Gorkhaland – how legitimate is the demand

Arpita Mukherjee , Kolkata:

With the demand for a separate Gorkha state paralyzing life in Darjeeling it needs to be examined how legitimate is the demand for Gorkhaland.

Darjeeling belongs only to the Gorkhas?
Prior to its occupation by the British East India Company in 1835, Darjeeling was part of Sikkim and was known as Sikkim Darjeeling. In fact, the word Darjeeling is derived from the Tibetan words ‘dorje’ meaning thunderbolt and ‘ling’ meaning a land, hence Darjeeling means ‘the land of the thunderbolt’. The original inhabitants of this beautiful hill station were the Lepchas. In 1839 there were not more than 100 Lepchas living in the region.

The importance of Darjeeling emerged from the three ‘Ts’ – Tea, Tourism and Timber. With the slopes of the Darjeeling hills and its climate being ideal for the commercial cultivation of the tea crop, the British administrators in order to develop tea cultivation leased out forestland to the planters. The demand for workers for the expanding tea estates started the influx of the large number of migrants from the neighboring states of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan. The Nepali-speaking Gorkhas formed the largest migrant community in the Darjeeling Mountains. Within 10 years of British occupation of the region, the population of the region rose from 100 to 10,000 in 1849. The Gorkhas who are claiming a separate state for themselves have actually settled in the region in the last 150 years.

Gorkhas betrayed by their own leaders
During the eighties, Darjeeling was hit by fierce agitation by The Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) under Mr. Subash Ghisingh for a separate Gorkha State or the Gorkhaland. After a series of talks between the government of West Bengal and the central government, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council was set up as in 1988 as an autonomous body for the social, economic, educational and cultural advancement of the Gorkhas and other people living in the hill areas of the district of Darjeeling.

However, over the past two decades the economic condition of Darjeeling went from bad to worse despite of huge sums of money coming from the West Bengal government to fill the coffer of the Gorkha Hill Council. Development of Darjeeling was restricted to a few roads largely used by the tourists and building temples, a resort in the Dooars, a lavish guest house in Kolkata and of course for increasing the wealth of the GNLF leader Subhas Ghisingh. The West Bengal government was denied permission to audit the accounts of the Gorkha Hill Council.

Two decades of deprivation have suddenly brought to the fore a rejuvenated demand for a separate Gorkha State once again and now under a new leader and new organization – Bimal Gurung and Gorkha Liberation Forum (GLM). The irony of fate is that Mr. Bimal Gurung had been a trusted lieutenant of Ghisingh and had been a part of the Gorkha Hill Council. While their own men have betrayed them, the people of Darjeeling are considering the Bengali-speaking population of the state as their main enemy. Tourists visiting the region had been attacked by the members of the GLM.

With corruption persisting among the leaders of the region, by simply forming a separate state based on ethnicity, will the people of Darjeeling benefit? (Instablogs)

2 Responses

  1. The demand for a separate state is as legit as it comes.
    The main stumbling block is the step-motherly treatment meted out to those perceived as non-Indians. Case in point is the centre’s systemic apathy for the seven sisters, even after 60 years of independence.

    Similar is the situation in Darjeeling. The state government has completely neglected this important district. For example, the roads are only repaired when the CM or the Gov or their cronies visit Darjeeling. It’s easy to forget that this is the same roads that earn millions for the state in tea, timber and tourism.

    The education system, once the foremost in India, has suffered plenty. That even after producing students from century old schools, they have to go to head to the plains of Bengal for any form of higher studies. There is no university, no medical college, no engineering institutes or the like for a population of over 10 lakhs. The biggest irony that these universities and institutes were promised for the people of Darjeeling, and the conveniently built in the Siliguri and its environs. It’s a calculated move by the state to deny higher opportunities and progress in the hills.

    The list is endless.

    The state government conveniently sided with Ghising to with the DGHC accounts, plied him with ready cash and even tried to make Ghising, council president for life (a slave rather). Which is where the current imbroglio has its roots.

    The fact is that Bengalis and the Gorkhas have no common link, either cultural, emotional or historical. The faster these strange bedfellows are separated, the better it is. Let the Gorkhas decide their fate: it’s obvious the State of Bengal, since the British Empire left, is in free fall. At any rate, what incentive does Bengal have to give the Gorkhas? And which part of history says Darjeeling is a part of Bengal?

    And don’t say its Ray’s Kanchenjunga, or some other nostalgia that justifies bleeding Darjeeling and holding its upstanding citizens to ransom for more than 100 years after the clarion call for statehood. A separate state is the only way to save this beautiful land and its proud and happy people.


    1.The demand for the seperate hill state is totally justified.

    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.

    However, the seperate state should be called DARJEELING, which The seperate state should be called DARJEELING, which would convey a broader identity to the people of the hills and not Gorkhaland, which stands for just one section of the population. Calling the new state as DARJEELING would certainly address the feeling of gorkha domination prevailing among the indegenious tribes of the hills.

    2. The second aspect of the seperate state movement is about the leadership. We deserve to have educated leadership who would lead the proposed new hill state to all round development and economic prosperity.

    We do not want a corrupt group of people at the helm of affairs who would only use the state apparatus for their personal benifits.

    Let us not forget that the people who are making a big noise about gorkhaland were very much part of the kitchen cabinet of Ghesing in DGHC. For several years these people milked the DGHC and amassed huge wealth. There is nothing to show case the achievment of the DGHC over which these people held sway . In the name of the hill people, these self centrered leaders have made fortunes.

    It is an irony that the hill people have been betrayed by one of their own. The people leading the agitation for the seperate hill state cannot wash their hands off this act of betrayal. They have all along benifitted from the DGHC.

    Therefore we need a new leadership, well educated, having a vision for the hill people and who are not blinded by self interest.

    The people who are now holding the people of the hills at ransom by their terror tactics and forcing us to join their party at the risk of violence should leave. The hill people cherish freedom, and that includes freedom to choose their leaders, and freedom from the dadagiri of GJM.

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