Waiting for…….Gorkhaland !


Gorkhaland March, Jantar Mantar, Delhi, Gorkha Students, JNU, 10 July, 2017

Dr Nilamber Chhetri * and Dr Agastaya Thapa **

The Samuel Beckett play ‘Waiting for Godot’ offers deep insights into the perpetuity of wait; indeed it is the despairing act of the wait itself that defines the essence of the play. The metaphor of the play can be well extended beyond its immediate relief to analyze an actual event like the Gorkhaland movement whose period manifestations and changing contours is also defined by the prolonged wait. A long, enduring and painful wait; characterized by undulating and uncertain historical process, floating through the ebbs and flow of social and political transformations. The only difference between the play and the Gorkhaland movement is that; unlike the play which performs the act of waiting, the other has been unfolding in real-time as part of a long hundred year waiting.

The eventuality and the actuality that people in the hills aspire for is the defining feature of the movement. Generations have passed since mobilizations began in earnest to gain status and recognition as active citizens of the country; yet, the efforts so far have failed miserably given the nature of political processes in India. However, the wait continues which indicates that hope is still resurgent, pushing us to believe that a day will dawn when Gorkhaland will be a lived reality.  The current manifestation of the movement suggests a rejuvenation of people’s aspiration and a definition of the quest to assert their belongingness to the region and the country at large.  The Gorkhaland movement is defined by this longue durée, which is characterized by periodical resurgence of demands associated with development and recognition.

The current waves of mobilization in Darjeeling are informed by a reinforcement of the deep sense of hope, dreams and aspirations of the people in Gorkhaland. It is more than just a mobilization staged by the political parties for self- interest. Though this aspect of the movement cannot be totally negated, however, the more entrenched aspect of people’s will and determination to carve out a ‘homeland’ and a place of security cannot be overruled. In fact this aspect is most manifest in the latest episode of a collective resurgence at the wake of discriminatory policies framed by the West Bengal Government and especially in its plan to impose Bengali language in the hills. The current political dispensation in Bengal has since the time of the formation of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (G.T.A.) in 2011 has shown total disrespect and condescension towards the people of the hills. It had taken for granted that the treatment it reserves for the so-called political and cultural leaders in the hills, who have no qualms about their trivialization and caricature since all that matters to them is the steady flow of state funding, would be swallowed up with the same vigour and enthusiasm by the hill janta. This synecdochic logic has created problems for the present Bengal government as the move to further colonize the hills through linguistic intrusion has been met with resistance by the common hill people, a clear indication that the high water-level mark of tolerance towards the insensitive and crude Bengal attitude towards hill people had been breached. The people were out on the streets to show that they were what Bengal did not want to see, i.e., citizens of India with as much rights and political will as their Bengali brethrens and not as dispensable caretakers of their illusive fiefdom.

The extreme use of state power to curb the rising sentiments is most evident in the present situation where the state and the military have been deployed to maintain law and order in the hills. This is a novel, yet not unfamiliar paradigm of governance adopted by the Indian state to check and ultimately suppress raising ethnic demands in different parts of the country.  The volatility of the situation characterized by the active deployment of state power to curb the demands of the people itself rejuvenates the aspiration of the people to carve out a separate niche for themselves in the hills. Often, times of austerity have produced renewed sense of collective sentiments which have been actively deployed for the fulfilment of demands and it is only through such periods of struggle that the people of Darjeeling can assert their presence and existence in the national fabric.  However, one of the real struggles of the hill people and the movement at the current juncture besides state repression is a resistance against this prevalent climate of indifference and gross apathy from mainland India. The current waves of protest is not covered much by the mainstream press which could also be due to the overall internet ban imposed by the state government which has effectively reduced any chance of information being transmitted from the hills to the national media. So far not much has also trickled in from the liberal-progressive intelligentsia in the country regarding the state of affairs in Darjeeling where civilian lives have been lost at the hands of state forces and basic human rights to food and network -internet access has been curtailed by the state.

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The loss of lives calls into question the real nature of the Indian state and the mechanism deployed by them to curtail the rising sentiments of the people. The quest to belong in the case of Darjeeling has seen a gestation period spanning more than a century now. The current state of affairs in hills generates a series of questions such as-

It seems that the hill people are yet to inhabit the postcolonial situation defined by its emancipatory tone of equality and guarantee of rights. Looking at the condition of hills it appears that only the whip has changed hands from a colonial to a post-colonial nation-state, without providing any significant benefits for the people living therein.  This long wait, this delayed deliverance of justice and rights of the people have indeed structured the identities of the people and place in many different ways.  The current wave of protest in the hills invites people from mainland India to re-think the image of Darjeeling-Kalimpong hills as pristine landscape, and acknowledge the presence and existence of people long neglected by the state and who have been waiting for their rights long denied by the vicissitudes of time and history.


* Dr Nilamber Chhetri teaches Sociology at Maharashtra National Law University Mumbai. His PhD thesis titled ‘The Gorkhas and the Politics of Ethnic Renewal: Social Constitution of Identities in Darjeeling’, submitted to Jawaharlal Nehru University examines the growth and proliferation of ethnic associations in the Darjeeling hills and their demands for recognition as scheduled tribes. His research interests include- Politics of Social and Cultural Identities, Scheduling of Tribes and Practices of State Classification in India, and issues related to ethnic minorities and the politics of recognition in South Asia.


** Agastaya Thapa, is currently working on a project with the A.I.I.S. – A.R.C.E., Gurugram as a data cataloguer. She has completed her Ph.D on tourist art and colonial ethnology at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Visual Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her research interests include colonial visual culture, photography, popular paintings and prints, Eastern Himalayan history and ethnic movements.


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