Gorkhas in India are Indian citizens or legal migrants, says Nepal

Writes Geeta Mohan

One of the major fallout of the National Register for Citizens (NRC) list in Assam would be on Gorkhas in India. According to reports, an estimated one lakh Gorkhas have been kept out of the draft that was published on July 30 that could be a cause for major consternation between the government and the Gorkha community.
The question that arises out of this is what would the status of the Gorkhas in India be. Nepals Embassy in India believes that this is not a bilateral matter at all and that Gorkhas living in different parts of the country are all Indian citizens.
File Photo
Speaking to India Today, Hari Odari, spokesperson in the Nepalese Embassy in New Delhi said, As far as we are concerned, Gorkhas in Assam, West Bengal, Uttarakhand and other parts of India are Indian citizens or legal migrants. This issue has never been a part of our bilateral relations or conversations.

This list which according to Indian government officials is not the final list has raised concerns among the Gorkha community of Assam. Data collected from the districts imply about 1 lakh of our people are missing from the NRC, the highest being in Baksa district followed by Sonitpur and Golaghat. They should never have been excluded because the March 24, 1971 cut-off does not apply to the Gorkhas, Prem Tamang, president of the All Assam Gorkha Students Union, told India Today
Sources in the Nepalese government in Kathmandu told India Today, This is Indias internal matter, its domestic matter. We dont interfere in that. They will resolve it themselves.
The difference between illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Nepalese coming into India is the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950.
Article 7 of the Treaty states, The Governments of India and Nepal agree to grant, on reciprocal basis, to the nationals of one country in the territories o the other the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of a similar nature.
Professor Mahendra P. Lama, from Jawaharlal Nehru University, says, For the Nepalese migrants under 1950 Treaty, they might not be citizens but they are legal migrants. No Nepalese migrant can be ousted or declared illegal anywhere in India under the Indo-Nepal treaty.
The problem with this clause is that if Nepalese people are allowed equal rights without being citizens then how does one differentiate them from those who acquired Indian citizenship by right of being descendants of soldiers recruited by the Indian Army.
It is a very clear case. Those who are Indian Gorkhas cant be deprived of Indian citizenship because of lack of documents because the processes in the past and municipality structures were not organised. The question of not giving them citizenship does not arise, says Professor Lama.
Interestingly, the Assam agitation of the 70s and 80s was a popular movement launched against outsiders included not only illegal immigrants from Bangladesh but also Gorkhas and other outsiders such as the Santhal tribe in India going in and settling in the state of Assam.
The agitation ended in August of 1985 following the Assam Accord which gave a cut-off date of March 24, 1971. People with documents establishing their stay in Assam up to the midnight of that date are eligible for inclusion in the NRC.
India Today

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