Article 244A deals with formation of an autonomous State comprising certain Vanvasi areas of Assam. I repeat Article 244A applies only to Assam, and no other State, that is, not even to Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
It is clear from the part (2) of Article 244 that it is a State that has to be brought under the 6th Schedule and not a Hill Council. So the Cabinet decision of the Central Government amounts to an intention of bringing the whole State of West Bengal under the 6th Schedule. It is clear from part (1) and (2) given above that a State can either be under 5th Schedule or 6th Schedule. It cannot be under both. So a State cannot have a mix of 5th and 6th Schedule in dealing with its Vanvasi population. Hence, once West Bengal comes under the 6th Schedule, all its Vanvasis will be governed by it. And that would include the Koch and Rajbongshi Vanvasis of North Bengal also. It is notable that there is an armed movement among these Vanvasis in demand of a separate Kamtapuri State, comprising Jalpaiguri, Kochbihar and parts of Dinajpur and Malda districts.
Soon after the aforesaid Cabinet decision Subash Ghising said that he has not abandoned his long term goal of a separate State of Gorkhaland. This implies that once Darjeeling achieves the 6th Schedule status, it would demand inclusion of West Bengal in Article 244A, in the company of Assam. He is likely to stall elections once again on that pretext. What would West Bengal Government do then? Capitulate and pave the way for disintegration of Bengal?
Making Gorkha out of non-Gorkha
The original people of Darjeeling district are the Bhutias and Lepchas. For some mysterious reasons their number has been declining over last two generations. The Darjeeling hills were very thinly populated in the 1950s. Burgeoning population of Nepal spilled over across the open border in the last century and Darjeeling'spopulation became overwhelmingly Nepali Hindus and Buddhists. The same demographic change took place in Sikkim also. The populace there has the same exact mix of Nepalese castes. A vast majority of these people are not Gorkhas, but different castes such as Sherpa, Limbua, Rai, Tamang, Norbu, etc. Gorkhas are a martial Kshatriya caste who came from a place of the same name, located far west of the Kathmandu valley and very far from Darjeeling hills. The Gorkhas were the backbone of the army that brought the present royal dynasty of Nepal to power in Kathmandu in the late 18th century.
The king of Nepal started to lend his Gorkhali troops to the British at the time of the ?Sepoy? mutiny of 1857. This tradition continued for more than a century and in course of time Gorkhali became shortened into Gorkha. British Gorkha regiments were filled with these war-like people and some Parbatti (mountaineer) people from the Kathmandu valley and the surrounding hills. All this narration is presented to establish that the Gorkhali are a very special people and all inhabitants of Nepal are neither war-like nor Gorkhali. Darjeeling hills were not a traditional recruiting ground of the British army.
Subash Ghising and his movement created a metamorphosis in Darjeeling hills and created Gorkhas from a set of different castes, mainly non-Gorkha, mostly Hindu and some Buddhist. His party, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) sprang an insurgency in the hills in 1980s and held the State Government to ransom to extract recognition for the false identity of the so-called Gorkhas of Drajeeling hills. The unwise and historically uninformed West Bengal leadership conceded recognition to this concocted Darjeeling-Gorkha identity. Kiran Desai (2006) in her Booker award winning novel, The Inheritance of Loss, has depicted an accurate picture of this movement. One of the characters in the novel, who was at the receiving end of the insurgents? fury, makes a telling point that the insurgents were not Gorkhas but mostly from the labouring classes.
It is my considered opinion that the poor toiling common people of Darjeeling hills deserve to have their own Council. My quarrel is only with the term Gorkha in the name of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. It has far reaching implications.
Making Vanvasi out of non-Vanvasi
Ghising and his party, the GNLF, have been busy manufacturing a Vanvasi identity out of the so-called Gorkhas for the last 10 years or so. He and his able assistant C.K. Pradhan of Kalimpong have banned idol worship in the hills, off and on, for last one decade. Sometimes the ban is for all inhabitants; sometimes it is only for the Nepalese. The mind simply boggles at the variety of arbitrary dictates. The spineless State Government just looks on. The stock in trade response of the Left Front leaders is that they wish to ?meet the situation politically?, which usually means giving in to Ghising'sunconstitutional and undemocratic blackmail, while he tramples on the fundamental right of worship.
It should be remembered that there is also a settled population of non-Nepalese in the hills. To prove that the Nepali-speaking people of Darjeeling are of Vanvasi origin. GNLF has tried to persuade the simple Nepalese to give up worship of the idols of deities they adore, Durga and Kali and also Hanuman. Ghising wants to portray these folks as nature worshippers, as opposed to idol worshippers, in his bid to manufacture a Vanvasi identity. He has only been partially successful in the past and there has been resistance for these basically religious idol-worshipping people. After the tripartite agreement has been reached between Centre, State and GNLF to put Darjeeling Gorkhas in the 6th Schedule, Ghising has relaxed the ban and this relaxation comes just a month before in Durga Puja celebrations of 2007 (Ananda Bazaar Patrika 2007 b). Now he is talking about how fond the ?Gorkhas? are of Durga and Kali. While this bit is meant for internal consumption of Darjeeling people, for outsiders he has a different statement that the ban continues but is not for the non-Vanvasis and only for the Vanvasis.
Make what meaning you can out of this doublespeak. What has idolatry got to do with Vanvasi identity? There are scores of Vanvasis in India and the world who worship idols. Also there are Hindus who do not worship idols, for instance the Vaishnavas of Assam whose Naam Ghars have no idols. However, it has been the constant refrain of the Christian missionaries in India that the Vanvasis of North-East India are not Hindus, because they do not worship idols, and they are nature worshipping animists, as if Hindus do not worship animals. The mind simply boggles at the gullibility of the State and the Central Government who have swallowed this logic and decided to put West Bengal in the 6th Schedule. We are privy to a spectacle of governance being reduced gradually to farce. If all Nepalese of Darjeeling are Vanvasi then all people of Nepal, including the Gorkhas royal family residing in Mukut Mithi palace in Kathmandu are also Vanvasi, and that surely is an absurd proposition. Again all people of Sikkim too become automatically Vanvasi.
Vanvasis of West Bengal
In southern part of West Bengal bordering Jharkhand there are Scheduled Tribes such as the Santhal and Munda. In North Bengal there are Koch, Rajbongshi, Boro Vanvasis. Since West Bengal so far has been in the 5th Schedule, all Vanvasis of Bengal also are in this Schedule. When and if West Bengal is shifted to the 6th Schedule in the company of Assam, Tripura, etc, then all her Vanvasis automatically are transferred to the 6th Schedule. The whole proposal is fraught with tremendous constitutional complications. I demand that the West Bengal Government make public a list of all Vanvasis in the 5th Schedule who belong to Darjeeling hills. I do not have a list, but I suspect that the present list includes only the Bhutias and Lepchas or none at all. Logically, only those Vanvasis who are now in the 5th Schedule should shift to the 6th after the required Bill is passed. If Nepali inhabitants of Darjeeling in general are given the 6th Schedule status, then it is a suitable case for judicial review, provided some public-mind individuals or organisations file such a suit. The entire population of Darjeeling hills, who were hitherto neither Scheduled Caste nor Tribe, would become entitled to job and educational reservation all of a sudden. An unending wave of immigration from Nepal would start. Nepalese of all religions, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist, would aspire to migrate to Darjeeling hills. One just has to cross the open border, set up a foothold in Darjeeling and become entitled to the status of a Vanvasi of the 6th Schedule and enjoy the bounty that comes with it. That would be grossly unfair to the population of West Bengal.
There are many Christian schools in Darjeeling hills and missionary activity is intense. Many schools offer a limited number of free-schooling and other facilities to the locals to attract converts. Ghising'stampering of cultural parameters such as ban on idol worship, etc. will help only the missionaries in the long run.
Implication for North Bengal and Sikkim
If the Vanvasis of the plain area of North Bengal, who are now in the 5th Schedule, acquire the 6th Schedule status, which they surely would if the concerned Bill is passed, it would breed political instability. As mentioned before, some of these Vanvasis are in the grip of insurgency, demanding a separate Kamtapuri state. Here we are talking about a thin strip of land, called the chicken'sneck, separating China and Bangladesh and connecting heartland India to the North East. Political instability and renewed insurgency here will be a security nightmare for the country.
Similarly the entire population of Sikkim also will have to be given the 6th Schedule status, because its demographic make up is no different from Darjeeling?s. What ramifications it would have on the employment scenario, job reservation and security will have to be evaluated, and it may not be very palatable.
I fail to understand why so much is being risked for so little. The entire stake that is visible is one parliamentary seat that is controlled by Subash Ghising. The Left Front can do without it. If Ghising'sterms are that elections to the Hill Council would be allowed only if the 6th Schedule status is granted, then let there be no election in the hills. The country'ssecurity should be uppermost in the mind of all political parties and not a lone parliamentary seat. GNLF led by Subash Ghising has succeeded in making Gorkhas out of a mix of non-Gorkha castes of Nepalese. Now it is at the point of performing another conjurer'strick?creating a Vanvasi out of a non-Vanvasi people?by banning idol worship for a traditionally idol-worshipping people. More over, a Vanvasi is sought to be created in the name of the mighty and ruling martial Gorkha cast of Nepal. It would indeed be a sociological miracle, performed under colluding and acquiescing supervision of the Left and Congress. An unending wave of immigration from Nepal into Darjeeling hills will start. The Vanvasis of North Bengal, some of whom have been agitating for a separate stare, would automatically come under the 6th Schedule; this would fuel the simmering insurgency there further. What is being risked by an unwise piece of legislation is the security and integrity of India.
(The writer is Professor, Aerospace Engineering, I.I.T. Kanpur)