Gorkhas So far...: The No Land’s Wo/men in India (Part-I)

Writes Tikendra Kumar Chhetry for Indian Gorkhas
Department of Peace and Conflict Studies
Sikkim University

Since few days there have been reports of fear and psycho-phobia of uncertainty of existence among Gorkhas in Manipur. Since the day three bills passed in Manipur Legislative Assembly (MLA), Gorkhas of the state are in constant fear and uncertainty. There are reports that community leaders from the state are approaching to state Government of Manipur and the Government of India (GoI) to make governments aware of the impact of bills on the Gorkha community in the state. So far, Bimal Gurung, Chief of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) leading a delegation has already met the Minister of State (MoS) Home Affairs, and other ministers of GoI to brief about the matter that pertains to the Gorkha community in Manipur. Similarly there is huge mobility among Gorkha leaders in Assam in regards the issue. Moreover the leaders from the community appeal all Gorkha organizations across the country to support the community of Manipur at this situation.
Gorkhas So far...: The No Land’s Wo/men in India
North-East India
There is definitely a space for the curiosity that what do these bills contain which generate fear of insecurity to existence among the Gorkha community members in Manipur. These three bills passed in the MLA are “Revenue and Land Reform (seventh amendment) Bill 2015”, “Manipur Shops (second amendment) Bill 2015” and the “Protection of Manipur Peoples Bill 2015”.  Among these three bills the third one mentioned here is creating a lot panic among the Gorkhas living in the state. Now question may arise here that why the Gorkhas of Manipur are feared of this bill when they claim that they are historic community living since centuries, since the monarchial days of the state. Should the community which produces evidences of their historic presence in the state, even with one of the historic King’s authorization since centuries back be scared of such bill rather which defends the existence of people living in the state? Possible answer which may arise here is NO. Because the community which talks about the evidential proof of its historic root of existence should not be scared of the provision of the bill as it inherit the interest of bona-fide people of the state. But the cases and situations with Gorkhas in India are always much different. When the question of the existence of Gorkha community arise in any corner of the country, the historical evidences, constitutional rights, realities of the past get other twist juxtapose to irrelevant. There is deep history of the existence of Gorkha community in the country which is more or less, so far, not unknown to most of local, state and central administrations in India but such facts are often deliberately ignored. When the issue of constitutional rights for Gorkhas, the bona fide citizens of the country floats on the political surface, community members are often reduced to be ‘outsiders’, ‘foreigners’, anti-national etc.., Hence, in this regards, the fear of uncertainty to existence that the Gorkhas of Manipur are raising now takes delivery of significance.

The bill mentioned here passed in MLA determines the year 1951 as the benchmark year to find out the indigenous and Non-ingenious people in Manipur. Good to hear. But will the Gorkha community of Manipur be recognized as indigenous despite they produce authentic history of their existence in the state? The stories of suppression and eviction of Gorkhas in India, particularly in Northeast in the past may not allow answering YES. Throughout the history of post colonial India, Gorkhas are labeled, tagged as ‘encroachers’, ‘outsiders’, ‘foreigners’ or to say all such tags which may reduce them to non-Indian who dwell illegally in this country. In doing so, not only the non-state or anti-state elements but also most often, the people in power in administration try to contribute equally in this respect. Let us not got much past to substantiate argument here, portrayal of few recent happenings may bring the possible calculation that in what status the Gorkhas in India, particularly in this region are accounted for.

It was the month of May, 2013, National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), an extremist outfit in Assam issued a notice addressing Gorkha community living in Chirang and Kokrajhar district of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), Assam. The notice of the outfit groups read that ‘all Nepali speakers living in Bodo dominated areas should pay Rupees ten lakhs to the outfit group per household at par as a text levied on foreign nationals for the corresponding year’. The notice had warned that failure in making payment may cause forceful eviction following an extreme action against all Nepali speakers from the region right after ten days of the commencement of circulation of notice. A person named Kul Bahadur Giri was shot a public when he failed to pay the amount of money that was fixed by extremist outfit in Chirang district.

On August 8, 2013, a Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) of Kalimpong sub-division of Darjeeling District in West Bengal advised his Chief Minister of state to selectively strike off the name of a section of Gorkha population from the voters’ lists. He advised that Non-Indian Nepali speaking population living in Siliguri (including Dooars and Terai), Kalimpong, Kurseong and finally Darjeeling should be patiently and selectively identified on basis of Census of 1931 to send them back to Nepal to cause a natural death of Gorkhaland demand. In advising Chief Minister he undermines the history of region that how it turn from a historic frontier to present space in country and, bares the legitimacy of nationality of the bona fide citizens. He advises to instrumentalize the governmentality tool to negate the nationality of citizens who exist in post colonial space of country. Moreover, one of minister from the then west Bengal ministry brought his slogan of ‘Gorkhas Go Nepal, Go China, vacate West Bengal’, against which so far, no action has been taken.

Similarly, “notice to quit”, a warning with deadline was released by a Meghalaya based banned underground outfit Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HMLC) against the indigenous Gorkhas/Nepali speakers living in Meghalaya. The report on “Shillong times” dated April 17, 2014 reads, “…The banned Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) has asked people from the Nepali speaking community to quit from the entire districts of Khasi and Jaintia Hills, and especially from Langpih, with immediate effect, on the ground that “the illegal Nepali foreign settlers in Langpih. These were recent instances but not new in nature to put in example for, how the stereotype of Foreigner-ness have been the source for disapproval to Indian nationality  and threat of eviction to Gorkha community in North eastern region repeatedly.

The Gorkha community even in Sikkim, where the community is considered to be majority raised displeasure in this regards. A political upheaval in Sikkim was noticeable during the Months of July and August in 2013. The federal unit which is popularly branded as the most peaceful state in violence torn Northeastern region had witnessed episodic mobilization through rallies, meetings, other sorts agitations (peaceful in nature) led by various socio-political organizations. The language used in petition that was filed in Supreme by an association of minority business community had caused feeling of disgrace among indigenous population of state, particularly among the Gorkhas/Nepalis and, hence there were agitations against it. The association which claims to represent the settler business community residing in Sikkim for generation since long before the amalgamation of state in present India in 1975 and  allegedly tagged Gorkhas/Nepalis as ‘foreigners’ in its petition.

As this has been mentioned above, there is validity in fear of threat to existence among Manipuri Gorkhas in relation to the bill being discussed. They also share and experience similar allegation, stereotype and recurrent suppressions on Gorkhas in region. As it was quoted in a report in Sikkim Express, a Gangtok based daily, dated September 5, 2015, the minority Gorkhas in Manipur (population around fifty to sixty thousands) are often considered as ‘outsiders’, non-Manipuris sidelining all the historicity of their existence. In such situation(s), how the Gorkha of Manipur may convince themselves that their indigenousness will be protected. How they may rely on this bill that, it will respect the history which reads their existence in the state. Not only the history of much past, will this bill, if it gets approval of governor of the state respect the provisions of all existing laws (Internal treaties, bilateral relation with neighbouring countries) of India which defends bona-fide citizenship rights of Gorkhas in the country? Let us wait and see with the passing time(s), till now; the bill is still awaiting the consent/approval of the Governor, the agent of GoI in Manipur. Only time may say that how long Gorkhas will have to be No Land’s Wo/men in India.

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