A Guide To Gorkhaland

Gorkhaland Demonstration In Kurseong

India Is Shown Shaded Brown - The State Of West Bengal Is Shown Edged Green - Darjeeling Is Shown By The Red Dot

Independence and Partition
Before India gained its independence, the area that is now Bangladesh was part of British-controlled India.

Since independence and the partition of India into two countries (India and Pakistan) in 1947, the north east of India has only been connected to the rest of the country by a narrow ribbon of land that runs between Bangladesh and Nepal.

A Side Note About Bangladesh
As a side note, in 1947 Bangladesh became a province of Pakistan and was named East Bengal. It was later renamed East Pakistan and then, following a dispute with West Pakistan in 1971, it broke free and became Bangladesh.

I haven’t indicated where Pakistan is on the map, but if you are not sure, it is way over to the west of India. In other words, before Bangladesh broke free, Pakistan was a country in two parts – with over one thousand one hundred miles (1,800km) between the two parts. Is it any wonder that Bangladesh became an independent country?

West Bengal
Whatever its history, the fact is that the Indian state of West Bengal covers both a large lowland area around the state capital Calcutta and a highland area in the north – with the two connected by a narrow ribbon of land around Siliguri.

Darjeeling
The road from Siliguri climbs steadily to Kurseong, which is about halfway to Darjeeling. From then onwards the road continues its upward climb but it is in a noticeably worse condition, full of large potholes.

Everything about Siliguri reminds you that you are in India. In contrast to that, walking around Darjeeling and other towns in the Darjeeling region we get the impression that we are not in India. The people are different – mostly of Nepali descent, with a sprinkling of Tibetans.

Compared to other places we have visited in India, the people seem more ascetic, a little more stoic, less exuberant and, except for the monks from the monasteries, wear much less colorful everyday dress.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised: The people of Darjeeling and the the region known as the Dooars that runs east from Darjeeling, consider themselves a separate linguistic and ethnic group from the lowland area.

Thus the majority language around Darjeeling is Nepali and the predominant religion is Buddhism.

We are told that Nepali is similar to Hindu, and that the two languages are mutually intelligible to some extent.

We are also told that Nepali is quite different from Bengali, which is the official first language of West Bengal – and therein lies the problem.

The Official Languages Of West Bengal
Nepali is an official second language of West Bengal, but it runs a poor second to Bengali. As it stands at the moment, a Bengali speaker from Calcutta could enter university or take a government job being able to speak only Bengali, but a Nepali speaker would have to show proficiency in Bengali.

And there are only two universities in India running courses where the language of tuition is Nepali.

Statehood
The people of Darjeeling and the Dooars believe they would do a lot better economically if they had control over their own budget and their own political decision-making.

As a result, they want separate statehood.

The Proposed State Of Gorkhaland - Shown Shaded Green On The Map

They have been asking for this since 1907 when they made their first representation to the British, who controlled India at the time. They have continued to make representations and demands for statehood since India gained its independence in 1947.

Signs and Signboards
There are signs for Gorkhaland – the name of the state that the people of the area are asking for – everywhere. Almost every road sign and shop and hotel signboard has the name Gorkhaland painted or tacked on to it somewhere.

On the way to Kurseong our shared taxi had a flat tire. The driver stopped at a village and the mechanic repaired the leak and pumped up the tire. The Gorkhaland sign on the shed is typical of signs all over the region. [The small amount of tread left on the tire may be typical also.]

Gorkhaland Sign

Gorkhaland
The main group of Nepalis in the Darjeeling region are Gorkhas. According to some sources they invaded from Nepal in the 1700s. According to other sources they came when the British were granted part (and then subsequently annexed a further part) of the area from Sikkim [Sikkim is the state immediately to the North of Darjeeling].

To the British they are known as Gurkhas. There is a British Army Brigade of Gurkhas today and Gurkhas have been known for their bravery since the days of the British Indian Army during the pre-independence days of India.

That is the background.

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings
Yet another meeting to discuss the Gorkhas demand for statehoold was held in Delhi on March 18th.

On the day of the meeting we saw a demonstration in Darjeeling. The demonstrators passed by in groups – well dressed women holding parasols against the sun, children in their school uniforms.

What struck me was the number of saris and shalwar kameez. Where were these fine outfits on a normal day? Were they middle class women who didn’t normally come into town? Had the demonstrators saved their finest outfits for this special occasion? It seemed so.

Gorkhaland Demonstration In Darjeeling

Kurseong
We also saw a demonstration in Kurseong – a hill town about 15 miles (25km) from Darjeeling – which we were visiting to see a tea factory in operation.

Again the demonstrators were dressed very well, as though for a special occasion, and were very dignified.

Demonstration In Kurseong

Demonstration In Kurseong - Closeup

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    Comments

    1. maakoora says

      Dooars is not hilly. The map of proposed Gorkhaland as shown here shows the state of Sikkim also included.

      Rest of the perceptions are correct.

    2. Joan says

      Thanks for the capsule history of the region. To a westerner, it’s a very tangled web that seemingly can never be untangled, to the detriment of the native people.

      • David Bennett says

        Well the British during their imperial days had a track record of laying down national and internal boundaries in such a way that problems ensued subsequent to their departure.

        Such was the skill that I wonder whether there was a ‘Department for Messing Up Countries’ somewhere deep in Whitehall.

    3. Rajiv Pradhan says

      Haha…That was a good one. Well, I hope that the India government realizes its responsibilities to stabilize the political condition of the region, and acts on the same sooner…

    4. Bishal Rai says

      “Thus the majority language around Darjeeling is Nepali and the predominant religion is Buddhism.”

      I would like to correct you out here : The predominant religion in Darjeeling is Hindu followed by Buddhism.

    5. Sagar Khawas says

      India and West Bengal Govt. should realize that due to the fact that people living in Darjeeling and dooars region speak a different language and have different custom – they are separate linguistic and ethnic group.

      The people living here are suffering under the corrupted government of West Bengal for a long time.

      The Gorkhas are fighting in the front to save the nation but they are regarded as foreigners by Indian people.

      The demand for Gorkhaland should be fulfilled. It is the only way to save the identity of Gorkhas in India.

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