Mangal Singh Rajput was not born a Gorkha,but he espoused the Gorkhaland cause young. Rajput,who set himself on fire last week demanding a separate state,is the first non-Gorkha to lay his life down for the cause.
He was brought up by a Nepali-speaking family in Jalpaiguri and Kalimpong,and married a Gorkha woman. His exact age is not clear. A garlanded photograph puts his birth year at 1966,which would make him 46 or 47. But the family that raised him says he was around five in 1973,which would make him 45 when he died. He was around 18 when he joined the Gorkhaland movement at its peak in 1986-87.
From age 10,he grew up under the care of Neema Wangchu Bhutia,68,a retired central Inteligence Branch officer. Before that,Bhutias sister Tshering Chenden had raised Mangal.
My late sister was a transport officer in Jaigaon,Jalpaiguri,near the Bhutan border, says Bhutia. Mangal was the son of a poor mahout in Jaigaon. He requested my sister to look after his son as he could not afford it. My sister,who had no children then,took him under her care from 1973.
It was not a formal adoption,he says. But my sister developed an affection for the five-year-old Mangal, he says. In 1978,she died after a miscarriage. After that,he stayed with us.
As a teenager,Mangal was captivated by the Gorkhaland movement and joined Subhash Ghisings GNLF. He was dedicated to the cause. At age 20,he was made convener of a GNLF unit, Bhutia says. Mangal sensed this could cause me problems as a government officer. He started living separately and later married Manju,a Gorkha girl.
He was upset when the GNLF signed an agreement with the government and formed a hill council. Mangal considered it surrender,quit the GNLF and started a small business. In 2007,when Bimal Gurung revived the statehood movement,Mangal joined the Gorkha Janmukti Manch.
Mangal was the first to reach Gurungs first meeting in Kalimpong calling for a revival of the Gorkhaland movement and Ghisings eviction, says Subha Pradhan,a youth leader in Kalimpong. But Mangal started keeping a distance from the GJM,too,after it signed an accord with the government. He was a hardcore supporter,unwilling to compromise on Gorkhaland.
My father was a true Gorkha. He was in love with the Gorkhaland dream, says Arpan Rajput,20. Mangals other son,Aman,is 15.