Guwahati, July 10: The indigenous Gorkha community of Assam welcomed the state Cabinet’s recent decision to describe its members as ‘Gorkhas’, saying that identifying them as Nepalis, as they had been called for many years, had made them feel like citizens of another country.
The community also expressed satisfaction at the Cabinet decision to declare Gorkhas a ‘protected class’ as it will give the community members land rights, among other benefits, in tribal belts of the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR).
This ‘protected class’ status should also be extended to areas outside the BTR, community leaders said.
“For years we have been demanding that our community be identified as Gorkha. Referring to us as Nepali creates a sense of alienation, as if we are from Nepal and not Indians,” Harka Bahadur Chetry, chairman of the Gorkha Autonomous Council Demand Committee (GACDC), told PTI.
The demand was placed before the previous government also, during a meeting between the GACDC and then chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, on September 10, 2016.
“Among the demands we had placed before the chief minister, one was that the term Nepali be substituted with the Gorkha in all existing gazette notifications,” Chetry said.
The move is a welcome step in that direction, he said.
The state Cabinet meeting on July 7 decided to notify Nepali Graziers and Cultivators of Assam Land and Revenue Regulation, 1886, as Gorkha community and include it, along with some other communities, as a ‘protected class’ in the tribal belts and blocks in Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri districts comprising the BTR.
The community members residing there from before 2003, when the districts came under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, will get the benefits. Gorkhas had ceased to enjoy the benefits of the ‘protected class’ when these four districts came under the Sixth Schedule.
The Gorkhas have also been demanding the ‘protected class’ status in all tribal belts and blocks created post- Independence, as they currently enjoy it only in the areas thus demarcated prior to 1947.
“This notification of protection of Gorkhas should be extended to other existing tribal belts and blocks being reviewed by the government, and also to those which the government is proposing to create,” Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh (BGP) national vice-president Yam Prasad Ghimire said.
BGP Assam unit president Prakash Dahal said, “It (the decision) is historic for the Gorkhas battling identity crisis for years as we were being seen as foreigners due to the use of the word Nepali.”
“Our forefathers were inhabitants of this land as much as were those of the other indigenous tribes and communities.
But during the course of history, misguided by the governments, we came to call ourselves Nepalis, which assumed a different connotation once different countries were formed,” Chetry said.
He claimed that the Gorkhas are a heterogeneous community formed by different tribes, many of whom have been living in Assam since, or even before, the Ahom rule started in the 13th century.
The largest entry of Nepali-speaking people to the state in the later ages happened during the British period when they arrived as soldiers for the colonial rulers. As the Gorkhas also speak the Nepali language, they have always been perceived as foreigners.
Chetry said that the problems compounded with the signing of the Assam Accord of 1985, which entails constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards for the ‘indigenous Assamese’ people of the state.
The concept of ‘original inhabitants’ was floated afresh after a notification to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was issued in the state in 2013, leading to resentment among the Gorkhas as they were not included in that category.
“When several other tribes of the state were declared original inhabitants and relieved of the need to provide documents to a great extent, we felt deprived and left out as we were not included in this list,” Chetry said.
Getting the name right is a major step for ensuring the inclusion of the Gorkhas as a part of Assam, BGP state secretary and spokesperson Nanda Kirati Dewan said.
The population of the Gorkhas is about 6 lakh in the state as per the 2011 Census but the figure actually is much higher, he claimed.
“These 6 lakh people are those who are enlisted as Nepali-language speakers. But the Gorkha is a heterogeneous community and formed of many tribes and sub-tribes, who have their own languages, like the Limbus or Tamangs,” he said. (PTI)