By bappaditya paul
Nineteen Gorkha youths from Darjeeling will run this year’s Mumbai Marathon to reassert their Indian identity, which is often questioned.
Mr Amrit Rai, who is one of the 19, said his team’s participation in the Mumbai Marathon has nothing to do with the ongoing agitation in Darjeeling to carve a separate state of Gorkhaland out of West Bengal.
“We are participating in the marathon with a sporting spirit and with the aim to reassert that we are no less Indians than those living in other parts of the country,” said Mr Rai, a resident of Pedong who is in the second year of his BA at Kalimpong Government College.
Mumbai Marathon, an annual international road-running competition that is entering its ninth year, is slated to take place in Maharashtra’s capital on 15 January.
The 19 Gorkha youths are part of a 22-member team participating in the marathon with support from a Mumbai-based corporate executive of Gorkha origin. There are also two Bengalis from Darjeeling, and one Punjabi from Delhi on the team. Five members are female.
While 17 members of the team will run the 21 km half-marathon, the remaining five would to slog it out in the 6 km Dream Run category.
“The most significant aspect is, all of them will take part in the marathon sporting T-shirts inscribed with the slogan “We Are Gorkhas And Proud to Be Indians. Jai Gorkha, Jai Hind,” Ms Roshini Rai, the corporate executive behind the idea explained in a communiqué from Mumbai.
Ms Rai, whose roots are in Pedong in Kalimpong sub-division, said she conceived the idea to mitigate the general perception that every Nepali-speaking individual is a citizen of Nepal, and not India. Incidentally, the Gorkha community in Darjeeling has been agitating for a separate Gorkhaland state, as an overwhelming majority of them believe statehood is necessary to solidify their Indian identity as distinct from the Nepalese citizens.
Mr John Joydeep Sinha, a Bengali physician based at Salugara in Siliguri, and a participant listed with the Gorkha team, said taking part in the marathon wearing a T-shirt inscribed “Jai Gorkha, Jai Hind” does not hurt his community’s interest in any way.
“The Gorkhas believe they are the only ones to be labeled as foreigners,” Mr Sinha said. “But is it not true that people in Mumbai also often mistake the Bengalis as Bangladeshis? So in a way, both the communities are victims of a wrong public perception and supporting the Gorkha cause is a step forward in mitigating the problem.”
The team will leave for Mumbai by train on 10 January.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 6 January 2012.)