Kalimpong, Dec. 3: The Bhutias, who claim to be the original inhabitants of the Darjeeling hills like the Lepchas, have demanded the formation of a board for the community’s development, close on the heels of the Tamangs putting forth a similar plea.
The state government had earlier this year created a development board for the Lepchas under the backward classes welfare department after a prolonged agitation by the community.
The Tamangs on Saturday kicked off a campaign demanding a council to preserve and protect the community’s distinct culture.
The Bhutias came together in support of the demand for setting up the Bhutia Development Board under the banner of the All India Bhutia Association. “We are also the original inhabitants of the hills like the Lepchas. We had put forth our demand before the chief minister during her last visit to Darjeeling. We petitioned north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb as well to form the council,” said Mewang Dhondup, the president of the association.
Prior to that, Dhondup said, the matter had been raised before various officials by the members of the Bhutia community in their individual capacity. “We formed our association two months back and after that, formally approached the chief minister with our demand. However, since we hadn’t heard anything from the government till date, we sent a fax to the chief minister’s office reminding the government of the demand,” he said.
Dhondup said even though like the Lepchas, the Bhutias were also included in the first list of scheduled tribes of the country in 1950, the state had provided no assistance to protect their distinct social, cultural and linguistic identity. “We hope the chief minister will do us justice by setting up the development board on the lines of the Lepcha board.”
The Bhutias speak Tibetan and have a unique attire and customs, and they are mostly Buddhists.
Asked if his association wanted the board to be formed under the GTA Sabha or the state government, Dhondup evaded a direct response. “We leave it to the wisdom of the chief minister,” he said.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had opposed the Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board, saying the move was part of the state government’s “divide-and-rule” policy. The fact that the board was created under the state government, not under the GTA, also irritated the Morcha.
Dhondup claimed that there were close to 2.5 lakh Bhutias in Darjeeling district even though there is no official confirmation of the number. The total population of the district is 18 lakh.
Told about the Bhutia’s demand, Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said: “The party is okay with the formation of a development board for any community as long as it is under the GTA.”
CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury said in Darjeeling on Tuesday that the parliamentary standing committee on transport, tourism and culture, had recommended that the Darjeeling hills be included in the ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER). He is the chairman of the committee.
Pick-up van strike
Members of the Kurseong Pick-up Van Drivers’ Welfare Association said on Tuesday that their vehicles would not ply on Rohini Road unless the toll was reduced from Rs 50 to Rs 30.