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ISSN 2582-2241




This article makes two principal arguments: First, the line between Nepali identity and Indian Nepali identity (and subsequently, their respective literatures) is still blurred. Secondly, historically, the Gorkhā have been regarded as a martial race serving as soldiers in the British East India Company from 1815. However, within this famed and fabled narrative of Gorkhā bravery and loyalty, Gorkhā women had no role to play. They were pushed into obscurity, giving rise questions such as: In a community where the term Gorkhā invokes the image of a brave Gorkhā soldier, where does the Gorkhā woman find herself? And what happens to the Gorkhā woman and her voice? Furthermore, can a woman be a Gorkhā at all? If yes, how is she supposed to assert her Gorkhā identity[1] and make herself be seen as a part of the community? This article addresses these questions through the poems composed by three women poets from two different generations within Indian Nepali Literature—Bindya Subba, Kamala Rai, and Pavitra Lama, whose works are rightful representatives of a distinct Gorkhā female identity. The author conducted interviews with the poets and did extensive fieldwork in the Darjeeling Hills[2] in order to properly understand the dynamics of the Gorkhā identity and the impact of the Gorkhāland agitation on the Gorkhā community.


The Gorkhā Identity: Recent Developments

They had a dream: “If we struggle together, one day we will earn happiness, we’ll share it with everyone, it will be enough for all.” But the reality was defeat like the constant clouding of the sky, victory was occasional as sunshine. “As if we were misled;”... Such a life of poverty was completely out of place here, where the forests and hills are green, the rhododendrons red, where there are milk-white magnolia, golden sayapatrÄ«, and colourful birds flying by. Had this place strode out for heavenly beauty, forgetting them? Bearing their load of the ignorance and poverty of ages past, had they all been left behind here on these steep slopes?[3]

SCHOLARLY EXPLORATIONS INTO THE INDIAN NEPALI COMMUNITY would do well to bear in mind the above thoughts of one of the finest Gorkhā authors of all time, Indra Bahadur Rai (1927-2018), on the condition of the Gorkhā population after India attained independence in 1947.[4]The Gorkhā population was left without a voice of its own for the mere reason that it had only been a part of the coloniser’s narrative previously, wherein their side of the story remained untold. As a result, the voices and opinions of Gorkhā soldiers (who were employed in the British army, and underwent many hardships), and of their families back home (who spent their entire lives waiting for their sons, brothers, and husbands to come back to them) were not heard.

Over time, as the Gorkhā population came to be confined generally to the Darjeeling Hills, Sikkim, and the areas of Dehradun and North Eastern India, they were automatically cut off, not only from the Indian population at large but also from the larger Indian consciousness. Soon, they could no longer assert the fact that they had a distinct identity, different from that of the larger Indian population. Such a turn of events drove the Gorkhā population to a state of an intense identity crisis, which gradually took the shape of what we now know as the Gorkhāland agitation or the movement for a separate state of Gorkhāland. Until then, the larger Indian population in general, and the Bengali population of West Bengal, in particular, had been expecting the Gorkhā population to commit to a certain idea of Bengal, which would implicitly and necessarily include the notion of Bengali as the dominant language, even if this was not always explicitly spelled out. They never considered the fact that they had unconsciously labelled Gorkhā men and women as “foreigners” just because the Gorkhā community and the Nepali language had certain nuances that were very different from theirs.

Traditionally, a typical Gorkhā author has considered herself, first and foremost, a poet before anything else. Owing to this, the numerous literary developments, that took place over the years within the domain of the Nepali language, have manifested themselves primarily through poetry and the various movements related to it. It helped poetry to emerge as the richest genre of twentieth-century Indian Nepali literature. Modern Indian Nepali poetry marks a paradigm shift from the poetic sensibilities of both the bhakti kāl that was represented by ÄdikāvÄ« Bhanubhakta Acharya’s (1814-1868) Rāmāyaṇa (1853), and the period following it, which was spearheaded by Motiram Bhatta (1866-1896) when sá¹›ngār became the dominant rasa in literary works. However, there was an apparent shift in the Gorkhā worldview with the end of colonial rule in India. This was further strengthened by the unification and formation of modern India and the problems that followed in the country. Additionally, both the world wars had led to a fractured sense of identity among individuals. Indian Nepali poetry, thus, came to borrow its many elements from the socio-political realities, everyday experiences, as well as the people’s immense desire for change, both within and outside the country. In comparison to what was deemed as a “hypocritical tradition” in Nepali poetry, the primary material of the poems composed by the poets of the new generation was taken from local issues of nationalism, human relationships, and problems pertaining to identity.

In order to accurately capture the change in outlook, Gorkhā poets of the second half of the twentieth century (i.e., modern Gorkhā poets) have been experimenting with themes and forms; and modern Indian Nepali poetry further attempts to find new expressions both thematically and stylistically to facilitate its struggles to depict and go beyond existing anxieties. Thus, while on the one hand, Modern Indian Nepali poetry is a continuation of the poetic works from early to mid-twentieth century, it is at the same time a journey towards a brave, new direction. What is especially significant in this regard is the fact that female voices have been present since the very beginning of Indian Nepali literature. Their presence might not have been very visible for the mere reason that the number of female poets was far less than their male counterparts. Yet, their presence was reflected in the Nepali language as it preserved (and continues to preserve) a clear distinction between kavi (a male poet) and kaviyitrÄ« (a female poet).

In the twentieth century, however, the participation of women in social and political movements strengthened this presence further by providing Indian Nepali poetry with greater concern about freedom of expression and equality coming from the quarters of women. It is because of this that the range of contemporary Indian Nepali poetry by women in terms of taste, zeitgeist, subject matter, form, and consciousness is quite wide and at the same time, highly political and rebellious in nature, depicting immense anger emerging out of overwhelming collective affliction. Most of these poems depict the present-day Indian reality in general and the collective affliction of the Gorkhā population residing in the Darjeeling Hills in particular. These poems also re-invoke the suffering of women (from all over the country), and particularly of the doubly marginalised women—Gorkhā women who are not only marginalised for being women but are also marginalised for belonging to a community that is already marginalised in the face of the dominant Bengali population in West Bengal.

To depict these realities, I have chosen three women poets from two different generations within Indian Nepali Literature—Bindya Subba (born in 1955 in Darjeeling), Kamala Rai (born in 1948 in Soureni, Mirik) and Pavitra Lama (born in 1976 in Kalchini, Dooars), whose works can be considered rightful representatives of what we regard as a ‘distinct Gorkhā female identity.’ Their poetry not only draws upon the situation in Darjeeling but is equally influenced by the major events that occur across the country. Their voices not merely chronicle those events that are recorded/not recorded in the official accounts of history, but they also act as replenishers of people’s memory. At the same time, their poems act as the reminiscers of such silences that have always tried to articulate themselves and are finally beginning to speak.

These silences that are specific to women of the Indian subcontinent spawned an array of poems that may be characterised as being feminist in nature. These poems bring under their corpus marginalisation and marginalised communities (inclusive of language politics) who have always been confined to the periphery and have been denied involvement in mainstream political, social, cultural and economic activities. What also needs to be considered is that the primary region in question (the Darjeeling Hills and the surrounding areas) is extremely volatile, with the demand for a separate state of Gorkhāland always at its core. All these inevitably make up a major part of the collective psyche of these women poets. However, the nuances of this Gorkhā female identity are largely unknown to the Indian population at large.

This article has emerged out of a study that was propelled by the urgency to understand how the Gorkhā population can be provided with the means to voice their opinions and assert their distinct identity better.[5] The Gorkhā population at large still faces numerous problems when it comes to getting their opinions published in the form of books. Furthermore, these books face a lot of trouble in extending their outreach. However, Gorkhā women authors (vis-à-vis women authors in the rest of India) face double the number of hardships when it comes to voicing their opinions about issues that are specific to women, and as a result, in asserting their distinct Gorkhā female identity. Even if they manage to achieve both, the fact that the Indian population at large does not comprehend the Nepali language becomes a major barrier. Automatically, this prevents them from becoming a part of the larger Indian consciousness.

Before exploring the nuances of whether there is anything called a Gorkhā female identity or not, it is necessary to understand what goes into the making of what we refer to as the Gorkhā identity. The following lines from Bindya Subba’s poem “Parichaye”[6] give some insight into the phenomenon:

And, if you can’t get any news of me...
Search for me in the hearts
Of the people living
In the dark house in the midst of the teagarden. . .
Or else,
Search for me inside the map
Of some youth’s family
That was destroyed in the Gorkhāland agitation.[7]

The Darjeeling Hills have been on the political radar for quite some time now. From being the Queen of Hills and symbolising a much-needed break from the rather mundane surroundings of West Bengal, to a region constantly fighting over statehood, the Hills are now a zone that is extremely prone to upheavals. The beginning of the conflict in the region can be traced back to 1907 when the Hill men’s Association of Darjeeling submitted a memorandum to the Morley-Minto reforms committee.[8] However, what gained the most attention was the demand for a separate state and not merely a separate administrative region, that was raised only in the second half of the twentieth century. It was in the 1980s that Subhash Ghisingh (1936-2015) raised the demand for the creation of a separate state called Gorkhāland to be carved out of Siliguri, the Darjeeling Hills, and the Dooars region within India. Since Ghisingh believed that a peaceful protest might not be able to yield the required results, a separate violent movement was started by the Gorkhā National Liberation Front (GNLF) under his leadership with the same demand. 

Few could imagine at that point that the movement would ultimately end up taking numerous lives. Over the years, the movement for Gorkhāland gained momentum along the lines of the ethno-linguistic-cultural sentiments of the people who desired to identify themselves as Gorkhā. They turned the need to assert the distinct Gorkhā identity (within the larger boundary of the Indian nation in general, and West Bengal in particular) into their chief priority. The fact that the distinct identity in question was almost absent from the national collective consciousness also acted as a major stimulus for the movement.

When I began to formulate this study in the middle of 2016, most of India was unaware of the fact that the Gorkhāland agitation was going to take a rather violent turn yet again. The conflict between the government of West Bengal and the people in the Darjeeling Hills intensified in 2017 with the issue of language taking centre stage. The attempts by the state government to impose the learning of Bengali in government schools in the Darjeeling Hills did not go down well with the political parties and the people in the region, as a result of which an immediate bandh was declared. These new developments strengthened the demand for Gorkhāland once again.

Between July and September 2017, the Darjeeling Hills remained closed to the rest of the state and, as a result, to the rest of the country, with strikes and bandhs taking place almost every day. Public transport, offices, and schools were shut down, and even newspapers and the electronic media were unable to report on the daily developments. In order to take charge of the situation and keep the region under constant surveillance, the West Bengal government cut off internet connection in the Darjeeling Hills for more than a month and deployed paramilitary forces in the region.

This decision, like the earlier ones made by the state government, did not go down well with the people in the region since it was believed to be a political ploy that would make it easier for the state government to intervene in their administrative matters. Even though this was nothing new for the Darjeeling Hills as they had faced a similar situation in 2013, it was not until July 2017 that the movement reached its peak. In August 2013, a jantabandh was declared by the Gorkhā Janamukti Morchā (GJM) following the creation of a separate Telangana state from Andhra Pradesh. Even though the protests were largely peaceful, the West Bengal government armed with a Calcutta High Court order declared that the bandh was illegal and ended up sending paramilitary forces to quell any violent protest. After many prominent GJM leaders and workers were arrested, the GJM announced that the people in the Darjeeling Hills would voluntarily stay inside their houses (referred to as the jantabandh).

The movement in 2013 lasted for about a month and culminated with the creation of the Gorkhāland Joint Action Committee. However, as stated earlier, protests resumed in the Darjeeling Hills between June and September 2017 after the government of West Bengal announced that the Bengali language should be a compulsory subject in all schools across the state. The GJM, along with the public, interpreted this decision as an imposition of an alien culture in an area where the majority communicated in Nepali. Soon after, even though the state government clarified at a cabinet meeting at Raj Bhawan in Darjeeling that Bengali would be an optional subject in the Darjeeling Hills, the protestors revived the old demand for a separate state of Gorkhāland. There were violent clashes between the police and the agitators followed by an indefinite strike and shutdown in the region. Mass rallies began to be staged regularly by the supporters of the movement in which the protesters could be seen retaliating against the police forces that were being used by the state government.

By this time, I had already come to realise that the distinct Gorkhā identity of the people in the region was still not recognised by the Indian population at large. In the case of West Bengal, it was even more surprising that we, as dominant Bengali speakers, had been ignoring such a large section of people living right next to us for generations. They were expected to commit to a certain idea of Bengal despite frequently being labelled as “foreigners.” Furthermore, it was expected that the Nepali speakers would speak and comprehend Bengali even though this requirement was rarely extended in the other direction. No wonder, it pushed the Nepali community away from the Bengali community and the Indian population at large. Thus, the Gorkhāland movement initially rose out of the differences in ethnicity, culture, and language as the Indian Nepali population primarily in the Darjeeling Hills and surrounding areas felt marginalised by the dominant Bengali population in West Bengal. On the movement, Rajat Ganguly wrote in his essay, “Poverty, Malgovernance and Ethno political Mobilization: Gorkha Nationalism and the Gorkhaland Agitation in India,” that “it was a failure of governance combined with politicisation that bred the Gorkhaland issue.”[9]

The Gorkhā population had already fought a battle for the recognition of the Nepali language and subsequently for Nepali literature, culture and the distinct Gorkhā identity in the larger Indian framework. It was many years since the beginning of this quest for identity (what is popularly known as the Nepali bhaṣaāndolan) that the Nepali language came to be recognised in the Eighth Schedule to the Indian Constitution, as late as 1992. Despite this, it was surprising that the conflict between the people in the Darjeeling Hills and the government of West Bengal never reduced but instead only intensified.

After nearly one hundred days, when the strike was finally called off by the GJM at the end of September 2017, I realised that the poets whose works I was planning to study, lived amidst the people who were directly affected by the way in which the events had unfolded. The movement seemed to have affected them to such an extent that they had begun to compose new poems. In the case of Kamala Rai and Pavitra Lama, these poems[10](unlike their last books of poems, i.e., Samaykā Pāilāharu, translated as The Footsteps of Time, published in 2014, and Sabhyatākā Peṇdulamharu, translated as The Pendulums of Time, published in 2016) articulated the need to connect the problems at the regional level to those at the national level more than ever before. All three poets felt that even though the form that the problems took changed depending on the region, the fundamental nature of the issues remained the same because at their core, the struggle was always between the marginalised and the mainstream, the centre and the periphery.

While the Gorkhā population is marginalised vis-à-vis the rest of India, Gorkhā women are marginalised doubly, not only for being women but more for being women within an already marginalised community. Thus, it is important to register within oneself the significance of language in the making of identity, as well familiarise oneself with the literature produced in the region and understand the nuances of the Gorkhāland movement better. The Nepali bhaá¹£aāndolan has played a major role to promote the Gorkhāland movement from its very inception, as a result of which the impact of the movement on the ethnic identity politics of the Darjeeling Hills can hardly be exaggerated. However, the words Gorkhāland/ GorkhālÄ« are fraught with a good deal of complexity, making it necessary to understand the etymology of the words before going into a discussion about identity politics.

Nepali vs. Indian Nepali vs. Gorkhā/Gorkhālī:
Questions, Complications, and Confusions

Since the times before the creation of the present-day geopolitical boundaries demarcating nation states, there have existed several ethno-linguistic groups across the Indian subcontinent. The ethno-linguistic groups found in India have been categorised by the litterateur, Suniti Kumar Chatterji, into following four distinct “racio-linguistic groups”: “the Austric, the Sino-Tibetan [which includes the Gurungs, Newars, Tāmāngs, etc.], the Dravidian, and finally the Aryan [which includes Nepali].”[11]Among these, the dominant presence of the second and the last group is apparent in the north and the north-eastern regions. The second group also has a sizeable presence in the various prominent urban pockets of present-day India.

A close look at the history of the Himalayan region reveals that it was only in the year 1769 that the Gorkhā ruler, Prithvi Narayan Shah, who claimed Rajput descent, led conquests that resulted in the merging of small principalities and chiefdoms into a unified whole, thus forging the single kingdom of Nepal with Kathmandu as its capital, Nepali as its official language and Hinduism as its official religion. It was only after his descendants seized more territories to the east and west of Nepal that the kingdom of Nepal got its present shape in 1809. It is, thus, evident that Nepali, as a national identity-based community is composed of people belonging to diverse ethnic and linguistic origins inhabiting various pockets of the Kingdom. Owing to these factors, ‘Nepali’ becomes a blanket term that brings under its purview several languages, people and the cultural productions of various ethno-linguistic communities.

What is known as ‘standard Nepali’ today is “derived from a speech, the earliest form of which can be found in the Ṛgveda. Before it came to be known as Nepali, the language, during different stages of its development was called by various other names like Khas-kurā, Parbate or Parbattiyā, Gorkhā, Girirājabhāṣā [or simply] Bhāshā.”[12]The Nepali language encompassed various other language speakers such as the Gurungs, Newars, Tāmāngs, Magars, etc., after the formation of the kingdom of Nepal. Perhaps, even some influence of these languages trickled into Nepali but the history of political ascendancy of the Gorkhā community gives it an upper hand in deciding the language’s character and in its canon-formation, resulting in most historiographies of Nepali literature being dominated by the Gorkhā language under the guise of “standardised Nepali.”

In the “Introduction” to Origins and Migrations in the Extended Eastern Himalayas, Toni Huber and Stuart Blackburn observe that “[w]hile we make no claim that the region of the extended eastern Himalayas is a uniform culture area, its diverse peoples do exhibit a substantial degree of similarity in material culture, ritual practices and oral traditions, including ritual speech.”[13] These similarities have, quite inconspicuously, given rise to un-nuanced homogenisation of certain small-sized ethno-linguistic populations into larger ones; and also to the politicisation of several issues based on a majority-minority fault line. For example, a unidirectional centre and margin approach (whose direction has mostly been from the centre to the margin) has often dominated the literary and cultural studies of the region. It has also determined the constituents of the centre and the margin in complicity with historically political power-yielding groups and the considerations regarding a demographic majority/minority.

What becomes significant is the fact that ‘Indian Nepali’ as a category was non-existent until India attained independence. It is because of this very reason that it is usually difficult to trace the birthplace (or even the nationality) of any Nepali author. Many Gorkhā authors were born and brought up in what is now referred to as Nepal, whereas many others were raised in the Darjeeling Hills and had to relocate to Nepal later in life. The vice-versa has also been a frequent phenomenon. As a result, the line between the Darjeeling Hills and Nepal was more of a physical division than a mental or an emotional one until rather recently.

The first generation of Nepali writers such as Raghunath Pokhriyal (1811-1861), ÄdikāvÄ« Bhanubhakta Acharya, and Lekhnath Paudyal (1884-1965) and others never felt the need to identify themselves as ‘Nepali’ as opposed to Gorkhā or ‘Indian Nepali’ since the issues they focused upon and the themes that their works dealt with could not be categorised as those belonging to Nepal or India. This was despite the signing of the Treaty of Sugauli (1815-1816) between the King of Nepal and the East India Company that established the boundary line of Nepal, after the Anglo-Nepal War (1814-1816).[14]

What is significant instead is that all these authors tried to assert a distinct Nepali identity through their writings—a factor that was evident in both poetry and prose. A significant example is ÄdikāvÄ« Bhanubhakta Acharya’s poem, “Kāntipur Nagari,” that has been translated by Keshar Lal as “The City of Kāntipur” wherein Bhanubhakta classifies Kāntipur (a more formal name for the city of Kathmandu) as a city that is above all other cities. He believes that it is similar to AmrāvatÄ« (the capital of the gods) and thus finds it necessary to describe it in further detail in the following manner:

Where no malice is seen nor cunning lies
Where only the good prevails in abundance,
Where the Lord of all of us, Shiva keeps watch,
This is Kantipur, Shiva’s own place.[15]

However, as time progressed (especially with India attaining independence), it became necessary for the Nepali population of India to distinguish themselves from the Nepali population of Nepal. The Nepali population of India had to deal with many other issues since they came to reside within the geopolitical boundaries of India. In comparison to the Indian population at large, the Indian Nepali population (now, Gorkhā) did not have many differences with their Nepali counterparts in Nepal. Being restricted to the Darjeeling Hills also affected the dissemination of the language and the culture. No wonder, the Indian Nepali population and its distinct identity was imbued with numerous stereotypes and was never comprehended the way in which it should have been. This had an obvious impact, and the Gorkhā population felt alienated from the rest of the country.

Over time, even the word ‘Gorkhā’ came to be instilled with political connotations and was associated with the Gorkhāland movement. However, the moment the word became political, many significant aspects related to the distinct Gorkhā identity came to be ignored. What primarily came to be overlooked was the fact that the principal reason for the demand of a separate state were the differences in ethnicity, culture and language, and the inability of the community to come to terms with the Indian population at large—something that was a result of the latter’s behaviour towards the community as a whole. In this regard, the Gorkhāland movement was essentially pampered by political aspirations.

The word ‘Gorkhā,’ however, existed much before the inception of this movement and has, by no means, a merely political connotation. Most academicians, authors, and poets who were interviewed for this study had very clear thoughts on this aspect. They said that the words ‘Indian Nepali’ and ‘Gorkhā’ or ‘GorkhālÄ«’ are synonymous and can be used interchangeably.

Since the Nepali population of India wanted to distinguish themselves from the Nepali population of Nepal, they began to refer to themselves as ‘Gorkhā’ or ‘GorkhālÄ«.’ Furthermore, in order to remove any confusion, while the distinct identity and the language that this community uses are referred to as ‘Gorkhā’ or ‘Nepali,’ the literature that is produced by them is referred to as ‘Indian Nepali’ (the term ‘Gorkhā’ is rarely used in the case of literature). Indra Bahadur Rai describes this distinct identity and its need to assert itself in the larger Indian framework in the following manner: 

By ‘Indian Nepali nation’ we mean the ethically and linguistically distinctive community of people who are of Nepali origin and are Indian citizens. . . As a result of uneven development in the country, some units of the Indian nation have fallen behind the others, and these facts, together with the attendant feelings, have to be reflected in their literatures. Aesthetic impulses find expression within socially prescribed emotional bounds. And one has to admit the possibility of there being as many manifestations of nationalism as there are stages of societal development. . . Those who claim to be delvers into the past and yet describe Indian Nepalis as ‘settlers’ or ‘immigrants’ betray their blatant ignorance of the history of this region. After the Anglo-Nepalese War, through the Treaty of Sugauli of 1816, Nepal was made to cede lakhs of square miles of Nepalese territory to the British East India Company, together with the Nepali people living thereon. These were the forefathers of today’s Indian Nepalis. They now number six million in India.[16]

Similarly, to remove any confusion regarding the word ‘Gorkhā’ or ‘GorkhālÄ«,’ Prem Poddar argues in an essay, “Afterlife of the Original: Gorkhāness (or Indian Nepāleseness) and I.B. Rai in Translation”:

I use the word ‘Gorkhā’ (or the neologism ‘Gorkhāness’ coined here) as a self-descriptive term that has gained currency as a marker of difference for Nepalis living in India as opposed to their brethren and sistren in Nepal. Gorkhāness then becomes synonymous with Indian Nepāleseness but invests only degrees of differential commonalities with Nepali Nepaliness and diasporic Nepaliness.[17]

The above statements pertain to the nuances of identity politics that have been hinted upon earlier. However, it is also necessary to learn about the distinctiveness of the literature produced by the Gorkhā community and the way in which this literature tries to assert the distinct identity in question. Authors such as Indra Bahadur Rai and Agam Singh Giri (1928-1971), both of whom were the poets most representative of the Gorkhā community (i.e., Nepali poets from India), created a complex world peopled by Gorkhā characters through the means of their writings. Their characters raise fascinating and often contentious issues that culminate in the “keynote of Nepālese life in India—the search for self-identity.”[18]Rai believes that the “Nepalis are a martial but maligned race; [and] they have all along been fighting other men’s battles; [but] it is not at all pleasant to be branded as ‘mercenaries of war.’”[19] Most authors belonging to Rai’s generation produced works with similar tropes and themes, a trend that continues till the present and is evident in the writings of contemporary Gorkhā authors and poets. Rai distinguishes between the Nepali literature produced in India and the one produced in Nepal by looking back at history in this way:

Indian Nepali literary writing had its beginnings in the sawāī-s penned mainly by Gorkhā soldiers stationed in Assam and in the laharÄ«-s composed in the main by Gorkhā or Nepali labourers working in the tea gardens in Darjeeling. Gorkhā or Nepali soldiers were enlisted in the regiments of the British East India Company from 1815, and Nepali or Gorkhā labourers worked in the tea gardens owned by the British planters from 1856. An important point to note is that while in Nepal, literary writing was begun by elite Brahmans (Aryans) who wrote in praise of their king, in India, the beginning of Indian Nepali literature was made by common soldiers and labourers who were mostly from Mongoloid ethnic groups, and who wrote of their actual experiences of battles fought and lives lived in India. Indian Nepali literature can justly be proud of its popular and proletarian beginning.[20]

What must, however, be examined at this point is the position of women within the Gorkhā community. As has been stated above, the Gorkhās have been constructed and perceived as a martial race. In this regard, the questions that arise are—in a community where the term Gorkhā invokes the image of a brave Gorkhā soldier, where does the Gorkhā woman find herself? What happens to the Gorkhā woman and her voice? Furthermore, can a woman be a Gorkhā at all? If yes, how is she supposed to assert her Gorkhā identity and make herself be seen as part of the community?

Is there a Gorkhā Female Identity?

The Gorkhā woman is a victim of what is referred to as ‘double marginalisation’ or ‘multiple marginalisation,’ as discussed in the first section of this article. In other words, she is not only marginalised outside the Gorkhā community for belonging to what is regarded as a marginalised community by the Indian population at large, but is also peripheralised for being a woman both within and outside the community.

However, women in the Gorkhā community are not as disadvantaged as women in many other communities across the country are (i.e., when it comes to their position within the family and in society). Though Gorkhā society is not thoroughly matriarchal, women receive a lot of respect both within and outside the family. The Gorkhā woman can proudly claim that she never had to battle against patriarchal malpractices the way women in most other parts of India have had to. Thus, the Gorkhā woman faces lesser challenges (when the question is about her safety) in comparison to women and girls in many other parts of India, where they are victims of practices like infanticide, child marriage, and demands for dowry.

Despite being more easily accepted in society, the popular rhetoric regarding the Gorkhā identity excludes Gorkhā women from within its purview because the bÄ«ryodhyā or the brave warrior living away from home was never a woman. About the lives of the Gorkhā soldiers, Bandana Rai writes in her book, Gorkhas—The Warrior Race:

The formation of the Gorkhā Army started long before the “Treaty of Sugauli” was signed by Nepal, India and Bhutan. . . [and] they were initially recognized as the “Local Battalion” or “Native Army” and were deployed to numerous fronts and successfully assisted the British [to achieve] their military objectives. However, it was only after the “Great Indian Mutiny” in 1857 in which the Gorkhas exhibited extraordinary military prowess, fearsome courage and utmost loyalty that the British comprehended the Gorkhas. . . The Honourable East Indian Company was in the verge of collapsing during the great Indian Mutiny that lasted for almost three years. The deployment of Gorkha Units came as a saviour for the company . . . [and this] strengthened the bond of friendship and loyalty between Britain and Nepal. . .  Gorkhas have fought countless wars, campaigns, battles including the Great War (World War I) and World War II and in many post-world war fronts where Gorkhas have shown their outstanding bravery, courage and spirit to fight till death under the harshest of conditions.[21]

In the narrative of Gorkha soldiers who “were perfectly suited for guerrilla warfare,” “known for their speed,” “their willingness to fight till death under extreme conditions,” and their “intricate knowledge of the terrain,” Gorkhā women never found any mention anywhere apart from occasionally in the sawāī-s (earliest poems in Nepali Literature which were oral in nature), composed by the bÄ«ryodhyā -s when they were away at war. Even though one cannot claim that her voice is excluded, it will not be erroneous to claim that she was never given adequate space to express and assert herself. Thus, while the brave Gorkhā warriors were first fighting wars for the British, followed by the Indian War of Independence against them, the Gorkhā women were supposedly somewhere at home waiting for their husbands and sons to return. In the famed and fabled narrative of Gorkhā bravery and loyalty to both the British government and the Indian state, Gorkhā women had no role to play.

It is true that in the discursive structures of Indian modernity, the Gorkhā identity began as a “historical project [later] accentuated by the movement for Gorkhāland,”[22]but in this identity there was no scope for any form of effeminacy (something that is believed to be brought in by a woman) to enter. The bÄ«r Gorkhā identity traces its genesis in the celebrated idea of martial race that was derived from two different sources. It “emanated partly from the Victorian racial and gendered ideologies of mid-nineteenth century Europe and partly as imperialistic strategies of rule which used the rhetoric of race and gender to drive a wedge between the ‘effeminate’ nationalists and the ‘brave’ warriors.”[23] As a result of this, the Gorkhā warrior was often the “fodder for interesting stories and anecdotes that the British officials regaled their readers with.”[24]One such example is:

My field orderly, Hastabir Pun, had accompanied me everywhere during the three days; always he was at my heel, and never had been anything but cheerful and keen. Yet on the 30th, when I made him show me his feet, to my horror I found them black with gangrene from neglected frostbite. He had never said a word to me and never would have. His case is not an exceptional one, but merely a typical example of the courage these Gorkhās displayed.[25]

The Fifth Royal Gurkha Rifles in the North-West Frontier in 1923.
The photograph, by the courtesy of the Ministry of Defence, UK (from An Outline History of the Brigade of Gurkhas), is in the public domain.  

While Gorkhā men could become a part of the grand Gorkhā narrative because of their heroic deeds, Gorkhā women found that they were absent in most places and could not see themselves as part of the Indian consciousness at large. It was as if they were lost somewhere in history. However, women belonging to the Gorkhā community could receive education from the moment it was introduced in the Darjeeling Hills, something which enabled them to come up with the means of finding their way into the Gorkhā narrative soon after.[26]

At present, Indian Nepali literature cannot be imagined without the voice of Gorkhā women, but it is necessary to remember that they had to tread a very long path to be able to formulate their collective voice. Once they had the means to discuss among themselves the problems that they faced within Gorkhā society, they realised that their issues overlapped and that their struggle was not that of an individual. Though the poet Rudy Francisco writes in a completely different context, the following lines from her poem “Silence” are analogous with the journey of the Gorkhā women:

I am learning
That I don’t always
Have to make noise
To be seen,
That even my silence
Has a spine, a rumble
And says, I’m here
In its native tongue.[27]

The Gorkhā Female Identity in Poetry

Why are you shedding tears maichaá¹…?[28]
You cross numerous valleys, carrying patience and courage
Along with a lot of load on your back.
You are the girl who can smile
Even in rain, pain, and weariness.[29]

The above lines from the poem, “Muskān Sikāuneharu” (translated as “Those Who Teach How To Smile”) by the Gorkhā poet, Bindya Subba, demonstrates the kind of life led by most women in India. The poet addresses all the maichaá¹…­-s (young daughters) of the land and tries to give them hope by saying that they should not shed tears because they have been able to survive and thrive amidst immense difficulties. The fact that this poem was composed in 2001 (celebrated as Women’s Empowerment Year by the Department of Women & Child Development of the Indian Ministry of Human Resource Development) tells us about the numerous efforts that were being made by the women writers of the Darjeeling Hills to educate and inform their mothers, daughters and sisters about their rights. They realised that it was necessary to do so because most Gorkhā women were still unaware of their privileges and rights for the mere reason that the Darjeeling Hills (just like any other hilly region) are cut off from the rest of the country. It is because of their geographic isolation that the Gorkhā community is believed to be lagging behind the rest of the country in most aspects.

Hence, the Women’s Empowerment Year was celebrated by most Gorkhā women writers in their own ways. Kamala Rai composed the poem, “NārÄ« ÅšaktilaÄ«,”[30] (translated as “For Women’s Power”) on the lines of Bindya Subba’s “Muskān Sikāuneharu.” In a satirical tone, “NārÄ« ÅšaktilaÄ«” talks about the lives of those women who call themselves empowered, and attempts to show the reality of women’s empowerment by asking a significant question—“is this empowerment for her?” To elaborate upon the irony further, she goes on to give various examples such as:

Thapa’s wife next door
Speaks of rebellion from stage to stage. . .
But in the evening,
She stands like a criminal with her head bowed
In front of her angry husband
At the doorstep.
Is this empowerment for her?
From Sītā and Draupadī to Rūpkanwar,
From palaces to huts,
This is the story of every woman. . .[31]

Rai’s assertion repeated throughout the poem—“women’s empowerment? What kind of irony is this!”—becomes very significant as it holds up a mirror to society and forces us to reflect not only on the condition of Gorkhā women, but also on the condition of Indian women at large. The fact that these poems are rather recent (when compared to the poems composed by other women authors on similar themes across the country), tells us that Gorkhā women (and their voice) did not find representation in the larger Indian framework for a long time.

Both Bindya Subba and Kamala Rai belong to the second generation of contemporary Gorkhā women poets. They were preceded by the generation of Lakhhi Devi Sundas (born in 1934 in Darjeeling), even though Sundas is considered the sole torchbearer of her generation when it came to women poets. There is, however, a major difference between the writings of the two generations. The first generation focused more on philosophical issues. It also drew a lot of inspiration from the natural beauty of their surroundings, as a result of which nature was an important trope in their writings. Nevertheless, even though Gorkhā women’s voice was no longer absent from the larger Gorkhā rhetoric (after the arrival of the first generation of Gorkhā women poets), it cannot be claimed that this voice solely focused on women-centric issues, which would in one way or the other stress upon their presence in the larger Indian context. An example of the kind of writing prevalent during Sundas’s time is her poem, “Nirmān”[32](translated as “Creation”), wherein she exclaims:

Not salvation but new creation,
I put my past to rest.
On the backdrop of the past,
The history of life gets overcast. . .
Tomorrow will be a golden sunrise,
With poetry’s sweet notes and tunes,
Life will be pleasant.[33]

Sundas and her generation had immense faith in the regenerative properties of poetry, as the above example shows. They believed that poetry had the power to give them and their community a new direction and freedom from the past that was imbued with darkness. She describes the past in the poem, “ShÄ«rshak VihÄ«n”[34] (translated as “Untitled”), in the following manner:

Today, at this bend in my life
Without blinking, I stare,
In those pages of history.
Bloodshed, murder, tales of slaughter
Have become very old. . .
Only to make man happy,
I gambled and lost,
Like the Pāṇdava-s lost Draupadī.[35]

Bindya Subba, Kamala Rai

It was only after the arrival of the second generation of Gorkhā women poets that their issues, anxieties, and fears (as well as of the women from other parts of the country) took centre-stage. The second generation, however, is largely inspired by their forerunners, and most of these poets such as Bindya Subba and Kamala Rai claim that Lakhhi Devi Sundas was their teacher and the primary motivation behind their compositions. They strongly believe that the face of Indian Nepali literature would have been different (and would have been largely dominated by male authors) without Sundas, who, during her tenure as an advisor on Hill Affairs to the chief minister of West Bengal, did her best to contribute towards the development of Nepali language and literature. It was she who realised that there was a large gap between the Darjeeling Hills and the rest of India. Perhaps, it is because of this chasm that she once claimed:

Alas! Who has installed today
This barrier between you and me...
Why alas! This barrier of Prejudice![36]

Both Bindya Subba’s and Kamala Rai’s poems are ideal examples of women-centric writing that has succeeded inlaying stress on a distinct Gorkhā female identity. They took a different direction in their writings (in comparison to the forerunners of contemporary Indian Nepali poetry) by bringing all the issues that had been ignored to the forefront. However, Kamala Rai claims that her poems are not feminist but only appear to be so. She further declares that because she is a woman, she can only talk about everything from a woman’s perspective. In other words, she cannot help but talk about the adversities that women face on a daily basis.[37] Just the way real-life women (such as her mother, sister, friends, and mentors) find mention in Bindya Subba’s poems, there are also allusions to a good number of historical and mythological women characters such as SÄ«tā, DraupadÄ«, Ahalyā, RÅ«pkanwar, and others in the poems of Kamala Rai. The latter believes that the struggle of every woman has been the same throughout history, and though society has progressed, the condition of women across the country has not changed much. At the same time, it is also necessary to explore the emerging trends and genres within Indian Nepali women’s writings (especially poetry) since issues related to identity and identity crises are the primary focus of these trends and genres.

The newest generation of Gorkhā women poets, who regard themselves as belonging to the third generation of contemporary Indian Nepali poetry by women, have been largely influenced by both the first and the second generations before them. They decided, however, to carry forward the issues that were brought into focus primarily by the second generation with greater enthusiasm. The third generation spearheaded by Pavitra Lama is truly a generation of revolutionaries and has brought about a lot of innovations, not only in terms of the mode of expression and the method of presentation, but also pertaining to the approach taken towards the primary theme. Pavitra Lama and most of the poets belonging to the third generation began to compose poetry because they felt that the common people were far removed from literature. According to them, despite the introduction of public education in the Darjeeling Hills, only a very small section of the Gorkhā population can read and write even today.[38] This small section is privileged in the sense that these people are far removed from manual labour unlike the majority of the Gorkhā population who still earn a living by working in tea gardens or by doing other such strenuous jobs. The first category, the privileged, has access to literature and the ability to stay updated on nationwide happenings as opposed to the second category, the manual workers. What should be noted, however, is that the second category of the Gorkhā population is more connected to oral literature and enjoys theatre and other kinds of performances in their leisure time. Since they do not have direct access to written literature, performances are the sole means by which they keep themselves updated on important events that take place across the country in general, and in their community in particular.

Pavitra Lama

Thus, the belief that poetry mixed with performance would be able to draw people’s attention towards the issues that are normally overlooked, acts as the primary motivator for the third generation of contemporary Gorkhā women poets. In the poems of Pavitra Lama and many other Gorkhā poets of her generation, regional level problems are not looked at as isolated issues as they believe that the problems faced by all the marginalised communities (vis-à-vis the ‘mainstream’) across the country are the same and, thus, overlap with each other. They also believe that the difference lies only in the form that the issues take and the way in which they are resolved. Hence, these poets are not shy of linking the issues in one part of the country to the problems in another (in other words, the issues faced by their community with the pan-Indian ones). For them, the problems brewing in Kashmir are more or less the same as those pertaining to the agitations in Gorkhāland and Bodoland.

What is particularly noteworthy is how the third generation talks about women’s issues in its poetry. This generation is no longer afraid of calling their poems feminist, unlike the previous generation who did not want their writings to be evidently feminist. Even then, the way in which the poems of Pavitra Lama and many of her contemporaries are formulated make them seem as if they are sequels to the writings of the previous generation, however much their mode of presentation may be different. Historical and mythological women characters such as SÄ«tā, DraupadÄ«, and Ahalyā continue to find mention. Pavitra Lama in her poem, “Ma Aaj Pheri Khojirehechu SÄ«tālaÄ«...!” [39] (translated as “Today I Am Searching For SÄ«tā Again…!”), writes:

The gāthā[40] has ended,
The pain has not.
Sītā wanders from forest to forest,
The ruling authorities keep on asking again and again
For the proof of her purity…[41]

Since the poems of Pavitra Lama are specifically written or composed in order to be performed, as opposed to poems written or composed for print distribution, (thus, making performance the primary mode of presentation) the performing body itself becomes a trope of resistance. She describes the genre in the following manner:

Jai Gurung Cactus coined the term AvÄ«sangÄ« to refer to the kind of performance that I do. It is a combination of the words, abhinaya (acting) and sangÄ«t (music). AvÄ«sangÄ« is basically the style of presenting a poem. The length of the poem is a significant aspect, and the poem should be medium to long because the narrative needs to resemble the plot of a story. It is not just performance poetry because we must write ourselves, learn the poem by heart, and also perform ourselves. Often there is an overlap between the writer, performer, narrator, and character. We have been trying to theorize this genre based on the Nāṭyaśāstra,[42] but we also want to take into consideration the reactions of the audience while theorizing. It has been a year since Jai Gurung Cactus, and I have been going around recording people’s reactions during and after the performances.[43]

Going back to the issue of a distinct Gorkhā female identity, it is necessary to note that even though there are numerous books that document the life and times of major Nepali and Gorkhā authors and poets, these books hardly talk about any women authors apart from Bishnu Kumari Waiba or Pārijāt[44] (1937-1993) and Lakhhi Devi Sundas—a fact that evidently proves how Gorkhā women went without being mentioned for a really long time. In other words, their absence from the larger Gorkhā rhetoric shows how accurate the following lines by Bindya Subba are:

Somewhere, by calling me a daughter,
My wings of flight were cut.
Somewhere, by calling me a married woman
A dam was built in the way of my dreams.[45]

The lives and works of a few other women writers were documented as late as 2011 (in a language other than Nepali) in an anthology by Jagadish Rana, Women Writers of Nepal. The anthology, however, focused more on Nepali women writers of Nepal than on Gorkhā women writers. Bindya Subba had a chapter on herself in this book, but Kamala Rai and Pavitra Lama were not mentioned. It will not be erroneous to say that only a handful of Nepali books are written exclusively about the lives and works of Gorkhā women writers, and even this small number tends to exclude the poets of the third generation completely.

Bindya Subba is still regarded as one of the most influential Gorkhā women writers. She started with a work, Tyagpatra, translated from Hindi to Nepali in 1978. She received recognition with her story, “Hāngā Bata Khaseko Phul”. Her notable works include Kathā Kram (1980), a collection of short stories, PhÅ«l Haru, Pāhād Haru, Dharsā Haru (1984). She was a Sahitya Akademi awardee in 2003 for her novel Athāha and the recipient of the Vijay Shree Award in 1996.

For her part, Kamala Rai owes most of her literary career to Bindya Subba who brought her back into the Nepali literary circle after she had stopped writing. Kamala Rai is the female symbol of a bright past, present and future in the field of contemporary Indian Nepali poetry. Her first poem, “Timrai Khojmā”, published for the first time in 1968 in JanadÅ«t, was dedicated to ÄdikāvÄ« Bhanubhakta Acharya and reflected the love for her language. Most of her poems are characterised by feminism (though they are not exactly feminist works because she did not intend them to be feminist poems as is evident from her interviews) and reflect upon the integrity of women in a very comprehensive manner. Her poems also talk about the problems of identity and the confused Gorkhā society of her times, and as a result, try to evoke a distinct Gorkhā female identity in their own way.

What is most significant about the poems of Bindya Subba, Kamala Rai and Pavitra Lama (despite the differences in their approaches in terms of the form and the modes of presentation) is that the poems are not only picturesque but are at the same time replete with vibrant images that seem to paint both beautiful memories and horrific realities on paper, which make one re-examine the notion of identity. Often, they are not merely the poets but also the protagonists in their poems and performances. While a protagonist is sometimes a woman of flesh and blood, she is, at other times, a motif such as a pine tree or a tea plant without which the Darjeeling Hills cannot be pictured. Furthermore, the issues of women that they reflect upon seem extremely relatable, and it is here that the line between the Darjeeling Hills and the rest of the country becomes imaginary.

Finally, even though a part of the Gorkhā community is aware of a certain Gorkhā female presence both within and outside literature, the same cannot be said about their presence in the larger Indian consciousness. While most Gorkhā women writers belonging to the third generation have not been able to find their place in Nepali academia yet (something that has the potential to bring an author to the forefront), Gorkhā women writers belonging to the second generation were met with a different kind of problem as most of them faced a major setback in their writing careers after they got married, just like their contemporaries across the country who hailed from similar social backgrounds. Most Gorkhā women writers belonging to the second generation were forced to retire after marriage. It was only when the All India Nepali Women’s Association and its publication wing, Vasudhā PrakāshanÄ«, were being created in the Darjeeling Hills in the year 2000 under the president ship of Bindya Subba that most of the women poets who had retired came together. Bindya Subba’s efforts in this regard cannot be denied since it was mainly because of her work that many of her contemporaries who had retired many decades ago decided to return to the literary scene. Kamala Rai was one of the few Gorkhā women poets who came back to the Indian Nepali literary scene and began to write once more, and this time with greater enthusiasm. Bindya Subba is now a member of the Advisory Committee of the All India Nepali Women’s Association. However, Vasudhā PrakāshanÄ« could not fund the books that were being composed and the writers were forced to finance their own publications, and even undertake the responsibility of promoting them. The only advantage was that they could publish these books under the banner of Vasudhā PrakāshanÄ« and the All India Nepali Women’s Association that were known for taking active steps in the field of women’s empowerment, demonstrating that Gorkhā women writers were no longer alone.

Nevertheless, Gorkhā writers are still struggling to make their voices heard by trying to increase readership and by attempting to improve publication opportunities. To achieve the latter, they constantly try to get in touch with publishing houses both within and outside the Darjeeling Hills. At this point, it can only be hoped that these powerful voices can someday go beyond the Darjeeling Hills and be heard by the Indian population at large, bringing to fruition what Bindya Subba had once desired:

I crossed the threshold and boundary
Of a house.
So that when I die, may not only my family members cry,
Huzoor-s, I have also come to reside
In your hearts.[46]


Ishani Dutta is currently pursuing her PhD at the Centre for Comparative Literature, Bhasha-Bhavana, Visva-Bharati, Bolpur, West Bengal. Her PhD project isOf Recitals and Performances: Reading New Literary Trends and Genres in Contemporary Indian Nepali Poetry in the Darjeeling Hills and Sikkim (1980-Present). Her other areas of interest include Literature and Other Arts, Translation-in-Practice, Translation Theory and Literatures of Canada. This  article is an outcome of primary textual resources acquired towards preparing the author’s M.Phil. dissertation, Reading Anger, Translating Memory: The Poetry of Bindya Subba and Kamala Rai (2018, Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Kolkata). She has previously served as a Project Fellow for ‘Project Anuvad’ under the UGC-University with Potential for Excellence Phase II: Cultural Resources & Social Sciences, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, from August 2017 to March 2019, and is currently working as a Project Assistant for the project, “Tagore in English: Essays of Decolonization,” under RUSA Phase 2.0 of Jadavpur University. She has authored the paper, “Battling Heteropatriarchy: Re-visioning Binaries through the means of Adrienne Rich’s Radical Lesbian Feminism,” published in the Jadavpur Journal of Comparative Literature (JJCL): Volume 54, and the paper “The ‘Unity and Diversity’ Problematic: A Critique of Comparative Literature in India” to be published in the forthcoming 2017-19 issue of Sahitya: Volume 8 (Delhi and Kolkata: Comparative Literature Association of India).



[1] Gender identity in the course of this paper will be looked at as a personal conception of oneself as male or female (or rarely, both or neither). In other words, the notion of gender identity as self-identified, as a result of a combination of inherent and extrinsic or environmental factors, will be stressed upon. “Gender Identity,” Medscape, accessed 6 June 2019, https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/917990-overview.

[2] In the course of this paper, the term “Darjeeling Hills” has been used to refer to the Darjeeling District that includes three major towns—Kurseong, Siliguri and Mirik, and several other smaller towns, as well as the present Kalimpong District since the latter became a separate district only on February 14, 2017.

[3] Originally titled “Pahād-harura Kholā-haru” by Indra Bahadur Rai. Translated from Nepali by Michael Hutt. Prem Poddar and Anmole Prasad, eds.,Gorkhas Imagined: Indra Bahadur Rai In Translation (Kalimpong: Mukti Prakashan, 2009), 182.

[4]In the course of this paper, the term “Indian Nepali” will precede the words ‘literature’ and ‘poetry’ as and when required, to refer to Nepali literature or poetry from India as opposed to Nepali literature from Nepal. Similarly, the terms “Gorkhā” or “GorkhālÄ«” will precede the words ‘identity,’ ‘man,’ ‘woman,’ ‘community,’ ‘society,’ etc., as and when required to refer to the Nepali population of India as opposed to the Nepali population of Nepal. Apart from this, the term “Nepali” will precede the word ‘language’ as and when required in order to refer to the language used by the Gorkhā population to compose what we know as Indian Nepali literature. The language used by the Nepali population of Nepal is also Nepali. For more on the definition of the words Gorkhā and Indian Nepali, refer to the section, “The Gorkhā Identity: Recent Developments.”

[5]This article is an outcome of primary textual resources acquired towards preparing the “Introduction” and “Chapter I” of the author’s M.Phil. dissertation titled Reading Anger, Translating Memory: The Poetry of Bindya Subba and Kamala Rai (Department of Comparative Literature, University of Jadavpur, 2018).

[6]Taken from Bindya Subba, Antanirhit (Inherent) (Darjeeling: Mandara Smá¹›iti Publications, 2004), 9-10. Originally published in Nepali as “Parichaye” in Gorkhā Vāṅamaye (Gorkhā Literature) and Sraṣṭā Antarāṣtriya Kavitā ViÅ›eṣānk (First International Special Edition of Poetry).

[7]Ibid. Translation mine.

[8] The Indian Councils Act (1909), commonly known the Morley-Minto Reforms or the Minto-Morley Reforms, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that brought about a limited increase in the involvement of Indians in the governance of British India.

[9] Rajat Ganguly, “Poverty, Malgovernance and Ethnopolitical Mobilization: Gorkha Nationalism and the Gorkhaland Agitation in India,” in Nationalism and Ethnic Politics (London: Taylor & Francis, 2005).

[10] Kamala Rai and Pavitra Lama were interviewed for this study on April 4, 2018 in Mirik and on April 5, 2018 in Darjeeling, respectively. According to the interviews, they were both in the process of formulating and publishing their second books of poems. For more details on Kamala Rai’s interviews, refer to endnotes 37 and 38.

[11]Suniti Kumar Chatterji, “Adivasi’ Literatures of India,” in Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee and A.J. Thomas, eds., Best of Indian Literature Vol.1:2 (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1971), 645.

[12] Kumar Pradhan, A History of Nepali Literature (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1984), 3.

[13] Toni Huber, Toni and Stuart Blackburn, Origins and Migrations in the Extended Eastern Himalayas (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2012), 2.

[14]The Treaty of Sugauli that established the boundary line of Nepal was signed after the Anglo-Nepal War (1814-1816) between the King of Nepal and the East India Company on December 2, 1815 (ratified on March 4, 1816).

[15] Originally titled “KāntipurÄ« NagarÄ«” by Bhanubhakta Acharya. Translated from Nepali by Keshar Lal. Karmacharya, Madhav Lal and Govinda Raj Bhattarai, eds., Nepalese Literature (Kathmandu: Royal Nepal Academy, 2005), 2.

[16]Indra Bahadur Rai, “Indian Nepali Nationalism And Nepali Poetry,” in Prem Poddar and Anmole Prasad, eds., Gorkhas Imagined: Indra Bahadur Rai In Translation (Kalimpong: Mukti Prakashan, 1994), 172-174.

[17] Prem Poddar, “Afterlife of the Original: Gorkhāness (or Indian Nepāleseness) and I.B. Rai in Translation,” in Prem Poddar and Anmole Prasad, eds., Gorkhas Imagined: Indra Bahadur Rai In Translation (Kalimpong: Mukti Prakashan, 2008), 11.

[18] Rai, “Indian Nepali Nationalism and Nepali Poetry,”179.


[20]Ibid, 175-176.

[21] Bandana Rai, “Gorkhas as Warriors,”in Gorkhas – The Warrior Race (Delhi: Kalpaz Publications, 2009),152. 

[22] Mona Chettri, Ethnicity and Democracy in the Eastern Himalayan Borderland: Constructing Democracy (Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press, 2017).

[23]Taken with permission from an untitled and unpublished paper by Priyanka Sharma (PhD fellow, Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Kolkata) in April 2018.


[25] Harold James and Denis Sheil-Small, The Gurkhas (London: Macdonald, 1965), 119.

[26]Institutionalised education and literacy were usually of secondary importance owing to the living conditions of the people in the hills, particularly in the Darjeeling Hills where manual labour, especially in the tea gardens, has been the primary source of livelihood until recently. It was not until the advent of Revd. William Macfarlane, in 1869, that any broad scheme of vernacular education was devised for the district.

[27] Rudy Francisco, Helium, Button Poetry, 2017.

[28]A Tāmāng (one among the many ethnicities that together form the larger Nepali identity) is a kinship term for the youngest daughter in a Tāmāng family.

[29]Translation mine. Originally published in Nepali as “Muskān Sikāuneharu” in Subba, Antanirhit, 89-91. The poem was also recited at the Kaviyatri Kavitā Goshá¹­hi Ä€kāshvāṇī (All India Radio Women Poets’ Poetry Forum), Kurseong in 2002. Subba seems to have composed this poem on the occasion of Women’s Empowerment Year 2001.

[30]Originally published in Nepali as “NārÄ« ÅšaktilaÄ«” in Samaykā Pāilāharu. Kamala Rai, Samaykā Pāilāharu (Kavitā Saá¹…graha) (Darjeeling: Vasudhā Publications, 2014), 38-40. The poem was composed in the year 2002.

[31]Ibid.Translation mine.

[32]Originally published in Nepali as “Nirmān” by Lakhhi Devi Sundas. The word nirmān literally translates to ‘creation’.

[33]Ibid. Translation mine.

[34]Originally published in Nepali as “ShÄ«rshakVihÄ«n” by Lakhhi Devi Sundas. The words ‘shÄ«rshakvihÄ«n’ literally translates to ‘untitled.’

[35]Ibid. Translation mine.

[36] Jagadish Rana, Women Writers of Nepal: Profiles and Perspective (Shimla: Rajesh Rana Publications, 2011), 222.

[37]The first interview with Kamala Rai was taken on my behalf by Ms. Shradhanjali Tamang (Assistant Professor, Department of Film Studies, Jadavpur University, Kolkata) in Mirik in November 2017 based on ten questions that I had sent. The questions were rather general and were mostly regarding why and how she got into composing poems as well as about the people who had inspired or influenced her writings. The first interview gave me certain valuable leads, but those were not enough. So, I decided to go back to her with more specific questions and the translations of eight of her poems in tow. The second interview took place in Mirik on April 4, 2018. The interview was taken in Nepali, but for the purpose of this study, her responses have been translated by me into English.

[38]The interview with Pavitra Lama and Kabir Basnet took place in Darjeeling on April 5, 2018. The questions were mostly regarding her life and times and about the ways in which performance poetry is affecting Indian Nepali literature. Some questions also pertained to the dominant themes of her writings. The interview was taken in Nepālī and Hindi, but for the purpose of this study, her responses have been translated by me into English.

[39]Originally published in Nepali as “Ma Aaj Pheri Khojirehechu SÄ«tālaÄ«...!” in Sabhyatākā Peṇdulumharu (The Pendulums of Civilization)(Pavitra Lama, 2017). Sabhyatākā Peṇdulumharu (Dooars: Dooars Nepali SāhityaVikās Samiti, 2017), 31-34.

[40]Gāthā is the Sanskrit term for ‘song’ or ‘verse.’

[41] Translation mine. Refer to endnote 39.

[42]The Nāṭyaśāstra is believed to have been composed between 200 BCE and 200 CE and is attributed to Sage Bharata. It is a compendium that is the basis of all performance arts in the Indian subcontinent and is said to have played a significant role in their development.

[43] Refer to endnote 38 for details about the interview with Pavitra Lama.

[44]Bishnu Kumari Waiba who wrote under the pen name Pārijātisis best known for her novel, Śiriṣ Ko Phūl (The Blue Mimosa), published in 1965.

[45]Translation mine. Originally published in Nepali as “Simānā Nāgher Ä€ye,” in Subba, Antanirhit, 134.

[46]Translation mine. Refer to endnote 45 for details about the poem “Simānā Nāgher Ä€ye” by Bindya Subba.