Enduring Islam and ‘Muslimness’ in Trans-Himalayas: Some Reflections from the Case of the Gorkha Muslims and Tibetan Muslims in the Eastern Himalayan Town of Darjeeling, India

Anup Shekhar Chakraborty

The Muslim migration into the hills of Darjeeling forms a formidable part of the imperial administrators and the colonial project of building a sanatorium in the form of a hill station. Though the objective of the hill station was to sanitize the white population from the natives at large, the whites could not imagine a life minus the retinue of native servants in operation of the ‘display of Imperial Imagination of superiority’. On the basis of linguistic and ethnic lines the Muslims are largely categorized into four broad categories namely – Nepali Muslims, Tibetan Muslims, Bihari Muslims and Kashmiri Muslims. The discussions in this paper in general brings to the fore the myriad hues in the philosophy, position and practice of Islam; and the embodied experience of ‘being Muslim’ in the Eastern Himalayas. The discussions in particular would unravel the Muslims in an ostensibly multicultural terrain and the challenges in enduring Muslimness within the same. Also, the paper attempts to glean ‘whether the Muslim communities are ethnic or not?’ by taking the case of the Nepali (Gorkha/Gorkhey) Muslims and Tibetan Muslims in Darjeeling. Amidst the positional differences cutting across notions of language, geography, caste/Jati, Jat/Zat Birathery (Patrilineal group), Muslims have endured a directional commonality by remaining by and large a ‘West’ looking religion and observably religiosity among followers of Islam have timelessly looked at the ‘West’ (Mecca, Medina) for solace and redemption. Joya Chatterji (1998 in Hasan (ed.)), for instance mentions that there is no one universally true and fundamentally knowable Islam, no standardized and essentially unchangeable system of Islamic ritual and belief, no authentic soul or spirit of Islam or indeed of the Muslim community. Different and often contradictory meanings of Islam compete for hegemony.

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