhalandTitle: Gorkhas and Gorkhaland
Author: Barun Roy
Publisher: Parbati Roy Research Foundation, 2012
ISBN:  9810786468, 9789810786465
Length: 504 pages

Gorkhas and Gorkhaland is a three-in-one book providing much of information required to know of the Gorkhas in India as Indians. Book One deals with the Sociological and Anthropological Study of the Gorkha people. Book Two is about Gorkhaland: A Geo-Demographic study of the proposed state of Gorkhaland. Book Three explains The Rise of the Demand for Gorkhaland: A Socio-Political study of the demand for a separate state.

Beyond being great soldiers, very few see the Gorkhas as a robust community of men, women and children, carrying a heritage which is quite outstanding for a minority community. Why are the Gorkhas referred to as a community and not a race or caste or class? Because the Gorkha people have a united identity of clans and castes, despite being scattered geographically in different locations of India. Barun Roy’s book seeks to provide all possible information on the social, anthropological and cultural diaspora. How many of us even know that the Gorkhas consist of two major streams of races—the ancient Kiratis and Khas? The Himalayan and sub-Himalayan Kiratis have 17 tribes and Indo–Gangetic Plains Kiratis have 5 tribes, with distinct features. The Khas consists of 7 castes. This ‘Who-Are –We’ and ‘Who’s Who’ of Gorkhas strives to cover the ethnicity of all Nepali-speaking people from across India in a never-seen-before effort.

Most of us are asked who we are and face intense scrutiny of our faces if we say we are West Bengalis or Uttarkhandis or Jharkhandis or Himachalis or Harayanvis or Assamese? It never seems to gel and neither is it wholly accepted. They dig deeper. So we say I am a Gorkhali from Assam. That seems to find acceptance to a degree, meaning must be a settler or migrant in Assam. But that’s not quite true. In today’s world, thinkers are dispelling old notions of being Aryan or Mongolian or Tibeto-Burman or Indo-Aryan. They are totally outdated with the mixing and matching of humans. The key word is genetic mapping. If your genetic mapping matches with the others of the place, you are a son or daughter of the soil. In that case the Gorkhali genetic mapping would match all on the sub-Himalayan belt from North-west to North-east and probably even further. Indians are today finding genetic mapping similarities right up to Lithuania (a country in Northern Europe with Baltic ethnic origin near the Baltic sea). But the Gorkhas is still trying to convince that we belong.

The demand of Gorkhas to be recognized was sympathetically heard but ignored despite several new states and several Union Territories being reorganised by the 1953 States Reorganization Commission set up to look into ‘ways and means of physically reorganizing the internal boundaries of India.’ Gorkhas contributed majorly to the Indian Freedom Movement from faraway corners and from belonging to backward tribes also. The sense of nationality was always there from that time in this intense sensitive minority people. On 19th December, 1946, Dambar Singh Gurung, the lone Gorkha representative in the Constituent Assembly spoke at the Constitution Hall chaired by Dr Rajendra Prasad, the First President of India. He said “Sir, I stand here today as the only representative of 30 lakh (3 million) of Gorkhas in India. It is 30 lakhs near about the population of the Sikhs; still I am the solitary representative here in this House…Sir the problem of the Gorkhas is quite different. They are scattered all over India…They are very backward educationally…Sir the All India Gorkha League approached the Congress High Command to give adequate representation to the Gorkhas in the Constituent Assembly but our request was totally ignored, whereas as many as 3 seats were given to the Anglo-Indian whose population is only 1 lakh and 42 thousand in India. I do not think that Gorkhas will any more tolerate this kind of injustice…” This was sixty-six years ago. Since then the Gorkhas have been striving towards their goal of being recognized as a prominent Indian minority and not a sub-group. The recognition of the Nepali language and Nepali literature was another achievement where the Gorkhas of India united despite geographical dislocations.

Besides all the meat, there are interesting appetisers in Barun’s chronicle of events. On the 14th of August, 1947, some members of the Muslim League hoisted the flag of Pakistan over the Town Hall of Darjeeling, and also in Kalimpong and Kurseong. There was indeed a great deal of turmoil over the supposedly declaration of Darjeeling Hills belonging to East Pakistan. Ultimately, four days later the flag was replaced with the national flag of India amidst much jubilation. The whole idea of belonging to Pakistan was strongly opposed by the All India Gorkha League, of course to the relief of the Indian national leaders.

Tea today is a global brand with the consistent hard work of the Nepali-speaking people. The rise of the Darjeeling District Committee of the CPIM Party by Gorkhas, Ratanlal Brahmin and Ganesh Lal Brahmin, brought to fore the pathetic state of tea garden workers. With political consciousness, there grew a spate of protests which were met with indiscriminate killing of the tea garden workers fraternity including innocent women. That was in 1955. Darjeeling Hills was never the same again as Gorkhas fought against exploitation and for self-determination and freedom. That’s when the realization of a separate state was strongly felt. For example, today, the Gorkha population consisting of any combination of the mentioned tribes or castes is highest in Sikkim, where Nepali is also the state language.  However, the same Nepali-speaking people politically separated from Sikkim and included in West Bengal have been called foreigners or being forced to re-identify themselves as Nepalese national. The Gorkhas have been crying hoarse that they are not against anybody but want a statehood to establish their identity where their population was in majority. Yet their demand has been looked upon by many, including honourable ministers as separatist and anti-national. On 28th May, 1979, Shri Morarji Desai, the then Janta Party Indian Prime Minister of the self-urine drinking fame, even rejected a petition for the Nepali language by telling the Indian Gorkha delegation to submit it to ‘your King in Kathmandu’.

The authenticity of the Gorkhas has been dug beyond fruits, branches, roots, to determine whether they qualify to be Indian citizens or not. Most shovels have hit rock bottom. Read the whole story of the journey of the Gorkhas strive for recognition in the Darjeeling Hills. The journey remains incomplete but plods on. There has been much angst in the Gorkhaland movement such as the violent attack on ex-servicemen protesting peacefully at Siliguri on 9th April 2008 or the indiscriminate police firing to kill on unarmed women protestors at Sibchu on 8th February, 2011.  Barun has chronicled each and every detail in this book, a must reference for everyone to know about the Gorkhas in India and the courageous spirit of the Gorkhas for their fight of recognition and quest for statehood. The book answers all questions about the Gorkhas in the modern Independent Democratic Republic of India.   It is a comprehensive book on modern Indian Gorkha History in the Darjeeling Hills. In addition, book 3 carries rare photographs of the brutalities suffered by the people post-2007 in the course of the movement. There are some flaws in Book One with the Joshua Report on the population presence of Gorkhas by clan in Indian states, but a start nevertheless. There is little coverage of Gorkha habitats away from the Darjeeling Hills. With two-thirds of the book based on the Darjeeling Hills, the cover is misleading; it should have flagged the specific location rather than make a sweeping statement.


Jyoti Thapa Mani

Jyoti Thapa Mani

A graduate from the prestigious National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Jyoti Thapa Mani is Design Director of Businessworld, New Delhi. She has also been Design Manager of The Economic Times and Senior Design Editor of Business Today. A Gorkhaphile by interest, she has been researching and documenting the history of the Gorkhas for over 10 years. She has visited all the battle sites of the 1814-1815 Anglo-Gorkha Wars, including Malaun fort, Jythuk fort, Arki fort in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand’s Battle of Kalanga site. “I’m following the Gorkha footprints. The stones and ruins speak volumes,” is how she describes her passion. She was the force behind The Illustrated History of the 1st Gorkha Rifles (Malaun Regiment) 1815-2008 as its compiler, photographer, visual editor and designer; the book was published in 2008.Jyoti’s photographs of Gorkha historical sites are on permanent display at the Nepal Army Museum in Kathmandu. Her forefathers served the 19th century Gorkha Army in Nepal, the British-Gurkha military alliance and subsequently the Indian Gorkha Rifles. Jyoti’s family has been based in Bhagsu, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, for close to 200 years.
Jyoti Thapa Mani

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