Sir — It is true, as Sumanta Sen points out, that the Nepalese are not the original inhabitants of Darjeeling. But he is patently wrong in saying that the Sikkimese have a “rightful claim” to the place (“Fight for a new home”, April 3). The land has always belonged to the Lepchas. This was true during the signing of the brotherhood treaty between Tibetans and Lepchas in the 1420s, during the Gorkha invasion of the 1760s, or when Darjeeling was gifted to the East India Company in 1817.
Sen should be more specific about what he means by “Sikkimese”. At present, the term covers three major communities — the Lepchas, Bhutias and the Nepalese. The Lepchas have become a minority in their own land but they are happy to accommodate friends and foreigners alike. Instead of fighting for Gorkhaland, Bimal Gurung and Subash Ghisingh should look back to this tradition of hospitality initiated by the Lepchas and find an amicable solution to the present crisis in the hills.
Charisma K. Lepcha, Shillong
Sir — Sumanta Sen considers the Nepalese to be foreigners in Darjeeling because they came to the region from a neighbouring country. By this logic, all the Bengalis who migrated to West Bengal from East Pakistan are also foreigners. Hordes of refugees have poured into Tripura, which should have belonged exclusively to the Tripuris. These are realities that must be accepted just as the fact that the Gorkhas are now the predominant community in Darjeeling. There was a suggestion to fence the Indo-Darjeeling-Nepal border to check “a high rate of influx”. But the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950, Article VII, grants citizens of both countries to move, reside and own property and participate in trade and commerce in each other’s territory. So any kind of barricading is impossible without violating the pact.
Sen believes that a “display of muscle power has also ensured that [the Gorkhas] ride roughshod over a Buddhist culture”. I am a Buddhist, but for close to sixty years not once have I been intimidated or my faith questioned. It is because of this spirit of tolerance that Buddhist Bhutia women volunteered to fast till death for Gorkhaland. Bhutias and Gorkhas may be culturally different but when it comes to Gorkhaland, they speak the same language. Sen insinuates that the Gorkhas are a small community in Nepal. It would be best left to us to decide who is or is not a Gorkha: the semantics of the terms ‘Gorkha’ and ‘Nepali’ obviously confuse Sen.
As far as the Sixth Schedule is concerned, I have never known a ‘giver’ (the government in this case) so utterly eager to give something, and the receivers (the people of the hills) so strongly averse to accepting the gift. Need anything more be said on this? Sen, however, correctly says that Darjeeling belonged to Sikkim. In other words, Darjeeling never belonged to Bengal. So how does Bengal fit into the slot? There is no shared culture, history, language or religion between Bengal and Darjeeling. So Bengal has to let go sometime.
Sonam B. Wangyal, Jaigaon, West Bengal
Sir — Historically-speaking, the Gorkhas are of Hindu descent. The term has been derived from the Indian warrior saint, Guru Gorakhnath. His disciple, Bappa Rawal, founded the House of Mewar in Rajasthan. His descendants then moved east and founded the House of Gorkhas and then the kingdom of Nepal. It is a misconception that the Gorkhas took their name from the Gorkha region of Nepal. Rather, it is the other way round.
Darjeeling forms a rather late chapter in the colonial history. In early 19th century, it was a part of Sikkim, which had been conquered as far as the Terai region by Gorkha rulers. It was given to the British, who found it suitable for building a sanatorium. In 1839, Dr A. Campbell developed the hill resort, bringing labour from Nepal and Bhutan. The Lepchas, who were the original inhabitants, were forced to flee Darjeeling by the king of Sikkim. Does this imply that the Gorkhas are outsiders in their own country where they have been living for generations?
Shreyashi Chettri, Darjeeling
Sir — I take strong objections to Sumanta Sen’s views. History alone cannot be the criterion for statehood. The Nepalese people have lived in India for more than two centuries, they have given their life and blood for the country. They cannot, by any means, be dismissed as “foreigners”. As for the original inhabitants of Darjeeling, the debate is still on. What is without doubt is that at the time of independence, a Nepalese majority was living in Darjeeling. If we are to debate the legitimacy of statehood, should we not begin with independent India, when several other states came into existence? Why trace the history of the Gorkhas back to their forefathers? The term “Gorkha” was used by Subash Ghisingh because people, like Sen, identify the Nepalese with Nepal. If my forefathers migrated from Nepal 150 years ago and settled in Darjeeling (which has been a part of India since 1835) does that make me a citizen of Nepal and thus a “foreigner”? We are Nepalese only because of the language we speak. Like the other citizens of a democracy, Gorkhas too have the right to self-determination.
Amar Singh Rai, Darjeeling
Sir — Sumanta Sen should have looked at the constitutional definition of foreigners before labelling the Nepalis of Darjeeling so. Further, as residents of Darjeeling, the Nepalese here do not support the influx of Nepalese from Nepal. We demanded that the friendship treaty of 1950 between India and Nepal be considered null and void. The Government of India is not scrapping this treaty because it wants Indians to economically benefit from its provisions. As for the accusation of being violent towards Buddhist culture, Sen should know that half the Gorkha population follow the religion. Since Darjeeling was a part of Sikkim, Sen holds that Sikkim has the right to claim the land from Bengal. Perhaps Bengal should accept this fact and give the land back to Sikkim. The people of Darjeeling will claim it back from them.
Binu Sundas, New Delhi