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

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Reimagining the Geographies of the Gorkhaland Movement

While the demand for self-rule is not unknown in the Darjeeling hills, the recent triggers for the movement demanding the creation of Gorkhaland can be traced from the time the Trinamool Congress won the civic body election in the hill areas and imposed the compulsory adoption of Bengali language in schools. This prompts one to look critically at the imagined geography of a place, as envisioned by the government, as well as by those protesting for the creation of a new state, to understand whether and how a regional movement threatens the concept of nationalism.

The dream of achieving self-rule in the hill areas of colonial Bengal—presently the hills of Darjeeling and surrounding areas—is roughly 110 years old. Starting from 1907, this aspiration moved through various phases till it gained a feverish momentum during the latter half of the 20th century, with the demand for the creation of a separate state named Gorkhaland by bifurcating West Bengal. The bargaining by the different stakeholders1 of this movement has been noticeable throughout the much debated history of this movement. Moreover, the largely plains-based ruling party of the state—the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC)—had won in the Mirik Notified Area in the civic body election of May 2017. This victory has smoothened its passage into the region, where it was hitherto a political “pariah,” being a plains-based party since more than three decades.

What was expected to follow after this electoral victory was the ubiquitous mantra of the ushering in of “development,” as a panacea for the ills ailing the hills, but what followed was the declaration of the introduction by the chief minister of Bengali as one of the compulsory languages (under the three-language formula) to be taught in schools. As a consequence, the hills erupted in protest against this draconian measure of the “imposition of Bengali,” as protesters would call it. Although the mandatory provision was subsequently relaxed for the hills of Darjeeling by the ruling party in West Bengal, the collateral damage was already done. In a nutshell, this provided the background for the present spate of mobilisation and movement in the hills, and the demand for Gorkhaland once again reached its crescendo. We will elaborate the scenario further in the later part of the article, prior to which, a brief theoretical understanding may help us contextualise the issue further.

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Updated On : 7th Jun, 2019

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