What happens when the state that you live in, enforces upon you a language that you do not wish or want to study? What happens when that state refuses to recognize that you are a different language speaking community and these policies only make you feel more isolated? What happens when you feel that the secularity of your community is threatened? What happens when you feel like an outsider in your own country? Do you fight till you are heard or do you just make peace with the way things are? The article speaks about one such instance that has made uproar in the Indian polity, the reason behind the protests by the Gorkhas, the history leading to the event, the aftermath and a discussion about the imminent question the past few months have raised.
The Gorkha community chose to fight till they are being heard. The beautiful and picturesque hills of Darjeeling have been going through turmoil over the past few months. The reason behind this instability and unrest is the state’s decision of making Bengali a compulsory language in all schools. This announcement did not go well with the Gorkha community living in the hills. Nepali being their first language, the community believes this step is undermining their importance in the state and shoving down their throat a language and a culture they do not wish to be a part of. The Gorkha community living in the hills wants the formation of a new state called Gorkhaland. This state will be run for the Gorkha by the Gorkha. It isn’t the first time that the community has asked for a separate state, this fight has been fought several times before albeit any positive result.
The first demand for the separate state was made way back in 1907 during the Marley-Minto reforms. Second, time this issue was raised in 1952 when the All India Gorkha League submitted a memorandum to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru demanding separation from the state of Bengal. Later, in 1955 Daulat Das Bokhim, the President of Shamik Sangh district submitted a memorandum to the Chairperson of State Reorganisation Committee; demanding the creation of separate state consisting of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar district. In 1977, the West Bengal government passed an unanimous resolution supporting the creation of an autonomous district council consisting Darjeeling and related areas. The bill was forwarded to the Central Government for consideration of this matter. In 1981, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi received a memorandum from Pranta Parishad, demanding a separate state.(Agarwal, 2017)
However, it wasn’t until the 80’s that the demand for a separate state intensified. The hills witnessed a violent protest from 1986-1988 which resulted in the deaths of approximately twelve hundred people and the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. The council wasn’t enough to pacify the Gorkha community as the government soon decided to set up the sixth schedule and turn the council into Gorkha Hill Council. The mass movement reoccurred in 2007 under the leadership of Bimal Gurung, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader,
who vehemently opposed the sixth schedule of the constitution and demanded for a separate state. This movement only came to an end after Mamta Banerjee’s declaration of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration.The movement was dormant until July 30th, 2013 when the state of Telengana was announced. However, making her stand very clear on the issue, Mamta Banerjee stated
“Bengal cannot suffer the pain of yet another partition.”(Mitra, 2017)
But partitions, borders, drawing lines have been a part of this country since the beginning of time. First when the rulers and the kings marked their territories, later when the British used the age-old technique of divide and rule, followed by the infamous India-Pakistan partition and lastly the formation of states. The country went from being known as the Indian subcontinent to the Republic of India. Some of these borders have been good, some have worked against us, and however each came with its own price. The topic at hand focuses on the formation of states, and the formation of states in this country also has its own history.
Post-independence, the five hundred princely states were given an option to either join with India or Pakistan, or choose to remain Independent. While most of the provinces chose a country, Bhutan, Hyderabad and Kashmir opted to remain independent. However, Hyderabad was conquered through an armed intervention and the fight for Kashmir is ongoing. The grouping of states at the time was done on the basis of political and historical considerations rather than on linguistic or cultural divisions, but this was a temporary arrangement. On account of the multilingual nature and differences that existed between various states, there was a need for the states to be reorganized on a permanent basis.(Ashok, 2014)
Sensing the discontent regarding the basis of the state formation, in December 1948, the JVP committee comprising Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabh Bhai Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramayya was formed to study the issue. The Committee, in its report submitted in April 1949, rejected the idea of reorganisation of states on linguistic basis but said that the issue could be looked at afresh in the light of public demand. In 1953, the first linguistic state of Andhra for Telugu-speaking people was born. The government was forced to separate the Telugu speaking areas from the state of Madras, in the face of a prolonged agitation and the death of Potti Sriramulu, an Indian revolutionary, after a 56-day hunger strike. Consequently, there were similar demands for creation of states on linguistic basis from other parts of the country(Koshi, 2016).
The question that comes out prominently is why have languages always been so vital in the formation of states? The answer is simple, familiarity. Languages have the power to connect as much as they have the ability to make someone feel isolated. They are not just mere words or sounds, within them they encompass an entire culture. Knowing German in Germany will make it easy for the people there to accept you, you will not have to try too hard to fit in. So when the state that you are born and raised doesn’t give importance to your language and even when maximum population of that state speaks that language, discontent is inevitable.
However the next question that arises is whether we have become so engrossed in our states that we are forgetting that before it we are one country. We may have different mother tongues but one language that connects us all is the national language of the country. Is language the only criteria for feeling like you belong? I am a Guajarati, but I was born and raised in Mumbai, Maharashtra. I don’t know to speak Marathi well, but that does not mean that I have ever felt like I belong in Gujarat more than I belong here. In fact across the country there are so many like me, growing up in states different from their mother tongue and still calling that state their home.
We are one country before we are 29 states and 7 union territories. And everyone should feel like home irrespective of what language they speak or which part of the country they belong to. The Gorkhas under the disguise of a separate state on pretext of language are saying loud and clear that this country does not make them feel like they belong. This isn’t a question of states or no states; it is a question of how we treat everyone living in this country.
So the next time you call your watchman Nepali or your servant Chinese, ask yourself if you are as much a part of this problem, as the state authorities forcing them to mandatorily learn Bengali.
Agarwal, K. (2017). Darjeeling unrest: Here is a history of the Gorkhas and a lazy hamlet called Dorjeling. Mumbai: indian express.
Ashok, A. D. (2014). Telangana: Did you know how India got its 29 states and 7 UTs? Mumbai: IndiaToday.in.
Koshi, L. (2016, November 02). Explainer: The reorganization of states of India and why it happened. The News Minute . Mumbai.
Mitra, A. (2017, june 15). Tracing the history of Gorkhaland movement: Another crisis triggered by language. Indian Express . Mumbai.
PHOTO: Press Trust of India
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