1992: Nepali-speaking Indian citizens unite to make Nepali one of the official languages of India
By NLRC Staff, October 2016Contents
As a result of a decades-long struggle by the Nepali-speaking Indian citizens for the recognition of their mother tongue, the Nepali language finally became one of the official languages of India in 1992.
The language movement
Nepali-speaking Indian citizens have long faced challenges when it comes to their identity. In no other places in the country have they felt such challenges than in the district of Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal. Even though a large number of Nepali speakers live in other parts of the country, especially in the northeastern states of Sikkim and Assam, the Nepali-speaking population constitutes the overwhelming majority in Darjeeling and Nepali is the lingua franca in the district. The shared border with Nepal and a treaty between Nepal and India that allows nationals of both countries to live and work in either country often have caused many to think that the Nepali-speaking Indian citizens are migrants from Nepal rather than Indian citizens even though their roots and ties to India existed even before the independence of India.
The Nepali-speaking Indian citizens, mainly for this reason, call themselves Indian Gorkhas to differentiate themselves from the Nepali citizens living and working in India. Their ongoing demand for a separate state, Gorkhaland, has mainly been fueled by their desire not to be viewed as migrants from Nepal but rather be viewed as Nepali-speaking Indian citizens and their desire to preserve and promote their language and culture.
Their movement for the recognition of the Nepali language gained momentum after the independence of India. First it was Darjeeling that was carrying the torch, but soon Indian Gorkhas from other parts of India joined the cause and made significant progress along the way, like making Nepali an official language in the district and state levels. Soon, the movement transformed into a national movement seeking to make the Nepali language one of the official languages of the country, not only of a few districts or states.
Various organizations were formed at different times during the language movement. Through these organizations, like Darjeeling District Hill People's Language Implementation (Recognition) Committee (Bhasa Manyata Samiti) formed in 1961 that united the people of Darjeeling, All India Nepali Bhasa Samiti (AINBS) formed in 1972 that gave the movement a national form and brought Nepali-speaking Indian citizens from all over India together, and Bharatiya Nepali Rastriya Parisad (BNRP) formed in 1990 as a successor to AINBS for furthering the language movement, the Indian Gorkhas continued their struggle for the recognition of their language.
A unique aspect of the movement was that it was not divided along the political lines. The Indian Gorkhas, independent or belonging to various political parties, came together for the common cause. Various institutions and individuals continued their struggle relentlessly and they were able to get a national attention to their collective voice and were able to win the support of many, mainly the state and national leaders.
Their successful movement finally led to the Parliament of India, the Indian legislature, passing a bill in 1992 that included a provision to make Nepali one of the official languages of India. When President Shankar Dayal Sharma approved the bill on August 31, 1992, which officially included the Nepali language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India, it marked a major milestone in the history of the Indian Gorkhas and a successful conclusion to their language movement. Enshrinement of the language in the Constitution meant that any Indian citizen could now use Nepali for official business and that the Indian government would take measures to promote and preserve the language.
Today millions of Nepali-speaking people and people who love the Nepali language are living in different parts of the world. Their love for the Nepali language has brought them together and has been a medium to express their Nepali identity. Many universities around the world are teaching Nepali and many local organizations have been set up to teach Nepali to young children.
The achievement of the Nepali language movement in India was a victory to the Indian Gorkhas, to the Nepali-speaking citizens of India, but the significance of their struggle and love for their language goes beyond India. The accomplishment of the Indian Gorkhas to get Nepali enshrined in the Constitution of India is also a significant recognition and achievement of the language and an inspirational success story to millions of people who love the language. We hope that the success of the Indian Gorkhas will encourage many others to continue to promote and modernize the language, may it be by simply introducing the language to their children if their children do not get the exposure to the language or by taking on bigger roles in the society.
Congratulations Indian Gorkhas on your achievement and thank you for being a role model to many. Your success story will inspire many others in the community to craft their own success stories.
References Sarkar, Swatahsiddha. "Language and Ethnicity in Darjeeling Hills." Himalayan Studies in India (2008): 85-100.
About Success Stories
The Success Stories series features achievements by individuals or groups from or with ties to Nepal. In addition to highlighting the contributions to the society, the Success Stories series hopes to promote the inspiration these achievements provide among the community.