THE HIMALAYAN BEACON
In memory of the brave Gorkha soldiers of the Darjeeling Hills who laid down their lives for the greater cause of the motherland, Nayan Subba takes the opportunity to recall their contributions on the occasion of the 58th Republic Day
The Gorkhas are a small little community in India where people of diverse origins mingle to contribute a great composite Indian culture. They are the descendants of General Amar Singh Thapa who invaded India and annexed Garhwal and Kumaon that included the hill stations of Simla, Musssoorie, Lansdowne, Almora, Nainital, Ranikhet and Pithoragarh.
In the northeast General Johar Singh and General Purna Ale overran a major part of Sikkim in 1788, which included Nagri and Darjeeling. The British defeated the Gorkhas during the Anglo Gorkha war of 1814-16 and the lands they had conquered were ceded to the British and re-profiled. Those who have been living in India since the Gorkha invasion are known as the Indian Gorkhas.
Darjeeling is a much favoured tourist destination with several options for a traveler. One of the best things to do is a Joyride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR). The Joyride on the DHR begins at Darjeeling Railway Station, the fun begins as soon as the guard blows his whistle and the steam engine gives a long toot to chug off to Ghoom the highest railway station reached by a steam engine. One of the main highlights of the train journey is Cresswell’s double loop an engineering marvel at Batasia, which was opened for service on the 10 March 1919. Batasia in Nepali/ Gorkha language means the windy place. The train halts for 10 minutes on top of Batasia spur where one can view the wondrous Kanchenjunga Range, the distant hills and vales and Darjeeling town from a well laid out garden with seasonal flowers. People romp about the place in happiness, enjoy the crisp air which rejuvenates the mind and soul, take photographs but the War Memorial right in front of them that has a list of 131 martyrs (from 22 September 1947 to 20 May 2007) who have laid down their lives for the country since Independence lies forgotten and forsaken. A few occasional functions by the Army are done with unwavering respect to these noteworthy men. The politicians of Darjeeling are the worst defaulters they must know that remembrance of these righteous and valiant men is so much more than what we do or say.
The War Memorial itself is an imposing piece of architecture on an oval shaped platform with 9ft high bronze statue of a Gorkha soldier in reverse arms or “Shok Shastra” and a 30ft high triangular granite cenotaph on a three-foot octagonal base, with the “Roll of Honour” engraved on it. Unfortunately, we don’t even bother to reflect for a few seconds for the people who gave their lives to save this beautiful country. If you closely read the plaque in front of the War Memorial, it reads, “ In memory of the brave Gorkha soldiers of Darjeeling Hills who laid down their lives in the battle field for the greater cause of the motherland.” Yes, all the 131 boys are from the Darjeeling Hills, all buried or cremated in the holy soil of India after the country’s Independence. The list contains only names of boys from Darjeeling excluding Assam, Bakloh, Bhakshu, Dehra Dun, Dooars (WB), Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, Uttaranchal, etc, where Indian Gorkhas live.
There is a difference between the Indian Gorkhas and that of Nepal (no disrespect meant). The soldiers from Nepal serving in India are professional soldiers who owe allegiance only to their respective regiments and those who die in action are transported to Nepal. Bodies of soldiers born, buried or cremated in Indian soil like Darjeeling and other places as above are Indian citizens. Perhaps, Darjeeling has the largest number of martyrs from a single community in India. Body bags coming from the LoC are still a regular feature in Darjeeling.
Indian regiments, be it the Sikhs, Dogras, Assam, Bihar, Gorkhas, etc, before India’s Independence fought for the British Empire and cannot be said that they had fought for their nation. This honour can only be given after 15 August 1947. Undoubtedly the most distinguished Indian Gorkha soldier was Major Dhan Singh Thapa who was awarded India’s highest Gallantry Award the Paramvir Chakra in 1962 (Ladhak). Strangely not a single Gorkha officer has risen to the rank of Lieutenant General even after serving the nation with such dedication. The only reason being that they have no political clout. It may be mentioned here that during the Anglo-Gurkha War of 1814-16 a mere Gorkha Captain Bal Bhadra Kunwar with 600 men and women with antiquated weapons defeated a well equipped four thousand strong modern British Army led by Major General RR Gillespie in the battle of Kalanga (also called Nalapani now in the State of Uttaranchal). General Gillespie was shot dead while making a courageous charge on the fort led by him which led to a rout of British forces.
Way back in 1962 we heard with great grief and shock the news that Gautam Singh Subba of our village Nimki-Danra in the outskirts of Darjeeling town had been killed in OP Enemy Action during the Indo-China conflict. Gautam Singh Subba a young MBBS doctor whom I knew personally had just joined the Army Medical Corps when this unfortunate and tragic incident happened. My grandfather and I went down to meet his bereaved father who was a tall and distinguished gentleman. When my grandfather offered his condolences Gautam’s father with misty eyes and a faraway look proudly said “I’m glad that he died for his motherland.’ It was relief that he felt that way but I’ll never forget the heartbreaking incident.
I knew Captain Suraj Sharma as a small kid; his father Ramkrishna Sharma WBPS (Retd) was a colleague of mine in the Police Department. Suraj a Captain in the Second Para Regiment a premier commando unit of the army was killed by terrorist bullets in an encounter on 8 July 2001 morning. The funeral ceremony was held at Kurseong crematorium high up on the hills. After a charming and solemn military farewell Ram lit the funeral pyre of his son. I embraced him tightly when he whispered “ Dear som (pal) don’t worry, he did his job for his country.” As I had lost my equilibrium I careened and teetered down the steps of the crematory, I turned back to have a last look when I saw Ram standing serenely and calmly against the background of the leaping flames of his son’s funeral fire. It was a moving encounter too deep for tears.
We must learn to respect and honour with reverence these brave soldiers who never knew that the words they just spoke would be their last, the breath they took on the battle field would be their final or the family they loved and missed so much would never be seen again.
Very often unkind comments are passed against the Gorkha community without knowing who they are. The word Gorkha is derived from ‘Go-Rakha’ (protector of cows), they originally were the Rajputs of Rajasthan who fled to Nepal during the Muslim invasion of India allegedly in the 14th century after their women had performed the rite of Jauhar. The intermarriage between the Rajputs and a section of the Nepalese population produced the Gorkha race.
A brief resume of the Indian Gorkhas may help to create a better understanding of this marginalized community. Among the Indian Gorkhas there have been national level freedom fighters like Dal Bahadur Giri, Savitri Devi, Commander Purna Singh Thakuri (INA), Capt Dal Bahadur Thapa (INA) who was hanged on 3 May 1945 at Delhi Central Jail, Major Durga Malla (INA) hanged at Delhi Central Jail on 25 August 1944. His equestrian statue has been installed at the premises of the Indian Parliament. The late Ari Bahadur Gurung (Bar-at-Law) was one of the signatories of the Indian Constitution drawn up by the Constituent Assembly, which came into effect in 26th January 1950.
Records show that the Gorkhas of the three-hill sub-division of Darjeeling have one of the highest literacy rates in India. There are eminent musicians like Louis Banks the Jazz king of Asia, late Bobby Banks mentor of the once famed Calcutta Symphony Orchestra, Master Mitrasen Thapa (Bhakshu-Dharamshala) an Indian classical music exponent and folk singer, Capt Ram Singh Thakuri INA composer of kadam kadam badayeja and subha sukha chain ke barsa barese fame are all Gorkhas. The Gorkhas, however, have a wrong notion that Capt. Ram Singh Thakuri tuned the National Anthem. Jana Gana Mana Adhi Nayaka Jaya… was tuned and composed by Rabindranath Tagore and it was first sung on 27 December 1911 at the
Calcutta session of the INC, whereas Capt. Ram Singh Thakuri was born in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, in August 1914.
Prashant Tamang comes from a background where almost every family in Darjeeling hills has either a singer or a musician with a very appreciative audience. Prashant sang well and owing to the American Idol-style of mass audience voting he won, the matter should have ended there with a good cheer.
International sportsmen like Shyam Thapa, Ram Bahadur, CS Gurung, Puran Bahadur and Sunil Chettri have made their mark, the great Everest hero Tenzing Norgay Sherpa was a Darjeeling boy and we are proud of him.Goray Douglas a painter of international repute was a Gorkha. The1977 Sahitya Award winner Indra Bahadur Rai erudite scholar and writer has done much for the promotion of Indian literature.
People hope that the Gyanpith Award Selection Committee in the near future nominates him for this prestigious literary award, it is long overdue. Mahendra P Lama is the vice chancellor of the Central University of Sikkim. On the political level Pawan Chamling is the CM of Sikkhim and Subash Ghising is credited for the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. To top all such achievements the Gorkha Regiments are fighting and guarding the frontiers of India. What more can a country ask for from a small community like the Indian Gorkhas? Haven’t they spilt enough blood on the frontiers for the protection of the country? Isn’t it time to treat them with favour and respect?
Of late, ominous clouds have formed over the political horizons of Darjeeling with deep and frightening rumblings. The nation cannot afford to undergo another violent agitation in this region that will provide a soft landing for forces inimical to the country. The borders are long and porous ideal for the merchants of destabilisation. Sending Para-military forces and the Army to quell any movement in the hills will be a case of only treating the symptom and not the disease.
Till now the District Police administration and the District Civil Administration have handled the situation admirably well but they have their limitations. When things happen, as seen in the past, it happens in a bewildering pace and nobody wants the problem to solved only after mass death and destruction. Whatever demands the Government deems fit should be fulfilled. The Indian Government must instill confidence among the loyal Gorkha population in this sensitive border area aimed at political stability and a robust economy. Ad-hoc measures will not serve the purpose what is needed is a long and lasting solution. It is not a police problem it has to be solved politically.
Coming back to the War Memorial I remember an Indian patriotic song written by Kavi Pradeep and composed by C Ramchandra. It was beautifully rendered by Lata Mangeshwar around the end of the Sino-Indian war of 1962. This song was sung to honour the gallant Indian jawans (infantry) who sacrificed their lives on the icy desolate peaks of the Himalayas during the conflict.
Aye mere watan ko logo
Tum khub lagalo nara
Ye shuv din hai hum sab ka
Lahara lo Tiranga pyara
Par mat bhulo seema par
Biro ne hai pran gawaye
Kuch yad unhon bhe kar lo
Jo laut ke ghar na aye
Aye mere watan ke logo
Zara ankhon me bhar lo pani
Jo shaheed huwe hain unke
Zara yad karo kurbani
O! the people of my motherland!
Raise all the slogans you desire
This is a great day for all of us
Hoist your beloved Tricolour
But don’t forget in the border
The brave did lose their lives
And remember each great soldier
Who did not return home forever
O! the people of my motherland!
Do shed a few tears for them
For those who martyred on ice
Remember their great sacrifice.
(The author was a WBPS (Retd.) senior Intelligence officer and recipient of the Indian Police Medal.)
[P.S. THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE 26TH JANUARY 2008 ON THE HIMALAYAN BEACON then popularly known as BEACON ONLINE