Society and Identity
Indian citizens of Nepali ethnic origin comprise the majority of the citizens living in the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya, a cultural cross-road of different ethnic groups, trade, culture and politics. Starting in the early 17th century, Indian-Nepalis of this region have a long-recorded history of migration, cross-cultural assimilation, trade and settlement in the early that extends from Sikkim, Bhutan to different parts of North-East India and even Myanmar.
Although a significant part of the cultural, political and economic life of the eastern Himalaya, Indian-Nepalis are, time and again, confronted by local ethno-political associations who label them as ‘immigrants’, ‘foreigners’ and ‘outsiders’, despite possessing legal documents as Indian citizens. The eviction of Nepalis from the north-eastern state of Meghalaya in 1987 and from Bhutan in the 1990s serve as constant reminders to the Indian-Nepalis of the consequences of a shift in the local political agenda.
Focussing on the Indian-Nepalis of Sikkim and Darjeeling, this paper will discuss three issues that will highlight the challenges of being an Indian-Nepali at a local and social level. First, the paper will discuss how history (especially of migration) is used in contemporary politics to define and challenge notions of belonging to a nation. Second, the paper will focus on the everyday experience of negotiating multiple identities as ethnic Nepalis and Indian citizens and the subtle uncertainty and insecurity underlying it. Finally, the paper will focus on how local experiences and anxieties come to shape regional political agenda on citizenship.