The classical concepts of political theory broadly organises the society into units namely the family, civil society, political society and the state. These concepts are used in a wide variety of senses and often with much inconsistency. However, I find it useful to employ these concepts in talking about contemporary Darjeeling. Family is the elementary unit of social organisation and therefore the concept is eternal and as old as the society of Darjeeling itself. The state is shifting in nature. Taking into consideration its conventional definition, the people of Darjeeling saw state in the form of the Chogyal, Shah, British and Bengal at present. Same is applicable to the political society starting from Akhil Bharati Gorkha League in 1943 to Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha now. The civil society on the other hand has the analytical disadvantage. Though the domain is continuous in structure and purpose, it is either regarded as a depoliticized domain in contrast with the political domain of the state and the political society, or of blurred distinction altogether by claiming that all civil institutions are political. Neither emphasis is helpful for my purpose at the moment. My purpose here is to the trace the genealogy and transformation of civil society in Darjeeling. Therefore, I wish to keep the term ‘civil society’ for those institutions of modern associational life which are based on equality, rationality, inclusiveness, autonomy, freedom of entry and exit, recognized rights and duties of the members, and other such principles. The start of the twentieth century saw the nurturing and formation of civil society in Darjeeling. This happened within the context of the gradual shift in the centre of gravity of the Nepali community in India. The technologies of cultural production within Nepali community which were limited to Banaras during the nineteenth century began appearing in Darjeeling at the start of the twentieth century. A monthly magazine Gorkhey Khabar Kagat edited by Pastor Gangaprasad Pradhan was published from Darjeeling in 1901. Similarly, Dhanbir Mukhia formed the Gorkha National Theatrical Party and staged Atalbahadur in 1909. These initial initiatives guided the studious development of various educational, social and cultural institutions during early decades of twentieth century. Various civil society organisations like the Children Amusement Association (1909), Himalayan Amusement Association (1913), Gorkha Library (1913) Nepali Sahitya Sammelan (1924), Gorkha Dukha Niwarak Sammelan (1932) and many others emerged whose concerns revolved around an aspirational rhetoric of social progress and reform and enabling the construction of new type of modern Nepali identity. There were debates surrounding recognition and standardisation of Nepali language.
The need for a strong and effective civil culture in Darjeeling also need to be examined against the backdrop of various political developments taking place then within Darjeeling as well as rest of India. The start of the twentieth century called for a need of modern and inclusive thread to bind the emergent civic patriotism in India, particularly after realising the exclusive character of religious revivalist tendencies. The immediate events surrounding the partition of Bengal in 1905 made evident for Indian nationalists that language or linguistic identity would well serve as the foundation for Indian nationalism in future. The movement for reunification of Bengal basically turned out to be a large scale movement to reorganize the provinces based on language in the eastern region of India. The movement for a separate province-formation emerged in Hindi-speaking and later Oriya-speaking parts of Bengal presidency. Darjeeling which was then partially attached Bengal presidency mainly for administrative purpose shared nothing in common with the people of Bengal in terms of history, language and culture.
Under such pretext, in 1907, the first ever demand for ‘separate administrative set-up’ for the district of Darjeeling was placed. Here, I would like to emphasize that the organisation (Hillman Association) which indeed placed the demand was ‘civil’ in nature and no specific name for the separate administrative set-up was proposed. However, given the miserable condition of the people of Darjeeling who were largely illiterate and unaware, the demand could not gain ground until the coming of the first political party in Darjeeling. The coming of first political party marked the shift in the shouldering of the responsibility of the people of Darjeeling by the ‘political’ from ‘civil’. Thereafter, the concerns of the people of Darjeeling were formally politicized and till now different political parties with varying strategies have to been striving towards that very end. This phenomenon also conduced the usurping of the civil society in Darjeeling by the political society and consequently putting the civil society into the de-formative stage. This is not to deny the fact that Nepali language got recognition under the eight schedule of the India Constitution through the arduous effort of the civil society in Darjeeling.
Therefore, it would be a waste to wreck our brain by too much thinking about the novel, innovative and comprehensive initiative of the Darjeeling Dooars United Development Foundation and his founder Prof. Mahendra P Lama, who an eminent academician, noted development economist, active social worker and an able administrator. It may be merely understood as his simple effort to reinvigorate the deforming civil society of Darjeeling. The same may be said by examining the nature of support base it has been garnering. For example, Nepali Gorkha Dukha Niwarak Sammelan who has decided to lend support for Prof. Lama’s candidature for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections was formed in 1932 and is one of the foremost and premier civil society institutions of Darjeeling. Similarly, various other social and literary organisations have come to support Prof. Lama in his effort, like, the Bharatya Gorkha Parisangh. And more importantly the people at large are coming openly support him.
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