Wednesday, October 7, 2009

With Us or With Them

With the establishment of the Gorkha rule at the Kathmandu valley in 1769, the political, cultural, and religious hegemony the Gorkha brought large number of dissident nationalities into the Darjeeling Hills, and beyond. After the conquest of the kirant territories, the political occupation was followed by cultural imposition which resulted in the migration of large number of the Kirant people into Sikkim and Bhutan who had maintained their own cultural traditions resisting the state indoctrinated culture (Dhungel 2006). The direct and indirect pressure of state taxation for the maintenance of the newly formed Gorkha empire led to the further migration of Rais, Limbus and Yakhas from the Kirant territory abandoning their kipat (cited in Subba 2002: 121). Chemjong (1974/5) cites successive waves of migration of the Limbus from their kipat into Darjeeling, Assam and Bhutan between 1840 and 1860.
In the wave of the territorial expansion towards the east, the Gorkha conquered Darjeeling, the then part of Sikkim and the present day western Sikkim in 1780 and retained till 1816. After the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-15) and the subsequent Treaty of Segowlee (1815), the present day frontiers between India and Nepal were drawn. In February 1835, through the Deed of Grant, the Maharaja of Sikkim presented “…out of friendship … Darjeeling to the East India Company, that is, all the land south of the Great Rungeet River, east of the Balasan River, Kalyail and Little Rungeet Rivers, and west of the Rungus and Mahanadi Rivers” (Mainwaring 1876: viii). By Capt. Llyod’s estimate, it was “30 miles long and 10 miles at some places in breadth”, and was referred as the Darjeeling Tract (Pinn 1986: 15). Since, the British could not present retaliatory gift- a demand of the Sikkimese King for Dabgaon, and Rummo Purdhan, who had fled with two years revenue; it was compensated by annual subsidy (see Moktan 2004). By 1836, the British established Darjeeling as a sanatorium and started to build roadways to and in the Darjeeling Tract for which the Nepali labourers were employed (Pradhan 2004). Apart from maintaining the public works, the Nepalis were employed in the maintenance of the colonial administration in the Darjeeling Tract. Soon the British found the Darjeeling Tract suitable for tea plantation and started to grow tea on a commercial basis, which required large number of labourers. Apart from the locals the people from the eastern hills of Nepal supplied the plantation force, and eventually led to the establishment of a Nepali community in various tea gardens of Darjeeling.
To maintain their colonial interest in Sikkim, the British continued to promote Nepali migration in the Sikkim Hills to dilute the Chinese influence. Kalimpong, a subdivision of the present day Darjeeling district, was under Bhutanese rule from 1706 until 1864 (Subba 1989: 74). After the Anglo-Bhutanese War (1864-5), a large number of Nepalis from the eastern Nepal migrated to the southern Bhutan (Hutt 2003).
After the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-15, the British started to recruit Magars, and Gurungs, and later on Rais and Limbus to fuel the British consolidation in India and abroad (Caplan 1998). A large section of the British Gorkha chose to settle in the Darjeeling Hills after retirement. Historiography of Nepali speaking people settled in the Darjeeling and Sikkim Hills and beyond has focused on the migration as the part of the British colonial project citing pull and push factors as mentioned above. In other words, the history of the Nepali speaking population in India begins with the colonial project, ignoring earlier migration of the people into the Hills of Darjeeling and Sikkim. Dhungel (2006) citing Hodgson’s manuscript mentions the influx of the Khas-Bahun from the west into the Kirant territory during the time of Sirichongba (Sirijanga) in the 18th century. Further, Sirichongba’s writing in Nepali proves the spread of Nepali language among the Kirant before the Gorkha conquest of the Kirant territory. The eastward migration of the various communities is supported by the correspondences dating 1773-4 between the Gorkha king Prithivi Narayan Shah and Harinanda Pokhrael of Majh Kirant. The latter provided logistical support and the Murmi (Tamang) and the Sunuwar did the porterage in the Gorkha conquest of Majh Kirant (Stiller 1973: 136). Such narratives account for the eastward migration of the different nations in the past which was not limited within the frontiers of Nepal. Pradhan (1982) cites Nepali historical records dating 1815 and 1826 to support the idea that there was to and fro movement of the people between eastern Nepal and Darjeeling. He also holds the view that Limbu (Tsong) and Magar villages were in existence in Sikkim during the 17th century. It supports the view that there was eastward migration of the different nations in the past though Joseph Hooker (1848) has claimed that the Magars were indigenous to Sikkim. The ‘History of Sikkim’ by Namgyal and Dolma (1908) based on historical documents mentions the Lepcha and Magars villages in 1641 before the establishment of the Tibetan rule in Sikkim (Pradhan 2004: 6). From the 17th century onwards, Nepali language was used in the administrative and the legal systems of the kingdom of Sikkim (BNRP 1992). The Sikkimese coins engraved in Nepali (Devanagari) were in circulation in the 19th century (Bhattacharya 1980). Another important historical event of 1826 throws an important light on the relation between people of eastern Nepal and Sikkim. After the Sikkimese King Phyug-phu Namgyal assassinated his Lepcha chief minister, Karthak Chanjo Bolod, and his immediate family, his nephew Yuklathup escaped with his family members and 800 Lepchas and Limbus and took asylum in the Limbuwan district of Illam in Nepal (Dhungel 2006). It is interesting to note that the Darjeeling Tract was spread over 138 square miles in contrast to the present district of Darjeeling which is 1256.6 square miles and till 1839 the population was of 100 heads after the exodus of 800 plus inhabitants to Nepal in 1826. This clearly reflects that Darjeeling of 1835 was not Darjeeling as it is understood today. The exclusion of other areas means the exclusion of the population inhabiting those areas that constitutes today’s Darjeeling.
After the opening of tea gardens in the Darjeeling Tract in 1841, Campbell’s 1849 enumeration takes count to 10,000 showing the decadal growth of 1000%. The present district of Darjeeling was carved out in 1866 by including Kalimpong, which was under the Bhutanese till 1864. Prior to this, in 1850 the British annexed the whole southern part of Sikkim, between the Great Rangeet and the plains of India, and from Nepal on the west to the Bhutan frontier and the Teesta on the east comprising of 640 square miles. The first population census of the district in 1872 shows the total population at 94,712 of which 34% were Nepalis (see Pradhan 2004 for greater detail on population). Such a massive increase in the population shows a large presence of Nepalis in Darjeeling which not only coincides with the opening of the tea gardens but also shows that there was already a significant Nepali population in the district prior to the British arrival. Rai (1994) writes that the British got Darjeeling “together with the Nepali people living thereon.” Sinha (1978: 24-25) cites that Nepali was one of the languages of the Mughal Bengal which was larger than the present West Bengal. Moreover, it is hard to believe that in the area lying between Sikkim and east Nepal, despite of the presence of the Limbus and the Magars on both sides, there was an absence of settlements. In contrary, the various toponyms of the Magar, the Limbu, and the Lepcha origins in the Darjeeling Hills supports of a continuous settlement.
Such historical narratives prove that the Indo-Nepal border was more porous in the past before the formation of India and Nepal, than it is today. Therefore, it would be difficult to accept the construct totally that the whole of the Nepalis is descendant of a migrant population. Such accounts should suffice to assert the presence of Nepalis prior to the British colonialism. However, research on such history, perception, and politicalisation based on it is still awaited.

[Excerpt from Samar Sinha & Tapasya Thapa. With Us or With Them: Identity Politics, Nomenclative Crisis & Consolidation Process, a paper presented at 27th Annual Conference of Linguistic Society of Nepal & 12th Himalayan Languages Symposium, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu & 26th Annual International Conference of South Asia Language Analysis, Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore.]

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