THE HIMALAYAN BEACON [BEACON ONLINE]
BY BARUN ROY
I met an old friend from Calcutta today who asked me why I was so doggone interested in praying for people who were determined to divide Bengal. The friend who is a regular traveller from Calcutta was also disturbed by the strikes because it spoiled his vacation in Darjeeling. I was greatly saddened by my friend’s view on the present situation. However, what he thought or believed was symptomatic of what and how Calcutta viewed about things taking place in Darjeeling Hills. They believe that the demand for the state of Gorkhaland is a racist demand intended to break up Bengal. They say that since people from all ethnic backgrounds live in Darjeeling Hills, the demand for Gorkhaland (with implication on the state being called the land of the Gorkhas) is against the ethos of the Constitution of the nation. They further say that the district of Darjeeling is far better than other districts in the state. They also imply that Gorkhas have no rights to demand a state of their own in India because they have a country, Nepal. A section further goes on to imply that while they have tried to offer some restitute to the Gorkhas, the Gorkhas have proved, that they cannot rule themselves as witnessed by the functioning of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.
I am afraid, the Calcutta centric politicians and elitists have begun losing grips over reality. What ails Darjeeling Hills today has spread over half of Bengal. Bengal is the only state today where people are demanding for the formation of 3 separate states. The rise of the Maoists insurgency has been greater than it ever has as there are daily gun battles being fought in the Central and Southern Bengal. There are villages and places merely 50 to 60 kilometers from Calcutta, where the villagers have not yet seen a public transport. And while the Calcutta centric politicians and the elitists engage in an unending debate drinking Darjeeling Tea, they forget that the Bhadralok’s version of Bengal only exists inside the Coffee Houses of Calcutta and beyond that there is nothing but deprivation, dejection and poverty. And the marks of the fangs of this serpent of poverty, dejection and deprivation can be seen on the necks of Bengalis, Tribals and Gorkhas and more so the tribals, whether they are Oraon, Totos, Santhals, Kochs, Yakthungbas, Khambus, Dhimals, Danuwars and so on spread across South, Central and North Bengal.
Today, the aboriginal people feel that the elitists and the politicians based in Calcutta have failed them. They have failed to understand their problems and above all failed to want to understand their problems. Wrapped in their imaginary wonder world they have forgotten that while those in Cities might be living the dream, those in the millions spread across the villages and tea gardens are living a nightmare, with no hope of the same ever ending.
In Darjeeling Hills, the Gorkhas want the formation of the separate state of Gorkhaland. They believe that the formation of the separate state of Gorkhaland will not just give them the right to self determination, it will once and for all the lay to rest the question of their identity. They further believe that much like in Bengal, where people of all race and caste and religion live even though the state is named Bengal and by meaning thereof, a state belonging to Bengali people, people of all race and caste and religion could live amicably in Gorkhaland. They further argue that if the demand for the formation of Gorkhaland is a racist demand and against the ethos of the Constitution, why then is the existence of such states as Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Orrisa etc, a Constitutional travesty if by name they suggest they are the land of Bengalis, Tamils and Oriyas respectively. Certainly, the name of these states should immediately be changed into for example West State, South State or South Western State if the ethos of the Constitution were to be upheld rendering the demand of the separate state of Gorkhaland or at least the name in which it is demanded redundant. But would that be possible? Would the names of the states based on Linguistic denominations be transformed into more involving democratic states? In all probability, the Bengalis in Bengal, the Tamils in Tamil Nadu or the Oriyas in Orissa would rise up in arms stating that any such attempts would spell an end to their existence. Why then, the Gorkhas argue, the demand for the state of Gorkhaland be deemed as a racist demand.
The issue of the citizenship of the Gorkhas has been put to the rest by the Gazette Notification of the Government of India. As for the infiltration of the Nepali citizens into Bengal, the Gorkhas stress could be easily taken care of by initiating visa system for travel between India and Nepal. In fact, the Gorkhas have been demanding the revision of the 1956 Indo Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, closing the border and initiating visa system for travel. This is also vitally important in the present terrorist threats to the nation. The open border between India and Nepal are being used by Terrorists of all shades and hues including those with affiliation with Al Qaeda and the Taliban and of course the Maoists insurgents who have racked havoc in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar and Bengal and of course Nepal itself. Nepal too has suffered due to the open border. With the border closed and visa travel system initiated, the Gorkhas in India with proper papers would be much like Bengalis in Bengal easily distinguishable from a Bangladeshi. The Gorkhas, as bona fide citizens of India, have every right to demand from their Government any political or administrative right guaranteed by the Constitution.
The Gorkhas in the district of Darjeeling along with their fellow citizens from other communities and ethnic background from the region believe that the potential of the district spread across Darjeeling Hills and the Dooar Terai is immense and if indeed the full potential of the District was ever reached the District would rank second only to Calcutta, turning it into a most prosperous district in the state and probably the entire north east of India, which actually it was until after the first decade of the independence of the nation.
The Gorkhas further argue that the Calcutta centric politicians and elitists have actually gone contrary to the aspirations of the people of the region and economic theories of Macro-Economy by establish Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA) dedicated to the development of the city of Siliguri and the parts of the district of Jalpaiguri overlooking the parts of the subdivision of Siliguri, and the subdivisions of Kalimpong, Kurseong and Darjeeling. The rationale of the same has also been the “washing off hands” from the responsibility towards Darjeeling Hills and parts of Darjeeling Dooars through the formation of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. The Gorkhas argue, “The politicians in Calcutta ask us what you have done with the money sent for Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. If the Government was so concerned that the money was being misused or that the developmental works were not being carried out or their efforts not reaching the people, why did they not for once in the last 23 years of the DGHC’s existence audited its finance. The Government of West Bengal was responsible for the functioning of the DGHC as the DGHC was established by an Act of the State Legislative Assembly which gave the over all power over the DGHC to the Government of West Bengal. Indeed the State Government could make and break the General Council of DGHC as and when it desired. But it did not do so because; it wanted Subash Ghisingh, the GNLF Supremo to rule over Darjeeling Hills on its behalf. It was only forced to remove Subash Ghisingh after a mass popular movement rose up against Ghisingh. True that the Tea Gardens and the Cinchona plantations are on their deathbed and a lot of factors are responsible for the same, the Government of West Bengal and the particularly the Calcutta centric politicians and elitists who sip their morning cup of Darjeeling chai think all is well as long as they are served their morning cup of Darjeeling.”
The Gorkhas argue while all the districts in the state deserve equal treatment and attention by the Government, there are some who need and deserve more attention because they are special – Much like some parents having to care more and offer more attention to a special child, so that that special child could grow and support the parents in the future and make them proud and happy. Districts like Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri if developed to the fullest extent could support developmental activities in other districts and thereby add to the revenue and the general well being of the entire state itself.
In all the Calcutta centric politicians and elitists who read reports on newspapers and remind themselves of things they have heard or the experiences they have had during their childhood in Darjeeling and formulate their opinions based on the same fail to understand that much like the British they have become Colonialists looking down upon their own people as half educated, half rated people, who live as they do because that is all they are good for and who dream what they dream, because dreams are for dreaming… they have forgotten that what ails Darjeeling Hills is symptomatic of what is ailing the entire state.
The Calcutta Centric politicians and elitists must wake up and realize that Calcutta is not the Capital of the British Empire and they are not the British ruling over a colony. They must wake up and hear the cries of the mothers in Bankura, Midnapore, Hooghly, Nandigram, Murshidabad, Purulia, Nagarkata and Darjeeling. Whether these mothers are mourning the death of their son, who had been forced to join with the Maoists and rebel against the state, or a Gorkha to demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland or just an grief consumed man who could not take the atrocities of the Government and rose up to protest… before it is too late…
The Calcutta Centric politicians and elitists must get out of Calcutta and venture into the real Bengal. They must reach out to the people in the villages and tea gardens. All the people spread across the state be they Santhals, Oraons, Totos, Dhimals, Danuwars, Gorkhas and Bengalis and others must be given their rights, a chance to grow to their fullest potential so that they could serve the state and the nation and the entire humanity. Else it might be too late, and what we experience today might merely be the beginnings of a great storm, a storm of revolution, gathering itself in the horizon – A storm that could engulf not just a few parts of the state but the entire state!
(The Himalayan Beacon)