I chose not to react for a few days after seeing a much-posted, long drawn-out article written by a once very close friend. But silence is acceptance, and there are many things in the personal anecdotal diatribe that have been put out that completely erase my personal history as well, so I thought it was fit to write a rejoinder. Small things like these go on to be recorded as history, so it is important to counteract false narratives. 

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If you read between the lines, the aforementioned article is about two main things: One, the old settlers were always Sikkimese, and Sikkim always embraced them as such. Two, they are just two per cent of the population – so why do ninety-nine per cent have a problem with them being the minority getting equal rights? 

I want to debunk both of those arguments. 

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The Othering of us 

I grew up with the person in question but I don’t agree at all with this rosy picture he paints of us all being Sikkimese since birth. We never treated them like the other, the othering was always from their end. It started with small things: they would never eat out from our tiffins in school, they would never come for our family weddings, maybe out of their religious convictions, because those days, we had no concept of vegetarianism. Also, in every Sikkimese function, be it a marriage or death function, there was and is alcohol at some point, and they were strict teetotallers during those days. So they ‘othered’ us. Never invited us to any of their family functions nor came to any of ours. Nor did they integrate. The majority of them, including the person writing the article, never married a Sikkimese. They always wanted to marry someone from their ‘desh’ (country). So it was always apparent that their ‘desh’ was not Sikkim. This ‘desh’ also always came up during our winter holidays, when most of us went to our ‘busties’ (village), and they always went to ‘desh’. Even before we talk about citizenship and rights, we have to talk about a sense of belonging. If Sikkim was never your ‘desh’, where is the belonging? 

The business community never fully integrated with Sikkim – never intermarried like how the rest of us Sikkimese did. If that had happened, this would never have come to be. All of us would have had badas, kakas, mamas, maijus and sundry other relatives from the community and we would have all stood up for your rights. But unfortunately, we don’t. So maybe, it is time for some introspection for the community. Just living somewhere for x number of years does not make you part of the social fabric. Integrating into society makes you part of one.

One small instance. Growing up, we Nepalis never even had a temple in Gangtok (Thakubari was granted to the business community by the Chogyal after repeated petitions. We Nepalis never petitioned the Durbar for a place of worship), we always went to Enchey Gumpa, called lamas for prayers, and all children wore sungdis. Nepalis ritualised the use of Khadas for every important occasion, be it birth, death, weddings or religious functions. We integrated with our Bhutia-Lepcha brothers and we borrowed from them. They did the same. Together, we created a culture that is unique and that separates us from our roots from wherever we might have come from. The business community has had no role to play in the creation of the cultural identity of the Sikkimese and cannot now appropriate our social and cultural identity to suit their means. They want to be Sikkimese just for financial gain. We, the Sikkimese, chose to be Sikkimese because we chose the soil. 

Citizenship comes at a cost 

The aforementioned article talks about the issue of citizenship through an emotional lens by providing personal anecdotal history. But I want to stick to facts. I come from a very old family in Sikkim and we have records and Durbar documents going way back to the 1800s, but not all Nepali families had that. There were Nepalis who had moved here in the 1920s, 30s and 40s and when the Sikkim Subjects regulations Act was passed in 1961, there were Nepalis who still had land in Nepal or ties there. But since the condition for Sikkimese Citizenship was forgoing any citizenship or immovable property outside of Sikkim and since the population was so small, they had to prove it. Outside of the old entrenched Nepali families, the rest had to show cancelled land ‘parchas’ (records). So, whoever chose to be Sikkimese had to sacrifice whatever ties they had outside and no matter old or not. That is what makes us Sikkimese.

Collectively, we gave up whatever else we might have had to be Sikkimese and our Chogyal at that point accepted that. There was no discrimination between Nepalis invited by Durbar proclamations in the 1800s to set up terraced fields and who went on to become Tehsildars and Mondals, to Nepalis who came much later. If you gave up your past to become Sikkimese, it was enough. I sent our Citizenship Act to many of my friends globally and they all agreed that it was probably the world’s most democratic Citizenship Act! Despite that, if you did not want to be citizens, you never integrated but now you claim to be Sikkimese and we seemingly held you as one – that is just a testament to how tolerant we are as Sikkimese and not a testament to how Sikkim is in your blood. 

Help sustain honest journalism.

Citizenship comes at a cost, you can’t hold ties to your roots and claim citizenship and the benefits of that without forgoing the litmus test. You Chose to be Indian while we Chose to be Sikkimese – you were not part of our struggle to be Indian, you already were. So if our erstwhile Chogyal chose to ensure that our rights and privileges were safeguarded within the Indian Constitution, I’m sorry those rights were not safeguarded for you because you never chose to be his subjects in the first place. Stop swaying us with the sentiment. That, we have in plenty. Let’s just talk facts now. 

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. Views expressed are personal.

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