By Col Prem Bahadur Thapa (Retd)
OBC…!! Having remained in the forefront after forever living as the fiercest fighting machine in the past and modern day world, it was not little, but rather demeaning to my ego; but considering the Gorkhas’ hill-tribal-background and under-development, it was rightly demanded and granted in the State. However, the aspiration that it would enhance their development has been rather disappointing.
Approximately 50% may be somewhere around or below the lower income group, while 40% may be literally struggling to make ends meet. That leaves just around 10% who may be considered doing well and that is nothing much to write about. They contribute significantly to the armed forces and similar allied services and still depend heavily on it for their livelihood. Serving and retired service personnel, dominate the better half/better off and find representative positions in their numerous social and welfare organisations.
The Gorkha community’s residency in Uttarakhand extends almost from East to West in varied numbers. Their strength in areas adjoining Almora- Pithoragarh and Tehri-Dehradun is fairly larger than elsewhere. The following observation (over the last 20 years) centres on the development of the society residing in and around Dehradun only (it being not very dissimilar, even poorer in other parts of the state). It is also based on the views of my colleagues who possess fair and just knowledge on this subject. The results are not very encouraging. Though the community’s awareness on improving their educational and social status is visible, it is still very far from satisfactory. Educationally, established families continue to do well but the number of such families is limited; while the children from other sections of the society still struggle and are forced to seek jobs that will garner some livelihood but still does not enhance further progress. Now and then, a few amongst this multitude manage to work and find a respectable position; but again such happy developments are few and far between.
Their efforts are further hampered by the influx of population from the hills and other parts of the country.
Job hunting has become a real test and it’s seen that men from other communities are better prepared and preferred in government, semi-government and government sponsored jobs. The Gorkhas complain that in spite of obtaining OBC status, they haven’t benefitted much. Education is the key to any real development and though it is now available in plenty, most of the government and government aided schools churn out candidates unfit to land any job; more so because the competition is monumentally stupendous. Most of the community children fall in this category and no wonder that their progress has been jerky and unimpressive. Their presence in ‘other fields of life’, other than the armed forces, is still dismal and that perhaps is where they want to spread out but without much success.
A Gorkha, by nature, is a rather contented person who is generally satisfied with what he receives and will work without much ambition and it is no wonder that he finds himself at odds in this present day world of fierce competition. There are exceptions and the society is slowly learning the art, but his genuine nature is more a hindrance than help; (the minute he does well enough, it is time for other aspects like ‘life and living’ and showering magnanimity on himself and others who please him).
Then again, fast urbanisation and easy finance are luring the young and old to easier ways of life rather than taking advantage of it to push upwards. The truth is … there appears to be a hurry to join the fun and frolics that modern day amenities provide as may be noticed by their year-round cultural and festive celebrations at an exaggerated scale … and their simple, contented lifestyle may be a rather misleading indication about their true state. So, one observes that though progressive awareness is on the rise, it needs considerable support of the ‘society elders’ and the ‘State’: but that is where both these institutions have failed the community’s naive and trusting nature by playing to the gallery and toying with their hopes through meaningless promises.
It is a practice, especially with minority communities, to form social and political bodies to safeguard their linguistic and cultural identities and also to support the weaker sections amongst them to achieve better means of livelihood and progress. Now, this is where the Gorkha community has, most unfortunately, disappointed themselves. Though there are a number of social, welfare, cultural organisations, their activities haven’t achieved the desired success due to limited resources and lack of unity. It is further jinxed by mixing political ambitions at which they are still novices.
For example, there is a ‘Gorkhali-Nepali Language Committee’ which did a commendable job by getting the language recognised under the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. That was in the early nineties and it hasn’t moved an inch thereafter, because sentiments and business do not complement each other. The enormousness of this undertaking has gradually eroded their confidence. It has no organisational know-how or resources to implement it and, more importantly, the present generation sees no future in it. Its introduction in the odd school after much persuasion was more or less rejected by its own students.
Nevertheless, the ‘Samiti’ religiously holds ‘Bhasha Diwas Day’ once every year and marks its presence by making rhetorical promises, without saying ‘how’. One wonders why they cannot discuss seriously; first, whether it really needs to be taught in schools. Secondly, can it be done somewhere else by some other method? And, of course, if not as a school subject, will it suffice if we can speak, read, and write it? Home and ‘community workshops’ are the ‘schools’ that they need! But such effort is ‘lip-served’ and forgotten! Having said that much, the pioneers who worked to get it recognised, strengthened the community’s struggle to emphasise its ‘identity’ claim. If they fail to make renewed efforts to increase enthusiasm in learning and keeping the language alive, it might well be too late tomorrow. Nothing works like ‘Incentive’ (‘compulsion’ alone without reward is a Dodo).
There are a number of other pin-pricks which the community wants to address, especially in ‘daily needs’ of life. It is much talked about without real time implementation or intention and, as said earlier, the numerous community representatives and the State have failed to keep faith with their flock. They lecture endlessly on why ‘we need to progress’, but neither provide guidance nor adequate assistance to implement them. Their regular meetings and gatherings might be misleading.
The only worthwhile body is known by the name of ‘Gorkhali Sudhar Sabha’ (GSS) but its past history of some credibility is now sullied by in-house quarrels, unqualified ambition and disunity. It is tolerated as the only organisation that still holds some promise of uniting the various other social/cultural bodies under its fairly large umbrella but there seems no hurry or enthusiasm to do so. Because of limited vision and foresight to undertake bold actions, their leaders are quite content with whatever little they are doing. Similarly, the State Government, besides vote gathering and paying lip service, has done precious little in addressing their various demands and grievances.
Because of these very reasons, the other opportunity through political representation was a miserable undertaking (no one wants to talk about it… because repeated failure has lulled their ambition).
I am no lover of politics but it cannot be wished away either; so till such time a unifying model is found, they are forced to hitch their wagon with the winning horse and be content with whatever crumbs they dole out. Now, if social ills, complaints, upliftment are to be addressed at higher levels, one needs to go to the government (mountain will not come to Muhammad). Inviting them to your cultural fanfares and presenting ‘Memorandums of Demands’ by making a show of it is the easiest way to fool oneself. Suffice to say that, unless one pursues it with purpose and intent, the government and administration will conveniently place it in some pending tray (and forget that the peon might have thrown it in the dustbin) because and, importantly enough, their hands too are loaded with numerous and similar ‘cries’ and we will have to find ways to get past these hurdles and make our day.
Himachal Pradesh has established a regulated ‘permanent body’ to address the welfare of its Gorkha residents. The committee, comprising the society members, is chaired by the CM, himself. We tried that in our state but it was counted out when the ‘then’ government’s tenure ended.
That was quite some time ago and the present government is yet to initiate its revival. So the question is, “where is their sincerity and intent?” And more importantly, what are ‘we’ doing about it (no cry-no milk). Needless to say that the state government and the community will have to work together to open a ‘single window-one point’ embassy for addressing the welfare of this OBC class (call it Gorkha Kalyan Parishad or whatever). And, once it is created, it is hoped that they do not repeat the experience of mixing politics with true intent. The services of GSS’s fairly widespread socio-welfare organisation might be helpful in ease of functioning of the aforesaid government regulated body, as and when it is established. That is where the State has to prove its sincerity of commitment. More importantly, the Gorkhas will have to present a more united front and help the government in arriving at that decision early. Unqualified petty ambitions will have to be set aside and farsightedness and intellect must be the sole factor in guiding their future course of action.