The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dress code relief for Lepchas

Darjeeling, Sept. 12: Members of the Lepcha community will be free to wear their own traditional attire during a month-long “cultural movement” of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha that will begin from October 7.

The decision followed a meeting between the Lepcha Association and Morcha president Bimal Gurung held at the party’s office in Patlabas here today.

“The Morcha chief gave a patient hearing to our arguments and agreed that members of our community can wear their traditional clothes. In fact, he also suggested that those who cannot afford to buy or stitch the attire can sport just the Lepcha cap,” said S.M. Lepcha, the chief adviser to the Association.

While addressing the minority communities in the hills on Tuesday, Gurung had said even the Lepchas should wear the daura sural (for men) and chaubandi choli (women), the traditional attires of the Nepali community, during the cultural movement conceived to strengthen the Gorkhaland demand.

The directive had shocked the Lepchas who are not only a distinctive community but are also considered to be the original inhabitants of the place. In fact, the official language of the Darjeeling district till 1911 was Lepcha. They also have their own traditional attire, quite different from the Nepali ones.

“Many of our members had already stitched the daura-sural following the announcement. We have no problems if our community members, especially the younger generation, wear the daura sural, but they must sport the shyambo, our traditional cap,” said Buddha Lepcha, the joint secretary of the Association.

The traditional Lepcha dress for males is known as dampra and that of the females, dambun. The attire also comprises the kenja, which is like a shirt.

The Lepcha population in the Darjeeling hills is about 1.5 lakh.

“Our origins lie in these areas and over the years the three distinct communities in the hills — the Nepalis, the Bhutias and the Lepchas — have come to be collectively known as the Nebulas. We are happy that Bimal Gurung appreciated the peaceful coexistence of these communities and assured us that our distinct character would be respected,” Buddha added.

Binay Tamang, the media and publicity secretary of the Morcha, confirmed the outcome of today’s meeting.

“It would be nice if the younger generation sport both the daura sural and the Lepcha topi. However, the older generation can wear their full traditional attire as our party has no plans to interfere with the Lepcha culture and tradition,” he said.

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