Say NO to Gorkhaland

Darjeeling must remain with West Bengal
Kanchan Gupta
In the summer of 1966, Hope Cooke, the American socialite-turned-Gyalmo, or Queen Consort of the ill-fated 12th Chogyal of Sikkim, created a furore in New Delhi by contesting, in an article published in the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology’s bulletin, India’s possession of Darjeeling that was ‘gifted’ to East India Company by Tsugphud Namgyal. In his book, Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim, Pioneer columnist and former editor of The Statesman Sunanda K Datta-Ray recounts how she argued that “no Sikkimese monarch was empowered to alienate territory”. According to Hope Cooke, Tsugphud Namgyal’s gift to the Company was “in the traditional context of a grant for usufructage only; ultimate jurisdiction, authority and the right to resume the land being implicitly retained”. She claimed Darjeeling’s cession was the “gift of a certain tract for a certain purpose and does not imply the transfer of sovereign rights”.
The immediate context of the Gyalmo’s assertion of the Chogyal’s indivisible rights was the web of deceit that was being spun, with more than a little help from the Kazi and other local players, by New Delhi to bring Gangtok within the orbit of its absolute control, converting India’s suzerainty into sovereignty over Sikkim. What happened subsequently is well known: Sikkim was annexed and made a part of the Union of India; the Chogyal was stripped of all powers and died a broken man; and, Hope Cooke, after separating from the Chogyal, returned to the US where she now lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York. These details are inconsequential today. What, however, is relevant is the history of Darjeeling, which is once again in the news, this time because Gorkha settlers are asserting their right to set up a homeland in the three hill divisions — Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong — apart from Siliguri and the Dooars, which they want to re-christen Gorkhaland.
History tells us how Sikkim’s borders once stretched up to eastern Nepal; how Prithvi Narayan Shah, who welded feuding clans and warring regions into a sprawling kingdom, grabbed Darjeeling; and, how General Ochterlony’s campaign against the Gorkhas resulted in the Treaty of Sugauli (also spelt Segouli) in 1816 when Nepal ceded 10,000 sq km of territory, including Darjeeling, to the East India Company. That’s where history begins and ends for the Gokhas both in Nepal and in India who are clamouring for Gorkhaland: Darjeeling was Nepali territory ceded to the British and, therefore, must now revert back to the Gorkhas.
But history also tells us, much to the discomfort of the champions of Gorkhaland, that the Treaty of Sugauli was followed by the Treaty of Titlya in 1817, whereby the British restored the land between Mechi and Teesta rivers to Sikkim, to which it legitimately belonged. Eighteen years later, the then Chogyal leased Darjeeling to the British who wanted to set up a sanatorium in its soothing, sylvan climes. In the brief lease agreement signed on February 1, 1835, the Chogyal is referred to as the ‘Sikkimputtee Rajah’. The Bengal Gazeteer informs us that in 1841 the East India Company granted the Chogyal a compensation of Rs 3,000; it was later raised to Rs 6,000.
This is how Darjeeling, till then an uninhabited mountain region, came to be inhabited. The British administrators needed ‘natives’ to first build and then maintain the picture postcard town that came up in Darjeeling. Some Bhutias and Lepchas were already there, others came from Sikkim. The demand for labour increased after planters cleared forests for tea gardens and Darjeeling Tea became a source of enormous revenue. The Gorkhas came, as did tribals from what is now Jharkhand, to work as ‘coolies’ in the gardens, plucking leaves and working shifts in the tea-curing and packaging factories. Bengalis sought and found employment as babus (clerks) in the tea gardens, in the municipal administration and other establishments, for example schools set up by missionaries primarily for the children of Anglo-Indian families.
In 1907, the Hillmen’s Association petitioned the British for a separate administrative set-up free from Bengal; the petition was contemptuously ignored, and rightly so. After independence and the reorganisation of States, Darjeeling, along with the Dooars, became a part of West Bengal. Darjeeling has since been designated a separate district, Siliguri is part of Jalpaiguri district in the foothills, and the Dooars are part of Cooch Behar district. The Gorkhas who came and settled in Darjeeling, Siliguri and the Dooars became citizens of India in 1950; a separate Gazette notification was issued to settle this point and remove any doubts about their citizenship.
The status of Darjeeling may have been considered a settled issue by Kolkata and New Delhi, and after Sikkim’s annexation, Gangtok, but not by the Gorkha settlers. In 1986 Mr Subash Ghising launched a violent agitation to press the Gorkha National Liberation Front’s demand for a separate Gorkhaland, citing West Bengal’s “step-motherly” treatment of Darjeeling and “exploitation” of its residents. He was clearly motivated by dreams of helping re-establish ‘Greater Nepal’ by creating a bridge between Nepal and Sikkim. The agitation ended with the signing of an agreement, which resulted in the setting up of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, an elected and empowered body that would look after development-related issues. Mr Ghising failed to deliver and became a Sagina Mahato, putty in the hands of the West Bengal Government and happy to have his snout in the trough.
Cut to 2008: Mr Bimal Gurung, a former associate of Mr Ghising, has parted company with the GNLF and floated his own separatist organisation, the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha, and revived the demand for Gorkhaland. He has audaciously staked claim to the three hill divisions of Darjeeling as well as Siliguri and the Dooars. The revival of the agitation coincides with Maoists — who hope to re-establish the frontiers of Prithvi Narayan Shah’s ‘Greater Nepal’ — coming to power in Kathmandu. Mr Gurung’s agitation has little to do with “local aspirations” of Gorkhas; it is as insidious and dangerous as the assertion of ‘Kashmiriyat’ in Kashmir Valley.
Those who are “sympathetic” to the demand for Gorkhaland would do well to bear in mind that ‘Greater Nepal’ is not only about Nepal expanding its territory in the east up to Teesta, but also recovering the land ceded by Prithvi Narayan Shah which stretches up to Sutlej. If we concede the demand for Gorkhaland, we should be prepared to concede vast tracts of land in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. If the latter is not acceptable, then a third partition of Bengal is equally unacceptable.
(Sunday Pioneer, Coffee Break, June 29, 2008.)

8 Responses

  1. Dear Ms.Kancha Gupta,

    We the Gorkhas of Darjeeling have come to India with our Own land as is the case of Annexation of sikkim, you are partially right in some of your Historic data, but absolutely wrong to point Gorkhaland Agitation under GJMM from Oct 2007. Your suggestion about greater Nepal has Antinational Conotations, we the Gorkhas are proud Indians, not to be confused with Nepalese from Nepal, why do we Gorkhas from Darjeeling need to prove our Patriotism all the time, and expalin that we are Indian, is it because of our culture and ansestry is the same as that of Nepal, even so than, we have Punjabis in India as well as in Pakistan, we have Bengalis in Bengal as well as in Bangladesh, they are considered very much Indian, why this bias ?

    Tell me which part of History says Darjeeling was a part of Bengal ? It is only a case of “Finders Keepers”

    India should have a similar Treaty ” as Segouli Treaty” with Pakistan , Bangladesh and then the communities in question would suffer similar fate as ours.

    Bottom Line Gorkhaland will happen and that too very soon, because earlier Gorkhas wernt so educated and consious of their Rights, but now they are.

    What does Article 3 A of the Indian Constitution say ?

    Is a Bengal Govt above the Constitution ?

    Darjeeling is probably the only place in Bengal where even the CM is at the mercy of people, he cant even come here and deliver a speach, or Can he ?

    What moral right does he have not to ceed.

  2. no… no… no… (amy winehouse style)
    no for gorkhaland!

  3. dear kanchan gupta,

    it’s obvious that you have tunnel vision!

    and sunday pioneer, shame on you!
    we expect more than slanderous diatribes based on dodgy history


    The demand for the separate state of the people of the hills has to be seen in the context of the social, cultural, economic aspirations of the region which after more than half a century of independence of the country is still without proper infrastucture, medical facilities, institutions of higher education. The region lacks in even the basic facilities including drinking water. There are no job opportunities for the youth, no economic development in the region. All these factors point to a total neglect of the hill region. The demand for the separate state has therefore to be seen in the proper perspective. The entity of state is essentially a unit of administration. The primary task of administration is to address the issues of the people and take appropriate steps for solving the problems of the people. The demand for the separate state by the people of the hills is only a logical culmination of the, unaddressed legitimate aspirations of the people in a democracy.

    The state govt should realize these facts and adopt a positive approach in the matter. Similarly the issue needs to be handled with care and maturity by the hill people. It need not become a gurkha v/s bengali issue, which it seems from the various comments in the blogs, etc.

    The situation calls for a sober, educated, liberal leadership from the hills, representing the various tribes and people of the region, which should be able to articulate these legitimate aspirations of the people and lead the hills towards peace, progress and prosperity. The propoganda of hatred, ill-will and communal color needs to be put to end at once. Calling the new state as DARJEELING would certainly address the feeling of gorkha domination prevailing among the indegenious tribes of the hills. The indefinite bandhs would only increase the economic hardship of the people of the hills. Besides hurting the tourism economy of the region, it should be realized that a large population of the hills earn their livelihood on daily basis, who are the worst hit by such bandhs.

  5. The demand for Gorkhaland is within the frame work of the indian constitution it is proved that India can progress better when states are in smaller size. Jut like

    Goa is better, Maharastra is Worse
    Jharkhand is better , Bihar is Worse
    Meghalaya is better, Assam is worse
    …and the list continues….
    So Give Gorkhaland and that will help in having better administration in Bengal as well as in Gorkhaland.

    When two brothers have married that they have their own childrens, both the families prefer to live independent lives. So the parents distribute the properties to two families as per their rights.

    Here Sonia Gandhi and ManMohan Sigh are in parents role.
    Bengal is only Elder Brother who wants to dominate its younger brother(Darjeeling/Gorkhaland) and wants to keep all the share of properties with him and wants his younger brother and his family members to work as slave in his house.

    The younger brother and his family memebrs had enough of enough now and has decided to seperate at any cost.

    So parents .. better let the two brothers separate earliest before the querrel grows further (Stitch in time saves nine) and (A spark neglected burns the house).
    Rather let us use the spark in developing energy for the nation.

  6. Things work great when they are in small- I believe small families are easier to be handled than the big ones so I can say with the creation of Gorkhaland everything comes to its place where it should be.
    Everyone knows and history also supports the view that the creation of separate state of Gorkhaland is justified- law also supports it so we cannot go against it- it will be on the goodness of every Indian even the parties in the plains- we are Indians whosoever we are either a Bengali- Nepali or Kashmiri.
    Nothing to say more- Jai Bharati Jai Bharat.

  7. JAI GORKHA, JAI GORKHALAND! Well thanks to all the understanding Bengali brothers who have understood our stand. Other mis-understood lot who don’t understand us – no point discussing with them – we really don’t care, but to attain gorkhaland. Gorkhaland is hill people’s birth right and gorkhaland is the only solution which can bring back glory to Darjeeling and its hills. Under Bengal govt. there is not a single development to praise, instead Darjeeling is dragged to the rugs and if it continues, Bengal will drain us dry. They really don’t care. Those fighting for Gorkhaland, keep a blind fold for people who oppose, just walk towards attaining gorkhaland. And we shouldn’t indulge in petty things. GORKHALAND AAMAR KO CHAI and it will happen.

  8. Why Gorkhaland?

    If you go through the history (it should be genuine, not a fake-story), it can be proved that the Nepali people are selfish. In Jalwinalabagh, they faught against the Indians… In addition, Nanasaheb, the brave Indian fighter was killed by the busturd Jung Bahadur Rana, whom you respect and worship in Darjeeling. Even, I can proof that a number of letters were submitted to the British rulers (before 1947) where it was mentioned that the Nepali people do not love India or Indians, the only reason they want separation is – they want to rule the place independently (inside India). Nepalies are always busturd.

    I am not against the Gorkhaland movement. But it is my suggestion – go to your country Nepal and then demand for the state. Otherwise, the Indians will kick so hard that you will found you at Nepal. It’s my warning.

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