The Darjeeling hills crisis
- A resurgent Gorkhaland movement and subsequent state crackdown have infused life with violent uncertainty.
- In May, the West Bengal government announced Bengali as a compulsory language in schools across the state.
- By June, this triggered protests and claims of ‘linguistic imperialism’ in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts (where the lingua franca is Nepali).
- The ensuing clash with police left government property destroyed and many protesters injured.
- The Army was brought in to staunch unrest, but it escalated instead. Subsequent protests and crackdowns have led to further destruction and deaths.
- Slogans like ‘Jai Gorkha, Jai Gorkhaland’ reverberating through the hills, Darjeeling has plunged again into the throes of agitation.
- Internet and cable television have remained suspended since June 18.
- Strikes and security threats have devastated the local economy at the peak of tourist season.
Crux of the movement
- The Gorkhaland movement is a long standing quest for a separate State of Gorkhaland within India for Nepali-speaking Indian citizens.
- With roots dating back over a century, Gorkhaland is a classic subnationalist movement, not unlike those that have produced other States, most recently Telangana, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh.
- Beyond all else, Gorkhaland is a desire for the recognition, respect, and integration of Gorkha peoples in the Indian nation-state.
- Recent turmoil mustn’t obscure deeper histories.
- For Gorkhas, the troubling realities of colonial and present-day Darjeeling are eerily similar: linguistic chauvinism, ethnic and racial discrimination, resource extraction, unilateral territorial claims, the denial of self-governance, political suppression; and ultimately, an unwillingness to respect the ‘native point of view’.
- This double bind of colonial nostalgia and neocolonial regional domination produces a sense of constant déjà vu, leading to the desperate feeling that genuine progress is out of reach. These unsettling truths demand some soul-searching.