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Guest-Editorial: Gorkhaland

By Rajendra Prasad Dhakal

Indian Nepalis or Gorkhas, as synonumously called, is a conglomeration of the various Tibeto-Burman, Sino-Tibetan and Indo-Aryan –Khas speakers. The distinctive ethnic groups suh as rai, limbu, tamang, manger, gurung, thami, newar, bahun, chhetri, kami, damai, sarki, sunuwar and others (it is not possible here to enumerate an exhaustive list)  encountered  each other in the eastern Himalayan region that now falls under Nepal, Sikkim and Darjeeling, as a result of  Treaties of Sugauli in 1816 and  Titaliya in 1817. The British helped Sikkim in getting back lost territories including Darjeeling from Nepal. The British annexed it by deception in 1835 as the King of Sikkim had to show favour to them. Kalimpong, known as Dalimkote, was under Sikkimese rule till 1706, when King of Bhutan won it. The British acquired it in 1865 through the Treaty of Sinchulia and it became part of Darjeeling district.

The movements of these people in these borderlands have been there much before the British arrival. Many of the Nepalese soldiers who fought the Anglo-Nepalese War from 1814 to 1817 had stayed back after the end of war. But the significant settlements of the Gorkhas in India started with the opening of Gorkha regiment, and encouragement by the British for cultivation in the North East and Sikkim. The developments of mining in the North East and tea industry in Darjeeling and Duars attracted a large number of Nepalis. It is in this new colonial setting’s ‘contact zone’ that these ethnic groups mixed with each other, which triggered the motion of transculturation culminating in the formation of Indian Nepali identity in and around Nepali as lingua franca. There are instances of German priest distributing preaching materials in 1841 which shows that the language had become popular by then. It is in India not in Nepal that Nepali society was born. It is this Nepali identity that has become the centre of contention in the political discourse in the region.

This issue of the Café Dissensus tries to address some of the issues in the discourse.

In his essay, Bidhan Golay proposes to develop something quite different from the conventional understanding of the modern regime of power established by the British colonial rule in Darjeeling since 1835. He argues that the history of Darjeeling is the history of colonial modernity. And that the social and cultural renaissance that Darjeeling witnessed from the middle of the last century was essentially a function of colonial Governmentality. The lack of understanding of this history and branding of these people as foreigners from Nepal created a sense of insecurity. This psyche coupled with the unfulfilled expectation that has risen with the independence gradually simmered the political unrest. His essay will be interesting to go through.

In her thought-provoking essay, Miriam Wenner raises the serious question of the representation of the masses by their political leaders. Although plantation labourers’ and political leaders’ accounts overlap in expressing feelings of ethnically-based discrimination, the former see in Gorkhaland mainly a device to improve their socio-economic position in class terms. According to her, tea plantation labourer see in Gorkhaland the vehicle to bring a throughout improvement of their livelihoods; second, they believed that Gorkhaland would guarantee their legal land-ownership; and third, they regarded Gorkhaland as a guarantee for full recognition as Indian citizens. Miriam concludes that this is not going to materialise by the movement.

Rudra Sharma posits that the Gorkhaland movement and the Government that handles it both have ignored the common men’s concern. The people have lost out in this politics. Pointing out that both the State and the local leadership are not sincere and are not seriously engaged to find out the possible solution, he argues that electoral politics has become the main concern.

Taking up the thread of discourse to politics of accommodating diversity, in his essay, Samir Sharma analyses the intricate and delicate construction of the demography in North Bengal.  On the question whether Nepali conglomerates or Identity may break up due to the demands of Scheduled Tribes status by various groups and the politics of creating Development Boards to different groups on ethnic or tribal line today  by the Chief Minister of West Bengal,  his statements below has an significant bearing:

Earlier the biggest challenge for the Nepali-speaking community was to evolve an Indian ‘Nepali identity’ distinct from Nepalese (of Nepal). The word ‘Nepali’ therefore itself represented a homogenizing tendency. While in Nepal, caste identities are much stronger in identifying oneself as a Bahun, Chhetri, Gurung, Rai, Limbu, Magar or Tamang; in India, one is simply referred to as a ‘Nepali’. The word ‘Nepali’ also thus refers to an identity that is supposedly ‘supra-caste, supra-linguistic, supra-ethnic identity’ Nepali is the mother tongue for the most of the groups that are demanding tribal status. It is obviously the lingua franca of the place.

The two essays by Sandip Jain and one from Vijay Thapa are the examples of the local writings on the social and political issues directly or indirectly linked to the Gorkhaland politics. They have been included in this issue courtesy Himalyan Times, a monthly local magazine. It was in publication from 1947 to 1963 and thereafter went out of publication. It was revived by Sandip Jain, the grandson of Suresh Chand Jain, in 2003. The back issues of the magazine are available in the following link: Here. Manprasad Subba points out in his essay that marginality as discourse in Nepali writing is very recent. To him Nepali writings largely exhibit indulgence in bitter nostalgia of their long past and romantic expression of their grief, almost to the point of being maudlinThey were still far from using the language of, to borrow bell hooks’ phrase, ‘talking back’, language of resistance and self-assertion in the larger context of the nation.  

In addition to these four essays, this issue includes two poems and a short story. The short story by IB Rai, translated by Anmol Prasad, finds a place in the issue. Rai’s influence on contemporary thought and culture is significant. His stories depict the building of the homes and society in Darjeeling. The poems by Madhusudan Lama is a reflection of the sad incident of 27th July, 1986 during the first phase of the Gorkhaland Movement, when a number of people died in police firing. The poem by Manprasad Subba is a satire on the scarcity of water, symbolically representing social issues and the intellectual indifference.

A short film is also uploaded on Café Dissensus youtube channel, directed and produced by Radha Mohini Prasad. The film is shot at Kalimpong in the midst of the movement. It’s a student’s diploma film but worth watching.

I deeply express my gratitude and appreciation to the Café Dissensus team for providing me this opportunity to work as the Guest Editor for this issue on Gorkhaland.  We leave it to the judgment of the readers to decide if we have succeeded in presenting the concerns of a marginal people, who are struggling for self-determination away from the spotlight of mainstream media.

Read on!

Dr. Rajendra Prasad Dhakal
is at present the Principal of Kalimpong College, Kalimpong, Darjeeling. He writes in Nepali and English. After post-graduation in Political Science from the University of North Bengal, he did a course on “Rural Social Research” from the National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad. His Ph.D. thesis was titled, “Rural Development in the hill areas of Darjeeling”. Presently his areas of interests are ethnicity and identity politics, culture and politics, literature and politics, state and society and Diaspora studies. He has contributed articles in newspapers, journals and books. Email:


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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