The Rowdies of Darjeeling: politics and underdevelopment in the hills

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  • Mona Chettri
The success of any political agitation in the Darjeeling hills can be measured by the efficacy of the local ‘rowdies’ that the party is able to enlist. Particular to Darjeeling lingua-franca, ‘rowdies or rowdy’ refers to a person who fits somewhere between a gangster and a goon, not a criminal per se but prone to crime and violence, usually at the behest of political leaders. ‘Rowdies’ are the face of political movements, an integral and ubiquitous feature of Darjeeling politics. They are often sighted leading political processions, enforcing strikes and collecting chanda (tax) on the behalf of the party. For the ‘rowdies’, this qualifies as political participation and a viable means of socio-economic mobility as it allows them to bypass many administrative and social regulations, a privilege which they cannot otherwise afford owing to their low socio-economic status. Whether it be political agitation (1986, 2008) or enforcements of GJM diktats, the persistence of ‘rowdies’ and their centrality to popular movements, indicates towards a form of hill politics that challenges accepted notions of political participation, democracy and mobilisation. On one hand this leads to a re-assessment of form and content of hill politics and on the other, their continued existence and proliferation through the decades is also representative of the lives and struggles, unrelenting poverty and socio-political inequality in Darjeeling.
The chapter engages in an assessment of the political culture of Darjeeling through the perspective of the ‘rowdies’ who are a product of the social, political and material cultures of post-colonial Darjeeling. The paper will illustrate the vital role that they play in shaping the political terrain of the region and how their lives, experiences provide a context through which to understand contemporary state and society in Darjeeling.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDarjeeling reconsidered : histories, politics, environments
EditorsTownsend Middleton, Sarah Shneiderman
Place of publicationNew Delhi
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication year2018
Chapter6
ISBN (print)978-0199483556
Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Research areas

  • Development , Politics, Darjeeling, Violence, Masculinity

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