DOOARS: A DECEPTIVE DEMOGRAPHY – Dr. Sonam Wangyal

Here’s an important and informative discourse on the demographic politics played in the Dooars since partition. The essay is a little heavy with the numbers, but the numbers are important so please do not be intimidated by the figures and the statistics. This is a very relevant article, and has important information for the inclusion of the Dooars in the state of Gorkhaland.

The article is a little long, but I decided to put the whole thing up without breaking it up into parts. Do take the time to read it all. Book mark the page if necessary. 🙂
-Admin

PRE-INDEPENDENCE The ethnic people, the autochthones, were the Rajbansis,[1] or the Koches,[2] the Totos and the Mechis[3] Dukpas and the Garos. I will not claim that the Gorkhas are indigenous to the Dooars, a claim the Bengalis too cannot assert, but one can claim that the Gorkhas are one of the oldest non-autochthones. This report will also attempt to show that over the passage of time the natives and the ancient settlers got swamped by the continuous flood of Bengali immigration to the extent of making the area a Bengali subdivision.

The Gorkhas in the Dooars is not a recent phenomenon and the Gazetteer of West Bengal Government itself admits: “They began to immigrate and settle down in the district (i.e. Jalpaiguri) especially in the western parts of the district, as agriculturalists, from the beginning of the eighteenth century.”[4] This would mean that the history of the Gorkhas in the Dooras stretches to a minimum of 300 years. The recorded accounts of the Gorkhas inhabiting the area in the days of yore are also to be found outside the official gazetteers. The official history of Cooch Behar mentions of a gang of Sanyasis that used to raid Cooch Behar in the 1770s. The group seems to be so large and strong that the State police and the armed forces of the Maharajah could not stop the raids and the Government of Cooch Behar had to seek assistance from the East India Company. Even the Company’s representative seems to have been frustrated and he eventually appealed to the Nepal king to intercede[5] since the Sanyasis were almost entirely Gorkhas. This book Cooch Beharer Itihas (in Bengali) documents that Nepalis (Gorkhas), Bhutanese and Bengal Moslems would often combine and attack Cooch Behar with deadly effect.[6] The same source enlightens us that prior to Sino-Gorkha War, Nepal used to send tribute to the Chinese Emperor through the Raja of Baikunthapur.[7] This would have been impossible if the Gorkha king did not have substantial influence over the ruler of the place. The Sanyais were active even as late as the 1770s and many of them were employed by the Bhutanese “as means of enforcing collection of tribute from recalcitrant payers.”[8] The second phase of Gorkhas settling in the Dooars, according to the Gazetteer, was “in the mid-nineteenth century” with the opening of the tea gardens[9] and even in this case the Gorkha history in the Dooars is 150 years old.

Now let us see what the population position of the Bengalis were at the relevant time. At the time of the amalgamation of the Duars, the Bengali population was negligible. The celebrated accounts of Samuel Turner (1800 An Account of an Embassy to the Court of Teshoo Lama in BHOOTAN and TIBET), Capt. Pemberton (1838 Report on Bootan), Dr. D.F. Rennie (1866Bhotan and the Story of the Doar War) and George Bogle (1876 Narrative of George Bogle) do not mention any Bengali settlement in the Dooars, simply because they were not there. The possibility of Bengali residents in Jalpaiguri subdivision seems promising but its augmentation and immigration to it and to Alipurdaur/Dooars is a post Anglo-Bhutan War feature. The Jalpaiguri Gazetteer is clear about this fact and it reads that “After the formation of Jalpaiguri district, with its headquarters at Jalpaiguri town and subdivisional headquarters at Alipur Duar, the district began to attract educated Hindu gentry from East Bengal districts. The administration needed clerks and lawyers. Once the clerks and lawyers came and settled down there, their needs attracted doctors and teachers. …Thus a process of urbanization set in.”[10] One would think that these Bengali settlers came as a trickle but in the half-a-century, between 1872 and 1921, the same Gazetteer states “the population of Alipur Duars subdivision had increased by a fantastic 1,042.3 per cent.”[11] Such a fantastic and almost incomparable increase of population in a small region was not a result of Gorkha immigration, as the Gazetteer and census figures testify, but even then the Gorkha citizens of the Dooars have nothing against these Bengali settlers basically because it was a pre-Independence phenomenon. But demographic politics designed to make the native people and ancient settlers into an absolute minority, after 1947, by politics of assisted and calculated program is what the autochthones, Adhibasis and Gorkhas are trying to remove, through the formation of a new state beyond the political influence and decree of Bengali dominated state of West Bengal.

POST-INDEPENDENCE Going back to the Census Report of 1961, in reference to the immigrants of post-Independence era, we find that the decadal increase of population, in Jalpaiguri district, for those born countries in Asia but outside India was 2,59,795 persons[12] and the same Census reports that 2,18,341 persons were from Bangladesh[13] which amounts to 84% of the immigrants. This is an unparalleled explosion of numbers in the history of census records in post-independent India for such a small area. The immigration, illegal but made legal, constituted a staggering figure of 16 per cent of the total existing population. In other words every seventh person one came across in the district was a fresh immigrant from Bangladesh. The total immigration rise was 48.27% in comparison to 8.13% in 1941-1951 and, what is difficult to believe is that, approximately 80% of the immigrants were from Bangladesh. This is what the Gazetteer published by the West Bengal government admits to. Such a huge influx is impossible anywhere in the world except in West Bengal and it is possible in this particular state because the state government actively pursues a politics of demographic hegemony by welcoming foreign citizens, granting them citizenship and even land and finance. How else can the Government of West Bengal justify the existence of a Department/Ministry in the guise and label of Ministry of Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation after over SIXTY years of the creation of East Pakistan/Bangladesh.The Department was formed in 1950 with the following objective, according to the official website: “The Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Department was created to handle the enormous dimensions of the human tragedy that West Bengal had to face following the partition of India in 1947…”[14] The Ministry has been in existence for almost 60 years and if it has not been able to redress the “human tragedy” in these many years then it defies its existence. Successive Governments in West Bengal have institutionalized the practice of welcoming, aiding and granting ration cards or voter identity cards through the connivance of theMinistry of Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation. In fact as late as 2006 the rehabilitation Minister, Binoy Krishna Biswas, claimed that he had distributed legal papers for land ownership (patta) and that he would soon distribute more to the refugees living in various colonies.[15]

DEMOGRAPHIC HEGEMONY Today the wider implications of this massive infiltration and resettlement are being faced by not just the bordering states of West Bengal but by states as far away as Maharashtra and New Delhi. If there was an increase of 48% plus in immigration figures any government in the world would have shown the severest of concern but West Bengal government maintained a premeditated and deliberate silence in the case of Dooars simply because the immigrants were Bengalis and it suited the policy of changing the ground reality through deliberate and planned population hegemony. The ethnic people too have become victims of this politics under another cleaver method. Consider the following figures:

Total Population of the District (1961): 13,59,292
Bengali Speaking Population 7,40,829 (54.50% a
majority)

But this figure included Rajbansis who out of a total of 3,16,020 some 2,97,333 declared Bengali as mother-tongue, thus making the Bengali-speakers the majority.

Should we minus the Rajbansis only (i.e. excluding Mechis, Totos, and other tribal people who ‘declared’ Bengali as mother tongue) we arrive at a Bengali speaking population of only 4,24,809 or 31.25%, clearly a minority.

The independent and non-political Dooars Study Forum strongly feels that Census reports are flawed and whereas the British were ready to admit their shortcomings[16] the post independence Census does not admit to any weakness in compiling the returns. If Darjeeling district’s census, a district that contains the cream of educated Gorkhas, could be fudged[17] the population figure of the Gorkhas in the Dooars was far easier pickings. It must be also remembered that the census enumerators were entirely non-Gorkhas, they were inadequately trained and poorly paid and therefore not adequately motivated to any degree of sacrifice or to achieve any degree of accuracy. The Gorkhas in the Dooars are largely agriculturists or tea plantation labourers. Each agricultural plot could be several acres in size and the enumerators did not have the motivation or the energy to walk across several acres of land to enumerate the next house and the next and so on. In the lapse the Gorkhas were the main losers. Most enumerators like to do their job in the mornings to avoid the scorching heat of the Dooars sun but in the mornings the Gorkha plantation workers would be in the tea gardens. This again left a wide gap in reporting faithfully the actual number of residents. The style and system of fact-finding itself was flawed. Some of our Forum members were told by several Gorkha residents that the enumerators would ask, in Bengali, questions like “Apnaara eai baritay kahjon aachhay?” (How many people are there in this house?) and if one replied in Bengali “Aamra charjon aachhi” (We are four.) the enumerator would then ask “Achha, apni Bangla bolen?” (Oh! You speak Bengali?). If one answered in the positive the enumerator would mark the four people of the house as Bengali speakers. In numerous cases the Gorkha resident was never asked what his mother tongue was. The enumerator would not be entirely wrong, for they could speak Bengali, but the officer’s brief was not to put in his interpretation but to strictly follow the guidelines provided. In this case it would have become necessary for the enumerator to ask what the mother tongue of the respondent was. The simple and innocent Gorkhas are only now realizing the cost of the ‘mistake’ made by the enumerators.

There are other ways the population figures were manipulated to disadvantage the minority communities. We have already illustrated the 1961 Census which reflected Bengali speakers at 54.50% with the inclusion of a huge numbers of Rajbansis and the same was done in 1971, the last Census done on linguistic basis, showing a comfortable majority of the Bengali speaking population amounting to 60.23%.

A MACRO STUDY Even if one is stupid enough to concede that these reports could be correct with only some minor flaws a careful look at the census figures in some blocks show some very revealing results. It points to a massive amount of infiltration from the south, Bangladesh. Firstly let us consider the northern parts of the district which borders Bhutan. In Matiali Block, Hindi speakers are the largest in number (21,067), Kurukh (10,372) is second, Nepali (9,563) is third and Bengali (8,739) is fourth. In Nagrakata Block, Hindi (23,094) is first, Kurukh (12,530) is second, Nepali (10,444) is third and Bengali (9,181) once again is fourth. In Birpara Block, Nepali (19,265) is first, Hindi (12,321) is second, Kurukh (11,581) is third and Bengali (6,756) is again fourth. Similarly, in Kalchini Block, Hindi (40,949) comes first followed by Nepali (32,601). Kurukh scores third (16,123) and Bengali brings up the expected rear (16,076). Why these blocks have such scanty number of Bengali speakers is because they are far away from Bangladesh border and if one takes an even closer look nowhere do the figures reach close to 50.000. When the population statistics for places in the southern parts of the district, which borders Bangladesh, is scanned a reverse picture is found. Rajganj Block has a massive 1,06,248 Bengali speakers against only 19,705 speakers of Hindi, Kurukh and Nepali combined. Similarly, Jalpaiguri Block has another colossal 1,90,859 against 26,918 of the other three languages. The drama repeats itself in Mainaguri Block which records Bengali speakers to the tune of 1,51,053 against 7,370 of Hindi, Kurukh and Nepali combine and so it is also with Dhupguri Block, Falakata Block etc. The Bengali population in each case is above a lakh with one Block almost tipping two lakhs. Any person of average intelligence would see in these numbers something abnormal, unbelievable and possibly even an element of something being contrived. Such staggering differences cannot be possible between the first settled places or the north and the later settled places or the south. It is only possible through infiltration, immigration, colonization etc. and to occur in such numbers requires a government that actively encourages these foreigners to settle in the border areas. The Left Front government not only gives to the immigrants ration cards, legal rights on lands (patta) but even assists in the procurement of voter identity cards.[18] In a constitutional democracy like India the West Bengal government is not embarrassed that immigrants are acquiring equal rights as the sons of the soil but openly admits to be a party to help the aliens obtain legal papers.

MEDIA REPORTS The retired Chief of Intelligence and former Governor of West Bengal, T. V. Rajeshwar, wrote that the Bangladeshi influx was serious and even quoted State Government sources about 28 lakh Bangladeshi nationals entering West Bengal of which five lakh merged with the Indian population, never to return.[19] These are the people that the Refugee Rehabilitation Ministry looks after and provides them with ration cards, pattas, and voter ID cards. The state government is so brazen that it openly ignored the Election Commission’s directive to all the Chief Electoral Officers in the state to identify and delete the names of foreigners enrolled as voters. “The West Bengal Home Secretary, Mr. Manish Gupta, has conveyed to all District Magistrates, Additional District Magistrates and Subdivisional Officers, who serve as District Returning Officers and Assistant Returning Officers, the State Information Minister, Mr. Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s[20] instructions that their current exercise of identifying and deleting foreigners’ name from the state electoral roll be immediately stopped”[21] The Statesman further reported that, “Mr. Bhattacharya’s instructions came when DROs (District Returning Officers) and AROs (Assistant Returning Officers) of 17 districts had prepared a list of more than 100,000 suspected Bangladeshis whose names figured in the state’s electoral roll”. “The police had begun photographing the places populated by Bangladeshis, to which Mr. Bhattacharya had taken strong exception”. “Mr. Gupta had conveyed the Minister’s strong displeasure to the officials concerned and asked them to stop their “overzealous act in identifying the Bangladeshis”
On one hand the state government discourages or blocks or impedes the process of identifying illegal immigrants and on the other hand it actively pursues a policy of legalizing them as Indians through distribution of ration cards, voter identity cards and official land holding papers. Consider the case of the Refugee Rehabilitation Minister who publicly admitted to dishing out documents legalizing the immigrants as Indians and went a step further saying more papers would be distributed in the future.[22] In the late 1990s, when the Shiv Sena-BJP regime resolved to evict Bangladeshis from the city, the opposition came not so much from Bangladesh as from certain West Bengal politicians.[23] Rough estimates suggest that more than 160 lakhs migrants, mostly Muslims but also some Hindus, have found shelter since 1972, mostly in Assam and West Bengal. The August 2000 report of the Task Force on Border Management placed the figure at 150 lakhs, with 300,000 Bangladeshis entering India illegally every month.[24] A more conservative estimate was given by the Defence Minister during a seminar on “Integrated Management of Security” in Chandigarh where he estimated the immigration to be in the vicinity of one lakh Bangladeshis entering India every month.[25] But even this approximate figure is alarming since more than 90% of the immigrants settle in Assam or West Bengal.

A MICRO STUDY Since Census recording based on languages has been done away for the last three decades, the Dooars Study Forum (DSF) and Study Forum, Kalimpong, did extensive survey of the Duars to arrive at an approximation of the Gorkha population. Old Census records where some communities were erroneously put as non-Gorkhas were corrected and, most of all, the last Electoral list was studied and from it each Gorkha name was meticulously picked and counted Block by Block, rejecting names that are analogous to Bengali and Gorkha, to arrive at the conclusion that the Gorkha population was at, the minimum, 5 to 5,50,000 persons. The Gorkha population in the district according to the Census of 1961 was 1,13,043 and the 1971 Census returned a figure of 1,30,744, an increase of only 17,701 (15.66%). While the DSF refuses to accept even the 1961 returns, it outright rejects the 1971 Census figure. This is simply unacceptable because the decadal growth in the district was 28.76%, the state 26.87%, and the nation 24.80% and the Gorkhas are made to lag behind on all three parameters with only 15.66% growth. Should one agree to the rate of growth espoused by the government the Gorkhas population would be around 58,327only in thewhole of Alipurduar subdivision (1971 = 37706[26], 1981 = 43,601, 1991 = 50,430, 2001 = 58,327). However, the DSForum, assisted by Study Forum (Kalimpong), did a sample microstudy one Block alone (Kalchini) and the findings strongly contradicted the government’s figures. In fact the Gorkha population of this one Block alone was more than the projected population of the whole subdivision. The Study Forum (Kalimpong) based its findings on the latest (2009) Electoral List. Each and every Gorkha name was counted and titles analogous to the Gorkhas and the Bengalis (and obvious other ones e.g. Singh/Sinha used by Gorkha, Bengali, Punjabi and other communities) were excluded and it found the Gorkha voting population to be 46,076. If we presume that 40% of the actual population was under 18 years in age and therefore not in the Electoral list (including adults not registered in the voter list) one would get 18,340 heads making the total Gorkha population in the Kalchini Block alone to be (40,076 + 18,340) 64,506. Taking into account the Gorkhas in the twelve other Blocks in the district,[27] the Dooars Study Forum came to conclusion that the population should be around 5,00,000 to 5,50,000 in the district.

CIRCUITING THE CENSUS The DSF’s position that the Census can and was fudged to negatively impact the Gorkhas can be substantiated. Take the 1951 Census as a glaring example. Darjeeling’s Gorkha population of 67% (1941) had plunged to only 26% in 1951 without any natural calamities, epidemics or mass migration. Surprisingly, only the Gorkha population decreased while the total population rose from 376,369 (1941) to 445,269 (1951). As in the case of the Darjeeling hills the population of Jalpaiguri was shown to grow by only 8.13% in 1951 while in the next census (1961) the growth registered an staggering 48%.[28] But why did the WB Government require to fudge the figures! The answer is simple: The cry from various different regions of India for reorganization of states was there from pre-independence days but it had begun to get a stronger and more organized momentum. The post independence period saw it grow on more rational basis, in the context of not only from financial, economic and administrative management of independent India but also due to the growing importance of regional languages. Consequently, the Provinces Commissions or the Dar Report was placed in the Parliament in 1948 and the White Paper on Indian States in 1950. From these Reports and the growing demand for separate states on linguistic basis from different regions made the politicians of India, and Bengal in particular, more or less certain that the Central Government would very soon institute some mechanism to address the issue. Dr. B.C. Roy, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, craftily conducted a statistical ethnic cleansing by making thousands upon thousands of Gorkhas disappear in Darjeeling and the Dooars of Jalpaiguri in the 1951 census. He with impunity made the Gorkhas reappear in 1961 as 75% of the population in Darjeeling. A brilliant masterstroke for in 1961 the SRC was not in function! Unfortunately for the Dooars Gorkhas the fabrication of census figures did not end with decennial count of 1961. The census returns of 1971, the last census based on caste lines, gives the impression that the Gorkhas’ reproductive instinct remained severely damaged and the Bengalis’, on the other hand, healthy and super active. The average decadal growth then was approximately 27.5% and it is natural to expect a similar reflection in the growth percentage of different communities. However, wherever the Gorkha population was in sizeable numbers its increase fell far below the district average while the Bengali count increased by astonishing numbers and in places where the Bengali population was in good strength their population simply exploded. Consider the case of Falakata Block where the Bengali population swelled by 42% and in Rajganj Block it even breached the 50% mark by showing a growth of 59.4%. On the other hand the areas where the Gorkhas were in substantial strength the counts showed a miserable increase: close to half and even less than half of the district average. Kalchini Block where the Gorkha concentration is robust it climbed by only 14.74%, in Nagarkatta Block by 12.56% and in Metiali Block the increase in population was a miserable 5.8%.[29] The question to be asked here is was the Gorkhas’ ability to procreate inexplicably reduced by more than half or had the Gorkhas suddenly decided to put their natural instinct on hold for a period of ten years. On the other hand even if the Bengali prowess to procreate had gone up by a staggering 10% beyond the average there is no adequate explanation to the 14% in rise in Falakata or to the 31.8% rise in Rajganj.

Such an inexplicable increase can only be due to a massive immigration and the only possible place from where the immigrants could come is from Bangladesh. The reader must bear in mind that, no matter what ethnic or religious ties there may be, people of Bangladesh are not Indians and therefore the immigration was illegal especially when the subject and statistics refer to the period between 1961 to 1971, a full 14 to 24 years after the creation of Bangladesh (East Pakistan) and India.

________________________________________
[1] Karkham, R. Clements: Narrative of George Bogle to Tibet and of the Journey Thomas Manning, Cosmo Publications, 1989, (1876), Footnote No.1
[2] Hooker, Joseph Dalton: Himalayan Journals, Vol. 2, Today and Tomorrow Printers and Publishers, New Delhi, 1987 (1855), p. 10.
Eden, Sir Ashley: Report on the State of Bootan, (In Political Missions to Bootan, Manjusri Publishing Limited, New Delhi, 1972 (1864), p. 9.
Pemberton, Capt. Boileau: Report on Bootan, (in Political Missions…1838), p. 178.
[3] Hunter, WW: A Statistical Account of Bengal, Vol. X, Districts of Darjiling and Jalpaiguri, and State of Kuch Behar, Trubner & Co., London, 1876 (Concept Publishing Co., Delhi, 1984), pp. 254 & 255.
De, Barun: 81.
[4] Bengal District Gazetteer Jalpaiguri (1980): p. 78.
[5] Letter from W. Hastings to J. Dupre, dated 9th March, 1773, from Memories of O.H.W. Hastings, Vol. 1, p. 303. (As quoted in Coocb Beharer Itihas)
[6] Ahmad, Khan Choudhuri Amantaulla: Cooch Beharer Itihas, (Part 1), State Press and Published under Authority of the Cooch Behar State, 1936, p. 232.
[7] Ibid: p. 235.
[8] Ray, Subhajyoti: Transformations on the Bengal Frontier: Jalpaiguri, 1765-1948, SOAS, London, 2003, pp. 28 & 27. The Sanyasi movement headed towards its end with the first major skirmish in Rangpur in 1772 when the East India Company intervened in the internal politics of Cooch Behar.
[9] Op cit De, Barun: p. 78.
[10] Ibid: p. 63.
[11] Ibid: p. 72.
[12] Ibid: p. 74, Table 5.
[13] Ibid: p. 73.
[14] The official website gives the following details: Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation headed by the Hon’ble Minister of State, Shri Binay Krishna Biswas (Secretary: Smt. R. Venkataraman, IAS, and Officer on Special Duty: Shri A. Kanugo, WBCS).
[15] Ganashakti, Kolkata, 18 December, 2006.
[16] The FIRST official statistical account of the Dooars or that of Jalpaiguri by W.W. Hunter (see Footnote 10) is candid enough to confess the obvious errors in the Census reports: page 247. The last Census conducted by the British in 1941 is also fraught with possibilities and the highly placed British bureaucrat, Arthur Jules Dash admits to it in West Bengal District Gazetteers DARJEELING, (1947) pages 50, 54, 58, 62, 68 etc. The 1907 Gazetteer of Darjeeling by L.S.S. O’Malley also admits of flaws in the Census (page 35)
[17] In 1941 the Census reflected Darjeeling District’s Gorkha population as 2,52,167 and in 1951 it had declined to 1,32,632. Instead of increaing more than 50% of the Gorkha population had simply disappeared while the total population had almost doubled viz. 3,76,377 (1941) – 6,98,063 (1951). After a whole lot of hue and cry adjustments were made and in 1961 the Gorkha population is returned as 4,74,726.
[18] Jyoti Parimal:Sarkar (Research scholar), BANGLADESHI MIGRATION TO WEST BENGAL:A CAUSE OF CONCERN, , Centre for the Study of Regional Development, JNU, New Delhi
[19] The Statesman, Kolkata, 6 & 9 April, 1990.
[20] Presently the Chief Minister
[21] The Statesman, Kolkata, 1 November, 1992.
[22] Ganashakti, Kolkata, 18 December, 2006.
[23] The Times of India, New Delhi, 5 April, 2004.
[24] On line Asia Times,14 January, 2005 (www.atimes.com)
[25] Asian Age, Kolkata, 28 September, 2003.
[26] Census of India 1971
[27] Jalpaiguri, Rajganj, Maynaguri, Dhupguri, Mal, Matelli, Nagarkatta, Madarihaat, Falakata, Alipurduar-1, Alipurduar-2, and Kumargram.
[28] On Line Asia Times, 14 January, 2005, (www.atimes.com)
[29] District Census Handbook, 1971, Series 22, Part X, (A & B), pp. 3-18

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