“Hill history!!” An Investigation
In her article "Hill history" published in “The Statesman” dated 17-July-08 Chhanda Chakraborty the former professor of history, North Bengal University, in a perverted attempt to concoct the hill history, without being specific in the matter, has blatantly accused the Gorkha Statehood activists of distorting history. At no point of time have any of the Statehood activists ever claimed that the Darjeeling Hills were a gift from Nepal. On the face of the historical record, the Treaty of Segowlee 04/03/1816 signed between Nepal and East India Company, and the Treaty of Titalia 10/02/1817 signed between Sikkim and the East India Company, stand as firm evidence that Darjeeling was being intermittently ruled by both Nepal and Sikkim.
Similarly, her contention that "the three Newari kingdoms, occupying the valley of Nepal",
is itself a misconceived view. The ones she was referring to were Lalitpur( Patan), Bhatgaon and Kantipur and she has blundered by missing the fourth one Kirtipur. All these four kingdoms were and are to this day located within the Kathmandu Valley. The rules of the tiny Newari Rajas were limited to these minor kingdoms and in no certain term were its jurisdictions ever extended beyond the respective boundaries, to be called Nepal. In the quest for unification of Nepal, it was but obvious for Prithivi Narayan Shah to annex these four puny kingdoms.
Chakraborty’s statement that "Captain Kilnoch was dispatched with a force but was compelled to retire due to the deadly climate of the Terai"
is unfounded and far from true. In total contradiction to her view, Daniel Wright, one of the most celebrated authorities on the history of Nepal, holds the firm belief, "The former Rajas applied to the British for assistance and Captain Kilnoch with a few companies of sepoys advanced into the Terai in 1765, but was repulsed by the Gorkha Troops."
Similarly, if history is viewed as a process of cause and effect - it wasn't an uncommon issue for Nepal to enter into disputes, feuds, skirmishes, wars and treaties with a neighbouring states, as did any other country. In the same light, to clear the mist and haze surrounding the history of the Himalayan Kingdoms, it is imperative to understand the background of such historical events before drawing an impartial conclusion.
To begin with, in the absence of a defined international border between Nepal and Sikkim, the Limbus and the Lepchas freely intermingled with each other. There were the Lepchas in Nepal, just as there were the Limbus in Sikkim, even prior to the formation of Nepal as a unified country. In fact, the cultural bond between these two communities was so strong that inter-marriages were a common practice.
Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal in "Sikkim and Darjeeling Division and Deception"
quotes P.N. Chopra "Sikkim": "In the remote past, the Lepchas of Denzong and the Limbus of Eastern Nepal mixed with each other . . . Marriages within the two clans were common".
In fact, Sikkim is a corrupt version of Suhim. The word Suhim means "New Home" in Limbu dialect, often referred to by the Limbu bride.
Even after the unification of Nepal, no restriction was enforced between these two clans to put a stop to this cultural intercourse. Nor was there any attempt to define the boundary of each state through a formal demarcation of the area. In absence of such status-quo, border skirmishes were inevitable. Soon minor feuds led to major war. In 1787-88, the Lepchas, expert in the art of boobytraps, had caused the death of one hundred Gorkha soldiers. Not content, the Sikkimese war lords Hangjit Chhutup and Dhakkar Chhandoj had driven the surviving Gorkhas to Chainpur in the Terai belt of Nepal. At Chainpur, they were intercepted by the Gorkha Troops that was stationed there. "Two Sikkimese war lords at once attracted the wrath of the Gorkhas. So furious were the Gorkhas that Hangjit Chhutup had collapsed after the severe beating, while Dhakar Chhandoj died later", according to Gupta Pradhan’s "Dhumil Prista Haru".
This was to be followed by ferocious retribution. The three Gorkha generals Johar Sing, Purna Allay and Damodar Panday entered south-west Sikkim. Soon, they ransacked the entire province. In fact, so severe were the atrocities that the king and queen had left their throne and fled towards the north-east of Sikkim. In absence of the crown, the subjects fled towards the jungle, while some of them hid in the caves. Soon the Gorkhas bolstered their hold over the region. Accordingly, in 1788 Tashiding, Rabdentse, Saangachheoling and Darjeeling, along with the area west of river Teesta, were ceded to Nepal.
As for the war between Nepal and China, geographically as an accused aggressor, it was untenable for Nepal to directly enter into war with China. Since this war was co-related with Tibet, it is but pertinent to understand the Tibetan history of that era. And in the same breath, the reasons associated with the presence of Chinese army in Tibet.
Shortly after the murder of the controversial 6th Dalai Lama, through the Mongol-Chinese clique, China had backed a twenty-five year old monk as a replacement. The Tibetans rejected the Chinese proposal and installed a new incarnation from Litang in Eastern Tibet. The incarnation was approved by both the Tibetans and the Mongols. Apprehending a Mongol-Tibetan alliance, Emperor Kang Hsi had dispatched the Chinese imperial army into Tibet in 1718.
Again in 1749, when the Chinese Amban (Manchu Political Commissioner)
was involved in the murder of Gyalpo, the Tibetans revolted against such high handedness and in retaliation had massacred the Chinese. In response, the imperial force was sent forth.
Through these dual events of history, the Chinese military gained knowledge of Tibetan terrain, topography and the means to acclimatize in one of the world’s harshest climates.
The Nepalese on the contrary were totally clueless about the Chinese background. Without so knowing, in 1792 after a flush of success in the Sikkimese frontier, in anticipation to a threat from Tibet, a strong contingent of eighteen thousand Nepalese troops, under the command of General Damodar Panday, invaded Tibet. They soon advanced as far as Shigatze and plundered the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. The Tibetans along with Teshu Lama had fled to Lhasa. In order to regain the lost ground, Lhasa at once sought Chinese assistance.
"........... a force of no less than seventy thousand Chinese was led in two columns by General Sand Fo . . . Their artillery consisted of light field guns made of leather which fired a few rounds and then burst. The Gorkhas had no guns . . . seventy thousand Chinese had marched across the most difficult mountain districts in the world for 800 miles . . . Practically they were without artillery, and they had in front of them the most tenacious and most valiant for that ever stood up to fight in Asia".
"Tibet the Mysterious", Thomas H. Holdich .
Despite being overwhelmed by sheer numbers and superior firepower, the Gorkhas had displayed their true character as a warrior race and had fought the war most valiantly. The British had deputed Col. Corkpatrick to mediate between China and Nepal. But, by then the two had already entered into a truce and Nepal was to take tribute to the Chinese Emperor after every five years. However, as a precaution against the future Chinese inroads into its territory, Nepal signed a commercial treaty with the British India in 1792. The prospect of the Commercial Treaty was short lived, since the British design was held in suspicion and this led to a gradual deterioration in relations between Nepal and British India, which eventually resulted into the Anglo-Gorkha war of 1814. Taking a leaf out of the Chinese experience, the British emulated a similar military strategy.
"The British employed a big force of about 46,629 men against 16,000 ill-equipped Gorkha Troops . . . On several fronts the British force was beaten back by the Gorkhas. Only the army under Col. David Ochterlony did not suffer defeat. The Gorkhas tactics were purely defensive. They could not push with their initial success. The British defeated them on several fronts and forced them to sue for peace".
"The Gorkha Connection" Puroshottam Banskota.
In honour of the Nepal - China Truce of 1792, when the tribute was being taken through Tibet, it was plundered and the Nepalese officials were insulted by some Tibetans. This led to a brawl that developed into a second major war between Nepal and Tibet in 1854. The result, while Tibet was the vanquished nation, Nepal stood to be victorious. After the war a treaty was signed.
"......a treaty of peace was signed on the 25th of March 1856. The main points of it were that Tibet should pay 10,000 rupees (£1,000) annually, on condition of the Nepalese evacuating the Tibetan Territory which they had occupied". "History of Nepal" - Daniel Wright.
It is for the historians, expert in the history of the Himalayan kingdoms to exercise the prerogative to evaluate and comment, as to whether Nepal really followed the path of expansionist policy, or took a resolute stand against the inevitable realities. In the same context, it is for the historians of standing and familiarity with the historical development of the Darjeeling region, to make qualified commentary on the subject. In a horrendous exercise of conspiracy, the historical events of Nepal have been most unnecessarily dragged into and blended with the public outcry of the Indian Gorkhas. In reality it is a draconian attempt to perpetuate the feudal colonial rule of West Bengal over the District of Darjeeling. The allegations based on inadequate rationale and directed to disinform the Nation and at the same time malign the popular mass movement, can be construed as nothing more than a mockery of the lowest order.
If the “Hill history” is to be viewed in chronological order, Siliguri was not made a part of Darjeeling in 1850 as stated. In fact, it was in 1841 that J.D.Hooker and M.D.Campbell, the dual crown representatives of the newly acquired Darjeeling were held in prison by Pagla Dewan(the mad prime minister) for venturing into the wild interiors of Sikkim. This was followed by a stern action from the Company. A compromise was worked out and Sikkim had to yield additional areas extending from Siliguri through the Terai to the banks of the river Mechi. The area was then to become a permanent part of the District of Darjeeling. Accordingly, the Western Dooars were the Sikkimese territory. In 1706, during the rule of Chedor Namgyal, a palace intrigue was engineered by his half sister Peddy Wangmo, a potential rival for the throne. Owing to this conspiracy South West Sikkim along with Kalimpong and Western Dooars were annexed by Bhutan. After the Anglo-Bhutanese War of 1865 Kalimpong and Western Dooars were not annexed but rightfully recovered by the British on behalf of Sikkim. Likewise, in 1870 it was incorporated into not just Darjeeling but the District of Darjeeling. By so doing, the District of Darjeeling had recovered the lost territory.
Chakraborty’s contention that "when the British first acquired the hill territory in 1835, it was almost entirely forests . . . a very scanty population consisting of Lepchas of Sikkim who numbered roughly around hundred". “A hundred souls and twenty huts” is a notion based on the people living in and around current Darjeeling town, without specifying the race of the inhabitants. Otherwise, there is no evidence on record that the British entered Darjeeling with a team of surveyors and anthropologists to conduct any form of census on the local inhabitants.
Similarly, her contention that "the presence of Europeans in the hills with their many wants and demands for labour offered splendid opportunities which the Nepalese were quick to grasps with the introduction of tea and European capital . . . To the timid , peace loving Lepchas and Bhutias inhabiting particularly the tract of the Teesta were added the pushy, assertive Nepalese, who flocked in hundreds from Nepal in search of employment."
In order to establish the truth from wild speculation, let us first analyze the comments of H.H.Risley in "The Gezetter of Sikkim": "Of late years, as the hills have been stripped of their timber by the European tea-planter and the pushy Nepalese agriculturist, while the Forest Department has set its face against primitive methods of cultivation, the tribe is on the way to being pushed out. There is no lack of employment for them. Labour is badly wanted and well paid, and the other races of Darjeeling hills have flourished exceedingly since European enterprise and capital have made the cultivation of tea the leading industry of the district. The Lepchas alone seem to doubt whether life is worth living under the shadow of advancing civilization and there can, we fear, be little question that the interesting and attractive race will soon go the way of forest which they believe to be their original home."
"Pushy Nepalese agriculturists" denotes the presence of Nepalese population, who were basically farmers. The government through the Department of Forest was set to introduce reform in the matter of cultivation, but the Lepchas were averse to such changes. Though there was high demand for labour and the fact that they enjoyed equal opportunity for tea garden employment, the Lepchas did not grasp the prospect. Other races of Darjeeling hills have flourished, giving ample evidence that the “other races” noted referred to the strong presence of Nepalese population in the hills of Darjeeling. Therefore, initially the British had engaged the local Nepalese population of the Darjeeling hills in the establishment of the tea industry. Thus, the Lepchas were neither pushed nor segregated, but on their own had preferred an exclusive life to preserve their traditional culture.
Another authority on the subject, Francis Buchanan Hamilton in "An account of the kingdom of Nepal" reinforces the fact of the presence of Gorkha population in the undivided Sikkim."The mountains of Sikkim contained many people of the tribe called the Limbus . . . that of the whole population three tenths were Bhotiyas , five tenths Lepchas and two tenths Limbus ".
Similarly, in the words of the British pioneer and a Botanist of high reputation, Joseph Dalton Hooker, “The Magars are aborigines of Sikkim, whence they were driven by the Lepchas westward into the country of the Limboos and then later further west” So much for Chakraborty’s comment “ To the timid peace loving Lepchas”
Hooker’s remarks are further ascertained by the distinguished explorer and discoverer, Sarat Chandra Das in his popular title “JOURNEY TO LHASA AND CENTRAL TIBET” “Lower down the valley lived the Magar tribe from Nepal, whose chief extended his sway over the Sharpa, and exacted such oppressive taxes from them.” For Chakraborty’s information, both the Limbus and Magars are important segments of the Gorkha community.
I would also draw the learned Professor’s attention to certain references from "The Dorjeeling Guide 1845". Let us examine the comments on the Lepchas. "Thus they are found among the subjects of Eastern Nipal, through out the whole of Sikkim, and extending an unknown distance into Bhutan. I believe however, that they are found in very small numbers, indeed further east than fifty miles beyond the Teestah". This clarifies the fact, against the claim put forward by the Professor, that the Lepcha tribe never inhabited the tract of the Teesta . The much emphasized Bhutia tribe doesn't figure in amongst the list of local indigenous tribes. This could be owing to the fact that except for the scattered minority, the bulk of the Bhutia population was concentrated in Sikkim.
"The Dorjeeling Guide" states that the tract of Teesta was inhabited by two of the indigenous Gorkha tribes. These two tribes were the Limbus and the Moormis. In the olden days "Tamangs" were referred to as Moormis, meaning the border people. Let us now examine the comments over these two tribes.
" The Limbus . . . are found in smaller numbers eastward to the Mechi river, which forms the boundry of Nipal and Sikkim .In still fewer numbers they exist within the Sikkim territory , as far east as Teestah river , beyond which they vary rarely settle".
"The Moormis . . . This is a very numerous tribe, found in all parts of the Nipal mountains , from the Gunduk river, twenty miles to the west of Cathmandu to the Mechi; whence in smaller numbers they are to be met within the Sikkim country , as far east as the Teestah".
These references further support the contention that the Gurkhas along with the Lepchas were indeed the indigenous population of Darjeeling hills. Similarly the statement ". . . assertive Nepalese who flocked in hundreds from Nepal in search of employment from Nepal. They were much in demand as labourers , in tea and cinchona gardens , for construction work on roads and fro cultivation by clearing forests. These were the pull factors."
Here, I would prefer to quote the esteemed research work of Dr. Tanka Bahadur Subba , " The Quiet Hills ." "Nepalese immigration took mainly because the British enticed them to come here and work in the tea gardens and other development projects . . . The Lepchas who were the earlier settlers here were probably reluctant to leave their forests and their traditional mode of life, but the population was very low, insufficient for meeting the labour needs of the growing tea industry in the region. Thus people had to be brought from outside and for this the hills of Nepal were an ideal hunting ground . . . For such work the British government used to reward them with revenue-free lands and those who excelled in such jobs were also given special honours. "
"The decennial population growth was high during 1872 - 1881, 1881- 1891. This high percentage growth in these decades was mainly due to the opening of tea gardens, building of roads and buildings and extension of cultivation, which attracted immigrants from Nepal in large numbers."
The sound argument put forward by Dr Subba further supports the contention that till 1871 the tea industry was set up with the effort of the indigenous Gorkha population. With the booming tea industry and the places development, there was scarcity of labour force. To meet up the short supply of labourers , the British engaged commission agents to bring work force from across Nepal. In order to lure the commission agents and workforce, fat incentives were offered. Hence, to say that the Nepalese flocked in hundreds from Nepal in search of employment is nothing but an engagement in the exercise of monkey business.
As for the push factor, one of the reasons could be the practice of the "Kut" system. Under the prevalent "Kut" system, both the lessee and lesser were bound by an agricultural contract in which the former paid the latter a fixed amount of grain. At times, when the weather gods were unkind, the lessee could be impoverished. But as of date, there is no evidence to stress that the Nepalese fled country out of famine and poverty. Since the last short war that Nepal had fought was against Tibet in 1854, the remark on the system of "conscription in the army" is nothing but a bogus statement, unless the writer has confused the issue with the “Anglo-Nepalese Friendship Treaty of 1850" that provided opportunity to the Nepalese for recruitment in the British Army.
Today, Gorkhas living in the district of Darjeeling are proud descendants of their forefathers .For it was their forefathers who all had arduously contributed in the making of modern Darjeeling. Equally proud is the industrial proletariat. In spite of the shortcomings, it withstood the temptation of the militant trade unions’ theory of anti-work culture. This noble character of the Gorkhas effectively saved the industrial proletariat from declining into an industrial sleaze. Even as otherwise, isn't industrial proletariat a far more soothing metaphor than industrial sleaze? As a viable asset of the nation equally proud are the industrial proletariats for enabling the country to earn its precious foreign exchange in millions. To put another feather in the cap of the Gorkhas, the brand "Darjeeling Tea" has acquired the global flavour. This stands as a testimony before the changing global economic scenario.
Now, if we flip the pages of "Hill history", at no time had Bengal or its rulers anything to do with Darjeeling or its surrounding areas. Yes, it was through the "Deed of Darjeeling Grant" of 01-02-1835 that Darjeeling was given on lease to the British East India Company by Sikkim at an annual rent of Rs 3,000/- which was later raised to Rs 6,000/-. The British, much impressed by the salubrious climate of Darjeeling, had intended to build sanitarium for its company servants from both Bengal and Burma. This was rather a surface quotation. While, in its hidden agenda; Darjeeling was to be converted into a strategic center to monitor the activities of Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet. (Here again nearest route to Lhasa from the British territory was through the "Chumby Valley" and not "Chumti Valley" as narrated in the said article)
However, with respect to "Hill history" where the learned Professor has missed the plot is that after August, 15th 1947, the rule of the British in India was terminated. Burma was separated from the Indian Union .Following their example, in all fairness Bengal should have made a graceful exit from the District of Darjeeling. This healthy gesture of Bengal would have created a wider scope for the region’s political future to be decided by the representatives of both Sikkim and Darjeeling along with the guidelines of the Central Government of India.
With such prospects being marred by narrow parochial interest, the holding of a referendum to determine the will of the people was set aside. In absence of any protest or resistance from the collective public of Darjeeling, the Government of West Bengal extended its administrative unit over the District of Darjeeling. Time and again, whenever there arose the possibility of Darjeeling's separation from Bengal, such a move was thwarted by all means. In its overall effort, West Bengal continued to consolidate and perpetuate its political intrusion over the District of Darjeeling. The successive government of both Congress and C.P.I (M) encouraged the hordes of refugees from across East Pakistan and later Bangladesh to settle in the Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling District. These facts can be further corroborated from the “Final Report of the Darjeeling Tract Settlement” and “The Darjeeling Terai Settlement” submitted by the Settlement officer, Sasi Bhusan Dutt, published by the Bengal Secretariat Press 1898 clearly states that there was not a single Bengali soul either in Siliguri or in the Terai belt. The settlement report of 1898 is further substantiated through the State Assembly election record of 1952, when George Mahbert Subba of All India Gorkha League party was elected as the first representative of Siliguri
While assessing the region’s history, it ought to be observed that within a span of few decades, the phenomenal growth of refugee population has transformed the demographic balance of Siliguri Sub-Division into an uneven proportion. Of the indigenous inhabitants, the Kochees and Mechis are on the verge of extinction. The Gorkhas, with not a single representative, even at the grass-root level, have been virtually reduced to an insignificant minority. Thanks to the lenient policy adopted by the State Government towards the refugee population, Siliguri has been transformed into a land of milk and honey for the penniless fugitives of yesteryear. Mr Madan Tamang, the President of All India Gorkhas League, has been quoted in “The Statesmen's edition of Bengal and Sikkim " dated 4th Sept., 2008 pointing out that the immigration policy of India that allows illegal infiltration of Bangladeshis into North Bengal is a ploy to reduce the Gorkhas to a minority. "According to the 1981 census report 15 million illegal Bangladeshis infiltrated to North Bengal. It has no adverse implications for the Bengali community, but affects the demography of the Gorkhas". Sure enough, Mr. Tamangs findings are not without basis. 15 million in 1981 and by now it certainly has surpassed the overall population of Australia. Interestingly, the overall population of Australia in the late 1990's was 16 million. Worse, the Gorkhas have to bear the brunt of ludicrous statements such as "Bengal shall not be divided"
While taking the historical facts into account, it is imperative to note that the East India Company ceded almost 18000 square kilometer of land from Nepal. In the transitory period along with the land, it was but natural for the majority of the Indian Gorkhas to first join the British India and later the Indian Union. However it is the controversial Indo-Nepal treaty of 1950 that stands to create an identity paradox between an Indian Gorkha and a Nepalese citizen. In reality it has given undue opportunity to some of the half-baked intellectuals and foul-mouth politicians to tarnish the image of the Indian Gorkhas. "Mr. D.S. Bomzon, a writer and a noted intellectual in his recently published title "Darjeeling - Dooars People and Place under Bengal's Neo-Colonial Rule" has remarked, "Thus, West Bengal is the only state in India where the people who had entered along with lands and amalgamated into India are being called immigrants. As a result of such concocted and misconceived notion, the Gorkhas in India are facing a deep crisis of their identity of Indian-ness across the country. Similarly, the Bengali in India would have faced the same situation if there had been no separate state named as West Bengal with the existence of an independent country Bangladesh having free border like that of Nepal with India. In that kind of circumstances the entire Bengali community of India would not have remained contented and satisfied with any arrangement other than the separate state named as West Bengal within India." Furthermore, it has enabled the "Anti-Gorkhaland" bogey to stoke controversy by falsifying history and time and again the same bogey is engaged in a dubious exercise to misrepresent and sully the image of the Indian Gorkhas. Some of the regional media are equally vociferous in promoting such surreptitious design. Their motive behind this heinous act is to impose the belief that the Indian Gorkhas entered the country after the treaty of 1950.
Without making an in-depth analysis, it would be a woolly exercise to comment, that most statehood demands are more emotional than logical. Having witnessed the ugly face of Autonomy and Development, its conception to a common man would be no more then a transparent gambit. The 6th–Schedule bill is an unrealistic alternative its imposition means fragmentation of the homogenous Gurkha entity. Inadherence to the recent public outrage and to avert calamity of any kind, the 6th-Schedule bill be quashed forthwith. In the present context of the situation, its time that both the State and Center pay heed to the views expressed by the veteran journalist and cartoonist, Rajinder Puri in his article “Troubled Telengana!” published in “The Statesman” dated 27/06/08 “Small states mean faster progress. Haryana and Himachal proved that. Cultural identity and administrative convenience should be the criteria for carving new states out of even one linguistic group. It should be done systematically. It can be done with minimum discord if new states are within the boundaries of the large state to be divided. Parliament should appoint a second commission to reorganize states. Creating new states adhoc by responding to violent protest after hundreds are killed is a stupid way to introduce change.” What can be more apropos than the veteran journalist’s observation on small states? While fully endorsing the views of the revered journalist and in the larger interest of the Nation, every right thinking citizen of India will surely uphold the belief that the collective public opinion on Gorkhaland is a sober reality. The economic viability to sustain the ground realities are so immense, that it would be premature to spell out its prospect at this juncture.
As for the "Hill history" it surely is an intricate subject. By no means is it a commercial flashback to draw hasty conclusion based on manipulated and insufficient data.
(Click following link for HILL HISTORY by Chhanda Chakraborty) http://thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=4&id=240717&usrsess=1