ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gorkhaland: Fragile Social Fabric

Remarks aired over radio and directed in the context of the Nepali-speaking winner of a popular reality song contest sparked off a violent agitation in some north Bengal towns and in Sikkim. The violence appeared to unite disparate groups claiming to represent the “Gorkha” and the Nepalispeaking people. At the same time, it was also a symptom of the changing political discourse in the region, with growing opposition to Subhash Ghising, who led the movement for Gorkhaland in the 1980s. The word “Gorkha” owes its name to a principality founded in the early 16th century that is now presently in Nepal. Political movements have preferred the use of the term Gorkha over Nepali to distinguish between citizens of Nepal and India. The Gorkha movement of the 1980s, too, was an attempt to refashion a new identity from erstwhile colonial constructions of the Gorkha identity, and fitting it to the demands of a modern nation state.

The violence occurred at a particular moment of political disjuncture in that it reflected the division between the different tribes who broadly fall within the rubric of the “Gorkha community”, and are now seeking tribal status to avail the benefits of the sixth schedule. Concomitantly, there have been renewed calls by groups such as the Nagarik Suraksha Samiti, and the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh for a united Gorkha movement against the non-tribals and the non-Nepali speakers. It was an apparent display of “Gorkha” assertion that united the collective ire of the people in protests against what they read as a stereotypical labelling and saw large-scale violence being inflicted on the non-Nepalese speaking community, especially in Siliguri – a town whose demography has recorded rapid changes in recent decades.

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