Linguistic Situation in Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalayas: Interstices between Identity, Difference and Belongingness
This paper presumes that language can be a significant factor in shaping the courses of belongingness. Arguing as such it attempts to provide an overview of the contemporary linguistic situation in Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalayas with a significant poser: as to whether language can yield multiple modes of belonging for the same linguistic group at different intervals of time. As is well-known Darjeeling-Sikkim region falls within the geographical limits of the Eastern Himalayas which can again be conceived of as a ‘cultural area’ distinguishable by a single cultural criteria i.e. Nepali language. Conceiving Darjeeling-Sikkim region as a distinctive cultural space within this broad culture area (distinguishable on the basis of the predominance of Nepali language) of the Eastern Himalayas and drawing experiences from contemporary realities of neighboring countries like Nepal and Bhutan this paper will state and evaluate the linguistic situation in the Darjeeling-Sikkim region that has been a home for more than ten million Nepali speaking populations outside Nepal.
It is argued that the modalities of belonging are interlaced with the experiences of domination and subordination on the one hand and inclusion and exclusion on the other and therefore they acquire a positioning within the discourses of power. The relative significance of all these parameters the way they were worked out in past or in present can be systematically brought out if we concentrate on the concrete case of Nepali language and examine the different linguistic practices as they were operationalized over the years to legitimize and reinforce the notion of belongingness in the Darjeeling-Sikkim region in particular.
It has already been noted by many that the idioms of belonging of a sizeable section of Nepali speaking population outside Nepal have been largely defined by Nepali language. Politics of belonging in the Darjeeling-Sikkim region has been a case of historical mediation between language and empire. With the passage of time and particularly with India’s independence and with Sikkim’s entry into Indian Union the contours of this mediation between language and positions of power shifted its course. From being a ‘language of command’ and ‘language of domination’ Nepali language in this region has become a ‘language of self assertion’ too and of late gave birth to minority rights claims thereby seeking to establish a seemingly new mode of belonging in the ethnically ripe political situations of Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalayas.
In fine, this paper seeks to examine those moments wherein language and politics of belonging reinforced and contested each other. As such it would attempt to explore two particular sites: firstly, situations where Nepali language played a unifying role and yielded the basis of belonging region specifically; and secondly, situations where Nepali language seemed to have failed to attain the ‘language of command’ like conditions and paved ways for a ‘new’ politics drawing more from issues like linguistic difference, minority language rights, and politics of indigeneity. The need is to understand whether both these modes of belonging are corroborative or mutually exclusive to each other.