The West Bengal government’s decision to impose Bengali language in all the schools from Class I-IX, has sparked a violent protest on Thursday in the Gorkha-led Darjeeling. The army has had to be called in to pacify the situation in the region. The government has made special arrangements for the tourists to arrive safely in Siliguri, and from there to the state capital Kolkata. The important bus stands, railway stations and airports will remain operational, and special bus, train and flight services have been arranged for the tourists without fare.
Criticising Mamata Banerjee’s style of politics as “dictatorial” and worthy of finding a place in the Guinness Book, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) chief Bimal Gurung on Saturday said, “With respect, I say don’t do divisive politics. Her (Banerjee’s) dictatorial politics will find a place in Guinness book.”
The crisis in Gorkhaland has been brewing for many decades and the stems from language. Gorkhaland consists of Nepali-speaking people of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and other hilly districts. The people belonging to these areas hardly have any connection with the Bengali community and are different in ethnicity, culture and language.
As per Michael Hutt’s book on the Nepali Diaspora- Being Nepali without Nepal: Reflections on a South Asian Diaspora, in the 1951 census the then District Census Officer A. Mitra mentioned that only 19.96 per cent of the population (numbering a total population 88,958) in Darjeeling district spoke Nepali. However, his data did not represent the actual population of Nepali speaking people which were 66 per cent at that time, as mentioned by Hutt in his book. On the basis of this data, the Indian government after Independence overlooked Nepali as one of the national languages of India. However, in 1961, the West Bengal government recognised Nepali as an official language, and Nepali was granted as the official language of India in 1992 under the VIIIth scheduled of Indian constitution.
History of Gorkhaland movement: A look back
In 1780, the Gorkhas captured Sikkim and most part of North Eastern states that includes Darjeeling, Siliguri, Simla, Nainital, Garhwal hills, Kumaon and Sutlej, that is, the entire region from Teesta to Sutlej. After 35 years of rule, the Gorkhas surrendered the territory to British in the Treaty of Segoulee in 1816, after they lost the Anglo-Nepal war.
However, though British handed over Darjeeling to Sikkim, it was taken back for political reasons in 1835. Before 1905, when Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon directed the partition of Bengal, Darjeeling was a part of Rajshahi division, which now falls in Bangladesh. For a short period from 1905-1912, it was even a part of Bhagalpur division.
Here is a timeline of the Gorkhaland crisis
1907- The first demand for Gorkhaland is submitted to Morley-Minto Reforms panel. After that on several occasions demands were made to the British government and then government of Independent India for separation from Bengal.
1952- The All India Gorkha League submits a memorandum to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru demanding separation from the state of Bengal.
1955- Daulat Das Bokhim, the President of District Shamik Sangh submits a memorandum to the chairman, State Reorganisation Committee demanding the creation of separate state consisting of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar district.
1977- 81: The West Bengal government passes a unanimous resolution supporting the creation of an autonomous district council consisting Darjeeling and related areas. The bill is forwarded to Central Government for consideration of this matter. In 1981, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi receives a memorandum from Pranta Parishad, demanding a separate state.
1980-90: The demand for Gorkhaland was intensified in the 1980s under the leadership of Gorkha National Liberation Front supremo Subhas Ghising. The movement turns violent during the period of 1986-88, and around 1,200 people are killed. After a two-year long protest, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) is finally formed in 1988.
2007- At the last phase of left front’s regime, the mass movement for Gorkhaland takes place under the leadership of Gorkha Janmurti Morcha (GJM) supremo Bimal Gurung. The 2007 Gorkha uprising intensifies, following the 2005 Centre and state government initiative for a permanent solution of this region by bringing it to the sixth schedule of the constitution giving some degree of autonomy to a predominantly tribal area. But the Gorkhas opposed this sixth schedule and demand statehood gains pace. The four-year long movement comes to an end after new CM Mamata Banerjee’s declaration of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and Gurung is made its leader.
With the formation of Telangana on July 20, 2013, the movement for Gorkhaland state again intensifies. Gurung resigns from the head of GTA, says people have lost all faith. However, in a making her stand clear, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said: “Bengal cannot suffer the pain of yet another partition.”