On being an Indian Gorkhali or a Nepali in Northeast India- the identity crisis continues!

Often as I walk down the memory lanes to recall the advent of Nepalese in India, it irks me to know how I am still referred to as being a Nepali from Nepal rather than being a Nepali speaking Gorkha from India. To many, it actually makes no difference whether I am a Nepali or a Gorkhali. However, to a lay man like the self here, it is a matter of pride that involves sentiments and a sense of belonging towards the nation.

Often during my university days, my friends from other parts of India would ask me, “What language do you speak at home?”, to which I would answer, “I speak the Nepali language”. The instant reaction to this sentence of mine would be, “Oh, so you are from Nepal right, like a Nepali from Nepal?”

Then came the task of differentiating between a Gorkha and a Nepali. The tedious task of explaining each and every single individual who called me a Nepali from Nepal would go on something like this:

Indian Gorkhas  or Bhartiya Gorkhas are Nepali-speaking Indian citizens. The term “Indian Gorkha” is used to differentiate between Gorkhas who are Indian citizens and Nepalese citizens who are allowed to stay in India as per the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship (1980).

Indian Gorkhas are citizens of India as per the notification of the Government of India on the issue of citizenship of the Gorkhas of India. However, Indian Gorkhas are faced with a unique identity crisis with regard to their Indian citizenship due to the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship (1950) that permits “on a reciprocal basis, the nationals of one country in the territories of the other the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of a similar nature”. Thus, there are also many Nepalese citizens of Nepal living in India. The Indian Gorkhas are mistakenly identified as Nepali people, which has led to several movements of the Indian Gorkhas, including the Gorkhaland movement, for a clear recognition of their Indian identity and citizenship.

Coming to the India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, it was signed by the last Rana Prime Minister of Nepal, Mohan Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana, and the Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Chandreshwor Narayan Singh on 31 July 1950 and came into force the same day. The treaty provides for everlasting peace and friendship between the two countries and the two governments agree mutually to acknowledge and respect the complete sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of each other.

As per Articles 6 and 7, the two governments agree to grant, on a reciprocal basis, to the nationals of one country in the territories of the other, the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of a similar nature. This enables Nepali and Indian citizens to move freely across the border without passport or visa, live and work in either country and own property or conduct trade or business in either country. There are a large number of Indians living, owning property and working or doing business in Nepal as a beneficial aspect of the treaty for India. Reciprocally, many Nepalese live, own property and conduct business freely in India.

As simple as it may sound, the repercussions of the same are still being borne by many like myself. Now you may ask what is the difference between being a Gorkha or a Nepali? The fact is that although they may be two sides of the same coin, if people choose to call us from Nepal just because we speak Nepali then I would say that speaking English should also make me seem like I am from England! Hence, in order to overcome this crisis of being a Nepali or an Indian, I believe the concept of being a Gorkha emerged. Language and literature are, to be honest only ways and means to communicate with one another. Then why is it that we use them as parameters to judge a person’s acceptability in the society or for that matter, the nation as a whole?

This again reminds me of a very fitting quote uttered by Mr. Ari Bahadur Gurung who once had to defend his identity in the Constituent Assembly by saying-  “we, the Gorkhas had participated in the freedom movement of India. Till now we are defending the country in the frontiers from the enemies. Gorkhas will not hesitate to shed their last drop of blood to preserve the independence that we have got. Therefore, the people of India should not be suspicious of our Identity”.

Demands for secessionist movements might go on but this is, I believe part of a democratic set up. Whatever the circumstances may be, Gorkha or Nepali, I choose to be called an Indian and this, I believe, sums it up all well.

By Shweta Raj Kanwar, TNT


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