Sikkim has always been known historically as one of the most peaceful places in the world. In fact, prior to merger with India, Sikkim had the claim to fame of having the world’s lowest crime rate. But in the last decade, crime and violence is steadily increasing and in fact some instances of violence are getting normalised by society today.
If we see available data, Sikkim has the highest rate of crimes against children in India at 72.4% (National Records Bureau Report 2022). POSCO cases are also increasing daily while rapes and violence against women is at an all time high with 130 violent crimes against women registered in 2021. Similarly violent crimes which include murder, attempt to murder, grievous hurt and culpable homicide amounted to 109 cases in the same year.
This in conjunction with the ever increasing illicit drug related cases in the state, paints a scary future for Sikkim. While there have been many conversations about these alarming trends within civil society, often the debates are centred around blaming the Govt. or the administration but I think we should first examine ourselves as a society and see what are the reasons for this change in our social fabric that foster crime and violence? What is our collective role in creating this environment in Sikkim and what can we do as Sikkimese to reclaim our lost heritage of peace and harmony?
In order to understand the current scenario, we need to look back at our past. Sikkimese are mostly first and second generation educated and when we joined with India, the first emphasis of the educated youth was to get into Govt. service so an entire first generation of Sikkimese worked directly for the Govt. machinery. In fact, even today 83000 people are employed by the Govt., a huge number for a state with a population of six lakh plus. This coupled with income tax exemption and a lax state vigilance has fostered a perfect eco-system for institutionalised corruption which runs from the smallest offices right up to the highest echelons of Govt. This easy money led to two whole generations aspiring for Govt. jobs while ignoring the private sector which is now firmly in the grasps of non-Sikkimese while also creating a society that is very materialistic and self-serving. Children at a young age are exposed to gambling which has become a huge vice in Sikkim. Every family teaches their children to play cards which has become a mainstay of every family function across communities. Gambling booths have mushroomed all over the state and even public fairs all revolve around betting and gambling, some of which are even organised by the state.
On the other side, union with India opened the floodgates for education in Sikkim with educational quotas in the premier educational institutions of India. Currently Sikkim has one of the highest literacy rates in India however, since we focused only on Govt. jobs and ignored private entrepreneurship, unemployment is at an all time high at 20.7% according to the latest data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) landing Sikkim with the unfortunate distinction of the fourth highest unemployment rate in India and the highest in the North East. Due to a lack of foresight and economic planning, the Govt. now is burdened with the task of creating employment while it is already struggling to pay existing salaries with 45.66% of the total state budget already going towards salary expenditure and 14% towards pensions. There have been some initiatives taken towards generating employment but most of the schemes are very broad based and do not take into account the knowledge pool in the state. For instance under the ‘One Family One Job’ scheme, matriculate, graduates, post graduates and technical graduates are all given the same job and salary without accounting for their skill or education. This kind of under-employment cannot be a long term solution for the unemployment woes of the state and are just populist short-term stop gaps.
This gap between education and gainful employment has led to a rise in depression among the youth with Sikkim having the highest rate of suicides under the age of 30 in the country. In recent years there has been an alarming rise in the use of illicit drugs among the youth in the state with huge amounts of banned pharmaceutical drugs, marijuana, brown sugar and heroin being peddled across the state.
In a state with 60% of the electorate under the age of 30 and with such high unemployment, it is but natural that the youth have become drawn towards political parties. Every party in Sikkim has large youth wings and there are endless youth oriented political programmes happening throughout the year, from bike and cycle rallies, youth festivals, marathons etc. These same youth gripped in the vicious cycle of unemployment, depression and drugs end up becoming pawns of political parties who use them to carry out vendetta against rival parties and factions. Stone pelting, violent clashes, concerted attacks against political rivals have become normalised in Sikkim now with such incidents happening on a regular basis. The recent attack on Civil Society activist Keshav Sapkota, General Secretary of Joint Action Council, in broad daylight in full presence of police and media, just shows how institutionalised political violence has become in the state.
Besides political violence, other crimes are on the rise too, from petty theft to rape and murder – things unheard of in Sikkim, even a decade ago. All of this stems from the state of Sikkimese society today – materialistic, self-serving and in the grips of the worst unemployment crisis in its history. Violence is always the last resort but when a large section of the population feels resentment towards the easy money and job opportunities enjoyed by their previous generation but sees that their future is dark and are victims of depression and drug abuse, then violence is bound to foster.
The solution to ending this cycle of violence is complicated but not impossible. First and foremost, we need to concentrate on building a strong economy that is in the hands of the Sikkimese. Sectors like tourism, service industry and retail which generate huge employment and are now mostly run by outsiders, need to see active participation by Sikkimese. Rather than attracting manufacturing companies, the Govt. should focus on inviting technology companies which can offer skilled employment and salaries proportionate to educational qualifications. Organic Sikkim mission is also in the doldrums right now so there needs to be an added focus on rejuvenating agricultural sector and creating a storage and transportation network so that organic produce from Sikkim can be marketed and sold across India and abroad, we can study examples from Punjab and Maharashtra where there are millionaire agriculturalists and focus on cash crops and floriculture to increase the earning capacity of our farmers.
On the social front, Sikkimese parents need to wean their children away from this culture of money and material goods. The easy access to illicit drugs, alcohol and gambling also needs to be curtailed. The older Sikkimese values of community good, peace and harmony needs to be inculcated in our youth from an early age. Respect for elders, compassion towards all beings and the virtues of a simple life are fundamental values that need to be stressed upon.
Once the youth are gainfully employed and see a glimmer of hope, they will turn away from this dark path they are currently walking on. If Sikkimese society can come together as one, we can end this alarming rise in crime and violence and once again have the distinction of having the world’s lowest crime rate.
Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author/writer and not of The Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted in his/her email id.
BY Amrit Sharma. The author is Masters degree holder 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.