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

Writes Tikendra Kumar Chhetry
Department of Peace and Conflict Studies
Sikkim University
E-mail ID: tikendrameets@gmail.com

Let two stories be placed in the beginning of this part of ongoing series pertaining to the ground reality of the Gorkhas in the country.

“In the western corner of our village, there once upon a time was Kaushik Sir’s residence. Our village lies in the interiors of the district, Chirang. Before the formation of Chirang district this village was under the Bongaigaon district. Being an interior, it had always been a safe haven for the extremists. We had to feed them and lodge them often. It was in the year 1988, a group of extremists reached Kaushik sir’s home in the evening and asked for food and a night’s stay. Kaushik sir did not have the option but to oblige. Unknowingly, a boy named Shyam Bhandari from the neighbouring village reached the sir’s house. When he found the group of the extremists in the house, Shyam left the house abruptly. He came to me and slept with my son after a casual talk. Next day, early in the morning, the group left the house. But on the way, there was an encounter with the Army and two of its members were killed by the Army.

After a couple of the days, a group of extremists reached Kaushik Sir’s house and assaulted him, accusing of informing the Army through Shyam Bhandari. Kaushik Sir refused to accept the allegation. The group suddenly spread throughout the village. None of the villagers knew what was happening. After a while we heard the words “got him”, “got him”...“he is here” and there was silence all around. A sudden gunshot broke the silence. In our place such instances hardly surprises anyone. Next morning we found the bullet riddle body of Shyam Bhandari on the northern end of the village with a piece of written paper warning “this is the result for being an army spy”. 

We understood they suspected that Shyam had passed the information that caused the encounter. But, we knew Shyam was not a spy. He was an ordinary boy who regularly visited our village for a casual gossip with his friends. In fact, it is like a convention in the parts of our world for many other youths to visit neighbouring village after dinner to meet friends. We knew, neither he was an enemy to miscreant nor their target nor he had any interest on their mission. But an unfortunate co-incidence led to his death. Next day the news reporting was such ...a migrant boy from Nepali speaking community was shot death by an unknown extremist group due to some misunderstanding between extremist group and migrants’ family... the news further emphasized – Foreign Migrants’ families are growing safer hideout for the extremist groups in the interior villages in Assam... After the news spread, police started to raid our villages. Torture remained unabated from both the sides, Police and extremist group. Now the question arises- who actually was Shyam and more importantly was he a migrant?

Shyam was not any migrant boy. He was son of retired soldier from another village in our district. His grandfather was a grazier permitted for same village under the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation Act (ALRA) 1886 during colonial administration (ALRA will be dealt in depth in the other upcoming Parts of this series). After the news spread, instead of proper investigation and governmental assistance to victim’s family, the other villagers were charged by the administration as if all Nepali speaking villagers were illegal foreign migrants. We had to produce our documents again and again even on the days Badadasain, the most important day in the year, so as to prove our identity. But if we dig out the history and our reality, our history in the village is older than the history of present administration system in this district, this state and in fact, this country itself. It is in the fitness of things to mention that our ancestors had all protection in this village during the days of colonial administration under ALRA, 1886.

Now the Second story... It was an evening some day in the year 1987. There were reports of attacks and killings of Nepali speakers in Jowai, Meghalaya and hence security personnel were deployed to control the situation and I was part of it. Jowai was the first location where Nepali speakers were the victim of the so called ‘inside-outside’ syndrome. While in duty we suddenly came across a crying baby in one of the corners of the Jowai market. Beside him lay another baby... motionless. As we approached them we realized that the one on the ground had died. The baby was still crying and as we extended a helping hand. The baby realizing that we had come to help said something in his vernacular which we could not decipher. We brought him to the camp where we came to know that he was a Nepali child. Somehow we could manage a person who could interpret us the reason as to why the baby was crying. The interpreter explained that the dead baby was the elder brother of the crying baby. The parents of the babies had gone to the coal mine for work leaving them alone. That particular day, an attack on the Nepelese took place all of sudden, in the day the attack on Nepali speakers took place. Members from the community were attacked wherever they were found.
It was the second day that the death incident had taken place; their parents hadn’t returned yet. At the evening of the first day of attack some attackers came and kicked the elder baby. Both cried the whole night and daythe day after but nobody came to their rescue in fear of the attackers... We kept baby with us for few days and later, he was given to one the Gorkha family who still safe and agreed to take up his custody. Then i tried to find out the reasons behind the attack on the Nepalese. I read local news papers and conversed with the local people. The community was alleged as migrant and thus were mercilessly targeted. Even babies were not spared...

Now the question arises - what is the essence of these stories? Why have I started with the two anecdotes instead of building upon the argument that i initiated in the part-I of this series? Let me clarify. But before that first I would like you to acquaint with the fact that the first story is an excerpt of a story described by a respondent to a researcher who has carried and completed his thesis on Gorkhas of Assam few years back. This is only one of the many field narratives those this writer read in the mentioned thesis. These stories are tiny examples of visible pictures that in what condition large number of Gorkha population is living in their own country as No Land’s Wo/men since years.
The second story is the outcome of my interaction with the security personnel who was deployed during the anti-Nepali attacks in Meghalaya in 1987, while I was on the way to Delhi in 2013. The interaction initiated with a newspaper that I was reading which contained the news about the Gorkhas of western Assam, which my co-passenger, the army personal happened to notice. The news referred to was about the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) which issued a notice against the Gorkhas living in Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), western part of 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 the payment may cause forceful eviction or 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 in public when he failed to pay the amount fixed by extremist outfit in Chirang district, about which a mention has been made in the part-I of this series. I recall this story when the crisis of Gorkhas in Manipur was covered by the local media in Gorkhas populace area and at the same time the incidence of Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian baby, whose body was found on the sea shore after he died along with his mother and his brother while migrating from his native country Syria, after the ongoing Syrian crisis. This news though was covered locally, nationally and globally. The news intrigued me and i could not help without relating it with the second story that I have mentioned. But i don’t know if this juxtaposition is justifiable or sensible. Sensible or not, yet I would like to.
Gorkhas So far...: The No Land’s Wo/men in India (Part-II)
North East India
I am unable to say whether the case of those babies (wherein one died) discussed in second story is similar to Aylan Kurdi or not. But the similarity I find here is that both Aylan Kurdi and the Gorkha child met with death. A dissimilarity here however is- Aylan Kurdi died not in his native country, Syria but while trying to migrate to Europe with his family. On the other hand, the Gorkha child who died in the second story, died as a migrant in his own country, the country where he was born and brought up. Another evident difference lies in the fact that Kurdi baby died while he was in the company of his parents while the Gorkha child died in wait for his parents, who never ever returned. None could tell the fate of his parents; whether they were killed in the coal mine as many others were.

These stories may create confusion initially but, a deep insight into it definitely brings the relevance of the argument in progress. The argument on this series was started on the backdrop of the recent crisis among Gorkhas in Manipur created by the three controversial bill passed in Manipur Legislative Assembly (MLA). The bills passed in MLA are pro-indigenous people. The Inner Line Permit (ILP) [the details of which will be dealt in depth in forthcoming series] which is related to the Bills seek to protect the socio-economic status of locals from unwanted encroachment from the non-locals. The ILP, however has caused a sense of phobia among the Gorkhas in the region. But my point is- Why do the Gorkhas need to feel threatened by it; after all they are to be one of the stakeholders of these bills as they are indigenous community whose history smells the centuries old sweat that poured by their ancestors in Manipuri soil. So why the Gorkhas in the state has to panic over these bills, rather they have to be triumphant as to be protected.

Should the community which has a history older than 200 years in Manipur; the community which also settled with the formal approval from Manipuri King Maharaja Gambhir Singh, much before the state became a federal unit of present India; the community who protected Monarchical Manipur from the invasion of Burmese intruders and troops; the community of the descendant of ‘Victoria Paltan’, later the community who were given grazing permit by British colonial administration in the state be scared after the recent bills passed by their native state assembly?

Should the community for whom a long reserve area, in between Sekmai and Kangpokpi in 1915 and partially extending it later to include Maram, Siddim Pukhri and lrang Part I & II (under No. 2 Para V. Durbar Resolution 1, dated 17 February 1915) was created during the period of First World War be panic over ILP? Should the community members who study the Meiteilon throughout childhood, the community members who can speak Meiteilon, Kuki, Hmar many more other better than Nepali, live with Naga friends recite Ougri Sheireng, listen to Khamba Thoibi with awe, enjoy the colours of Yaoshang, celebrate Lai Haraoba with equal enthusiasm, and cannot live without eromba, ngathongba and ooti as daily staple be feared of bills which tend to protect people living in Manipur since history? Ordinary answer may arise here is NO. So, on what ground the Gorkhas in Manipur who claim to be the descendants of such deep history in the state as well as stakeholder of socio-cultural synthesis are feeling the crisis of existence after three bills were passed in MLA and got afloat in political circle in Manipur? What is validity of psycho-phobia and anxiety among Gorkhas in Manipur after the said issue? To substantiate the argument in this regard, I have furnished few very recent cases those took place against Gorkhas (leading to their insecurity) in country in Part-I of this series. The subsequent series will try to probe into this pertinent issue of the Gorkhas with the history of anti-Gorkha policy in the country; how the community was attacked and deliberately tried to evict in the name of ‘foreigners’, ‘outsiders’, ‘social burden’ etc. All these and much more will be excavated in part-III.

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

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