STRANGER IN MY OWN LAND

GorkhalandDarjeeling - can it sustain thus?

Writes: Sangita

“My father was an affluent businessman in Amritsar. His brother exhorted him to relocate to Lahore where the rest of the family were based. In those days, it was easy to move from one city to another – and so we did. … Two months later we were back in Amritsar, standing in queues for food and sleeping in tents. We had become refugees in our own hometown.”

When Mr Kapahi Sr. told me about his family’s post Partition story, it was difficult for me to comprehend what they went through. Imagine becoming outsiders in your backyard!

Well, those days are not far away when our own people will find themselves in a similar situation.

Darjeeling is no longer the same place I grew up in. Back then, everybody knew everybody, so much so that my father could trace any person back to his village and family just by asking a few questions – whether that person belonged to Kalimpong or Darjeeling. Without fail he would zero in with the precision that we now find only in Google Maps. “Falana ko ghar dekhin kahan parcha <how far from so-and-so’s house>?” he once asked a friend from Kalimpong when he was visiting me in Delhi. “Falana chai merai mama hunu huncha <so-and-so is my maternal uncle,” came the response!

Today, when I go back, I am surprised to see so many strangers settled in my own neighbourhood. There is an entire row called “Patna Line” – essentially masons and carpenters from Islampur area. They used to be seasonal workers when I was growing up in Darjeeling. Now they are permanent residents.

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Exodus

I was forced to leave Darjeeling because the agitation of the ’80s played havoc with students’ lives. My own brother spent two extra years in college when “victimization by NBU” resulted in entire classes failing to make it to the next grade. In the years that followed, going outside to complete one’s education became the norm. It was a sort of unintentional brain drain. The youth migrated to the metros or even abroad in droves. And seldom came back. In hindsight, it was a catastrophic exodus.

First went the youth; then went the jobs. Strikes in the hills were used as an excuse by the administration to move offices to Siliguri. Hill-based government employees grudgingly relocated, or commuted. I once shared a cab with a gentleman who travels to Siliguri every morning and returns home at night. But that is his job, one might argue. How about commuting to Siliguri to get minor official work done? Not a pleasant thought, given the lack of efficiency with which they work. Recently, I had a harrowing experience at the regional passport office (RPO) in Siliguri, where two extremely rude officials not only wasted half my day, but also treated me like they would treat an uneducated, lesser being. Would we have to endure such behavior if the RPO had been located in Darjeeling town? Worryingly, there is no doubt that new recruitments into these relocated offices will not be filled by people from Darjeeling. Our people will continue to suffer the heat and the unpleasantness. Not to mention depleting job prospects for the youth.

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While the youth and jobs have already flown out of town, there is a new trend – partially relocating to flats in Siliguri. Ask any of these thousands of families whether they feel at home in Siliguri, or if they are made to feel welcome by the locals at all? Therein lies the answer to where we stand.

Future tense

There will come a time when our people will become minorities in our own home ground. Labourers in bustees have already been replaced by seasonal workers who come during harvest season. Local carpenters, masons and blue collar workers have been completely replaced by migrants from the borders close to Bangladesh. There will come a time when unviable minimum wages will force tea garden workers out, only to be replaced by outsiders. And there are disturbing reports of Rohingyas being encouraged to make our hills their settlement.

In states like Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh, outsiders cannot buy property. This not only helps retain the demographic fabric, but keeps intact and alive the language, culture and traditions of the place. Sadly, one cannot say the same about the future of Darjeeling.

Wake up, people! Stop selling your properties to outsiders. Else our future generations may not have a place to call home and land to dig roots in.


6 Comments on "STRANGER IN MY OWN LAND"

  1. Why Darjeeling needs to be FREE AGAIN from Bengal-
    Darjeeling was an independent region and never part of Bengal until 1954 Absorbed Area Act, absorbed in the pretext of better administration – Darjeeling didn’t learn from Punjab! People are not strong enough with lack of self-belief under pressure of time and gave up agriculture, domestic industries, leased out their hotels-motels to Bengalis & Marwahari’s- all fell flat. West Bengal’s strategy on taking over Darjeeling is not today’s Agenda, it is a pre-meditated plan.

  2. Devi Mukhia | May 24, 2018 at 1:43 PM | Reply

    It’s good article but pls add Maobadi Goan to it below Sunday goan. Many Nepalese citizen running away from Nepal during disturbance in Nepal have settled and become citizen of Darjeeling. More are coming after earthquake. It’s not easier to segregate them as they look like us and speak like us. More and more are settling and making us second class citizen instead. Strict and routine check of population will help our pahar to sustain. Outsiders mean outsiders just because we have same culture that does not mean a Nepal citizen wipe out real Darjeelingay.
    Those Islampuris can be easily traced out from Crowd, rohingyas and be questioned. But our real threat to ever rising population and dwindling resources is in fact due the alien that look like us.

  3. @Devi Mukhia,Rather than the millions of other outsiders who have settled in our ancestral lands taking over our jobs and homes and are about to turn us into a minority,you chose to highlight the few people who are our blood brothers who may have come in due to natural calamities and other hardships.This ostrich like mentality is one of the reason for the mess we are in.Aarish nagarnu Darjeelingay chai 100 barsa ma ke po hasil gare siwai afhnai manchhe ko jara kaatnu bahek.

  4. Arun Tamang | May 9, 2019 at 9:14 PM | Reply

    The true blood of Darjeeling is working in foreigh state and the foreign invasion from Nepal are occupied our land. They come empty handed then gradually they start to claim our land. I have a neighbour like that in Sonada, tomorrow they are playing to make Newar village.My Apa have to leave his Janum Bhumib in order to feed his family members. Because of timely dispute of land boundaries and we seldom visit our motherland we have to sell our Grandparents land to my own Tamang brother. So my dear citizen of Darjeeling don’t sell your land to our foreign brothers. Because of them, our own country man doubt our Nationaliy. Jai Gorkha.

  5. Rudra Bhowmick | May 13, 2021 at 1:09 PM | Reply

    When you guys move to the metro cities and enjoy each and every benefit including quality higher education, jobs in MNCs, advanced medical & health services, purchase of properties as per your choice and convenience over there, then how can you vouch for the mentality of restricting the people from those cities who are willing to settle as the residents of the hills. Its like encashing all the facilities from the developed plain regions for the purpose of making your own life hassle free and prosperous and when the same people from those cities from whom you benefited seek your brotherhood and cooperation for settling down in your place, suddenly your narrow minded love for your howetown emerges and you label others as “Outsiders”. Why do you try to be the guardians of the mountains or better saying nature. You only have the right on the piece of land you earned or inherited legally. Knowingly or unknowingly, you are promoting more and more discrimination. Just because you or your ancestors spent a relatively longer period of time doesn’t make you the sole authority of the entire mountainous region. Basically you want every good thing to be yours only. You want to stabilize your personal economy by earning from cities and when your agenda of being financially secured gets fulfilled you want to get fresh air of mountains and live your your happily ever after. Your mindset is synonymous to the word “hypocrisy” that too at its best. In reality, more than the love for your hometown, its the matter of social security that you want to ensure through retaining the dominance of a particular caste or creed in a particular area. You are just serving the purpose of your individual interests and well-being in the name of your love for home town. When you can’t accept the so-called outsiders wholeheartedly in your place then don’t also go to the outside world for your own needs. You are the people who evoke the caste and tribal-non tribal sentiments every now and then and infuse bitterness in the society and it is because of you to a considerable extent that the Gorkhas and the Indian Nepalis who are very much our own have to face racial statements in other parts of the country.

  6. Rudra Bhowmick | May 13, 2021 at 3:04 PM | Reply

    I was pretty sure that my post will be deleted and that’s exactly what you did. You are a bunch of irrational people who don’t have the guts or courage to face logical or substantive criticism or even publish comments because you fear that other readers might get influenced and support the opposite views against your wishes. Huh ! Such intolerant you are. You live with a mindset that whatever you think or demand is right even if others have valid points of contradiction on the issue. You know what, you have to shout for Gorkhaland, you have to publish articles in support for your illogical demands, you have to agitate on streets and social media because ” you” the people who try to restrict the peoples from other regions from entering and settling in Darjeeling are the “Outsiders” in its true sense. Even you know from within that Gorkhaland is a completely impractical concept to vouch for, atleast in the present scenario and the Central Government is never going to pay any such serious heed to your demands. You hardly contribute to the GDP of the country and on top that you want other states or castes to provide you constant fund for running all the expenses of the day-to-day administration of your desired new state. You are “Stranger in your own land” because instead of thinking of ways to provide better life and overall development of your people you are more focused on fighting with other communities and trying to establish your exclusive authority on the mountains. Your are just concerned about the majority-minority game. People like you belong to nowhere and as far as land ownership rights are concerned, every resident of Darjeeling have the equal right on every apart on West Bengal in all aspects and vice versa and it will continue to be like that only.

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