India’s Gurkhas seeking to declare independent state of “Gorkhaland”September 19, 2009 # 4:30 pm # Human Rights, International Law # One Comment
India’s Gurkhas are preparing to unilaterally declare independence in a separate “Gorkhaland” state in the area around Darjeeling.
They claim they have been forced to take the step by decades of misrule which has siphoned away millions of pounds of government funds earmarked for them.
Despite the lucrative tea and tourism industries in the area, unemployment is high, electricity supply is sporadic and people are forced to travel for hours to the nearest proper hospital.
Now Indian Gurkhas, who dominate the Darjeeling Hills in the country’s north-east gateway, are becoming increasingly restive.
The Calcutta-based state government granted limited autonomy through the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988, but today’s Gurkha leaders say it has no powers, and cannot even hire permanent staff. Its leaders wear tweed jackets and hold their meetings in an old British greasy spoon café over scrambled eggs.
Earlier this week its 6,000 civil servants went on hunger strike over their casual status – teachers and senior administrators earn as little as £28 per month, less than rickshaw drivers.
Now, Bimal Gurung, leader of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the Gurkha nationalist party which dominates the Darjeeling Hills, has warned he will declare a separate state within the Indian union if ministers reject their demand to break away from West Bengal.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Gurung said his dream is to restore Darjeeling to its glory days and the high living standards it enjoyed as ‘Queen of the Hills’ during the British Raj.
“Darjeeling was a health resort under the British, but since they left nothing has been done,” he said from his party office in a small lock-up warehouse.
“People must go down to the plains for hospital treatment, and the West Bengal government would not even provide a CT scanner. People here collected donations and bought their own.”
Surrounded by his track-suited ‘Gorkhaland Personnel’ security force, Mr Gurung said many Gurkhas had fought and died in the Indian Army but their sacrifices had been rewarded with terrible roads, poor schools and an assembly with less power than a village council.
Today, Darjeeling is a tangle of unplanned, half-built concrete buildings, while its fine old British cottages and institutions, like the Darjeeling Tea Planters Club, are slowly collapsing and being devoured by moss.
Mr Gurung said a “Gorkhaland” state would be one of India’s richest, and he would use its wealth to build a new Darjeeling University, and establish new medical and engineering colleges.
“We have three million people and we get £6 million from the government. Sikkim has 500,000 people and they get £1 billion,” he said.
“We could collect £125 million from the hydroelectric power companies, £75 million from tea. There are huge revenues, but 70 per cent of our money is siphoned off,” he added.
He said the Gurkhas had run out of patience and would begin a Gandhi-style campaign of non-cooperation if they were not granted statehood by January 1, 2010. They will withhold taxes, refuse to pay government bills and start to collect their own revenues.
“We’ve been in touch with our government, and we feel they will understand our demand for ‘Gorkhaland.’ It’s one of India’s oldest demands and [until now] it has been sabotaged,” he said.
This does not seem like a great idea. We shall see how it plays out.