Decoding the Gorkha identity

Recently at Kalimpong some members of Gorkha civil society got together to debate 1950 Indo- Nepal Treaty on peace and friendship and its impact on them. One school of thought is of the opinion that citizens should not discuss such matters of state, as it is between two sovereign countries, ‘is that correct one wonders’? Identity is the very essence or core of a human being, and if 1.25 crore people across India feel their identity is at stake they become stake holders and thus becomes paramount a dialogue amongst them about their future within the Indian national environment keeping the national interest supreme. Some political parties of Darjeeling stayed away for reasons best known to them.  Article 7 of this treaty especially links to Gorkha identity and civil society needs to come forward  once and for all to find a way to this vexed issue.

Gorkha identity has two facets- the first- generic or macro which applies to all, like being referred to as chinky, bahadurs, or fit for doorman like jobs. They have also been systemically targeted in both Assam and Meghalaya as foreigners whereas they are Indians. The hill areas of Darjeeling and Doars are badly neglected and underdeveloped with pot holes on the strategic national highways.

The next is specific or at the individual level when the accent or slanted eyes, make them conspicuous and subject to individual jokes, jeers and laughter and being referred to as Nepali. The 1950 treaty allows unabated migration from Nepal, with similar sounding names, expressions, mannerisms and religion, the Indian state and individuals are not sensitive enough to differentiate between a Nepali migrant worker and a Gorkha.

The word Nepali has a distinct identity. It is wholesome and denotes as belonging to Nepal. It has an aura and standing of its own, and represents citizenship of that country. Gorkhas often get mixed up with migrant Nepali labour thus the word Nepali which incidentally is also the language, confuses not only the community but also the other Indian. It is this crisis of identity at the generic and individual level that needs to be clarified. The loyalty, patriotism, loves for nation and supreme sacrifice have never been questioned.

In fact because of the Gorkha regiment a large number of Nepali citizens are very patriotic to India.
This population may not be Kathmandu or elite specific but is spread across the length and breadth of Nepal. What really is the 1950 treaty all about and what does it showcase?

The 1950 treaty essentially consists of 10 articles. The first four articles are foreign policy centric and Nepal feels, they curtail its freedom and allows undue advantage to India. Nepal has charted an independent policy of keeping India and China equidistant.This has upset New Delhi and which is very legitimate. Article 5 allows Nepal to import, through Indian territory, arms, ammunition or warlike material and necessary equipment as it deems fit. China is now trying to provide Nepal this facility of a port, thus jeopardising India’s special status.

Article 6 and 7 are people centric and allow reciprocal rights to the nationals of one country in the territories of the other the same privileges in the matter residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and privileges of a similar nature. These two articles are people centric but have also become a bone of contention, for the Gorkhas notice the difference in spelling the ‘u’ of 1947 being replaced by ‘o’ in current colloquial. Article 8 cancels all previous treaties, while article 9 deals with the date and article 10 give a one year dead line for change terminated by either party. The Gorkha identity issue comes from article 7 which allows migration and also allows Nepali citizens to own property in India, whereas, Indian citizens are not allowed to own property in Nepal.  

 A treaty has national interests as supreme and security uppermost or paramount. Where does the solution lie, definitely not in turning a Nelson’s eye to the issue, but debating the same, building a consensus amongst Gorkhas spread across various locations in India and presenting a base paper to the Indian government. It lies in wholesome debate, carefully gathering facts and figures and respecting the democratic process and putting a plea before the Indian government which succinctly should state, ‘Please protect our identity, in the manner you feel best.’

The government should examine the problem. It may decide on a course of action that it deems fit. If it deems that there is a problem, it can solve the vexed issue in two ways. The first manner may be inside the treaty. This implies that the government may decide to amend some paragraphs within the treaty, as it deems fit. The next may be outside the treaty. There is a need to examine these two courses. Any solution inside the treaty is not in national interest, as it will weaken the very fabric of our society, our very fabric of equality and the unwritten stated fact of unity in diversity. The identity problem is an Indian problem; the Gorkhas want to be seen as Indians without being mixed up as migrant Nepali workers. The solution therefore, lies in finding a solution such that the problem stays within the four walls of the house.

There are other spin offs of finding a solution outside the treaty. The Gorkha identity becomes an Indian identity and once and for all the link with Nepal which never existed is broken. Another spin off is that the Nepali migrant worker gets properly defined.

The conditions are created without any security impendent for a Gorkha state within the ambit of the Indian constitution, in a region that borders, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and China. For their part the Gorkhas need to respect the democratic process and respect the rule of law as that is the biggest strength of the liberal Indian democracy.

The author is a retired brigadier
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