By Alok Kantamani Thulung, president of Youth wing of GJMM
It is a pity that every time the Gorkhas residing in India, specially those residing in the Darjeeling district & Dooars, raise the demand of a separate state in consonance with the Article 3 of the Indian constitution, we are dubbed as ‘foreigners’ or ‘immigrants’ and the demand very cruelly labeled as ‘separatist’. These labels of being ‘foreigners’ or ‘immigrants’ or ‘separatists’ have not only been used by communal forces like the ‘Amra Bangali’ or ‘Jan Jagaran Mancha’ or the ‘Jan Chetana Mancha’ (all of them being outfits of the highly communal CPI-M), but also by highly esteemed ministers of cabinet rank of the West Bengal State government, namely Sri Ashok Bhattacharya and Shri Subhash Chakroborty. Even the Chief Minister of West Bengal calls our movement for a separate state under the Indian union as separatist. It is not that these honourable (!) people do not know that to demand a separate state under Article 3 is entirely constitutional and not a separatist one. They repeatedly call our movement separatist because they constantly maintain and believe that we, the Indian Gorkhas are ‘foreigners’ and ‘immigrants’. As to the issue of the foreigners, the Indian constitution is very clear and there is no room for debate from any quarters questioning our Indian citizenship no matter how hard one may try. Coming to the issue of being branded as ‘immigrants’, we would like to highlight certain issues.
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 worked here on the invitation of the British were the hill tribes from Sikkim (and of course, Darjeeling, which was gifted to the British by the Raja of Sikkim in 1835) 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 like the Bangladeshis who fled to India from Bangladesh because of insecurity or who entered and are continuing to enter 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 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 after 1950 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. Now, Nepal even has Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, a Nepali citizen of Indian origin as its first President. Can we dream of this in India at present? 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.
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 from erstwhile East Pakistan became a quantitatively important segment of population of the district, most of who settled in the plains of Siliguri sub-division (West Bengal District Gazeeter, Darjeeling 1980).
Excerpts from the West Bengal District Gazeeter, Darjeeling 1980 bring out very interesting facts. It is written that “The refugee influx has helped Siliguri town to grow in many ways. The Refugee Rehabilitation Department made donations to the Siliguri College and the Siliguri Commerce College to construct buildings. Land was also granted to Siliguri Girls’ Higher Secondary School for its building as these institutions were needed to meet the ever-increasing demand for education of the new settlers. The state government also advanced more than Rs.1, 50,000 to the Siliguri Municipality to construct roads, make sanitary arrangements and arrange water supply in the refugee concentrations within the municipal limits. In addition, the Refugee Rehabilitation Department opened a market on a 3-acre plot of land at an expense of more than Rs. 10, 00000 for the benefit of about 800 refugee traders and named it ‘Bidhan Market’. Half of the refugee colonies are within Siliguri town and the persons staying there are mostly employed in urban occupations pertaining to the tertiary sector of the economy. Two are in the semi-urban area, the inhabitants of which are also employed more or less in the same sector. The other two colonies are in rural areas and engaged in the primary sector of the economy”.
The Government of West Bengal has taken lots of pains to take care of immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, who have been changing the demography of Siliguri and adjoining areas, pushing the original inhabitants, the Indian Gorkhas to the fringe areas. However, when thousands of Nepali speaking Bhutanese citizens were forcefully thrown out from Bhutan in the 1990s, not only did the Government of West Bengal keep mum on the issue, on the contrary it helped in the deportation of these Nepali speaking Bhutanese citizens through its territory in Indian army vehicles at the dead of night to the other side of the river Mechi in Nepal, where these refugees are languishing in a pathetic state. Every time they make efforts to go their homeland, they are thwarted by the Bengal police at Panitanki. The interesting question that arises here is why a differential treatment is meted out to refugees from Bhutan unlike those from Bangladesh? Are not both the groups foreigners? The answer to our question is obvious. As the Bhutanese refugees speak the language of the Indian Gorkhas, have similar physiognomy and have a similar social and cultural ethos, the West Bengal government was afraid that the accommodation of the Bhutanese refugees would alter the demography of Dooars, Siliguri and the adjoining areas. Similar episodes have happened to Indian Gorkhas residing in Assam and the North East. Had we a separate state, the Indian Gorkhas and the Nepali speaking Bhutanese refugees could have been saved from the ignominy of having to lead such miserable lives on the banks of the river Mechi on pure humanitarian grounds. In contrast, the Bangladeshis have been sheltered in West Bengal simply because of the common language and culture they share with the Bengalis residing in West Bengal and of course, the ‘vote bank’ issue. This was possible because the Bengalis have a separate state of West Bengal for themselves. If the state of West Bengal had not been in existence, the Bangladeshis would have possibly met the same fate as the Bhutanese refugees and the evicted Indian Gorkhas from Assam and the North East.
A book titled, ‘Immigration from Bangladesh to India based on census data’ by Aswini Kumar Nanda has documented the population flows from Bangladesh to India over 1981 and 2001. He reports that as of 2001, there were 3.1 – 3.7 million Bangladeshis in India, 97% of who have infiltrated to the East (i.e. Bengal) and Northeast regions in 1981-2001. It is reported that an average of 200,000 persons slip annually into West Bengal State alone’. Almost all of them stay back by procuring ration cards and entering their names in the voter’s list in collusion with the ruling Left front of West Bengal for the now well known ‘VOTE BANK’. In collusion with the highly politicized state administration, the CPI-M is reported to have forged and distributed more than 8 million ration cards, thereby jeopardizing the public distribution system.
The West Bengal Government has defined the term ‘Refugee’ in the context of immigration from Bangladesh as ‘families which were displaced from erstwhile East Pakistan (presently Bangladesh) and settled in West Bengal prior to 25th March 1971’. Those meeting the afore-mentioned criteria are eligible for rehabilitation from the government (West Bengal Government Official website). The Government of West Bengal has, even today, a department for Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation headed by the Hon’ble Minister of State, Shri Binay Krishna Biswas (Secretary: Smt. R. Venkataraman, IAS, and Officer on Special Duty: Shri A. Kanungo, WBCS). The Department was formed in 1950 with the objective handling the enormous dimensions of the human tragedy that West Bengal had to face following the partition of India in 1947 and the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war for liberation of Bangladesh. As per government order No. 264-Rehab. Dated 1988 & 602-Rehab. Dated 20-02-90 as well as 264-Rehab. Dated 35-01-91, the certificates from elected representatives including MPs, MLAs, Municipal Councillors, and Sabhapatis of Panchayat Samities would be accepted for the purpose of regularization of displaced families or for grant of a ‘No Objection Certificate’. Free-hold Title Deeds against homestead plots in government sponsored and approved ‘Squatters’ Colonies are now issued in appropriate cases to eligible refugee families. Lease deeds for 99 years granted to refugee families prior to 1988 are being converted to Free-hold Deeds vide government orders dated 17-01-89 and 08-12-88 (West Bengal Government Official website).
No doubt, the influx of refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan during partition in 1947, the riots that followed in 1950 and the Indo-Pakistan war for liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 was very unfortunate and the government had to rehabilitate the immigrants. Having said this, it also needs to be stated that this influx changed the demography of Siliguri. However, what is unacceptable is the accommodation of the illegal immigrants after 1971 by the Left front led government, mainly for political reasons i.e. vote banks for electoral gains. Indian Gorkhas, who were the dominant community in the Ashrampara, Hakimpara, Gurung busty and Pradhannagar areas of Siliguri town, have been reduced to a minority. Though it has been more than 60 years since the partition of Bengal and more than 37 years since the Indo-Bangladesh war, the Department of Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation continues to exist. Does it not indirectly suggest that the illegal immigration from Bangladesh still continues and they even have a department to welcome them? If there was no illegal immigration from Bangladesh continuing, why is it necessary to continue having a separate refugees from Bangladesh?
This influx of refugees and constant efforts at harassing the Indian Gorkhas from different areas of Siliguri has led to the gradual but pre-meditated ouster of the Indian Gorkhas by the scheming CPI-M goons from Siliguri town. This activity, akin to ‘ethnic cleansing’ has been on since a long time and now, again has gained momentum following the renewed demand for Gorkhaland.
Though it is not necessary for the Indian Gorkhas to react to the issue of cancellation/review of the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950 and the identification and deportation of those who have immigrated to India from Nepal after 1950, as raised by the a communal outfit like the Jan Jagaran Mancha, we are responding to their raising the issues because these are issues of the CPI-M of West Bengal which is being raised by Jan Jagaran Mancha, the Amra Bangali and Jan Chetana Mancha.
Cancellation of the treaty would have no negative impact on the Indian Gorkhas. Rather, it would help us in establishing our Indian identity. As regards to the Mancha’s demand that those who have immigrated to India from Nepal after 1950 should be identified and deported, all we have to say is that, on signing the treaty the immigration and settling of people from Nepal and vice-versa the emigration and settling of Indians in Nepal have been legalized by the government by virtue of an International treaty. So the issue of identification and deportation of those who have settled after 1950 does not hold water. Having said so, we demand of the West Bengal government to go back to its definition of ‘Refugee from Bangladesh’ ( which states that Refugees from Bangladesh are families which were displaced from erstwhile East Pakistan (presently Bangladesh) and settled in West Bengal prior to 25th March 1971’) and identify all those illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and deport them. Further, people like Prof. Haren Ghosh, who himself is a refugee from Bangladesh (His family immigrated to India and Prof. Ghosh and his brothers spent the early part of their life in Kurseong. His brother, Sudhir Ghosh was even the Headmaster of the Krisnamaya Memorial High School, a Nepali High School in Siliguri) and spearheading the Jan Jagaran Mancha need to be hauled up by the administration for spreading canard regarding the Gorkha community and trying to create communal divide as well as, give fillip to the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Gorkhas in Siliguri and adjoining areas. (http://www.darjeelingtimes.com)