Q1: Why formation of a separate state of Gorkhaland will not result in opening a Pandora’s Box with regards to similar demands in different parts of the country?
AT: The demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland dates back to 1907 when the leaders of the Hill People of India submitted a memorandum to the British Government demanding a separate administrative set up on grounds of a distinctive history, language, culture, tradition, way of life, mindset and off course residence in a completely different topography with different climatic conditions. A separate state has been the political aspiration of the Gorkhas for more than 100 years. Rather, this is the oldest demand for a separate state under the Indian Union. However, demands of a separate state in other parts of India are of recent origin and are not as a solution to the problem of ‘Identity Crisis’. The Indian Gorkhas face an ‘Identity Crisis’ inspite of being Indian citizens and having contributed to the independence struggle, the formulation of the Indian constitution and the security ( in the police, para military and the armed forces of the country) and development of the country. In case of the Gorkhas or Indian Nepalese, the ‘Identity Crisis’ is a very serious issue. It is because of the ‘Identity Crisis’ that the Gorkhas or Indian Nepalese are unfortunately subject to the ‘foreigners’ label of being Nepalese citizens and not being Indians every now and then. The most glaring example of the ‘foreigners’ label is the one put forth by Shri Morarji Desai, former Prime Minister of India, who called the Indian Gorkhas demanding inclusion of the Nepali language in the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution, as being Nepalese citizens. Grant of a separate state of Gorkhaland within the Indian Union would once and for all remove the ‘Identity Crisis’ we are faced with. This would not only remove the identity crisis faced by the Gorkhas living in Darjeeling district and neighbouring areas, but also do the same for the Gorkhas living in other parts of India including Assam, the North-Eastern states, Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Further, we have seen the futility of having an autonomous council (21 years of DGHC) which has not addressed our needs i.e. solution of the ‘Identity Crisis’. With regards to the opening of the Pandora’s Box, all we can say is that the government will have to judge the demands on its merit, the way it did while forming separate states of Uttaranchal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand very recently.
Q2: Why is there a demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland?
AT: The demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland is for a number of reasons. The main reasons are:
a) The Gorkhas are a distinct race compared to the majority population of the state of West Bengal and have an entirely distinctive history, language, culture, tradition, way of life, mindset and of course live in a different topographical region with an entirely different climate. As a result of this, there is a natural divide between the Gorkhas and the majority community in West Bengal. It is because of this natural divide that under the smallest provocation communal riots between the Gorkhas and the majority community takes place (the riots of 1970, the riot in 2007 following Prashant Tamang becoming the Indian Idol and the one as recent as on 12-06-08)
b) As neighbouring Nepal has people of similar race and who share similar history, language, culture, tradition, way of life and mindset, the Indian Nepalese or Gorkhas are labelled as ‘foreigners’ and face a severe ‘Identity Crisis’ though they are Indian citizens like any other Indian.
c) Ever since, the Darjeeling hills and the neighbouring areas have become a part of West Bengal state, there have been feelings of deprivation, neglect and exploitation.
d) The Gorkhas no longer trust the West Bengal State Government with regards to its sincerity and commitment towards the welfare of the Indian Gorkhas residing in the state.
Q3: How can you best explain the Identity Crisis issue?
AT: When Bengalis in West Bengal or in any part of India are asked about their language or community, they say Bengali. This response does not raise eyebrows and no one questions them about their nationality. It is taken for granted that they are Indians. This is inspite of the fact that they could have been Indian Bengalese or Bangladeshis. It may not be out of place to mention that the Indian Bengalis would have faced a similar situation if there had been no state of West Bengal under the Indian Union. The same applies to Biharis, Punjabis but not the Indian Nepalese or Gorkhas. The moment we say we are Gorkhas and our mother tongue is Nepali, we are branded as Nepalese citizens. Due to our features, race, culture, tradition and many other characteristics being similar to those of people of Nepal, we are subject to the humiliation of being foreigners in our own land where we are as Indian as any other Indian citizen. It is this label of not only being referred to as well as dealt with as ‘foreigners’ in our own country, we are striving for a separate statehood. It is interesting to note that Sikkim was a separate kingdom till 1975. Then the citizens of Sikkim were called Sikkimese which implied a separate nationality. Now, after the incorporation of Sikkim as an Indian state in 1975, they still call themselves Sikkimese but their Indian Nationality is not questioned as because they have a separate state under the Indian Union. It is a pity that the Gorkhas have to repeatedly reiterate that we are Indians though we are Indian citizens and it is this humiliation which we are subjected to that leaves us no option but to demand a separate state.
Q4: What are the evidences to prove that there has been neglect and deprivation by the state of West Bengal?
AT: There are innumerable evidences to prove that there has been deprivation and exploitation of the Gorkhas by the State of West Bengal. Some major ones are as follows:
Tea industry: Tea Gardens constitute a major industry in the Darjeeling hills and has survived more than 150 years. This industry was established by the British in the 1850s and produces the World’s best tea, the best of qualities fetching prices as high as Rs.25, 000 per kg. Tea can be called the ‘Brand Ambassador’ of the Darjeeling hills. Presently, there are 87 functioning tea gardens encompassing an area of 17,500 hectares and producing world class tea amounting to 10 – 12 million kilograms of tea per annum. It is roughly estimated that 15 – 20% of the total population residing in the tea garden areas are employed in the tea industry. Approximately 45,000 people are involved in the tea industry and around 200,000 people dependent (i.e. around 30 -35% people) on it. Of the total workforce, nearly 60% are women. As per the “Gorkhaland Agitation – the issues” an information document published by the West Bengal Government there was a production of 12 million kilograms of Darjeeling tea which fetched a revenue of Rs. 32 crores in 1986-87. However, this tea industry, which is the economic backbone of the Darjeeling hills has dwindled to a sorry state with many tea gardens turning sick, many closing down, and others complaining of incurring losses with resultant poor wages, non-provision of the appropriate bonus to the workers and the reluctance to provide the workers the basic amenities as laid down in the Plantation Labour Act. Workers in the ailing tea gardens of Chongtong, Vah Tukvar, Rintong, Putong, Singtam, Orange Valley and many others are facing a pitiable life. The situation has been so pitiable that tea garden workers in these ailing gardens are committing suicides. Recently, one Sukbir Rai of Orange Valley tea garden (April 2007) and one Baburam Dewan (February 2006) committed suicide because of the conditions prevailing in the sick tea gardens. The important questions that naturally arise in minds of people is as to why is the tea industry, for which Darjeeling is world famous and was a thriving industry during the British rule and till even a few decades after that start the decline to its present pitiable state. It is known to all that the tea industry comes under the Commerce and Industries Department of the Government of West Bengal and is directly under the state government, the entire revenue earned by the industry going to the state and which is never ploughed back for development of either the tea industry here or the Darjeeling hills. It may not be out of place to mention that tea industries have come up in neighbouring Sikkim, Nepal and Sri Lanka and are reported to be doing being very well. Tea gardens in Kerala and Tamilnadu are reported to be doing well and the wages received by the workers there are much higher than that received by the tea garden workers in Darjeeling. While the tea garden workers in Darjeeling get Rs.48.40 for eight hours work as per the Industry Wages Agreement held in Kolkata in 2005, the tea garden worker in Kerala, Tamilnadu and Sikkim get Rs. 66.70, Rs.74.62 and Rs.85 respectively. The bonus that the workers are eligible to has dwindled from 20% to 12% between 1990 and 2003. What are then the reasons for the ailing tea industry in the Darjeeling hills? The different reasons are:
i. Tea bushes are to be uprooted every 50 – 75 years and replantations done. The Techno-Economic Survey of Darjeeling Tea Industry by the National Council of Applied Economics and Research, New Delhi has reported that there is a provision of subsidy from the Tea Board for uprooting the old tea bushes and carrying out replantation. However, in most tea gardens the process of uprooting old tea bushes and replantation is not done resulting in poor yield of tea leaves and compromises the quality of Darjeeling tea. This activity is not undertaken in most gardens because tea garden owners are not willing to wait for a few years (5-6 years) for the newly planted bushes to bear tea leaves for commercial use. This tendency to continue with old poor yielding tea bushes purely for the immediate financial gains by tea garden managements is also reported to be the cause of poor production of Darjeeling tea. Many tea garden managements have been utilising synthetic fertilisers and chemicals to augment the production of the old bushes. However, in the world market these days the demand is for Bio-organic tea. So tea leaves form the non-Bio-organic tea gardens are not fetching good prices in the world market.
ii. Even till the late 1970s, the tea gardens were being run by true planters who took care of the tea bushes and the tea garden workers and at the same time ensured that tea industry remained profitable. However, over the years the tea gardens were taken over by businessmen who sought immediate returns for the investment made and in the process did not take care of health of the tea bushes. Further, the tea garden managements have changed hands very frequently resulting in further worsening of the already bad situation.
iii. There are many reports of tea garden managements siphoning money given to planters. They were not utilised for the development of the tea garden but for other purposes.
iv. Transparency and accountability is lacking in the management of gardens. The works of the tea garden workers is limited to nurturing tea bushes, manuring them, plucking tea leaves, processing them in factories and packaging them. The actual people who manufacture the World famous Darjeeling tea have never been involved in the sale of tea including the auctions. Auctions are not held in Darjeeling. They are held at Kolkata or Guwahati or other cities where the local people have no access. This lack of access to the sales and auctions of the tea garden workers or their representatives and the lack of transparency in their accounting process makes us doubt the theory of tea gardens incurring losses or making less profit compared to before. This doubt becomes further strengthened when one sees the ostensible lives led by the trade union leaders, tea garden management people, the affluence of the Planters’ organisations and their sponsoring the foreign visits of bureaucrats and politicians alike.
v. It is also reported that tea produced in other parts of the state and country and of lower quality than the Darjeeling tea is labelled as Darjeeling tea and sold in the world market much to the detriment of the pure Darjeeling tea. However, recently the Tea Board has been successful in securing statutory recognition of Darjeleing tea and registering the Darjeeling Tea logo as an artistic copyright..
Who do we then now hold responsible for the pitiable state of the tea industry in the Darjeeling hills? Obviously the West Bengal State Government, which has taken no significant steps to improve the condition of the tea industry, which is not only the backbone of the hill economy but is also the main industry providing employment to thousands of workers. The West Bengal Tea Development Corporation formed by it does not show any enterprise and has not produced any tangible results.
Cinchona industry: After the tea industry, the Directorate of Cinchona and Other Medicinal Plants is the major plantation industry in the Darjeeling hills covering an area of 26,000 acres of land and employing more than 6000 workforce including labourers, officers and other staff. This industry was established by the British in 1865. The Directorate of Cinchona & Other Medicinal Plants, West Bengal which has its headquarters at Mungpoo, Darjeeling, is virtually the only concern in the whole of India, producing the essential Medicinal compounds – Quinine, Emetine and Diosgenin on a large scale i.e. commercially. Apart from the above mentioned medicinal plants, Aromatic plants as well as subsidiary crops of great commercial value are grown in the plantations. It has four major plantations under it at Mungpoo (10023 acres), Munsong (9600 acres), Rongo (4222 acres) and Latpanchar (2440 acres). An experimental plantation is at Ambootia (177 acres). The main plantations are for Cinchona, Ipecac and Dioscorea. The plantation also grows rubber, mushrooms and other Medicinal & Aromatic plants like Lemongrass, Rawolfia serpentina etc.
It has four major factories for processing the plant products and obtaining the medicines/medicinal product:
• Govt. Quinine Factory, Mungpoo, established in 1864 with an annual installed capacity of 28-30 MT of Quinine Salts.
• Govt. Emetine Factory, Mungpoo, established in 1984 with an Annual installed capacity of 240-250 Kgs of Emetine HCL.
• Govt. Diosgenin Factory at Gairibas, Rongo, established in 1985 with an annual installed capacity of 1500 – 2000 kgs of Diosgenin.
• Down Stream to Steroids Factory at Gairibas, Rongo, was established in 1991 with an annual installed capacity of 800 – 1000 kg of 16-DPA.
Rather than having its Sales Office at Mungpoo, the headquarters of the industry, the same is at Kolkata. It will be very generous if we say that it is an epitome of neglect and utter lack of business enterprise.
Quinine sulfate is the drug of choice for Chloroquine resistant Plasmodium falciparum malaria. Diosgenin is the precursor of steroidal drugs and has great demand in the market. Emetine derived from Ipecac has lots of side effects and does not have market value due to the advent of safer synthetic products.
Inspite of having such a rich repository of medicinal, aromatic and other plants of commercial value, the once profitable and successful Directorate of Cinchona and Other Medicinal Plants under the British rule and even till a few decades after that has become a dying industry putting at peril the economy of the region and the livelihood of more than 30,000 people at stake. As per the “Gorkhaland Agitation – the issues” an information document published by the West Bengal Government the government is reported to have made an income of Rs.2.43 crores from Cinchona alone in 1984-85. It may not be out of place to mention that the medicinal plant industry in the Nilgiri hills, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and even neighbouring Sikkim are doing very well. Why then is the situation so bad here in West Bengal? All this is because of politicking, the government’s apathy and lack of commitment to save and strengthen the industry here. No serious efforts have been made by the government to revive the once flourishing industry. Even various efforts made by many groups to revamp the industry have not been heeded by the government. This includes the wonderful proposal of strengthening the medicinal plant industry along with diversification to plantation of other economically viable plants put forth by Sri Ananda Pathak, Ex. CPI-M MP and Chairman of the Darjeleing Cinchona Bagan Majdoor Union when the late Bidyut Ganguly was the Minister of Commerce & Industries in West Bengal. A few years back large plots of land of the industry have been sold to the National Hydel Power Corporation instead of making efforts to revive the industry. Recently, it is learnt that the government has entered into negotiations with the Dabur Pharmaceuticals for setting up an Anti-Cancer Drug manufacturing unit for which it plans to sell 20 acres of prime land at Mungpoo, the headquarters of the industry. It is surprising that the workers of the industry were not in anyway either informed or involved in the negotiations either with the NHPC or Dabur Pharma in a constructive way.
Drinking water: It is known to all that inadequate drinking water has been a major problem in the Darjeeling hills. The shortage of drinking water is rising geometrically year after year but the concerned authorities have been impotent so far to work out something tangible. Had this been in a place where water sources are not available like in dry regions of Andhra Pradesh or the dry regions of Rajasthan, there would not have been much to say. Inspite of extreme conditions the situation in Rajasthan has been reversed by getting the water from the Sutlej via the Indira Gandhi Nahar, so much so that many parts of Rajasthan have become green and some experience floods too.
In the Darjeeling hills the situation is just the reverse of Rajasthan. We have umpteen water resources in terms of rivers, rivulets, fast flowing streams, jhoras and natural springs. Inspite of this the authorities are unable to harness these abundant resources to make adequate drinking water available. The main rivers from which water could be harnessed are the Rangit, the Balasan, the Teesta, Jaldhaka, Neora Nala and the Mahananda. Apart from these main water sources, there are more than 35 kholas (fast flowing streams) in different parts of the Darjeeling hills which are potential sources of water and from which people obtain water on their own traversing great distances over difficult terrain to meet their daily needs. For anyone coming to Darjeeling it would be a common sight to see people carry water from great distances. Another common sight is the carriage of water in hand driven carts in the Darjeeling hills, especially in Darjeeling town. So, one thing is certain that water is not scarce in the region but access to drinking water is scarce because of the government’s failure to harness them.
The main water supply for Darjeeling town was secured by the British from the Senchal Lake. During the British rule water supply from the Senchal lake was adequate to meet the needs of Darjeeling. Then 28 perennial jhoras fed the Senchal lake. As years went by it was not able to meet the needs of the ever increasing population of Darjeeling town and the requirement of increased influx of tourists. Instead of make properly planned sustainable arrangements to meet up the increased demand of drinking water, the Municipal authorities and the government resorted to tapping water form different jhoras at different places and carrying water from different sources using various modes of transport. Projects for pumping water from Rungdung khola or Balasan has been going on for years but nothing has materialized yet in terms of enhanced water supply to Darjeeling town. It is being said that the Balasan project, which began recently will be completed by this year end. It remains to be seen whether it bears fruit or not for we have bitter experiences of the Neora khola project in Kalimpong. Sri Jyoti Basu had laid the foundation of the Rambi khola project for supplying water to Darjeeling in 1995. This project too has not seen the light of the day.
The Neora Valley Project was drawn up in 1978-79 with an initial project cost of Rs. 9 crores to meet the water needs of the civilians in the surroundings as well as those of Kalimpong town. Later the project cost was revised to Rs.22.34 crores to also meet the needs of the army installations at Kalimpong. The project was expected to be completed in 1992. The execution of the project was started by the PHE department and the construction of the same was monitored by a High Level Board headed by the Commissioner of Jalpaiguri Division with representatives from the Central and State Government. Inspite of all this availability of water to the local populace has not improved a wee bit. It is unfortunate that even after more than 60 years of independence we are bereft of drinking water supply inspite of having umpteen water resources in the region. Is the Government really sincere towards solving the issue? It may not be out of place to mention that even in the Municipal areas of Kurseong, Kalimpong and Darjeeling the condition of the water supply system has worsened than what was there during the British period. The filtration plant at the water resorvoirs at Kurseong is not functioning. The same is the case in Kalimpong and Darjeeling. Even the water resorvoirs are in a much worse state than they were then. The state of drinking water supply in the hills is so bad that not only do the people residing in the rural areas get inadequate water and that too raw water with no treatment, the municipal areas also get inadequate water supply with high coliform count indicating contaminated or unsafe water. No wonder the tourists are afraid of the infamous ‘Hill Diarrhoea’.
Roads: The Darjeeling hills is connected by two major National Highways – NH-31 A connecting Siliguri with Kalimpong via Teesta and leading to Sikkim and NH-55 A connecting Siliguri to Darjeeling via Kurseong. Another road, the Old Military Road connects Siliguri with Darjeeling via Dowhill and Bagora.
The condition of other roads leading to the different community development blocks are a nightmare to the local people.
Tourism: For the tourism industry to do well, two very important ingredients are proper road conditions and good civic amenities. On both counts the government has relegated the Darjeeling district to the backburner. The poor road conditions and shortage of safe drinking water has affected tourism in the hills. The Darjeeling town has become very congested and the government has not done much to develop tourism in a scientific way with proper infrastructure including accommodation, transportation and sightseeing in Darjeeling proper as well as other parts of the hills including Kurseong, Kalimpong and Mirik. It is a miracle that inspite of all these constraints tourists still flock to the Darjeeling hills. Whatever little development that has taken in places like Lava-Lolay gaon is due individual enterprise.
The Department of Tourism under the DGHC with Subhash Ghising at the helm of affairs hardly did any situation analysis of the tourism status and it’s potential. No proper planning was done on a long term basis to develop tourism as an industry as has been done in Goa and in Kerala. All measures Subhash Ghising took were adhoc measures without consulting the experts. He misused huge sums of money on trying to build airports and stolports neither of which saw the light of the day. Similarly, he build rest houses all over which were more for personal use than for tourism He even siphoned huge sums of money in promoting occult phenomena with a view to convince the government that most of the hill people were tribal. All the illegal things he did and financial irregularities he indulged in were glossed over by the state government which had the overall responsibility in ensuring that the tax payers’ money is utilized properly for public benefit and not for personal aggrandizement of their political ally. It may not be out of place to mention that even before the DGHC was formed the state government hardly did any thing to improve the tourism industry. If the government was to genuinely introspect on its contribution towards the development of the tourism industry in the Darjeeling hills after independence, one would only be able to talk of the Mirik Lake, for which the credit would go the Congress regime of Siddhartha Shanker Roy many years back. 30 years of Left front rule has done everything but develop the Darjeeling hills.
Health Care Services:
Q5: Why does the formation of the proposed state of Gorkhaland including Darjeeling district and Duars not amount to division of Bengal?
AT: The areas included in the proposed state of Gorkhaland including Darjeeling district (including Siliguri Sub-Division) and Duars were parts of Bhutan and Sikkim. While Bhutan is still a separate sovereign country, Sikkim was also a separate country which became incorporated as a state under the Indian Union as recently as 1975.
The areas of present day Darjeeling district including Kurseong and Darjeeling (all land south of the Great Rungeet river, east of Balasan, Kahail and Little Rungeeet and areas west of Rungno and Mahanadi rivers) were gifted out of friendship by the Rajah of Sikkim to the East India Company in 1835 by virtue of a Deed of Grant entered on 01-02-1835 entered between the Rajah of Sikkim and A.Campbbell, Superintendent of Darjeeling and in-charge of political relations with Sikkim. In February 1850, the British forces annexed the Sikkim terai (presently Siliguri and plain areas of Kurseong) and the hilly areas bounded by the Ramam in the North, the Great Rungeet and Teesta in the east and the Nepal frontier on the west.
By virtue of the Treaty concluded at Sinchula on the 11th of November 1865, the whole tract known as the Eighteen Duars, bordering on the districts of Rungpoor, Coochbehar, and Assam, together with the Taloo of Ambaree Fallcottah and the Hill territory on the left bank of the Teesta (portions of present day Kalimpong) were ceded by the Bhutan government to the British government forever. The British added a slip of British territory lying on the eastern bank of the Teesta (portion of present day Kalimpong), which was interposed between Bhutan and Sikkim, to the district of Darjeeling. This last addition to the district resulted in its present dimensions including the four sub-divisions of Siliguri, Kurseong, Darjeeling and Kalimpong.
The district of Darjeeling was included in the Rajshahi division in British India until October 1905 when it was transferred to the Bhagalpur divison. It was retransferred to the Rajshahi division following the rearrangement of the provinces in 1912. Even following the partition of Bengal in 1947, the boundaries of the Darjeeling district remained intact and the district was placed thereafter in the Presidency Division.
It is interesting to note that the Darjeeling district was declared a Non-regulation district; that is to say, Acts and Regulations did not come into force unless they were specially extended to it. Darjeeling district had no representative in the Legislative Council constituted under the Government of India Act, 1919. It was excluded and declared a backward area. The administration of the district was then vested in the Governor in Council. The effect of exclusion was that any Act passed by the Legislature which extended to the whole of Bengal automatically applied to the Darjeeling district, unless the Governor in Council directed that the Act in question should not apply or that it should apply subject to such modifications as the Governor thought proper. Further, under the Government of India Act, 1935, the district was made a partially excluded area. Under section 92, no Act of the Provincial or the Central legislature would apply to it unless the Governor by public notification so directed and the Governor in giving such a direction with respect to any Act might direct the Act would, in application to this district, or to any specified part of it, have effect subject to such exceptions or modifications as he thought fit.
Thus we see that the Darjeeling district was not originally an area under the Indian Union but was incorporated by way of treaties entered with neighbouring foreign countries under different circumstances. This district ( the Siliguri plains as well as the Darjeleing hills), apart from having its foreign origin was also under Nepal for the period 1788 – 1816 due to its capture by the King of Nepal when it was under the Kingdom of Sikkim. Further, due to the uniqueness of this district, it was made a partially excluded area. In view of the above, and the distinctive history, race, language, culture, tradition, mindset and way of life of the Gorkhas residing in this district, formation of a separate state of Gorkhaland within the Indian Union will in no way amount to Division of Bengal.
Q6: Why should the people of West Bengal not oppose the formation of a separate state of Gorkhaland?
AT: The Gorkhas and the Bengalis have been living together for more than 100 years in peace and friendship. There have been marriage ties between many Gorkhali and Bengali families. The demand of Gorkhaland is not because of any sort ill feeling towards the Bengalis. It is mainly because we have a political aspiration of having a separate state of our own which will take care of the ‘Identity Crisis’ we are faced with as well will allow us the right to self determination and self rule. As we are a distinct race having completely different language, culture, way of life and are still very far behind the average Bengali in terms of socio-economic and educational conditions we have a different approach towards life. We want to govern ourselves as per our socio-economic and cultural ethos. Having a separate state will provide us this freedom. It may not be out of place to mention that we tried to make good with the DGHC given to us but that did not come out successful.
Even when we have the DGHC, our Bengali brothers and sisters have been coming to Darjeeling like they did before we had the DGHC. We know our Bengali brothers and sisters love the hills a lot and there is a strong bonding amongst us. We strongly feel that even after we have Gorkhaland our relationship shall remain the same. We have many Bengali families living in the Darjeeling hills for ages. We are one family living amicably for years together and shall continue to do so. It also needs to be pointed out that even after we have a separate state of our own we shall look up to our Bengali brothers and sisters to help govern ourselves and run the state successfully. We know we will need you to help us develop as a successful community. It is in the fitness of things that we are granted the separate status at the earliest least our quest for achieving takes an undesirable turn though we are committed a peaceful agitation. This would sustain the peace and amity between the two communities. However, failure of the government to address our demands with the compassion and understanding it deserves and without any prejudice could make the waters murkier and result in an unpleasant relationship between the two communities.
Our Bengali friends as well as the government need to appreciate that our demand for Gorkhaland has nothing do with any communal ill feeling as many may suppose the case to be so.
Q7: Why do the Gorkhas want separation from Bengal or why do they not trust the West Bengal Government?
AT: This is a very sensitive issue which will require great objectivity of mind to appreciate and then draw conclusions as to whether the Gorkhas are justified in demanding Gorkhaland and in not trusting the state government. Various arguments with examples are as follows:
a) The state of West Bengal has never been sincere to the welfare of the Gorkhas. All that has been done by the state government is to play politics with the aspiration of the Gorkhas of having a separate state. This they have done in various ways.
In 1946, the undivided Communist Party of India ( the present day CPI-M and the CPI together), Darjeeling District Committee passed a resolution for Gorkahsthan in presence of Late Saroj Mukherjee ( former Chairman of the Left Front in West Bengal) and Bhawani Sengupta , who were present as representatives of the Bengal Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of India. The key persons who made the move were Late Ganeshlal Subba, Secretary of the CPI, Darjeeling District Committee and Shri Ratanlal Brahamin, the then MLA of the Labour constituency from Darjeeling. These two were the founders of the CPI in Darjeeling. This demand was made keeping in mind the need for a separate administrative set up based upon the distinctive race, culture, tradition, way of life, mindset and language of the Gorkhas. Late Ratanlal Brahamin and Shri Jyoti Basu, former Chief Minister of West Bengal were comrades in arms. The demand for Gorkhasthan was submitted to the Constituent Assembly of India but it was not considered. Is it not surprising that when the CPI raised the issue through Ratanlal Brahamin, the move was not called separatist though infact the move was then for a separate administrative setup comprising of portions of Sikkim, Nepal and Darjeeling. It may not be out of place to mention that Ratanlal Brahamin, who had raised this issue in 1946, went on to be a legendary leader of the Communist Party of India – Marxist and in whose name statues have been erected by the Left Front government and meeting halls named after him. However, when other Gorkhas raise the issue of a separate state of Gorkhaland within the Indian Union, with no other political interests in mind, they are branded as communal and secessionists.
Following India’s independence in 1947, and after the coming to power of the Left Front in West Bengal in 1977, the Left Front comprising of the CPI-M, CPI and other left parties unanimously passed a bill for Regional Autonomy to the Darjeeling hills in the West Bengal State Legislative Assembly in 1985. This step on the part of the West Bengal Government to create an Autonomous District Council sufficiently indicates that the State Government was aware of the aspiration of the people of being governed by themselves and the need to do something different for the development of the neglected hills. Subsequent to that, Shri Ananda Pathak, Ex. MP of the CPI-M in the Lok Sabah introduced a Private member bill for Regional Autonomy for the Darjeeling hills in the Parliament on 9th August 1985. The bill was defeated with 17 votes for it and 47 votes against it. That day the Left front had 33 MPs present. The fact that only 17 out of the 47 present voted for the bill clearly shows how serious the Left parties were about granting Regional Autonomy to the Darjeeling hills. If the West Bengal Government had been serious about granting Regional Autonomy status to the Darjeeling hills, it could have done so by mobilizing other like minded parties in the Parliament that day and issuing a whip to all its MPs to be present and cast vote in its favour. But this did not happen. It may not be out of place to mention that Shri Somnath Chatterjee, the present Speaker was an MP representing West Bengal from the CPI-M party then. THIS SHOWS HOW MUCH THE GOVERNMENT OF WEST BENGAL WAS SINCERE TO FULFILLING THE ASPIRATIONS OF THE GORKHAS AND COMMITTED TO THEIR WELFARE.
In 1986, when the GNLF began a violent agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland under the Indian Union, the movement was branded as Anti-national and separatist by the political masters of West Bengal. However, the government granted the DGHC, an autonomous council in the line of the Regional Autonomy it had conceived of, only after more than 1200 Gorkhas laid down their lives. Now, again, when the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland has erupted in the form of a democratic and non-violent mass movement, this movement too is branded by the West Bengal government as being ‘Separatist’. Though the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland under Article 3 of the Indian constitution is entirely legal and constitutional, how one can call it separatist defies one’s logic. Ministers (please read Ashok Bhattacharya and Subhash Chakroborty) holding responsible posts in the West Bengal State Government have been now and again referring to the Gorkhas as foreigners and mercenaries. Subhash Chakroborty has even gone to the extent of stating that if the government stops the supply of food, petrol, diesel and LPG to the hills, then the movement for a separate state will automatically stop. Such is the colonial mental psyche of the West Bengal Government of which he is a minister of cabinet rank. Who would now believe that we, the Gorkhas are out of colonial rule? Statements like this amply prove that we have only changed Colonial masters!
b) The result of the GNLF agitation was the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, an autonomous council formed following the passing of an Act in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly called the DGHC Act in 1988. Following the formation of the DGHC, the West Bengal Government allowed Subhash Ghising to run the DGHC as per his whims and fancies with resultant gross violation of the democratic rights of the people of Darjeeling and complete financial misappropriation (This has been time and again admitted by the Chief Minister of West Bengal and many of his ministers in public in the wake of the stalling of the Sixth Schedule bill in Parliament recently). This arrangement was with the understanding that he would never raise the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland, the issue with which he led a violent agitation with resultant more than 1200 deaths.
The instances of undemocratic functioning by the DGHC headed by Subhash Ghising and gross misappropriation of funds indulged by him and his cronies in the DGHC aided and abetted by the West Bengal State Government are numerous. Some of the prominent ones are as follows:
• Airport/Stolport: He whimsically started to build an airport without any explicit permission of the State or Centre at the Tiger Hill resulting in not only huge loss of tax payer’s money but also destruction of the forest with resultant damage to the environment. He did a similar unsuccessful exercise at Dhooteriah, where he went on to construct a Stolport, again with disastrous consequence huge wastage of tax payer’s money and destruction of the environment. Both, the State as well as the Central Government turned a blind eye to it.
• State’s Complicity in DGHCs administrative anarchy: Every elected administrative body under the Indian Constitution is supposed to have an Annual Budget which is to be approved by its competent body and the expenditure made by it audited internally as well as by the office of the Auditor and Comptroller General of West Bengal. In case of the DGHC none of these activities took place as per norms. The Government turned a blind eye to all this. As the DGHC was only a developmental council formed as per a State Act nothing should have debarred the statutory bodies of the government from doing their routine job as done elsewhere. It may not be out of place to mention that even 2 -3 years before the DGHC completed its term in 2004 and Ghising was made the Caretaker by the State Government, Ghising had stopped having the obligatory Executive Council and General Council meetings to decide on all policy matters. The state government’s willful freehand to Subhash Ghising to do break all norms of propriety as the expense of the welfare of the people of the Darjeeling hills was with the sole intention of appeasing Ghising. So then, whom do we blame for the neglect of the Darjeeling hills apart from the State Government?
• Reduction in Salary of the Contractual employees: The DGHC employed more than 8000 people in different categories on contractual basis paying a paltry sum. Though the appointments were blatantly political without any norms of propriety as is followed when a government body employs people to different government offices, it did to some extent provide financial relief to the unemployed in the hills. Having done this, in 200, without any reason and without any decision taken either in the Executive council or General Council of the DGHC, the consolidated salary of the contractual employees was reduced. So much was the highhanded manner in which it was handled that no scope was given to the contractual employees to plead to the powers that be for the redressal of their problems. Many would question than as to why the aggrieved staff did not move the court of law. One needs to appreciate such was the clout of Ghising’s muscle men and the complicity of the State Government (please read Police) that these staff could not dare to speak out. The gruesome murders of Late Sudarshan Sharma (one of the first persons in the Darjeeling who dared to challenge Ghising) and the DGHC councilors like Rudra Pradhan, Prakash Theeng and C.K. Pradhan made these staff completely dumb. The same has been effect on the general population too. THE STATE GOVERNMENT, WHICH HAS LAW AND ORDER UNDER ITS CONTROL, REMAINED NOT ONLY A MUTE SPECTAOTR BUT ALSO PROVIDED TACIT SUPPORT TO GHISING BY DILUTING THE POLICE INVESTIGATINONS.
• Non-implementation of the Honourable High Court’s verdict: Those teachers who had qualified in the School Service Commission Examinations were not allowed to join in the different schools in the DGHC on the pretext that the ones already appointed by the DGHC arbitrarily be regularized first. Even when these selected teachers moved the Honourable High Court and the Court was convinced of the illegality of the DGHCs actions and issued verdict directing the DGHC to allow them to join, they were not allowed to join. The very fact that the verdict of the Honourable High Court was not heeded to and no efforts were made by the State Government to ensure that they were implemented shows that Subhash Ghising had turned the Darjeeling hills into his fiefdom where even the judiciary could not enforce its rulings. Such has been the complicity of the State Government in the wrong doings perpetrated by Ghising. So, then how could the people of the Darjeeling hills trust the State Government for its security and welfare anymore?
c) Violation of the tenets of Right to Religion and tamper with Socio- Cultural ethos: Subhash Ghising during his misrule interfered with the religious practices with impunity. He debarred worship of statues (which is part and parcel of our Hindu and Buddhist faith) and laid down ‘dictats’ as to how religious practices should be conducted much to the helplessness of the local people who dared not protest knowing fully well that the Law and order machinery under the state (including the judiciary) would not help them in any away, rather they would be sitting targets for Subhash Ghising’s henchmen. He gave employment to the people practicing the animism and demonolatry (called Jhakris, Bijuas and Matas in Nepali) and used them to perform barbaric practices to mislead the government into believing that the majority of the hill people were tribal and thus demand a tribal status for the Darjeeling hills (this he did in collusion with state government in 2005 by getting a MOS signed between himself, the state and the centre). The state government knowing fully well regarding his unjust imposition of these barbaric and weird customs on the helpless people of Darjeeling hills colluded with him to grant a Sixth Schedule (read tribal status) status to the Darjeeling hills. Thanks to the final revolt of the people of Darjeeling that the bill got stalled. This revolt by the people was mainly due to the bold leadership provided by Shri Bimal Gurung and his Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha. Other organisations including the CPRM, the Gorkha League and the Bharatiya Gorkha Parishangha also made major contributions. The Gorkha people are very grateful to the Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Smt. Sushma Swaraj, which through its patient hearing made it clear that the contents of the bill would not meet the objectives it purported to. The report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee also made it very clear the ill intentions of the Subhash Ghising as well as the State and Central Governments.
d) Bill on granting Sixth Schedule: The bill for granting the Sixth Schedule status to the Darjeeling hills was passed by the West Bengal State Assembly, approved by the Central Cabinet and placed in Lok Sabah as a Government Bill. It needs to be pointed out that all this was done without consulting the people for whom the bill was meant, by-passing all norms as is essential as per the constitution prior placing a Constitutional Amendment Bill, which would be deciding the fate of the Indian Gorkhas. This has been admitted by no other person than Mr. Ashok Bhattacharya, a Cabinet Minster in Buddhdev Bhattacharya’s government. He has told a number of times that his party could not make the people aware about the said bill in the Darjeeling hills because they did not have the following there. He put the blame squarely on Ghising and the GNLF for their failure make the people aware about the bill. Now, does this not make one thing very clear that the Government of West Bengal had unanimously passed the bill in the State Assembly and pressed upon the center to pass the bill immediately without ensuring that the people for whom the provisions of the bills were meant were not consulted at all?
e) Misleading the Gorkhas: We have lots of documents containing the statements of the Chief Minister of West Bengal and his ministers, including those of Mr. Ashok Bhattacharya stating that the Sixth Schedule would provide for a Council with much power than the existing one. Mr. Ashok Bhattacharya had even gone to the extent of saying that the Council proposed under the Sixth Schedule would be much better than a State. This has been contradicted in his deposition to the Parliamentary Standing Committee by no less a person than Mr. Amit Kiran Deb, the Chief Secretary to the Government of West Bengal on 07-02-08. He states, “In fact, the Sixth Schedule will not make much of difference between the present DGHC and the Sixth Schedule so far as exercise of powers and functions is concerned. DGHC is a body, which is a statutory body set up under the Act of the State Government. If Sixth Schedule is brought into play in the hill areas that will be a constitutional body and there is a lot of difference in the perception of the people. They would like to have a constitutional status for the hill areas. That is what Mr. Ghising has been saying right from the beginning to which we also agree because it will be easier to convince the people.” Even to the dull headed person, it is clear that the aspiration of the Gorkhas is not only to have a constitutional status for the council. Now, who should the people believe – Ashok Bhattacharya, who says that the Sixth Schedule is better than a state and that the Gorkhas should accept it or the Chief Secretary to the Government of West Bengal who has made it very clear that the Sixth Schedule will not accord any more powers to the council but will only make it a constitutional body and that it would help Mr. Ghising convince the people? Obviously we will believe the Chief Secretary for obvious reasons. This is how the Left front leaders and the Left front led West Bengal Government is misleading everyone including the Gorkhas.
f) Ulterior motive: Though the Chief Minister of West Bengal had been stating that the Sixth Schedule bill was good for the people of Darjeeling like many of his ministerial colleagues, his public statement at the Baghajatin Park in Siliguri on 25th November 2007 stating that “if Sixth Schedule is extended to the hill areas of Darjeeling, it will become a part of West Bengal for ever”. This was published in all vernacular dailies. Does this not hint that the motive on the part of the State Government was much more than granting tribal status to a region where more than 70% of the people are non-tribals?
Q8: Who were the original inhabitants of the Darjeeling district?
AT: It is an undisputed fact that the present day Darjeeling district including Siliguri sub-division was a part of the erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim.
The Tripartite Agreement of “Lo-Men-Tsong Sum” signed in 1641 between the ministers and leaders of the then Sikkim pledged that the people of “Lo-Men-Tsong Sum” (as present day Sikkim was called then) would thereafter integrate their wishes and not have a separate self government of Lo (Bhutia), Men (Lepcha) and Tsong (Limboo) but would abide by one order of the King of Sikkim. This document proves beyond doubt that the Bhutias, the Lepchas and the Limboos (also titled Subbas) were invariably among the original inhabitants of Sikkim, to which the present territory of Darjeeling district belongs. Hence, simply because some British Officers of the East India Company have documented that the Lepchas were the original inhabitants of the areas of the present day Darjeeling hills, it would be wrong to assume that only the Lepchas were the original inhabitants of the present day Darjeeling hills. Further, the Sir Joseph Hooker, in the Himalayan Journal, Volume 1, has stated, “The Mangars (commonly called Thapas), a tribe now confined to Nepal west of Arun, are aborigines of Sikkim, where they were driven by the Lepchas westwards into the country of Limboos. So, what we now see is that it was not only the Lepchas, who were the original inhabitants of Sikkim, it was also the Bhutias, Limboos and the Mangars too. As Darjeeling district was a part of Sikkim, there no reason to believe that apart from the Lepchas, the other three tribes mentioned above were not present in Darjeeling as time and again the British Officers have referred to the other hill tribes apart from Lepchas in their historical notes. Hence, those people who are trying to twist history to their advantage need be careful about their assumptions regarding the original inhabitants of the Darjeeling.
It also needs to be pointed out that the areas presently under the Darjeeling district were under Nepal from 1788 – 1816, when settlements took place. The settlements were made by local tribes from Nepal, as well as those groups of people like the ‘Khas’ (Chhetris) tribe, the Nepali Brahamans and the Rajputs, who took refuge in the hills of Nepal when the ancient Hindu Kingdoms in India were overthrown by the Muslim invaders. So, we see that many of those who settled in the captured areas were basically people of Indian origin. Now, over the years, all these four tribes including other hill tribes have assimilated into one large ‘Gorkaha’ community. Further, all these people who ultimately became Indian citizens under the British rule were not immigrants but people who became Indian citizens by virtue of their land having come under the possession of British India.
Q9: Is it true that there were only 100 people and all of them Lepchas in the Darjeeling hills when the British first acquired the hill territory in 1835?
AT: Well, that is what is documented by the British. However, we have to take into account that General Lloyd and Grant trekked up the old military road (presently the Pankhabari road and the road leading to Darjeeling via Dowhill and Bagora) and reached Darjeeling. During their trek to Darjeeling in 1836 they estimated there to be only around 100 souls in the entire Darjeeling hills. This is highly unlikely as because they did not survey the entire region and only walked along a treaded path to Darjeeling. In Darjeeling, they earmarked the then Observatory Hill (now called Mahakal danra) for constructing a sanatorium. Famous Nepali historian, Dr. Kumar Pradhan has noted that at the location of the Observatory hill stood a Monastery prior to 1788. E.C.Dozey, in his book, “ A concise history of Darjeleing district since 1835” has documented that this monastery was built in the Observatory hill in 1765 and was a branch of the Phodang Monastery of Sikkim. This monastery was destroyed by the Gorkhas in 1788 when they overran Darjeeling (then Sikkim). Nicholas and Deki have recorded that the Nepalese commander who led the invasion was Jar Singh. Presently, this monastery is located in the Bhutia busty, where it was relocated in 1860-61. As a monastery was present it is implied that a good number of people resided there and in its vicinity. The presence of the monastery is further confirmed by the writing of S.W.Ladenla on 9th May 1912, who stated, “When I was a school boy about 25 years ago, I remember having seen the remains of the wall of the old monastery on the spot”. E.C.Dozey has also documented that a Hindu Mandir was present before 1830 and that a Masjid was present at Laldigi (near the erstwhile Victoria Hospital) in Darjeeling in 1786. The fact that a mandir and a masjid were also present before 1835 testifies that apart from the Lepchas and Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims were also present in Darjeeling and that the claim of the presence of only 100 souls in the entire Darjeeling is not tenable.
It has been documented in the Bengal District Gazeeter by LSSO’Malley that whatever small population the place had, had been driven out by the Rajah of Sikkim. So, we do not really know as to how many fled from Darjeeling.
It has also been documented by Fred Penn in the Road of Destiny (Darjeeling letters 1839) that there was a practice of showing the areas to have sparse population to prove to the Rajah of Sikkim that he was parting with an area which was desolate and virtually uninhabited with very little scope of revenue generation. It has also been documented that General Lloyd suppressed the actual number of inhabitants present and the revenue collection made by him from the British authorities in Kolkata. Knowing the colonial mentality of the British, there is every possibility that they employed deceit as only they could to benefit them.
In view of the above and as no survey or census was undertaken for the Darjeeling hills comprising of present Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong then, it would not be correct to believe the assumptions of the British of only 100 souls having been present in the Darjeeling hills then.
Q10) Apart from the indigenous ‘Gorkhas’, how did the Gorkhas from Nepal come to India after the British took over Darjeeling in 1835?
AT: In 1839, Dr. Campbell, of the British East Indian Company devoted himself to the task of developing Darjeeling, inviting the hill tribes of neighboring region including Nepal to cultivate the mountain slopes, and stimulating trade and commerce. Every encouragement was given to the settlers, who received grants of forest land. It was mainly the hill tribes of Nepal who cleared the dense forests in the difficult mountainous terrain that helped Darjeeling grow by leaps and bounds. It was these hill tribes who were involved in the formation of the Hill Corps for the maintenance of law and order and improvement of communications in such a difficult terrain. Apart from Nepal, the people who came to work on the invitation of the British were the hill tribes form Sikkim and Bhutan too. All these facts which are documented in LSSO’Malley’s Darjeeling Gazeeter prove beyond doubt that apart from the Gorkhas who became Indian citizens by transfer of their land to British India, the other hill tribes who came to Darjeeling from Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim were settlers who were enticed by the British to come to help the British build and develop this part of British India. So, those who very casually term the hill tribes as immigrants, without knowing the backdrop of their settlement are doing great injustice to the race of people who developed this place to this present state so that they are now able to make their sojourns as tourists to this land. These hill tribes were not refugees who fled to India because of insecurity or who entered India on the sly i.e. illegally under the patronage of the political masters in West Bengal to strengthen their political stronghold.
Later, after the signing of the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950, some people have settled in India from Nepal by virtue of the treaty but their number is very less as can be verified from the Census reports. So, we see that even those who settled in India did so legally as permitted by the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950, which is of mutual benefit to India and Nepal. It may not be out of place to mention that it is by virtue of this treaty that many Indians have settled in Nepal and are in national mainstream there. One thing which needs to be stressed and needs to be clear in the minds of all (read Neo-Colonial rulers of West Bengal) that the Gorkha Indian citizens are not ‘Refugees’ like the Bangladeshis, who have entered India in hordes and have changed the demography of Siliguri Sub-Division of Darjeeling district in a very short span of time.
Q11) What is the history of Siliguri and how has its demography changed? What is its significance vis-à-vis the Gorkha Indian Citizens?
AT: After Kalimpong was brought under the British control in 1865 and thereafter was transferred to the Darjeeling district in 1866, the Darjeeling district was divided into two sub-divisions: the headquarters sub-division consisting of all the hills on both sides of the Teesta and the Terai sub-division which included the whole of the country at the foot of the hills. The headquarters of the Terai sub-division was at Hanskhawa near Phansidewa from 1864 to 1880. Thereafter, it was transferred to Siliguri. In 1891, Kurseong was made the headquarters of the new sub-division of Kurseong, which included both the Terai and the lower hills west of the Teesta. Later, in 1907, Siliguri was made a sub-division, thus re-establishing the Terai sub-division which had in 1891 been absorbed into the Kurseong sub-division (West Bengal District Gazeeter, Darjeeling 1980).
In 1898, the final report on the Darjeeling Terai Settlement published by Sri Sasi Bhusan Dutta (Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta), a Settlement Officer of the Government of West Bengal, the total population as well as its ethnic breakup of the Terai areas of the Darjeeling district (i.e. Siliguri and its periphery of today) has been documented. The report reveals that more than 31% of the population in the Siliguri and adjoining Terai regions consisted of the Gorkhas, the Lepchas and the Bhutias. The remaining population was principally Adivasi and Mohamadden. What is remarkable is the fact that, the report does not show the presence of any Bengali population then. It is thus clear that the majority of the population in Siliguri and the Terai at the end of the 19th century was predominantly castes belong to the Nepali/Gorkha and Adivasi community.
Siliguri showed a population growth of 2.6%, 4.9%, 29.4% and 36.4% in 1891-1901, 1901-11, 1941-51 and 1951-61 respectively. The growth in population till 1941 was due to the rapid urbanization of Siliguri. However, from 1941 onwards the demography of Siliguri and its adjoining areas changed rapidly due the influx of refugees from present day Bangladesh. In 1941-59, the town of Siliguri recorded growth of 61.2%, which was largely due to the influx of refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan, following the partition of the country in 1947 and the communal riots in 1950. In 1951-61, the population increased by 101.5% for Siliguri town, this again being due influx of refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan. Immigrant refugees, mostly Bengali Hindus.