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Darjeeling

History

This area belonged to the Buddhist chogyals (kings) of Sikkim until 1780, when it was annexed by the invading Gurkhas from Nepal. The Gurkhas’ aggressive territorial expansion led to growing conflicts with the British and, after several battles, the East India Company gained control of the region in 1816. The company then returned most of the lands back to Sikkim in exchange for British control over any future border disputes.

During one such dispute in 1828, two British officers stumbled across the Dorje Ling monastery, on a tranquil forested ridge, and passed word to Calcutta that it would be a perfect site for a sanatorium; they were sure to have also mentioned its strategic military importance in the region. The Chogyal of Sikkim (still grateful for the return of his kingdom) happily leased the uninhabited land to the East India Company in 1835 and a hill station was born.

Forest gradually made way for colonial houses and tea plantations, and by 1857 the population of Darjeeling reached 10, 000, mainly because of a massive influx of Gurkha labourers from Nepal.

After Independence, the Gurkhas became the main political force in Darjeeling and friction with the state government led to calls for a separate state of Gorkhaland in the 1980s. In 1986, violence and riots orchestrated by the Gurkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) brought Darjeeling to a standstill. A compromise was hammered out in late 1988, which granted the newly formed Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) a large measure of autonomy from the state government.

Although this appeased some Gurkhas, the breakaway Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation (GLO) and its armed wing, the Gorkha Volunteers’ Cell (GVC), have continued to call for full secession. Since 2001 both the GVC and DGHC have been accused of political killings. Meanwhile the DGHC’s internal wranglings over its relationship with Kolkata and Delhi have seen the introduction and dropping of ‘Autonomous’ in its name (and an ‘A’ in its acronym), and the proposal of a new council: Gorkha Hill Council, Darjeeling (GHCD).