Tracing the origins of the GurungsNew research findings on Gurung genealogy will have definite repercussions on the collective repositioning of various indigenous ethnic communities.
There are layers of identities attributed to the citizen of a nation. It becomes more complex in a country where diverse communities live in compartmentalised geographies with complicated existential methods and competitive means of livelihood. For instance, a Bengali first carries the identity of an Indian national, then a Bengali from West Bengal, and finally a Sen or Mukherji or Das as a caste identity. Indian Gorkhas similarly carry in them a three-layer identity. Then there is the genealogy-based assertion connected to Aryan and Asiatic stocks; politico-sociological identities like high and low caste, and finally administrative-development denominations like Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Class.
At each layer of identity, the struggle for rights, privileges and facilities change both in terms of structural forms and cyclical behaviour. The context is inter-community competition between relatively underdeveloped Indian Gorkhas and remarkably advanced communities like Bengalis, Maratahis, Telegus, Assamese and Punjabis who have already achieved their own geographically and ethnically configured provinces.
However geographically scattered, politically fragile and economically weaker Indian Gorkhas are, the identity assertion has remained farcically quadrangular. For instance, to fully realise the Indian national identity, there have been two rounds of violent movement by the Indian Gorkhas. At the same time, to overcome community and geography-based discrimination and development deprivation, demands to be categorised under various constitutional categories like Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Class have been pretty intense. Intra-community caste assertion is fully exploited by the political variables and institutions as seen in the formation of several boards in the name of Magars, Chettri-Bahun, Tamangs, Rais, Limbus, Gurungs and Sherpas in West Bengal.
There is a contrasting situation in Nepal and among the Nepalis of Nepal. Unlike the Indian Gorkhas’ case of identity assertion vis-à-vis other linguistic conglomerates like Tamils, Bengalis, Gujaratis and Biharis, in Nepal it has been an identity reassertion within a broad spectrum of the Nepali community and within a region. It is found at every stratum of dialect, language and religion. Within the broad ‘caste groups’ constituting over 58 percent of the total population of 26.5 million (2011 census), ethnic groups (35.8 percent) and others (5.8 percent), there has been steadily powerful contextualisation and repositioning of the Adibasi Janajati (indigenous nationalities) and Madhesis.
These distinct reorientations in both national discourse and political mobilisation, rejuvenated by a decade-long Maoist movement, have triggered newer varieties of actions among these communities. In this new game of ethnic juxtaposition, conscious and concerted efforts are made to relocate various indigenous nationalities in both the anthropological context and sociological parlance. This has made a reinterpretation of history and impregnation with newer findings literally inevitable.
One of the most far-reaching initiatives has come from the Gurungs, who have always been at loggerheads with the ‘forced’ induction of their genealogy from the south and inclusion of their clans in the orthodox caste-based structure of char jata as ‘upper caste’ and Sora jata as ‘lower caste’. This Hindu hierarchical genealogy was imposed by the Shah rulers in the 15th century. Gurungs constitute 2 percent of Nepal’s population. In a doctoral degree thesis entitled Understanding the Ethnic History of Nepal: A Case Study of the Gurungs recently submitted to Sichuan University in China, Tek Bahadur Gurung fascinatingly finds the triangular zone consisting of the Kokonor and upper reaches of the Yellow River, Lokha area and southwest China as the actual place of origin of the Tamu Mai Gurungs in Nepal. These three angles had people with 26.63 percent Mongolian DNA; 14.9 percent Tibetan DNA and 34.3 percent Naxi/Yi DNA respectively.
Tek Gurung totally discards the wilful manipulation of the historico-geographical origin of Gurungs and the mythification of their history by artificially injecting a ‘divisive hierarchical genealogy’. This was made part of Tharagotrapravaravali in 1855 just one year after the implementation of Muluki Ain. His protracted efforts to substantiate archaeological investigation done in Nepal that provided valuable evidence for a northerly origin of Gurungs bore fruit only after he conducted sound scientific supporting evidence like DNA testing. He found the ‘Tibetan-Yi Corridor as a significant framework of migration for Gurungs as one of the Tibeto-Burman peoples’.
Gurung did something that social science scholars would generally hesitate to venture. He carried out a DNA analysis of eight Gurung persons for their ancestry compositions and then overlay these DNA results on the Tibetan-Yi Corridor to scientifically understand migratory origin of Gurungs. He concluded that 'their original village is most likely located around Kokonor which their mythology remember as Koko li mahrshyo'.
Tracing the route of the migration, he concluded that 'their primaeval ancestors migrated southwards from the upper reaches of the Yellow River around eight thousand years ago. They reached the Yunnan area about six thousand years ago. Apparently, they reached the Tibet or Lhoka (shannan) area before one hundred BC. Finally, they reached the present parts of Nepal more than two thousand years ago and it seems most likely that they were already there at Kohla before the beginning of AD'. Tek Gurung traverses a continuum of discourse and formidable frontiers of interpretations and scholarly research. The oral traditions of Gurungs Pe Da Lhu Da and cosmological and cultural belief systems as collected in the Kerlo are very richly captured.
This new research finding will have definite repercussions on the collective repositioning of various indigenous ethnic communities in Nepal. Its cross-border connections in the entire Himalayan belt including Bhutan, Darjeeling, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and the north-eastern region of India will be of both local and regional significance. This will be a vital breakthrough instrument for the Gurungs in India who have been a highly potential and deserving community to be in the list of Scheduled Tribes. Both the offices of the Anthropological Survey and the Registrar General in India could use this new finding as determining input to show the medieval migratory character of this tribal group. For indigenous scholars in the Himalaya, Tej Gurung’s innovative research methodology and imaginative interpretation should bring a fresh puff of air in interdisciplinary research.
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