Bimal Gurung felicitates former Sikkim chief minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari in Darjeeling on Wednesday. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, Aug. 20: Bimal Gurung today said the GTA would correspond with the Centre and the state government in the Nepali language from now.
The GTA chief executive mentioned that language was “important as it is also our identity”.
“Despite Nepali language being recognised, we have not implemented it properly and this is the reason we are still talking about the importance of the status today. We have started using the Nepali language in the GTA on a small scale and we will have to move step by step,” said the GTA chief executive, addressing an event to mark Bhasha Divas at Gorkha Rangamanch Bhavan in Darjeeling.
The Bhasha Divas is celebrated to mark the inclusion of Nepali in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution among other official languages of the country.
“From now onwards, we will correspond with the state and the Centre in Nepali. It will be their duty to translate it,” Gurung said. “Language is also important as it is also our identity.”
Despite its recognition in the Eighth Schedule, the Nepali language was not widely used in official correspondence for lack of political initiative. English has been the preferred language of correspondence in offices spread across the hills.
Sources in the GTA, however, said that for the past two days the hill body had started using Nepali in official correspondence. “Efforts are being made to prepare official note sheets in Nepali,” said the source. Gurung had announced on July 31 that the Nepali language would be used for correspondence within the GTA.
The inclusion of the Nepali language in the Constitution was not devoid of drama as GNLF chief Subash Ghisingh wanted the word Gorkha language and not Nepali to be included in the Constitution. He did not want the hill people to be identified with Nepalis. Along with Nepali, the seventy-first amendment to the Constitution mentions “Gorkha Bhasa” as “the Nepali language is also known in some areas”.
“Nepali and Gorkha Bhasa are the same. Ghisingh preferred to call the Nepali language Gorkha Bhasa as he thought that would differentiate Nepalis from Nepal and India,” said Suraj Sharma, a poet in Darjeeling.
The demand for putting the Nepali language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution gathered steam from 1956 but political parties failed to deliver much at the time.
On January 31, 1972, eminent people in the hills, fed up with the lack of progress on the issue, formed the Bhasha Samiti, which was later rechristened as the Akhil Bharatiya Bhasha Samiti.
The Samiti took up the task of uniting all political parties, holding mass meetings and spreading the demand for inclusion of Nepali in the Eighth Schedule to other states where Nepali-speaking people resided. The Samiti also met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi repeatedly with its demand. “During our first meeting, she categorically told us it would not be possible to recognise the language and raised security concerns on agreeing to the demand,” Prem Kumar Allay, the late founder secretary of the Bhasha Samiti, had earlier said.
Such was the mass support for the demand that when Indira Gandhi visited Darjeeling to address a public meeting at the St Joseph’s School ground in the mid-1970s and did not announce anything on giving the Nepali language official status, the crowd overran the podium and the Prime Minister had to be rescued from the stage. In 1979, when then Prime Minister Morarji Desai visited the hills, the Bhasha Samiti called a bandh as Desai too had not given any assurance on the inclusion of Nepali.
In 1992, Dil Kumari Bhandari, then the MP from Sikkim, pushed the bill in Parliament for official status to Nepali.