Mamata Banerjee’s bid to force-feed Bengali language in the hills fires Gorkhaland demand

Despite the West Bengal chief minister's clarification that Nepali will remain an official language, the damage has been done.

Written by Esha Roy | Published:June 8, 2017 10:33 pm
Darjeeling protest, Mamata Banerjee, Darjeeling hills protest over imposition of Bengali language, TMC, GJM, GNLF, indian express news A state-government bus in flames after it was torched by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters in Darjeeling on Thursday. PTI Photo (PTI6_8_2017_000236B)

It’s been a summer of discontent in the hills of North Bengal. Over the past few weeks, Darjeeling has erupted in intermittent protests that are growing stronger and louder with time. The protests are targeting Chief Minister West Bengal Mamata Banerjee and what they call “her forced imposition of the Bengali language’’ on the Gorkha people. The protesters, initially comprising mainly workers and supporters of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (the regional Gorkha party in North Bengal that runs the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration), have grown to include students, teachers and Nepali academics and linguists.

Exactly a month after a parliamentary committee proposed the introduction of the Hindi language as a compulsory subject in schools across the country, an increasingly alarmed Trinamool-led West Bengal government announced that the Bengali language will be made mandatory in all schools across the state. The announcement was made by West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee on May 15, and then reiterated by the Chief Minister herself in a Facebook post on May 16.

The decision has been seen by many, especially members of the Opposition, as a knee-jerk, desperate reaction of a political party that is fighting off increasing advances being made by the BJP and its Hindutva brigade in the state. During Ram Navami celebrations, an alarmed Trinamool watched as processions were taken out across the state, in many places by schoolchildren, holding swords. Since then, the Trinamool Congress has tried to position itself as a secular force opposing right-wing Hindutva politics. Statements have been issued by the Chief Minister on how West Bengal supports the fundamental right of the people to choose what they eat in the face of a possible beef ban across the country.

Banerjee is making concerted efforts to stave off what she has called an alien culture to Bengal – to the extent of herself, as of now, writing and composing a ‘state song’ and designing a state symbol. But her ‘re-enforcing’ of Bengali culture has effected a severe backlash in the Nepali-dominated hills. That too at a time, when after years of trying to make inroads into North Bengal, the TMC finally managed to wrest its first electoral victory in Mirik municipality in the municipal elections held last month.

While the response from the GJM to ‘Bengali-must’ policy was expected — the party is allied with the BJP and has been fighting for a separate Gorkhaland state — it is the response of the GNLF, a TMC ally in the hills, which has caused ripples in the Trinamool camp.

The spokesperson of Gorkha National Liberal Front recently issued a statement questioning Banerjee’s move, saying if she felt ”that what people `eat’ is their fundamental right and freedom and no one should interfere in people’s choice of food, then why do you mindlessly interfere and force-feed what language students need to study in schools as their third language? You vehemently advocate for ‘one’s choice for food’ to impress certain sections of voters and save your minority vote bank, but on the other hand, you forcefully, divisively and undemocratically issue a diktat imposing the 3rd compulsory Bengali language option…’’.

The decision has given a fresh life to the GJM, which had been steadily losing ground to the TMC since the West Bengal Assembly elections held last year, with the outfit having revived its demand for a separate state. It has also given the BJP further traction in the area. From the Gorkhas of Darjeeling, the party has turned its gaze towards the Rajbanghshis of Cooch Behar, who have also been demanding a separate state and the recognition of their Kamtapuri language.

Under pressure, Mamata has now “clarified’’ that Bengali will be an option in Darjeeling Hills. She has also announced that Nepali will be recognised as an official language by the state, another long-standing Gorkha demand. The GNLF has since softened, saying following her announcement, their alliance with the TMC remains intact. But Mamata’s flip-flop has put her in a precarious position.

It has made her government look indecisive and her decision reactionary; it has definitely given the upper hand to both the GJM and the BJP, who, insiders say, will now up the ante to create a division between a Bengali-dominated South Bengal from a more tribal-dominated North. But what has probably been most damaging for the West Bengal Chief Minister over her decision to make the Bengali language compulsory, is that she been accused, and rightly so, of cultural imperialism, bringing in a draconian, undemocratic law and breach of fundamental rights — the same accusations that she has been making against the Narendra Modi-led central government.

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    Mihir Paul
    Jun 10, 2017 at 2:49 pm
    If BJP allows Gorkha land then I am not going to vote them in future...I hope they won't do it if in case they come in power as a ru party in Bengal, a dream!!! I am a Bengali and I want by West Bengal intact and in same shape as appearing in world map, no cut and tears of boundaries. I am a youth of Bengal and our CM knows what we need, don't make us angry by demanding unwanted jurisdiction (Gorkha and Kamtapuri). Be happy with what you have and let us live happily, we all are people of Bengal.
    Reply
    1. M
      Mihir Paul
      Jun 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm
      If BJP allows Gorkha land then I am not going to vote them in future...I hope they won't do it if in case they come in power as a ru party in Bengal, a dream!!! I am a Bengali and I want by West Bengal intact and in same shape as appearing in world map, no cut and tears of boundaries. I am a youth of Bengal and our CM knows what we need, don't make us angry by demanding unwanted jurisdiction (Gorkha and Kamtapuri). Be happy with what you have and let us live happily, we all are people of Begal.
      Reply
      1. M
        Mihir Paul
        Jun 10, 2017 at 2:40 pm
        If BJP allows Gorkha land then I am not going to vote them in future...I hope they won't do it if in case they come in power as a ru party in Bengal, a dream!!! I am a Bengali and I want by West Bengal intact and in same shape as appearing in world map, no cut and tears of boundaries.
        Reply
        1. K
          Kuntal Mondal
          Jun 10, 2017 at 2:02 pm
          What a pure piece of ty journalism. She never force fed bengali language to gurkhas and other native tribes of north bengal even before the riots which is fueled by local BJP MP alluwalia she confirmed thrice that bengali is not compulsory but elective for students. But then why this riot? Because she decided to send an audit team to check how Gorkha Territorial Administration working. And this is why bimal gurung who is laundering money from GTA scared and planned this riot to stop the auditing. Any one can double check the information. And most of the people of north bengal did not parti ted in this riot and they helped the tourists.
          Reply
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            BIRESWAR DEBNATH
            Jun 10, 2017 at 9:35 am
            Darjee is an integral part of West Bengal.Anybody can go there without any hesitation.Bimal Gurung and his company is the main culprit behind the present situation of beauty queen Darjee .CM of West Bengal has given a lot money for the development of Darjee and I think She has the right to ask for special audit.Actually not Bengali language,the words of Special Audit has created a lot of fear among Gurung and his team.
            Reply
            1. S
              Subhenduprosadbhattacherjee
              Jun 10, 2017 at 1:01 am
              মমতা ব্যানাজি অনেক বার বেড়ে গেছে। ওনার এতো বড় সাহস কি করে হ্য় যে, আমাদের দেশের #রাষ্ট্রীয়ভাষাহিন্দি -কে অপমান করছেন। উনি #Darji hill এ হিন্দি ভাষা ব্যবহার করতে দিক। এটা যদি উনি না করেন,ফল খুব খারাপ হবে। উনি চরম সীমায় পৌছে গেছেন।
              Reply
              1. K
                Kuntal Mondal
                Jun 10, 2017 at 2:04 pm
                Stop taking drugs or you'll die of overdose. Hindi is not out national language actually there is no nation language.
                Reply
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                Nihar Mukhia
                Jun 8, 2017 at 11:25 pm
                Again enclosing a future statement..." If humans are to adopt, evolve, learn and respond from this world as of now our surroundings...well teaching and provoking our future as in our little one, is not what builds or develops neither our country nor state...newspapers are what 89 people subscribe and read everyday but for me and ever other person i would surely be one too but knowing and prospecting situations and not only experiencing them it is horror and allowing such to be watched and told by media is torture to our future...not only previews but will make an impact in the near future to come soon and if not improvised I would not want to inspire my future to live such a lie! ;-)
                Reply
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                  Nihar Mukhia
                  Jun 8, 2017 at 11:23 pm
                  Gor nd has been a long journey for darjee ...today we are demanded to have children adopt a new language which we are not use to for several decades...we depend in tourists all over the world..darjee is a world tourist spot,famous for tea,existing from the british days....looking and observing darjee is a summer vacation for west bengal itself...business and future employment is restricted here as it is a small town not even a city where facilities are available...very sad but yes anything can happen and possible considering love for people and their needfull...not selfishness or power which is a headache and confusion..especially confusion if we thought alike...there would be no strike!
                  Reply
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