OP-ED: A Letter to my fellow Sikkimese – Amrit Sharma
Let us also look in the Mirror
Since the Honourable Supreme Court verdict of 13th January 2023, Sikkim has been on the boil. We collectively came together as a society in order to safeguard our unique Sikkimese identity – civil society came out in front and led to the creation of Joint Action Council, we went on mass rallies, we had open forums, we came together online, we organised signature campaigns, called a one day bandh and also organised a historic All Party Meet which came out with four strong resolutions to safeguard out future. All of these have been very positive outcomes, however there is also a blame game going on especially on social media, where we want to blame all the ills we are facing currently, on others – on outsiders. But I think rather than pointing fingers, this is the perfect time for us as Sikkimese to reflect and introspect on why we have reached where we have? What is our role in the bleak future we are seeing looming before us?
I have lived most of my life outside of Sikkim, I lived and worked in mainland India and in Europe and I just came back recently in order to be with my ageing parents so I have been quite unaware of how things work and operate in Sikkim. I personally only started noticing how our social fabric has changed when I started renovating a floor in my parent’s house to start a Homestay – all the old dajus we used as children to do the manual work have all vanished – no mistris, no batti-walllahs, no paint wallahs, no plumbers – all are now migrant workers from different states. That was my first small indication of how much my homeland has changed.
The Political Landscape in Sikkim
As I settled in, I started following the political discourse as well, especially after having worked in national media, I have always had a keen interest in the political discourse, where ever I lived. The level of the political discourse was alarming – other than a few political figures who were talking about safeguarding Sikkimese rights and had an ideology, the majority of the political figures in the state seemed to have no ideology at all. The main focus of politics in the state seems to be opportunistic politics – figures changing parties, playing endless blame games with other political parties, resorting to bad language in public gatherings, having physical altercations with each other, running personal vendettas – all aimed at just personal gain. Common people also seem to be so vested in politics and are always claiming allegiance to one party or another and even having tiffs with their own family members over party affiliations! Ours is the only state that I have known where entire constituencies take memberships of a political party – and yet again all of that is for personal gains. Everyone here thinks that party affiliations will take them some where – ‘kaam pauncha ki, chayadar pauncha ki’. This would never happen in mainland India. Our democratic setup is so new that we the Sikkimese do not seem to understand how a democracy functions. Our political discourse does not seem to function on issues and agendas – we have fostered a political landscape that is solely focused on providing freebies to the public – free medical, free education, free housing, subsidies on car loans, entrepreneur loans etc to the extent of free piglets, calves and kid goats and dakshina during Dasain!! Our dependence on our Govt. is not sustainable – no govt. can run efficiently if all their machinery and budget is used
in providing freebies to the public who do not even pay taxes to the same Govt. We have to learn to be self reliant – only then will we have good governance in Sikkim.
Corruption is King
I personally did not have much interaction with bureaucracy in Sikkim as my daily life saw no need of any such govt. approvals. But we are all aware of how much money talks in Sikkim. Friends and relatives of everyone here who work in govt. service openly talk about their cuts and commissions and flaunt their luxury vehicles. I personally had no issues with that as I don’t have such high morals in order to question the morals of others. However ever since this recent issue came up, I have been on the ground every day interacting with youth from all over Sikkim and I found that this culture of cuts and commissions is really killing the future of our youth. I met so many educated, bright young people who have studied in the best institutions of India and have all come back with a zeal to do something good but unfortunately, trade licences in prime locations, govt allotted shops, taxi permits, govt. contracts and tenders – majority of them are being given to non-Sikkimese that too vide executive notifications which are not backed by any legislation. Even something as prestigious as the state civil services is mired by allegations of corruption. I organised some youth to conduct an awareness program on 371F at MG Marg but unfortunately neither the Home dept nor UDD gave us the permission, while Holi which is a non- Sikkimese festival is celebrated openly in a grand way at MG Marg without requiring any permissions. This is the sad truth of our State. The new generation is desperate and disillusioned. We as a society have to think about their future before it is too late. We are already the youth suicide capital of India with the highest no. of suicides in the 21-30 age group, lets all introspect why that is happening.
The Fracturing of Sikkimese Identity
In the span of a generation, the Sikkimese identity that we would claim so proudly when we were out of the state is completely fractured now into various communities, castes, creeds and religions. We have a hundred different associations for every community in the state and even sub-communities under the larger communities but ironically, there is not one association is for all Sikkimese. Imagine the strength of such an association – we could even make Delhi listen to us. We should also look towards our brothers and sisters in the North East who have managed to foster such strong civil society bodies to fight for their rights. The time for petty divisions is over. Let us now unite as Sikkimese.
Restoring Dignity of Labour
If we see historically, our forefathers toiled hard in an unforgiving land, built terrace fields with their sweat and blood, cleared forests, fought against nature and wildlife and just barely managed to survive. With the intervention of the British, modern administration came to Sikkim along with the start of modern education and also funds through grants and trade with larger India. India continued the British legacy. We prospered but rather than seeing dignity in labour, we looked up the ladder and wanted to be like our betters. So we got labour to do anything we thought undignified- those days it was our fellow ethnic brothers who lived all around us and were less prosperous than us. Politicians and state machinery used those same people and fostered revolution which led to historical incidents we all are aware of.
After the merger, we prospered even more. And yet again we all aspired just to be Saabs and Memsaabs – so we allowed more and more outsiders to come and live here – to work in our homes, to run our Hotels, to drive our cars, to run our businesses because we never wanted to dirty our hands. In one generation we lost vital valuable local skills – all our skilled craftsmen – painters, carpenters, mistris, plumbers, batti walas, our tailors, our cobblers and everyone else in between are all gone. Now history is repeating itself and we are afraid of how outsiders are setting the political, social and economic agenda of our state. But unless we stop being Saabs and Memsaabs and bring back dignity of labour and be willing to dirty our hands, this is a battle we will keep fighting.
In closing, I want to say that let us not just blame others for the collective ills of our society. Let us look in the mirror and see how we individually and collectively have contributed to the sad state of affairs and think about how can we come up with constructive solutions to stop this rampant erosion of all our rights and privileges all guaranteed under 371F and secure a bright future for our coming generations. While things are happening under the direction of JAC in the political and legal space, we as a society should also use this time to awaken from our long slumber and lead a social revolution to rectify the wrongs of the past. It is time to be aware and to act now to save our future before it is too late.
The author Amrit Sharma has a Masters in English from Hindu College, Delhi University and a Masters in Mass Communications from M.C.R. C, Jamia. He worked in NDTV and then went on to Head Communications in Multi-national companies in Delhi, Spain, Switzerland and U.K. He recently moved back to Sikkim and currently runs a Homestay in Gangtok. He can be reached at email@example.com