I’ve been a personal fan of yours since I was a kid. I remember I’d see you on TV hosting your quiz show and dream about making it there myself someday. My grandmother used to buy me your books when I was a child and tell me that reading them would make me smart because they were written by a very smart person. Now a nascent adult, I see that she was right. You are smart, and easily one of the most personable representatives of the Trina Mool Congress. Unlike many of your colleagues, you even try and look/make up “facts” to back yourself with, which in recent political discourses, it would seem, is a public favour that shouldn’t go unappreciated.
However, watching you share your views on the ongoing state-ordered humanitarian crisis in my hometown, Darjeeling, on YouTube, I couldn’t help but feel that you’re a little out of touch with some ground realities in The Hills. And seeing as how you, unfortunately, can’t be trusted as a reliable arbiter of truths about the region, I take it upon myself to correct my childhood idol’s drastic misunderstandings about the situation of my land, and my people. I shall now proceed to mark specific timestamps in the video wherever I’ve found your arguments unconvincing, to say the least, and give you my counters alongside them. I shall also include weblinks wherever relevant so that my facts carry a little more weight than yours.
As you admit, no West Bengal chief minister before Ms Mamata Bannerjee ever did bother to visit Darjeeling indeed. That alone immediately reveals how deeply the WB State Administration has cared about the people of The Hills through history. Also, Ms Bannerjee makes trips to Darjeeling only to periodically subdue the volatility of her party’s situation there. She knows she has to keep the Gorkhas appeased even if it’s just through lies, and she acts accordingly. Obviously. She’s a politician.
Mirik is just one town in The Hills among many, and the TMC won there only because of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) party’s endorsement, who have since withdrawn their support of the TMC in view of the recent atrocities inflicted upon the Gorkha public by the Mamata administration. The TMC would never win in Darjeeling itself, which is the most populated of the Hill-towns, or frankly, any other town up North. This massive pro-Gorkhaland rally that the people of Mirik partook in earlier today should be ample proof.
No, you’re wrong. The TMC did initially set out to impose the Bengali language upon all of The Hills. The first mandate issued by the WB Education Minister, Partha Chatterjee, announced that Bengali was to be studied compulsorily in all schools by all students between grades 1 and 10, as any one of the 3 languages that students are required to choose. It was only after widespread and vociferous public protests in virtually every Gorkha town that the TMC Government realized how drastic a miscalculation they’d made, and hurriedly declared that The Hills would be excluded from the order, stating that Bengali was to be an “optional 4th language”. A redundant measure, especially since Bengali has always been optional in The Hills. Students in Darjeeling, Kurseong, and Kalimpong have always had the option to choose between English, Hindi, Nepali, Bengali, Tibetan, Dzongkha, and in some schools, even French and German. Moreover, Bengali will most likely remain optional in The Hills even once there is a Gorkhaland, as it should. Gitanjali, one of the most important anthologies of Indian poetry ever was written in the beautiful Bangla bhasha. We acknowledge that, and we wouldn’t mind teaching or learning it. We just don’t want it shoved down our throats (but yeah, you already know that by now.)
The development boards are widely regarded as a sad attempt to diffuse the strength of a singular Gorkha identity and thereby, the strength of a singular Gorkhaland movement. The individual leaders of several of these boards have been accused of embezzling board grants, and this is something I know through being a citizen of Darjeeling myself.
Again, the TMC would never win in The Hills. This time, not even in Mirik seeing as how the GNLF have withdrawn their support of the TMC after 4 of our young were killed by police fire. That the TMC has the support of the people in The Hills is a white lie, or if one does believe it, a wild delusion.
The TMC could have conducted the audit at any time until now, but they never do. And the fact that they raise this issue only during the pre-election season suggests ulterior motives on their part. Moreover, they only ever threaten to conduct said audit at opportune moments while never actually doing it since neither party would emerge stainless; each side has a lot of dirt on the other. (I say that with regard to Mamata Bannerjee’s illegal immigrant vote bank import through the Siligudi and Tripura borders and the Sarada+Narada+Rose Valley Scams, and the premises under which the GTA was formed. Speaking of which…)
Of course, the WB State government would interfere in the affairs of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) because the GTA is nothing but a business deal between the TMC Government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The GTA is only an instrument of the WB State Government with but a veneer of autonomy. The leader of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), Bimal Gurung, sold out and agreed to alleviate the Gorkha public’s rage for the WB government in return for some big bags of cash, and thus the GTA, a purportedly autonomous administrative set-up for The Hills, was formed. The public was told to celebrate it as a giant leap forward in the Gorkha quest for national identity, but the trouble is that an exactly same set-up, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), had already been in place since 1988, after the previous mass movement for statehood under Subash Ghising (who, incidentally, also sold out. Wonder why we’d ever expected any different from, Bimal Gurung, his prime apprentice).
“Peace and development”? “Brought by the TMC”?
Sir, more than 40% of the Hill population is directly involved in the tea business of which a vast number of tea estate workers support their families on ₹90 (USD $1.4) per day, lower than even the ₹115/day of Assam, ₹206.22/day of Tamil Nadu, ₹228/day of Karnataka, and the ₹301/day of Kerala. But I suppose they should be grateful since a large percentage of them aren’t even getting paid at all! There have been an estimated 300 to 1000 cases of starvation deaths among these tea estate workers since 2002. That’s right – people are starving to death as you read this while all of Darjeeling’s world class tea estates fund the WB State revenue because of the West Bengal Estates Acquisition Act of 1953. Furthermore, there are villages in The Hills whose rivers generate hydroelectricity for the luminous West Bengal capital while they themselves have only firewood to heat, to cook, to illuminate with. Water supply projects worth crores keep popping up in Siligudi, a place where water scarcity is a fairy tale, but Darjeeling, where rain is the only source of fresh water, has been left to the mercy of a seasonal lake since the British Raj! Furtherfurthermore, many of the largest businesses in Darjeeling are Kolkata-owned and so, even they (you guessed it) fund the WB State revenue; and alas, even much of the money that is earned in Darjeeling keeps systematically getting directed to Kolkata while the socioeconomic status of the Hill people just keeps deteriorating further and further. Of course, the West Bengal government won’t let go of us; we’re their zero-maintenance golden goose. We’ve been nothing more than that to them since 1947.
If your definition of ‘democracy’ involves having a minority community’s local news channels shut down, their Internet services shut down, the police meting out unprovoked lathicharges on them, having their civilians killed by police firing during peaceful protests, or conducting unwarranted/illegal raids of their representatives’ homes and maltreating their families, or assaulting elderly women, then sure, democracy has returned to The Hills. Thanks to Mamata Di indeed.
You… cannot… seriously… still be saying that nobody in The Hills wants Gorkhaland…
CUZ I’M PRETTY DAMN SURE WE DO!
Wait, we can tell you that in a song too.
Oh, you didn’t like that? Here’s another one!
And another one!
And another one!
And another one!
Man… I can’t even deal with the amount of dumb in that assertion…
Ms Bannerjee will be ready for the Central Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry the day Bimal Gurung agrees to being put through an audit.
Yes, that is exactly how Bengali-centric and communal the TMC is under Mamata. It’s precisely why The Hills want a separate state because Mamata Bannerjee understands only “the Bengali psyche” as you put it, not the Gorkha soul. Her handling of the recent public uprising in Darjeeling is making many question the verity of her commitment to The Hills. The contrast between her approaches towards the people of The Hills and the rest of Bengal is already painfully sharp. Even among the illegal immigrants in India, she exhibits a blatant favouritism towards the ones from the country where they speak her tongue.
Our roads are effective deathtraps. Our hospitals are underfunded. Often during emergencies patients don’t receive immediate medical attention since the closest adequately equipped hospitals we can access are a 3-hour-drive away at Siligudi. Rain and dark can greatly increase your chances of dying during the downhill drive, especially if the patient is critical and you can’t even afford to drive slow and cautiously. The fact that the doctors assigned to The Hills often don’t speak a word of Nepali, which births the hassle of finding interpreters for when the patient is a non-Bengali-speaker, is another matter altogether. As for education, we have long been vying for a central district university for The Hills, which we now realize can only come wrapped along with a statehood. Reliable supplies of power and/or water are, sadly, still only a prerogative of the wealthy. Oh, and none of this reminds anyone of Switzerland, by the way. But sure, you can claim some credit for buying us bicycles. But wait. Which of us uses bicycles? Just the people in The Plains. Right. Saw that one coming.
If you still aren’t convinced that the TMC is losing its feeble foothold in The Hills, then know that even the public of our neighbouring state of Sikkim have made an overwhelmingly ubiquitous gesture of support for Gorkhaland. To top that, 4 of your party members from up North, 2 from Sikkim and 2 from Kalimpong, have resigned since the recent civilian deaths citing your party’s apathy towards our people as the reason. A former TMC member from Sikkim, Tshering Wangchuk Lepcha, even declared that the TMC will never be reborn in Sikkim, to a cheering crowd – a befitting parting gift. Interestingly enough, towards the end of the same speech, he also alleged that neither you, nor Mr. Sudip Bandyopadhyay, ever responded to his questions about the civilian killings.
Anyhow, Mr. O’Brien, and any other TMC supporter this note may have found its way to, I now implore you to bear with me as I examine the sustainability of the project that is Gorkhaland, which we all know is a favourite among your minority aspirations to thwart. So if you’d kindly indulge me:
Associate Professor of the Study of Contemporary India and Political Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania and former Assistant Professor of Government at Harvard University, Mr. Devesh Kapur opines that “[India] is more likely to benefit from a greater number of smaller states” since it “could help check the growing economic divergence among states without sacrificing economic efficiency.” For those who won’t click the link, it means more competitors means increased competition, which accelerates the economic growth of each new state, and thus, the whole country.
He also says that “smaller states will have more homogenous preferences” which literally just means we know what we want better than you know what we want. (Obviously. I mean, you did just say that no one in The Hills wants Gorkhaland, didn’t you?) He expands that this “makes policy making less onerous and mitigates political instability,” and it automatically means “smaller political stakes.”
And here comes the best part. Mr. Kapur writes, “In large states with extensive natural resources, the Natural Resource Curse Thesis implies that the sub-regions with the resources inevitably suffer.” Bullseye. He cites pre-Y2K east Madhya Pradesh (now Chhattisgarh) and southern Bihar (now Jharkhand) as examples of resource-rich regions being exploited to support a distant and apathetic state government… Anything hit home yet? No? Hint: Darjeeling has lots of natural resources… Still no? Yeah, I thought so.
Don’t worry though. This is all just common-sense, and we all know that that alone will never get us anywhere.
Now, Mr. O’Brien, I understand that I’d be delusional to expect you to just flip over to our side on your stance on Gorkhaland. But before you go and do interviews as misleading as this again, which you very well might, remember that we were accused of terrorist affiliations by the supposedly Honourable, Chief Minister of West Bengal just yesterday. And that hurt us. Deeply. We love this country, and so we won’t be likely to forget what opinion your leader seems to have of us. She has treated us like dirt one time too many. And as I approach the end of my rant, I want to direct my words not just towards you, but the rest of India as well.
To India, I say on behalf of all the citizens of the aspirant state of Gorkhaland:
In 1986, the Gorkhas were pushed to battle the armed forces of the very country they live and die to protect, and thousands of our people laid their lives down for this same cause. Thirty-one years later, we’re being pushed to the brink of doing that again. Our voices have been brutally suppressed time and time and time and time and time and time and time again. The country that thousands of our ancestors have gladly laid their lives down for in every single one of her wars keeps testing our courage, and pushing us to our own annihilation at the hands of those we plead to be acknowledged amongst. And despite the cries we’ve made to it these past 110 years, it adamantly refuses to care about us.
Our people, along with everyone else from the Northeast, are discriminated against at all social strata should we choose to make a living outside the sanctuary of The Hills, yet within what is supposed to be our own nation. And yes, it is rooted in the way we look and sound. That’s right. We look different, and therefore, we’re made jokes about, we’re constantly caricatured in our representations in the media, we’re openly subjected to deadly hostility, we’re socially ostracized. Our men are stereotyped as being instinctively docile and violent “chaukidaars” all named “Bahadur”, and our women, all named “Kanchhi”, as having an innate proclivity for promiscuity. It all adds up over time. It is but only natural that we’d ask for a little place to call our own, a place where we’re free of external prejudice, a place where we can come up with solutions to our own problems in our own way, a place where we don’t have to perpetually justify our actions to overlords perched in a distant, prosperous capital. All this is also indicative of a much deeper socio-cultural issue, one which it’s high time the largest democracy of the world addressed.
Yet, behold the magnanimity of the Gorkha. During the recent strike which saw thousands of seasonal visitors stranded in our town with no provisions to leave, most of them Bengalis, our public rose to the occasion and volunteered to provide food and water to the tourists out of their own expenses, without any aid from the government whatsoever. As for the army personnel dispatched there, the same army that claimed the lives of 4 of our own just days later, we not only gave them food and supplies but also honoured them with “khadas” – neck scarves that are a symbol of honour, and a gesture of our gratitude for their services to the country that still spurns our love.
And that is where I stop. I don’t know what to say to you anymore. I’ve exhausted my words. We’ve been loyal servants to our masters through centuries and centuries. Now, it is time that our government give us some loyalty back. Please, fellow countrymen, take our word for it when we say it is our birthright. We’ve tolerated enough, and fought enough, and lost enough. And we’re sick of it. We want to be more than West Bengal’s zero-maintenance picnic spot. We want to be more than some political party’s lab rat. We want our fellow countrymen to see us and acknowledge our right to our land just as we acknowledge theirs. We want our spot in this country to be visible on every map so that every child of India from hereon, knows better than to question the nationality of his Gorkha peers. We want to be seen on the face of this country so that the world knows where our world is hidden. We want all of that, and this time, we won’t settle for less.
This time the people aren’t going to settle for anything less than what we’ve asked for. This time things feel different. It seems like all of us are willing to go the distance. This time it isn’t about which leader sways how many people with what lies because this time it is we, the people, who are at the helm of our own revolution. This time a simple political gimmick or a vein-bursting speech won’t satiate us. Our cause has seeped into the bones of every single child of The Queen of the Hills, and for the first time in a long, long while, we’re realising that all of us are equally deserving heirs to her treasure. The enemy is afraid and we can smell it. It won’t be long until we win what is ours. The air already seems to carry whiffs of victory. And it is all so delightfully maddening feeling this close to something that generations of our ancestors have ached and cried and bled and died for, that I fear we’ve already depleted all the sense, or the truth, or the reason, or the patience we’d had up until now to give to you.
I fear all we can give you now is a warning that we’re coming.
जय गोर्खाल्यान्ड |
[PS: This article was originally published as a Facebook note on 19 June 2017.]