'Gorkhaland Agitation & I': As Hills Fumed, New Book Captures Cost of Revolution

"History had been written by the victor as I was shocked to witness the violence, hurt, massacre & mayhem as a kid."

5 min read

Lapchey, Bhotey, Nepali . . . Hami Sabai Gorkhali!” (Lepchas, Bhutias, Nepali . . .We are all Gorkhas.)

A never-ending sea of people flowed down Rishi Road in Kalimpong, past the Dambar Chowk. Hundreds, maybe thousands, Tukai estimated.

Tukai stood at the entrance of Gompu’s Restaurant, hypnotised, watching this sea advance, wave after wave, holding placards, banners, chanting with their proud, loud voices.

Bang! Bang!! Bang-Bang!!

The sounds of gunfire rent the air above the din of the chants. Tukai gasped as he suddenly saw people being lifted off the ground with wide gaping holes in their chests. There were screams, pandemonium, rushing feet…

With a blood-curdling scream of ‘Jai Gorkha’, a man swung his kukri at a CRPF jawan who was charging at him. The head still wearing the American GI-style helmet, was sliced clean and it rolled down the street and came to a standstill. The eyelids of the jawan fluttered for a moment, like a malfunctioning robot before it shut itself down. The decapitated body though, ran for a short distance with its arms swinging wildly and blood gushing like a fountain from the neck, before its knees buckled and the body collapsed.

16-year-old Tukai felt bile rise at the back of his throat. He felt his bowels let go as he excreted into his trouser. He sensed his own warm shit trickle down the inside of his leg. He vomited and with his shaking legs, ran.

Caught In the Crossfire of the Gorkhaland Agitation in Full Swing..


23 April 1987

Roshan was out of breath. He could barely see through his swollen left eye. As he blinked, he felt a warm trickle flow down his cheek. He knew he was bleeding. He knew every minute he stood there staring back at the three boys, he was living his life in overtime.

Gagan, the leader of the trio, swished the butterfly knife expertly in his hand. The shiny blade played a quick game of hide-and-seek. Roshan caught the glint of the blade as it went clackity-clickity-clackity-clack between the sheaths, in and out, and out and in.

Roshan stood knee-deep in the grave that he had just dug himself—two feet deep and three feet long. He estimated it was just the right size if he lay down in a fetal position.

Gagan held his right forearm tightly in his grasp. “By the time they find you in the morning, either you will be dead or cold.”

There was a quick swish and Roshan screamed. His forearm sprung into a crimson fountain as the blade ate into his arm like a hot knife through butter—smooth and effortless—carving a new lifeline that separated him from life and death.

Roshan collapsed into the pit. There was a dull ringing in his ears that began growing in intensity. He realised that at the age of sixteen, he was going to bid adieu to the world. All he could do was cry in fear and call out for his mother as life slowly started ebbing out of him.


Bloodspill & Widespread Rage Set the Hills Ablaze!


1 February 1988

The Kalimpong Arts & Crafts Centre was up in flames; the heritage building that had been built in 1897 had been set fire to by the agitators. Norong’s house which overlooked the Centre, was quickly filling up with thick plumes of smoke as the burning embers flew in the air like tiny glowing golden fireflies, momentarily dancing in the wind before being extinguished.

Norong’s father turned to his family. His tiny body seemed to have shrunk further. He looked at his mother, his wife, and his children. “I think we need to leave the house. Carry whatever you can. Take important things. We will go up to the Girls’ High School. The fire will not reach there.”

Just as they made their way out of the house, they heard footsteps running towards them. Was it the CRPF?

The family now stood on their tiny front lawn. They were relieved to see it was Debashish daju from the neighbouring Deepali Sweets.

“I came to warn you about the fire,” he screamed. “I am glad that you are—”

And before he could finish the sentence, they all heard some angry screams. The CRPF jawans were rushing towards them. Faces covered with black cloth, their ears pierced with earrings, they stood in a line and pointed their .303 rifles towards Debashish.

Debashish realised that he had been mistaken to be a Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) cadre. He screamed and pleaded in a mix of Bangla and Hindi, “Ami noi. Hum nahi hai!” (I’m not who you think I am!).

But one of the CRPF jawans squeezed the trigger and blew a gaping hole into his chest. Debashish’s face froze in an expression of utter shock as his lifeless body was flung back onto the ground.

Norong’s family screamed and ran back into the house. When they turned around they realised that Norong was still outside, hypnotised and shocked as he watched blood pour out from Debashish daju’s chest.


Author's Tryst With the Agitation That Built Up Over Decades!

The Andolan or agitation for Gorkhaland had been a festering boil from the 1940s’. But the mowing down of the protestors on 27th July, 1986 is what turned the tide. There would be no turning back.

When the Gorkhaland agitation erupted in 1986, I was a student in a boarding school in Kalimpong. I remember the vibe of the town, the people, and our daily lives suddenly changed. We continuously heard about the destruction and arson that the GNLF and GVC cadres were indulging in, and their being shot down by the CRPF.

In hindsight, I realised, I did not know the true extent and intensity of the violence. There had been numerous human rights violations – most of them were buried, erased, lost or modified to fit the official narrative. The CRPF had been given carte-blanche orders to quell the agitation. And so they became trigger-happy, shooting schoolkids (Jina Thapa, Pratima Pradhan), a nurse (Uma Chettri Bhattarai), and a college kid (Karma Thinley) ‘suspecting’ them of being militants.

They raided houses looking for the male members, and were accused of raping the women. There was a rumour that some of the CRPF men were infact mercenaries hired from middle India and therefore referred to as ‘madheshis’ by the locals. Jina Thapa was still wearing her school bag when her body was returned to her parents…

The history had been written by the victor. And this shocked me! As a kid my friends and I had been witness to the violence, the hurt, the senseless massacre and mayhem.

The realisation and the politics of it all sunk in. The Central Govt at that time cryptically issued statements like “GNLF agitation is not anti-national” (Rajiv Gandhi) which I now realise, stoked the agitation and kept the Communicst government unstable and on its toes at the state level. And while the game was afoot—it became an eye for eye.

And to make things worse, there was the conflict between the GNLF and the GVC under different leadership and ideologies. While the former wanted to attain Gorkhaland by the book, the latter believed in the guerilla-style insurgency and attacks that was popular in the Northeast. And so not only did they clash internally but also with the forces resulting in further bloodshed.

It was the people of the hills who got caught in this crossfire.

"History had been written by the victor as I was shocked to witness the violence, hurt, massacre & mayhem as a kid."

Anirban Bhattacharya, Author of "The Hills Are Burning"

Credit: Wikipedia


(Anirban Bhattacharya is the author of several books and released his most recent one "The Hills are Burning" published by The Fingerprint.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
Read More