Open Letter to the Darjeeling M P Shri SS Ahluwalia – Please Be the Guru

Writes: Upendra

Dear Surinder Singh Ahluwalia Ji,

Foremost on behalf of the people of Darjeeling, please accept my heartfelt congratulations and kudos for not only winning the elections, but also our trust and respect. We – the Gorkhas, much like the Sikhs are simple people who are caring, honest, sincere, and trusting; and I hope that you will honour and respect the trust we have bestowed on you.

Remind Prime Minister to fulfill our one and only dream - Gorkhaland
Remind Prime Minister to fulfill our one and only dream – Gorkhaland

The main reason why I am writing to you today is to bring to your attention some of the most pertinent issues that the people in Darjeeling region are facing, and which if you help in addressing, will cement your name in our history books forever. I apologize in advance if some of my words go on to offend you. However, I am confident that you will understand the fact that I am writing to you out of my love for Darjeeling and its people, and deepest respect for you.
Sir, in the past we entrusted our faith in BJP, and we helped in getting Shri. Jaswant Singh ji elected with overwhelming majority. Sadly he did not live up to our expectations, in fact he was an absentee MP, and much like an absentee landlord, he did not give back to Darjeeling as much love and support, we had given him. It’s not that Jaswant Ji did not care for our issues at all, he did, in fact he was the first Member of Parliament from Darjeeling to raise the Gorkhaland demand on the floor of the parliament, and for that he will always have our gratitude. But other than that he was more or less absent. I sincerely hope and pray that you won’t pull a Jaswant Singh on us, and disappear from Darjeeling altogether. Last time around our people had to file a Missing Person report against him. Hope, you will not let that happen.
Anyway, that’s that about that.

From what I have seen and read so far, you sound like a genuinely nice person, and your stepping up to help 10 year old Cancer patient Payal Rai further helped to make a positive impression of you on our minds. We hope that you will continue with this commitment and zeal throughout your tenure as our Member of Parliament. Without further ado, let me quickly list the 10 most important issues that you could help us – the people of Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars with.

1. Gorkhaland

The demand for an administrative unit for the hills, Terai and Dooars region separate from Bengal is the oldest demand for a separate state in India. Yet, due to the lack of vision, unity and ability to present the issue at the right forum on the part of our politicians, our demand has not been sincerely considered by the Government of India. In his historic speech from Sukna, Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji had said to us – Gorkhalis, “aapka sapna mera sapna”… we only have one dream Sir, and that is to be able to live the promise of our country’s independence – swaraj… Our right to self-determination… Our right to write our own destiny, our right to a place where we can live with dignity, equality and respect… Our State!

For far too long we have lived as a step-child with Bengal, for far too long we have been discriminated against, and treated like an outsider, for far too long we have been looked down-upon, and for far too long our voices have gone unheard. As our Member of Parliament, we request you, implore you, plead with you and appeal to you… please raise the voice of Gorkhaland on the floor of the Parliament.

Yes, we understand that BJP’s numbers are increasing in Bengal and we also understand that by supporting Gorkhaland issue BJP might lose its foothold in Bengal, but Sir, Gorkhaland was never about separation from Bengal, it was always about assertion of our rights and our stake in our great nation. Please urge the Hon’ble PM to form Gorkhaland for the sake of nation building, and not defer it for the sake of a few votes.

If you cannot form Gorkhaland right away, then let Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars become a centrally governed and administered Union Territory. Even a UT status will suit us fine, as long as we are freed from Bengal’s slavery, we will be happy.

What BJP will lose in Bengal, it will find in Gorkhaland and the rest of India, form Gorkhaland and all the Gorkhalis across India will join BJP – I can assure you of that.

2. Induct Darjeeling Terai and Dooars into North-East Council

The Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars region have nothing in common with the rest of Bengal – our geography, our history, our ties, our languages, our culture, our traditions, our customs and practices, our food habits, our people, the way we think, and the way we live are more in tune with North-East India than West Bengal.

Please rectify the historical anomaly because of which our region is officially left out from the North-East Council. We want to join our sisters in the North-East, and even our sisters are waiting to accept us with their arms wide open, please help the entire North-Eastern region to get united by helping Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars to be inducted into the North-East council as early as possible.

3. Land and Other Rights for Tea Garden Workers

Darjeeling and Dooars tea are regarded as the finest tea in the world; in fact Darjeeling tea is regarded as the “Champagne of Teas.” Due to the tireless efforts of the Govt. of India, Darjeeling tea has even been awarded Geographical Indicator status by the World Trade Organization, thereby making Darjeeling tea one of the most coveted teas in the whole world, and thus increasing its market and price it generates in the world market multiple-fold. Yet, the tea garden workers are starving to death.

Our tea garden workers get paid Rs 90/- day in the hills and Rs 95/ day in Terai and Dooars, which is much lower than even the minimum wage prescribed by West Bengal. How can such an unjust and systematic oppression of our tea garden workers continue in this day and age? Since October of 2013 over 32 people have died due to starvation in Dooars, and over 1000 have died due to starvation since early 2000s, yet there has been zero administrative initiative to help alleviate the pains and sufferings of the workers. This needs to change, Sir, and we appeal to you to make it happen.

The outdated Plantation Labour Act of 1951 needs to be immediately re-vamped and re-worked, to make the laws that reflect the realities of present day India – which is a global powerhouse, instead of continuing with the outdated and exploitative laws made by the British. Please provide land rights for tea garden workers, which will free them from the bonded-labour like conditions of the tea gardens. Please help the workers to secure decent livable wages, medical and housing benefits, and provide for them social security net. Please make the Tea Board of India to foot the workers bills, when an errant tea garden owner decides to run away from the garden without paying workers for months on an end.

The tea industry which benefits so much from the blood and toil of our workers should be made to look after their welfare, and we urge you to do so on our behalf.

4. Central University

The Darjeeling region is home to some of the best schools in India, people come here to study from far and wide. Even today you will find students from all of Asia and India studying at schools in Darjeeling. Yet in terms of higher education, we severely lack behind the rest of India, even behind the rest of West Bengal for that matter.

Lack of proper education facilities and courses have seen brain-drain of colossal proportions occur in Darjeeling, sadly our best and the brightest are forced to take their knowledge, their skills and their passion elsewhere. Most of the courses offered in colleges in Darjeeling are outdated, not useful and meant to keep the hill, Terai and Dooars populace deprived in terms of education. None of the courses offered in any college or university in Bengal cater to the needs of the hill students, none of the courses are designed with hills in mind, and none of the courses are designed to address the issues our people face in our region.

Recently an eminent Research Scholar from Darjeeling, Dr. Vimal Khawas wrote… “Today, while reviewing old archives pertaining to Darjeeling, I found following resolution passed by the Commissioners of Darjeeling Municipality dated June 10, 1960: ” The Commissioners of the Darjeeling Municipality have been profoundly shocked to learn that at a recent sitting of the West Bengal Cabinet in Darjeeling, it was decided to establish a University at Siliguri for North Bengal instead of at Darjeeling. This body of Commissioners reiterates the fact that the Government of West Bengal had given a pledge to the people of Darjeeling to establish a University at Darjeeling in May 1955…..”

Hope you can see, how systematically and systemically we have been deprived and discriminated against by Bengal in the field of education.

Education is a fundamental right in India, yet we continue to be deprived in this field. Hence, as our representative we urge you to work towards the formation of a Central University in the Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars region. It is our right to get proper education, and the future of our children depends on it, so please make the formation of a Central University in our region a priority.

5. Improve Infrastructure – Road, Water, Electricity

Darjeeling region shares borders with three different countries – Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan and is very close to China; Darjeeling region is also the only link between mainland India and the rest of our North-Eastern region. Yet the infrastructure in our area is in shambles, and so bad is the condition of infrastructure in our region that if China attacks tomorrow, our forces won’t even be able to reach Darjeeling. Case in point the National Highway 55 which has been shut since 2009 is yet to be restored. Had Darjeeling been in Kashmir, would the government be as laxed in maintaining the infrastructure here? Why is this discrimination? Even we belong to the border region, yet why does the border roads organization not operate in Darjeeling region?

Our villages from where electricity is produced and distributed all over Bengal, do not have electricity connection. How does one explain that? Is it not discrimination?

Darjeeling annually receives over 3000mm of rainfall, making it one of the best rainfed areas in India, yet people are forced to buy water here. Residents in Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong and Mirik have to buy water for almost 4 to 5 months in a year. A project passed in 2004 by the then Congress MP Shri. Dawa Norbula to provide water to Darjeeling town is yet to be completed after 10 years. Why is this happening?

Sir, as our MP we request you to get the Central government more involved in developing infrastructure facilities in the region. Please help us in making our roads, electricity and water provisions one of the best in India.

6. Administrative reform – Implement Central Programs Directly

The Darjeeling region continues to be deprived in almost all the fields, especially so in terms of administration. Despite basically being a rural and backward district, the state government has not held Panchayat elections in Darjeeling since 2005. We urge you to push for a 3-tire Panchayat in Darjeeling district, instead of holding separate panchayat elections for Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad and rest of Darjeeling. Please work towards the reconstitution of the 3-tier Panchayat elections and the formation of the Darjeeling Panchayat Samity as early as possible.

The Darjeeling region has historically existed from the heights of Sandakpu to the plains of Dooars, from the Terai region of Naxalbari to the hill tracts of Mal-Mateli. We request you to push for re-unification of the Darjeeling district as it was prior to the Congress CM Siddharth Shankar Ray brutally and methodically dividing the Gorkhalis for electoral gains in 1970s.
Moreover none of the Central government programs have been implemented in Darjeeling region properly, could you please ensure that these programs are implemented and benefits accrued to the people in real need.

In this regard we request you to make public all the projects and funds sanctioned by the Central government, and projects sanctioned by you under the MP – Local Area Development funds. This way people will know about the sanctioned projects and will be able to monitor the projects better. It will also help in maintaining transparency, which was sadly and sorely missing during Jaswant Ji’s regime.

7. Reservation and Scholarships for Gorkhalis, Adivasis and Kamtapuris in Educational Institutions

Every state has provisions for some form of reservation in its elite institutions for people from backward regions or communities. Sadly those reservations are nonexistent for the Gorkhalis, Adivasis and Kamtapuris in Bengal and elsewhere in India. As I have mentioned earlier, education is the key to a better community, and we continue to be deprived in this field, thus we urge you to push for reservations for the Gorkhalis, Adivasis and Kamtapuris in IITs, IIMs, AIIMS like institutions across India, and mandatory reservation for us in educational institutions across Bengal.

Unless and until our children get proper education, we will continue to remain deprived. Hence I urge you to request the Hon’ble PM constitute to a scholarship for all the children of tea garden workers in India. The tea garden workers, as I have mentioned earlier, live in almost slave like conditions, yet they contribute the most revenue to Governments of India and West Bengal, and the Tea Board of India, shouldn’t the governments and the TBI take responsibility to educated the children of tea garden workers and provide them with scholarships to help them better their lives?

We hope you will kindly prioritize this issue.

8. Land Rights for the Locals Only

The mountain regions all across India, right from Kashmir to Arunachal have provisions that the land can only be bought and sold by the locals. It is not done to divide or discriminate against outsiders, but rather it is done to protect the locals from predatory real estate firms. Sadly, Darjeeling is the only mountain region in India, where land rights are not bestowed on the locals. Because of which, rich people from bigger cities have bought huge tracts of lands from gullible and uneducated mountain and indigenous tribal people across Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars region for peanuts.

We request you to legislate land rights in Darjeeling area on the lines of land rights in Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and the entire north-Eastern region, which prevents outsiders from buying lands. This is very important to prevent infiltration and illegal settlement in the region, so even from a national security perspective, this is of utmost importance and needs to be done as early as possible.

9. Provisions Facilities for Agriculture, Horticulture, Animal Husbandry and HIMUL

The Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars region have traditionally been a rural agrarian-based society. In the past Darjeeling has been one of the most important places for potato research across the world. In Darjeeling Sub Division alone, we used to have dedicated agricultural centers in Alubari, Rangbull, Aluphatak and so on. Today all these research and development centers have shut down. Kalimpong, Mirik, Kurseong and Bijanbari area are popular world over for its flowers, orange and other fruits, yet nothing has been done by the Govt. to promote floriculture in the region.

Terai Dooars are famous for organic produce, yet there has been no initiative to promote organic farming or market for such products. The minimum support prices and agricultural insurance that are provided to farmers all over India are not given to the farmers, florists, horticulturists and livestock rearers in Darjeeling region.

The Cinchona plantations, which once held a place of pride in India, today lies in shambles due to Govt. apathy and neglect. Same is the situation with the milk producers cooperatives – HIMUL.

We request you to promote ‘Brand Darjeeling’ and help in developing proper infrastructure facilities and international marketing channels for our farmers. Provide central assistance for the revival of Cinchona plantations and HIMUL and promote animal husbandry.

My dad always reminds me that… “padeko le bhanda… pareko le besi bujcha – those who have lived and experienced something know more about it than those who have read about it”… hence I am deliberately leaving this 10th point – blank. Since there are much more learned brains than me around – those who are way more educated than I am, and those who have learned way more than me from their experiences.
I leave this space open for all of you to jot down what the Hon’ble M P Shri. S S Ahluwalia should prioritize. I urge you to do so in the comments section or send a note to the MP directly. Let him hear our voices. We have stayed quiet for far too long, it’s time to speak up and speak out. Let our voices be heard!!

Sir, on behalf of the people of Darjeeling, I thank you for taking your precious time to read this longish list of what your priorities could be. I am hopefully optimistic that you have been destined to help us achieve our historical dreams and goals… and I promise you that our people will extend you all help, assistance and support in this regards… One final request, please remain true to your pre-election words…

Guru Nanak Ji has said, “Let no man in the world live in delusion. Without a Guru none can cross over to the other shore”… I sincerely hope that you will be the Guru who takes the Gorkhalis across the shore towards a more equitable, just, better and brighter future.

Source: DT

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