FOR THE Gorkha community in Mumbai, a recent portrayal of its members as watchmen in an e-commerce website advertisement was a reminder of how often their identity is reduced to a ‘caricature’.
“Due to our physical appearance, Gorkhas are easily identified and misconceived to be from the neighbouring country of Nepal. There is a misconception that all are Nepali citizens who have migrated to India. Many are Indians but are made to feel like foreigners due to lack of knowledge,” said Dhruva Pradhan, chairman of the Bhartiya Gorkha Ekta Sangh in Mumbai.
He says not many are aware that a Treaty of Sugauli was signed between the East India Company and the King of Nepal in 1815-16, which had led to one-third of Nepalese-controlled territory to be given to the British, and which continues to remain part of Indian territory.
The Gorkha population, residing in various northern and north-eastern states, has also settled in Mumbai for over five decades. The Ekta Sangh was formed as a socio-cultural welfare organisation in 2002 with an approximate number of over a lakh Gorkhas who currently live in Mumbai.
Rohit Pradhan, the secretary of the Ekta Sangh, says that on the streets of the city, Gorkhas are often asked if they are from Nepal. “This could be due to ignorance or lack of geographical knowledge. But, when it is done by established entities in popular culture like the recent advertisement, it seems like a deliberate attempt,” he said. The members are now in the process of preparing a blueprint to be distributed to television, film and advertisement production houses, political parties and government organisations elaborating on the history of the community in India and its contribution to various fields including the economy, sports and the defence of the country.
The members also organise annual cultural programmes and celebration of Dashain (Dussehra) and Tihar (Diwali) in the city to ensure that the younger generation does not lose touch with their culture.
Another issue that the community faces is the lack of a shelter for members coming from other states to the city for medical care.
“When I first came to the city in 1989, I did not know anyone from the community. Many Gorkhas from Darjeeling would come to the city to Tata Memorial Hospital for cancer treatment. They would have nowhere to stay. Some states have their own bhavans like Assam Bhavan, Meghalaya Bhavan, where first timers coming to the city for medical care, education, employment can stay. No such facility exists for Gorkhas,” Dhruva said.
He said that for a year now the community has set up a centre in Kurla for cancer patients coming to the city for treatment but they have not kept it limited to Gorkhas alone.
The members plan to approach state government authorities for a Gorkha Bhavan or an allotment of land for its construction.