In India, Nepalese or Gurkhas are hardly seen as foreign community. The community is scattered all over India, especially in the North-east and North Bengal. Their settlements are seen even in remotest parts of the region. Acceptability of the Gurkhas in India can be gauged from the fact the Indian Army has an entire regiment named after the community. They can easily adapt to the culture and tradition of the local communities. They have immense contribution in developing the dairy sector of the region’s states. Baring North Bengal where the community is fighting for greater autonomy, they are hardly seen in collision course in other parts of the country. Another exception is Meghalaya where the community is targeted whenever there is a movement against non-tribal ‘outsiders’. The community now faces a similar crisis as the outlawed HNLC has served ‘quit notices’ to Nepali settlers especially those living in the border areas.
Meghalaya, especially the Khasi-Jaintia Hills region, has seen several pro-tribal movements seeking to oust non-tribal settlers. Lives were lost and properties damaged during these agitations and Nepalese bore a major brunt of the wrath of indigenous tribals. Bengali, Bihari, Marwari, Punjabi and Assamese people were also targeted during the racial violence. There were isolated attacks on Nepalese in the aftermath of Langpih killings in 2010 when four Khasi villagers died in firing by Assam police in the wake of a clash with the Nepali settlers. The area is known as Lumpi in Assam, a testimony of the decades-long boundary dispute. The community was served with ‘quit notices’ by pressure groups and even traditional bodies in many areas, causing exodus of people.
After four years of calm, the same crisis looms over the community in Meghalaya. Lack of development in the border areas is the prime reason for such kind of crises. Minor rifts and tension often fail to reach the authorities. Even if the authorities are aware of such things, they are often ignored, resulting in accumulation of anger. Besides, there are groups with vested interests hell bent on creating communal rifts. The HNLC’s diktat is nothing but a desperate attempt to win back some lost place in the hearts of the indigenous Khasi-Jaintia people. Unarmed pressure groups should now make clear their stand on the ‘quit notice’ to Nepalese, and not just play the ‘wait and watch’ game. Political parties, especially those who cater to regional sentiment, too should come out and appeal to people not to pay any heed to such absurd ‘orders’ coming from the soil of Bangladesh.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on April 18, 2014)