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The Poverty of Gorkha Anti-Caste Discourse: Our Struggle for Dignity and Freedom

By Abinash Rai, Niki Rai and Malavika Pradhan 

Rally against caste discrimination and subjugation , Darjeeling, 9 June 2024/ Photo courtesy: Shivam Darnal

Rajat Tamang's casteist behaviour online has touched the Gorkhas, as had Sanvika and Reena's rape and murder in Dooars a few years ago¹. Since the recent collective outrage against Rajat's casteist behaviour, many individuals among us have publicly expressed their desire to interrogate the underbelly of Gorkha culture and society².This is a commendable sentiment. 

However, to jump from this sentiment to presuming that caste solely perils certain sections of society (such as the Scheduled Castes) indicates a lack of committed inquiry³. We tend to overlook that none of us is untouched by caste, as caste is primarily a relationship, not a thing. This relationship is fundamentally structured by various forms of violence that affect everyone bound by it. The fact that caste is hierarchical, such that each group and subgroup are pitted against another, creates the condition where a Bahun can hate and slander a Chettri and so on. Thus, Rajat's caste consciousness and use of caste slurs are also indicative of the dehumanizing power of caste over him. It withholds him from becoming a dignified human being.

This is not to whitewash the fact that some bear the brunt while others profit from the

persistence of caste. The “twice born” Tagadhari-Savarnas conspicuously exploit, oppress, and profit most from the persistence of caste and thus also actively work towards perpetuating it. While others are dishearteningly complicit in oppressing, dehumanising, and regularly humiliating the SCs by failing to confront their own oppression by those above them, this is precisely where intervention is due.

One possible way to traverse this impasse is to revisit the manifesto of Dalit Panthers⁴, which answers the question: “Who is a Dalit?” by stating “members of scheduled castes and tribes, Neo-Buddhists, the working people, the landless and poor peasants, women and all those who are being exploited politically, economically and in the name of religion.” Can we not think similarly about the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, the toiling masses, Women, Muslims, Christians, LGBTQAI+ and so on, who together constitute the majority of Gorkhas?

But the recent intellectual desire and call for self-interrogation⁵ is suspect of virtue signalling because it solely focuses on discernible forms of violence without problematizing the entirety of caste. Perhaps our, well-meaning, justice-loving, and good people, have inculcated this habit from our immediate oppressor - the Bhadralok Bengali - the ruling class of West Bengal. They have always held their heads up in the sky, arrogantly believing they know it all. Let us, though, avoid this pitfall as Ambedkar repeatedly cautioned us that imitation is a means of reproducing caste consciousness. Thus, unlike the gentle and benevolent (Bhadralok) Bengalis, who are at the apex of caste order in West Bengal, let us neither disavow the existence of caste nor suggest easy and formulaic solutions. Contrary to them, let us learn to be serious and committed to the cause of annihilating caste with the conviction that in its annihilation lies our liberation and true union. And let us also not forget that Bengali domination over the Gorkhas is also Brahminical.

After all, our history, both old and new, indicates that we have been dispossessed, exploited, and oppressed from one Ram Rajya to the next. Didn’t the tribals or indigenous people(s) also not bear the brunt of these Ram Rajya(s)? Any serious and committed inquiry into Ram Rajya(s) will definitely conclude that caste is its foundational and governing principle. Gorkhas are caste conscious due to the long history of socio-political existence under systemic caste oppression of several Ram Rajya(s). This is the ironic and disheartening paradox of caste consciousness among the Gorkhas. It parallels the poet Agam Singh Giri's paradoxical presentation of the Yoddha (the warrior) in Yuddha Ra Yoddha, who is simultaneously oppressive and oppressed. But our caste consciousness will only end with the annihilation of the casted world we inhabit. It circles back to the contemporary condition of Gorkha existence under “multiple oppressions”⁶.

How do we then interrogate the relationship of caste and “other oppressions” among the Gorkhas? This is relevant because to investigate a problem is to solve it. Here, we can only suggest some thumb rules: oppression(s), although fashionably referred to as multiple these days, implying that one could dissect and isolate one from another, are rather far more united in dehumanizing us as they feed and fuel each another. How can one say that Rajat's casteist language wasn't sexist too? After all, caste and gender norms are intricately intertwined.

Moreover, we must reject the statist, capitalist, and casteist strategies of pitting the oppressed against one another. The peril of selectively juxtaposing one form of oppression against another, to deny even the possibility of collective liberation, is a well-documented tactic employed globally by ruling classes to delegitimize various struggles. A pertinent example is how contemporary Hindutva forces have mobilized many oppressed individuals against their emancipatory politics to perpetuate racism towards Muslims, thus fragmenting solidarity among marginalized groups. Any endeavour to pit oppressed groups against each other not only undermines the prospects of genuine systemic change but also perpetuates the very structures of oppression we seek to dismantle. While isolated struggles may offer transient respite, they ultimately lack the potency to dismantle the entrenched systems that uphold oppression.

Last but not the least, while interrogating any identity politics, we must also recognize that many movements, such as that of the Gorkhas, are essentially struggling against the logic of identification. We are attempting to emancipate ourselves from the ascriptions, definitions, categorizations of the powerful i.e. who only see, define and identify us as their racialized "Other." Ultimately, the Gorkha desire is to become human; it is a struggle for dignity and freedom.

Hence, we insist that one must thoroughly interrogate the problem of caste from a committed anti-caste position. And it is only by understanding what caste is in its entirety that we may reach the anti-caste vantage. Otherwise, we cloak ourselves in the illusion of being critical while maintaining a cynical distance from the evils of our culture and society; where we acknowledge the problem of caste but fail to take meaningful action to annihilate it. As the activist and scholar Angela Davis aptly said, "In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist; we must be anti-racist." Similarly, in a caste society, it is not enough to acknowledge caste; we must actively be anti-caste.


³ ibid

⁶ ibid


Abinash Rai, Malavika Pradhan and Niki Rai are research scholars in the disciplines of Cultural Studies, Political Science and Sociology, respectively.


This article was prepared by the authors in their personal capacities and was received as an open submission for publication on the TCC blog. The opinions expressed in the article are the authors' own.

The Confluence Collective is accepting blog submissions. Original works are encouraged, and topics can include private and personal experiences to social, political, and cultural realities. The blog aims to use each person's unique experiences to create a narrative about the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas. To submit, please get in touch with us at


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