Democracy brings with it not only the fundamental rights and freedom but also the concept of citizenship which cocoons the ‘original’ citizens but hugely impacts the so-called ‘immigrants’ residing in India, who are, by virtue of their birth, also Indian citizens with documented identity proofs. But as it has been seen, the valid documents possessed by ‘not-so-Indian-looking-citizens’ are still not enough to prove one’s identity. This stereotyped look obviously does not reflect on the people from the hills and considering the diversity of people living in India, it surely does not resonate with the monolithic identity that India tries to portray.
Among such ‘not-so-Indian-looking-citizens’ are the Nepalis of Indian origin who have been residing mostly in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, Sikkim and some parts of Assam, Dehradun, Guwahati, Meghalaya for almost a century or more. The identity crisis the Indian Nepalis face is mainly because of their direct linkage with the Nepalis of Nepal, a neighboring sovereign state which the Indian Nepalis have left a long time ago (prior to the independence of India) with almost no memories attached. The main reasons for migration were, first, the internal situation in the then Kingdom of Nepal which left them to flee to the neighboring state, India. Second, the growing tea plantation in Darjeeling district of West Bengal provided them with employment opportunities and third, the recruitment of the Gorkhas (Nepalis) into the British Indian Army. Gradually, they moved and also settled to other places like Sikkim, Meghalaya and Assam. But as T.B Subba, a professor in the Department of Anthropology of North-eastern Hill University, Shillong, rightly said, “If the descendants of people, who came from Nepal during British India, are equated with the category of recent immigrants and indiscriminately labelled as ‘illegal immigrants’ then almost every Indian is an immigrant.”
The Indian Nepalis are historically, culturally, racially and linguistically a heterogeneous community like how the whole of India is. Magar, Gurung, Rai, Newar, Lepcha, Tamang, Limboo, Subba, Chettri and so many other different communities are prevalent within the Nepali community. All these communities have submerged and socially constructed themselves into a homogeneous community of Indian Nepalis. The essence of the Nepali language has been tremendous in creating a strong Indian Nepali identity in India. There are Nepalis in both Nepal and India who speak the common Nepali language but they are treated as distinct social category despite the different nationalities they adorn. This is precisely the reason why the national identity of Indian Nepalis becomes a subject of multiple perceptions, says T.B Subba. The inclusion of the Nepali language under the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution gave a huge impetus to the coming together of the Indian Nepali community. Despite being linguistically heterogeneous, the Nepali language brought different communities under one roof. When you meet a Nepali, s/he will not tell you his or her original ethnicity but will identify themselves as Nepalis from India wherever they may be.
The reason Indian Nepalis strongly stand their ground on being a proud Indian is that they are born and have been brought up in this land, proudly holding the staff of the tricolor and singing the national anthem during various occasions with their chest held high. So, to be constantly told that they are Nepalese (Nepalis from Nepal) and not an Indian origin hurts their sentiments. It has been seven or more generations of the Indian Nepalis or Indian Gorkhas living in India with no ties with Nepal except in terms of similar culture and traditions that they share.
It is ironical and saddening at the same time when the mainstream Indians scream racism outside of India but fails to acknowledge racism in their own home country. But the truth is, people (we) are an ignorant lot. We are so self-consumed in our own busy lives that we fail to make ourselves aware of the society or the world we live in. We fail to understand our own country’s historical, racial, cultural and linguistic diversity which makes it all the more special and different. We all need to do our bit to become more aware and accepting of others and ourselves. Talk about your culture and heritage to others but also listen to theirs and accept that we may be different but we’re still Indians or even citizens of the one world we have and live in. And with pen and paper/ laptops as our weapon, we write. We write to understand the world ourselves and hopefully let you wonderful readers understand better.
Ghataraj, D. Identity Formation and Identity Crisis: Nepalis in India. South-Asian Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies, 3(5), 27-42.
Subba, T.B. Race, Identity and Nationality: Relocating Nepali Nationalism in India. Association of Asia Scholars SAGE Publications, 9(1), 6-18. Doi: 10.1177/0976399617753750
Image credit: gettingnowhere
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