What’s brewing in Darjeeling: 

What’s brewing in Darjeeling

The Darjeeling hills crisis

Context

  • A resurgent Gorkhaland movement and subsequent state crackdown have infused life with violent uncertainty.

What happened

  • 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.

Sudden resurgence

  • 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.
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