In a vastly populated country such as India, it is very difficult for minority communities, such as the Gorkhas, to register their presence. In fact, were such communities not to guard themselves from the multidimensional forces of the majority, they would find it difficult to uphold and sustain their traditions, language and culture. The Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh was formed for this purpose. The BGP is the expression of the faith of over ten million Indian Gorkhas. Registered as a non-political organization, it has identified seven issues of the Indian Gorkhas to be resolved at the national level.
1. Creation of a separate state for the Gorkhas of India
There are documentary evidence of Gorkha presence in India during the Mughal period when the present day Nepal did not even exist. It was only in 1740 that Prithvinarayan Shah subdued all warring factions and named the unified territory Nepal.
Following a war between the East India Company and Nepal, a treaty was signed at Sugauli in 1815. Under the treaty, nearly one-third of Nepal’s then territory was ceded to British India. That areas that came into British control comprised such places as Almora, Nainital, Mussorie, Dehradun, Shimla, Kulu, Manali, Kangra and Dharamashala, now in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. In the east, the ceded land included Darjeeling (this territory was given to Sikkim vide the Treaty of Titalya in 1817). It was the Sugauli treaty that made Gorkhas a part of India along with their land. Darjeeling became part of British India in 1835 and Kalimpong and Dooars were ceded to the British by Bhutan in 1865 under the Treaty of Sinchula.
The Gorkhas joined the Indian Freedom Struggle and responded to Mahatma Gandhi’s call. They secured for India its present political dimensions. Yet the Gorkha community has became a sad picture of marginalized society that has lost its voice in the midst of the vast Indian population. The Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh wants to establish the national identity of the Indian Gorkhas, who are mistaken and misrepresented as a community that has migrated to India.
The Gorkha problem is compounded by the fact that their physical features conform to the stereotype of the “outsider”. In fact, all the ethnic groups of the Northeast share this feature, but it is only the Gorkhas who attract slurs like “immigrants”, “settlers” and “foreigners”. This is so because while all other Northeastern ethnic communities have their own states to provide them their Indian identity, the Gorkhas remain stateless. It is an accepted fact that a state is the lowest unit of governance, and so the formation of a Gorkha state within India will be the most logical solution to the identity crisis faced by the Gorkhas in India.
All the 22 state units of the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh have unanimously resolved that the Darjeeling-Dooars in North Bengal is most suited and viable for the creation of a Gorkha state under Article 3 (a) of the Indian Constitution. The reasons for the identification of this area for a new state are:
All Northeastern ethnic communities who were ethnic landholders were provided states of their own on their land holdings. The Gorkhas, who are ethnic landholders in Darjeeling-Dooars, have been denied this privilege.
The political history of the region establishes without any doubt that these areas were never a part of Bengal.
Linguistically, ethnically, culturally, historically and even geographically, the Darjeeling-Dooars region is different from Bengal.
Demographically, the density of the population of Gorkhas is highest in this region compared to other parts of India.
By according the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council status to the region, the Government of West Bengal has already recognized and accepted the fact that this region is different from Bengal and needs a different administrative set-up.
2. Identification of the problems of tea garden and cinchona plantation in Darjeeling-Dooars as a national problem
The history of tea gardens in Darjeeling-Dooars is as old as the history of the Gorkha and Adivasi inhabitants of the area. It was the British who started tea cultivation and it has today become a profitable industry that is renowned across the world for its product.
But the tea industry has undergone a total change in the past years. The future looks bleak. Unscrupulous owners, apathetic state government and politically biased trade unionism have shattered the lives of tea garden workers who are now compelled to leave behind their families and search for alternative means of livelihood. Feudalistic laws like the Plantation Labour Act of 1961, which empowers tea garden managements to hear, judge and even prosecute workers, are still in operation. The Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh has taken up this issue, as well as those of the heritage Cinchona Plantations, to the national level and urged the Central Government to look into the matter and take the following steps immediately.
Set up a review committee under the Central Government, comprising representatives of the State government, management, trade unions, workers, regional leaders and subject experts. The committee should be empowered to recommend measures for amending antiquated and anachronistic legislations, provide strategies for permanent safeguards of workers rights and the industry and formulate an environment of mutual trust and respect between all stakeholders of the industry.
Set up a monitoring committee under the Central government to keep an eye on the utilization of all Central funds sanctioned for the tea industry of North Bengal.
3. Addressing the sense of insecurity and uncertainty in the minds of Gorkhas of the Northeast
The Gorkha population in India is estimated at around 12.5 million, of which a large number live in India’s Northeast region. The Gorkha community in the Northeast is mostly comprised of farmers and cattle raisers. After centuries of living together, they have accepted the fact that not only have they socially bonded with other Northeastern communities, but they also share with them the same destiny. Despite their positive contribution to and involvement in the development of the Northeast, the Gorkhas are threatened, time and again, by ethno-political upheavals in the region. These frequent incidents not only break social and occupational rhythm but also create a perception of threat, real or psychological, in the minds of the Gorkhas. This feeling of uncertainty and instability has hindered the allround development of the Gorkha community in the Northeast. The Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh is deeply concerned about the future of the Gorkha community in the region and has urged the Central government to take up the task of:
Giving settlements with valid land documents to all permanent residents belonging to the Northeastern Gorkha community so that they are not humiliated, harassed and vilified as “illegal infiltrators”, “immigrants” and “non-locals”.
Taking the initiative to preserve the culture, traditions and language of the Gorkhas by establishing research centres and by making arrangements, wherever applicable, for teaching Nepali language in schools and colleges as a vernacular.
Formulating positive measures in providing job opportunities and equal opportunities in business to unemployed, deserving Gorkhas so that they do not feel communally victimized or marginalized.
Initiating a move to identify the Gorkhas as a backward community and accord them, wherever applicable, the OBC status so that they may also have a fair share of incentives meant for underdeveloped communities.
4. Commissioning of a Doordarshan Channel dedicated to the Nepali-speaking Gorkhas
The Nepali language, spoken by 12.5 million Gorkhas, is a constitutionally recognized language of modern India. Yet till date, Doordarshan has not commissioned a channel in the language. The Gorkha community is a storehouse of a rich folk culture that is yet to be discovered by the nation. If properly backed and groomed through the electronic media, the Gorkha community can produce many more stars like Indian Idol winner Prashant Tamang to enrich the Indian cultural scene.
The Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh is of the firm belief that if a Doordarshan channel for Gorkhas in the Nepali language is commissioned then it will not only add a vibrant new colour to the multicultural Indian canvas, but also expose the Gorkhas to other Indian communities. This will definitely help clear the doubts and misconceptions fogging the minds of many in India.
5. Nomination of Gorkhas to public and government bodies
There is a misconception in the minds of people that Gorkhas are good only as soldiers. They tend to forget that a Gorkha lawyer, Ari Bahadur Gurung, was a signatory of the Indian Constitution. The Indian national anthem was set to tune by Azad Hind Fauj Captain Ram Singh Thakur. At a time when the Congress had just one post of a national general secretary, Theodore Maenan had held such a post. There have been a number of Gorkha ministers in Assam and West Bengal. The state of Sikkim is headed by a Gorkha chief minister, Dr Pawan Kumar Chamling, while Assam has a Gorkha, Tanka Bahadur Rai, as the Speaker of the Assembly. Apart from them, there are many national awardees, literary figures, academicians, economists, scientists, social scientists and cultural icons. Yet in the democratic state of India, Gorkhas continued to be alienated and deprived of justice at par with other citizens of India. One such illustration of neglect is the selection mechanism for appointments in nominated higher posts. Not one Gorkha, despite their deserving credentials, has ever been nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha. No Gorkha has headed a government instituted Commission, or even been made a member of one. Gorkha defence veterans, despite their experience and education, have never been nominated for any post suitable to their stature. Similarly, none of Gorkha intellectuals or politicians have been considered for the post of an ambassador or governor. The Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh asks the Government of India to consider the permanent placement of Gorkhas in nominated appointments and assignments in view of their proven capabilities, proficiency and experience.
6. Recognition of Gorkhas as a linguistic minority community
According to the Anthropological Survey of India, the country has 4.635 communities speaking 325 languages. Gorkhas form one of those communities. The Gorkhas live in almost all states of India and are a linguistic minority community, and so are deprived of all safeguards that are due to linguistic minority communities. The Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh has raised this issue at the national level and has requested the Central government to accord the status of linguistic minority to the Gorkhas so that this marginalized community can avail of all facilities and concessions provided for any linguistic minority community in India.
7. Empowering the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh to issue certificates for the purpose of recruitment to the armed forces
Although the Gorkha community is diversifying into many new trades and professions, the army, police and the paramilitary forces are still the occupation of choice for many Gorkha youths. The government has laid down a rule that Gorkhas intending to join these forces must produce a certificate of their belonging to the Gorkha community in order to avail of relaxations in eligibility for the posts. Since it is the only registered national organization of the Gorkhas of India, the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh has urged the Central government to empower it to issue the Gorkha Certificate to members of the community intending to join such forces.