A Manipurilays claim to both his Manipuri and Gorkha identity, showing us how simple and complicated that can be. As one of Manipur’s ongoing flashpoints, lessons from history beg the question – are Gorkhas valorised in wars and dismissed in peace?
I am a fourth generation Gorkha settled in Manipur, who grew up listening to grandmother’s stories of Japanese drones and of our grandfathers fighting to protect the land, alongside the rulers’ armies. Are these tales any different from the stories of a Meitei, a Naga, or a Kuki child?
Yet,I am a confused person today. The approximately sixty thousandstrong Gorkha community is facing de-recognition and possible eviction from the state of Manipur. We stand accused as encroachers and a threat to the social fabric of the state.Thisdespite, a history dating back almosttwo hundred years in Manipur.
Exactly a century ago, in 1915, an important artery in Jiribam in Northern Manipur was better known as Man BahadurLimbuRoad. How did this come to be? The book, The Role of Gorkhas in Making of Modern India tells us that the Gorkha first arrived in Manipur during Maharaja Gambhir Singh’s reign in 1824. Recruiting Gorkhas from Sylhet in 1825, the king called this unit Victoria Paltan.This was done to secure Manipur from Burmese troop intrusions.The Gorkhas of 16 Sylhet Local Battalion, (Later-8 Gorkha Rifles), were included in the Police Levy of Manipur. Later when the British arrived, Gorkha settlers were given grazing grounds in the northern part of the state and issued land ownership documents or pattas.Infact before the beginning of the twentieth century, the Gorkha/Nepali Gwalla (cowherd community) lived in the Manipur valley. But since the Meitei community were not major users of milk or ghee and land was becoming scarce in the valley, the government decided to shift the populace to the northern parts. Creating an18 mile long Gorkha/Nepali reserve, in between Sekmai and Kangpokpi in 1915 and partially extending it later to include Maram, Siddim Pukhri and lrang PartI & II. The Manipur State Administrative Report 1915-16 in Chapter Vconfirms this. (Do check No. 2 Para V. Durbar Resolution 1, dated 17 February 1915). So besides the military settlers, there were cowherds who lived in a 140 sq. mile area until 1915.
A century later, we stand at less than 1 lakh, as a population in Manipur. When political groups target us today, they say that Gorkha contribution to the land is zilch. This when, eminent scholars like MK Binodini, from the royal family of Manipur confirm that the Gorkha has long been part of the Manipuri cultural milieu. In the journal Netee, published by Manipur Nepali Sahitya Parishad (2006) she writes in a piece called A Yaipha Paojel,‘At the time of my father Maharaja Churachand, when he was driven on the Dimapur road, I still remember the joyous welcome and applause accorded by the Nepalese children near the road and I saw many Nepali personnel in the post of high rank and file of the Manipur State Police.’Have they also forgotten the early Gorkha martyr,Major Subedar Niranjan Singh Chhetry, hanged alongside Bir Tikendrajit and General Thangal by the British on August 13, 1891?Or that 4 Assam Rifles was raised in Manipur in 1915 with over eighty percent Gorkha personnel.1 Manipur Rifles, raised in 1946 too inducted a large number of Gorkhas. Walk around the family quarters of the battalion in 2015 and one might find several Gorkha families even today.
Yet, when World War II reached Kanglatongbi-Kangpokpi, the Gorkha community was evicted by the government of the day. Many left and came back to their land when the war was over. But the Gorkha/Nepali Reserve had been entirely seized during the period of 26 August – 1 December 1946. Those who failed to comply with the government order or returned late had to seek refuge with their neighbours.Is this why we are accused of being foreigners, when it is also possible to see us as a victim of historical circumstance?In my own case, Ihave studied Meiteilon throughout my childhood, I can speak Kuki, and have lived with a Naga friend for roughly seven years of my life. As a peaceful community, we have recited Ougri Sheireng, listened to Khamba-Thoibi with awe, enjoyed the colours of Yaoshang, celebrated Lai Haraoba with equal enthusiasm, and cannot live without eromba, nga-thongba and ooti as our daily staple.
Today Manipuri-Gorkha youth can be found in the Indian armed forces as well as across Indian metros. While feeling the outrage over incidents of discrimination against Manipuris in Delhi and other cities, can I really turn a blind eye to the same in my motherland? In the city, we don’t see each other as Meitei, Naga, Kuki, Gorkha, Bengali, Bihari or Marwari. Although if someone asks me, I proudly call myself a Manipuri Gorkha. Yet here no one accuses anyone of stealing opportunities or ancestral land. We share rooms to save money, lend and borrow when we are broke. Cooking, sharing pizzas and drinks together, we wait for each other to walk back home after office. Laughing at each other’s jokes, we continue to fall in love, marry and live happily, but we rarely speakof our problems back home. Why? Because it divides and we don’t always know how to deal with the indifference back in our homeland.
An indifference which showed clearlyfrom 1977-1983, when close to one lakh Gorkha were forced to leave the North East. The current demand of a separate Gorkhaland has its roots in such displacement. It is also fueled by a sense of abandonment by the government of India, our state and community leaders.Yes, we have rallied across the streets of Manipur during the Nepali Bhasha Andolan, one in tune with those in Assam, Sikkim, Darjeeling, Meghalaya, Dehradun or Himachal. Bhasha Divas still remains one of the biggestGorkha social gatheringsin Manipur. Yes, we still travel all the way from Manipur to Darjeeling or Delhi,as an expression of national solidarity for Gorkhaland. Often a few organizations come to Manipur during their membership drive and leave after collecting the fee. We continue to donate for every Gorkha cause, be it for unveilingSaheedDurgaMalla’s statue in the parliament, or for the landslide affected in Darjeeling. Yet, whospeaks for us today?
In the current ILP(Inner Line Permit) imbroglio in Manipur, the proposed bill sets the 1951 Census, ascut-off date for identifying the Gorkha population. Knowing fully well that a majority living in far flung corners were possibly left out of the 1951 Census. What is even more disheartening is the silence of Gorkha community leaders from across the country. As if we are second class citizens. Like a headless chicken, we ask to be included and understood again and again and again. George Orwell wrote in his classic Animal Farm,‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ Perhaps this is an adequate reflection of the status of Manipur’s Gorkha community currently.