‘O saabji!’ Abki baar Chowkidar ki sarkar: How a belittling stereotype has become BJP's war cry
The term 'Chowkidar' remains a used, abused and trending topic on social media. The actual Gorkha community, stereotyped as 'chowkidars', however, are still treated as second class citizens.
- Total Shares
Being a Gorkha (Indian-Nepali — Gorkha, if you must), I have lived with this underlying stereotype of Gorkhas working as ‘chowkidars’ (security guards) — often mocked by those very people who are now rushing to add 'Chowkidar' to their Twitter handles. The eagerness to adopt the Chowkidar prefix to one’s virtual names has been prompted by the nation’s PM 'Chowkidar' Narendra Modi and his party, the BJP’s ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ campaign.
Certain stereotypes and feelings of shame over them never made sense to me, personally. For me, Gorkhas as a community — known and lauded for their bravery and trustworthiness — seem an appropriate symbolism for being chowkidars in their role as protectors. Moreover, the values inculcated by my family, school and community teach me to value the dignity of labour. Values, possibly not understood by BJP leaders like Subramanian Swamy, who reportedly said, “I cannot be a chowkidar because I am a Brahmin.”
Even the opposition, while hitting back with the ‘chowkidar hi chor hai’ jibe, added to the mudslinging concoction brewed especially for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
However, the chowkidar remains a much used, abused and trending term on social media.
Herein, the complex gamut of stereotypes in a country like India is fractured along lines of identity, caste, language, economic strata, etc.
When I stepped out of my hometown and beyond the protective blinders of my community, I began to realise that the term ‘Bahadur’ (the Nepali word for 'brave') was being used to slander Gorkhas. Awareness of Gorkhas being viewed as chowkidars was ingrained in me first through advertisements for a certain cold drink. One of my favourite actors, Aamir Khan, pranced along saying, ‘O saabji’ while mimicking the accent which is supposedly my community’s trademark.
I must have laughed at the ad when I was younger, or even perhaps felt proud in some sense that Aamir played someone from my community. It is only later that I realised the representation of my community in mass media — including Bollywood and its legacy of over 100 years — is limited to portraying us as chowkidars and similar stereotypes around Gorkhas.
But how has chowkidar become the BJP’s war cry now?
Is 2019 the year when the actual Gorkha community, stereotyped as chowkidars, will finally get a voice — a sense of inclusive identity in an India that treats them as second class citizens?
A sad, but resounding, nope.
Our MP was nowhere to be seen during brutal retaliation in Darjeeling by the Mamata Banerjee-led government. (Source: Reuters. Artwork: DailyO)
I believe it is poetic justice that the Darjeeling district MP and senior BJP leader SS Ahluwalia has not added 'Chowkidar' to his name yet — for how could he identify with the 'saabji' people? In my view, he has failed us critically in the past five years and is definitely no 'protector' of his constituency. A major revolution in the hills that burnt and broke its economic back in 2017, with a historical strike that lasted for 105 days, did not rattle Ahluwalia. Our MP was nowhere to be spotted when fear and brutal retaliation by the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government became the order of the day for us.
The creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland — a century-old demand — has not materialised yet. This is despite electing two BJP MPs back to back — Jaswant Singh, followed by SS Ahluwalia, in the Darjeeling district. Ironically, it was Jaswant Singh, supported by the regional party, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, that propelled the BJP to its first-ever victory in the Darjeeling constituency in the 2009 Parliamentary elections.
Moreover, caught in their own skirmishes, regional leaders also fail to deliver. Aligning or opposing political masters is about filling their own coffers and moulding the Gorkhaland narrative accordingly.
The creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland — a century-old demand — has not materialised. (Source: Reuters)
After leaving my hometown, my identity was — and still is — often questioned. For some — this shockingly includes some of my friends in the media — my hometown Darjeeling is not even in India or is part of some North East state. If I say my mother tongue is Nepali, I am immediately deemed a citizen of Nepal. Although there are obvious similarities and a history of migration of Nepalis to India, the Gorkha Indians have forged their own path and history as Indians.
But Gorkhas, who have had generations born and bred in India, are still treated as rank outsiders.
In 2019, the typical stereotype of Modi bhakts would possibly be 'Chowkidar' youths with tilaks, expanded chests filled with hyper-nationalism and the choicest of abuses against Pakistan rolling off their tongues. Maybe some of them are from families that suffered the brunt of the 1947 Partition. To them, I ask — aren’t we both legitimate citizens of India? Why must my culture and my face be questioned, despite India priding itself on its diversity?
But does the 'chowkidar' slogan ensure inclusion of the Gorkhas? Sadly, no. (Source: Reuters)
Whether the nation’s chowkidar scripts a comeback, the Gorkha community, which has lived with the chowkidar tag, waits for the deliverance of its rights as any other Indian citizen. Just by constantly harping on ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ and thumping a 56-inch-chest, Modi cannot expect support. His promises need to go above and beyond to truly reach all Indians.
Maybe then, the chowkidars would choose the chowkidar.
Till then, Modi saabji, I would say, abki baar, no Chowkidar ki sarkar!