Dr. Sonam Wangyal (Paper presented in the Seminar organised by Dooars Study Forum)
Discrimination even in Death: The Dooars Study Forum includes here the final story of two Gorkha martyrs, one from Darjeeling district and another from the Dooars, whose gallantry and sacrifice were subjected to the worst treatment possible by the West Bengal Government.
Santosh Thapa of Lebong (in Darjeeling and therefore in the present state of West Bengal) was a sepoy in the 5/1 Gorkha Rifles. He saw action in ‘Operation Orchid’, ‘HAUCA’ (Jammu & Kashmir), and ‘Operation Pawan’ and was decorated with Samanya Seva Medal with Clasp ‘Nagaland’. He was felled by enemy bullets in the line of duty on 8 December 1987. The West Bengal government in a bizarre sense of gratitude awarded the grieving widow an Ex-Gratia grant of Rs. 2,000/- (Rupees two thousand). The sum was so paltry that it would not even cover the cost of the funeral rites. When it is common knowledge that victims of railway accidents, mining disasters etc. are given from Rs. 50,000/- to lakhs of rupees the West Bengal government thought it fit to dole out just two thousand rupees for a man who had defended his country in the harshest of conditions and eventually paid the final price. This is nothing short of belittling the contribution of a hero and a martyr and the government would have been better off by not giving anything at all.
The dishonor meted out to Gorkha Havildar Lalbahadur Thapa of Kumai Tea Gardens, Matelli, (Dooars) is even more brutal. The Havildar had served the nation for twenty two years and was honoured with Dirdhakalin Seva Medal, Highest Altitude Medal (Siachen), Vishist Seva Medal, Dirdha Seva Medal, 50th Independence Medal, and the Vishesh Seva Medal. He was an example and hero to all who knew him. He died in the line of duty on 09 March 2001 and his tricolor-wrapped body was brought to Baghdogra Airport and thence routed to Siliguri, Malbazar, Chalsa and eventually to Kumai Tea Garden. The martyred Havildar’s chronicler, Gangaprasad Bhattarai, writes that all along the route Gorkhas paid tribute to the deceased hero but not a single Minister or Member of the West Bengal Assembly was present to honour the man who had given the best of his twenty two years and finally even his life for the defense of his country, and therefore to the defense of West Bengal as well. Like in the case of martyr Santosh Thapa, Havildar Lalbahadur Thapa’s wife was given a cheque of gratitude indebtedness amounting to Rs. 2,000/- (two thousand) only. How much more can one insult a hero and his contribution to his motherland!
But there is an ironical flipside to this story also and it shall be put on record in the following pages.
Subsequent to the police excesses in Lalgarh in November 2008, Shri Ardhenu Sen, the State Home Secretary, told the press that the West Bengal government would compensate 14 tribal women who were injured during the police raids. “We have decided to give Rs. 50,000/- to a tribal woman, Sitamoni Murmu, who suffered serious injury during the police operations. The State Government will also grant Rs. 25,000/- to Palmoni Murmu and twelve other tribal women will get Rs. 15,000/- each. While this is laudable in that it amounts to admission of a mistake and that the Government was trying to express regret through recompense but compare the amount with what a Gorkha Soldier got for giving his precious life.
With a rise in the insurgency movements in south of the state the policemen became increasingly vulnerable to attacks from the insurgents and on 21 October 2009 the West Bengal government announced a compensation package for policeman killed in the line of duty. It allowed for the deceased’s family to draw full salary every month and to live in the government quarters till the date of retirement, enjoy all admissible benefits, as well as an Ex-Gratia grant of Rs. 500,000/- (increased from the previous amount of 2 lakhs). The Director General of Police, Shri Bhupinder Singh, even went on to say that “the total compensation as admissible now for the family of a victim policeman will increase to Rs. 15 lakh which includes a medical insurance of Rs. 10 lakhs. All these are commendable and the Forum does not expect and neither does it ask the government to match these grants as far as the Gorkha soldiers from West Bengal are concerned. But what the Forum and the Gorkhas spread across India expect is that their dead in the line of duty not be insulted by doling out a pittance. Individual insult like these, each discrimination in education facilities, every partiality in employment opportunities, glaring fabrication of the census, sustained efforts to change the demographic ground reality, continued prejudices in health facilities, the prolonged injustices against the Gorkhas and the Adibasis in the tea gardens and a host of other inequities against the minority communities increase the aspiration for justice, for a space of one’s own, for a new state devoid of all these unpleasant imperfections. The impetus has come largely from the West Bengal government which keeps on pushing the minority communities over the brink of revolt and the same government questions, “Why are you revolting?”