“Are you from Nepal”?
I don’t think any Indian Gorkha has been as perturbed by this question as I had been, when I had just started my new job at a distant foreign land. Till today, this is a question that leaves me feeling agitated and restless.
Back in the day, my pressure would shoot up and I would become indignant. But then again, I would calm myself down, attributing the question to the lack of knowledge and ignorance of the one asking it.
Where I work, you will find people from all the continents across the globe, so naturally we would end up speaking to one another, and on a regular basis I would end up feeling humiliated with such questions, and even today, I feel the same. But these days, I guess, I am used to such questions and innuendoes; I have become immune to them. I don’t feel angry anymore, but the hurt remains.
“No, I am from India,’ my answer would often leave then astounded, flabbergasted even, and a series of questions would follow.
“India, which place?”
“Wow! Darjeeling? Beautiful place… Darjeeling Team Toy Train, Cold Weather… right?” they would gush.
I used to feel so proud when that happened. Darjeeling in geographical extent is tiny, perhaps a of a size of millet when you compare with the rest of the world, but the name recognition, and instant connect to the place that others felt, always left me feeling a little happy, and a lot proud.
But not all people are the same. Some would pounce at me with sharp hurtful questions, “why are you lying?” they would inquire. Whenever that happened, I used to feel tempted to shove my passport down their throat, till they digested the fact, I was an Indian. Whenever people looked at me with suspicion, when I proudly declared “I am an Indian”, thousand questions would rankle my mind, and I used to wonder, when will these ignorant lot realize that, in a country that takes pride in our “unity in diversity, can’t one of those diverse race of people be Gorkhalis? Should all people with squinty eyes always belong to Nepal, Korea, China, Japan?”
The irony of it all is that, more often than not when I said or say “I am an Indian,” those doubting me are from India. It always left and still leaves me feeling like someone has pierced my heart with a needle.
The Questions that rankle me
World famous Darjeeling tea, World Heritage Darjeeling Toy Train, and the pleasant weather, people knew all this, what they didn’t know was that in the Northern most part of West Bengal in India, was where the home for the Gorkhas. Their ignorance would leave me flummoxed. But more than questioning them, I would end up questioning myself –
- Why do people always question the nationality of Gorkhas who are spread all across India?
- Though states in India are formed on linguistic basis, why was a state for Gorkhas never formed?
- Has the contributions and sacrifices made by Gorkha to protect mother India gone unacknowledged?
- Has there been no account or acknowledgement of Gorkhas in nation building till date?
- Have the Gorkhas not contributed towards unity, fraternity and national unanimity of mother India?
- Are there no capable, educated, qualified Gorkhas who can represent our community at a national level and represent a national party?
- Are Gorkhas still bereft of intellectualism, because of which we are still struggling?
- Are Gorkhas still inept at organizing and governing ourselves?
- Has our community not been able to produce a learned, capable and sincere leader? Or is it that despite having capable leaders we have always allowed hypocrites to take over?
- Are we intellectually and educationally backward?
- Is our educational system unpractical?
- Are we lacking in basic political knowledge? Are we unaware of our basic rights and duties?
- Will we continue being happy being labelled as ‘braves’, instead of being called wise?
- Are our youths passive and unambitious? Or is it that they lack role models they can emulate?
- What are the reasons for our youths migrating to bigger cities?
- Will our people in rural areas, especially those in tea gardens, always have to continue living their lives in abject poverty? Are there no long-term solutions or remedies?
- Till when will our families living in tea gardens continue to live a life of poverty and starvation?
- Till when will our people have to rush to pluck tea leaves at the stroke of sunlight, irrespective of rain and snowfall?
- Will the dreams and aspirations of our people ever get fulfilled?
- Will our children ever get to live a life of equal, just and prosperous life like that of our fellow citizens?
So on and so forth, I am left with a million more questions, so many, that they may never get answered.
Century Old Aspirations
Since 1907 the demand for a homeland for the Gorkhas – “Gorkhaland” has remained unfulfilled for over a century, all that our fellow citizens have done is extend their sympathies, their support has always been lacking.
We have witnessed numerous ups and downs, highs and lows in our national politics, but the sorry condition of Gorkhas in India seems to have remained steady – uncared for and ignored. With changing times, our people may have changed their lifestyle but the mentality of our community to bow down to the “Masters” of the day, and doing their bidding has sadly remained unchanged. Our identity as a community, our diversity, and our culture remains more or less hidden from rest of our fellow citizens. You won’t find anything about our community in the school textbooks, I am not even sure if anyone has ever attempted to have our community, our culture, our geography, our food habits, or the leading lights of our society featured in school curriculums? In the world’s largest democracy India, which is also ethno-culturally the most diverse, however, we get to read about almost all other people, culture, their living style, their food habit and their proud ancestors, in plenty.
Generations of Gorkhas have awaited the day when we will all get to walk with our heads held high, but that’s all we have done – await. Our attitude has always been “ए भैहाल्छ जीन्दगी चलीरहेको छ – never mind, life is going on.” We do not even have the insight to reflect on the fact that our attitude has forced us to live life like that of a caged parrot. Let’s not even talk about ‘consciousness’- that’s foreign to our community, we don’t have one.
The Borders Crossed Us
The Gorkhas have been living in these lands centuries before the Sugauli Treaty of 1816 between the British and Nepal. The fact that we didn’t cross the border, but the border crossed us in known to one and all. Yet, those in power and rest of the nation have hypocritically time and again labelled us ‘immigrants’. They have turned deaf to all our sufferings.
I wonder what gives the politicians of all hue and colour to label us the way they please. A woman who is trying to win the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat labelled us as ‘terrorist’, yet today our people have turned out in large number to celebrate a candidate she sent. The audacity of a sitting MP who was elected on Gorkha votes calls our politicians, demanding a local candidate, as being from “Nepal”, leaves us numb with rage. Yes, our socio-cultural roots are in Nepal, and we share the same blood, but like I have said earlier, we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us. We became Indian, no one bothered to ask us where we want to belong. We are as Indian as the Prime Minister of our great nation, but sadly, we are always seen through a lens clouded by racism, we are belittled and humiliated time and again. Come elections, everyone and their grandmother remember us, and seduce us to vote for them. Are we merely a vote bank?
Is our identity secured by our votes?
Never, had it been the case, our Gorkha brothers and sisters across India wouldn’t have to suffer racism in our nation. Our squinty eyes wouldn’t evoke the label of “Chinese”. Our daughters wouldn’t be perceived as ‘easy women’. We wouldn’t be questioned time and again if we are Indian or not?
As long as we remain a part of West Bengal, as long as our history, culture, language, and heritage remains suppressed, we will always continue to be questioned. I strongly feel that our identity as Indians will be cemented firmly only on the day when we have a state called ‘Gorkhaland’. Till then, all the documents that the government has provided us, as proof of our Indianness won’t have any significance.
‘Identity’ vs ‘Development’
Another thing, that has alarmed me is our Gorkha ‘Intellectuals’ and ‘Think Tanks’ say there is no difference between our ‘Identity Crisis’ and ‘Development’. They say if the hills develop, our community will gain ‘identity’ naturally. May be this is why, smart public, following the advice of smart intellectuals are busy accepting various ‘development boards’. Our intellectuals and politicians convinced Bengal what we need is ‘development’ and not securing our ‘identity,’ Bengal obliged happily, now every community has a development board of their own. Tragically, we have remained underdeveloped and we still suffer from ‘identity’ crisis.
There are hundreds of various tribes and sub-casts among Bengali community, Mamata has never bothered to give any development board to them. Why is she only forming these so called ‘development board’ for our hill people alone? The answer will be obvious to all. But have we ever bothered to question ourselves, or reflect on it?
Development Boards, GTA and other such bodies are all meant to bury the demand for Gorkhaland state, and everyone who run these development boards are aware of that, but their hypocrisy and greed doesn’t permit them to speak. They are walking on the ashes of our self-respect and our united ‘identity’ as Gorkhas. I agree, each sub-tribe should protect their culture, but building caste-specific community halls, and roads and jhora – will these funds provided by Bengal be enough to secure the future of our coming generations?
The Forgotten Youths
Shouldn’t our collective focus be on generating employment opportunities, so that our youths won’t have to leave our hills and migrate to bigger cities? Youths are the forbearers of the future of a community, yet due to massive youth migration, our community has its spine broken, we have become a disabled community that cannot stand on its two feet. Yet, no one – politicians, intellectuals, common folks have bothered to think about it.
With folded hands, I request one and all, please do not think that these semi-autonomous administrative bodies like GTA, or Development Boards are going to secure ‘The Lost Gorkha Identity’. Our identity will only be secured on the day our century old demand for a separate state called Gorkhaland is fulfilled.
A Scary Future
If we compromise today, thousands of Gorkha youths like me will be asked, not only in distant foreign lands, but also in our own country, “are you from Nepal”. They will always be looked upon with suspicion, and they will continue to be discriminated against.
Deprived of our existence and identity, our future generations will be forced to remain a second class citizen, who may fell cursed being born a Gorkha. They won’t have any option, other than internalize these humiliations, and we as their elders won’t have anything to bequest them, other than the sorry stories about how our people didn’t grow spine when we needed to, and how we sacrificed our ‘identity’ for a few pieces of silver.
It’s still not too late.
जाग!! Wake Up Gorkhas!!