Sikkim Summit for Tribal Status kicks off

Until Sikkimese Nepalese are protected, Sikkim won't be protected: CM

Gangtok, 03 May: "Until the Sikkimese Nepalese are not protected, Sikkim won't be protected," Chief Minister Pawan Chamling said while addressing the gathering at Sikkim Summit for Tribal Status 2018, at Manan Kendra in the capital today.

The Sikkim State Commission for Backward Classes and the Department of Social Justice, Empowerment and Welfare, Government of Sikkim, in association with the Eleven Indigenous Ethnic Communities of Sikkim [EIECOS] kicked off the two-day National level summit here in the capital today.

The Chief Minister stressed on the need for the Government of India to expedite the process to grant Tribal Status to all the 11 left out communities - Bhujel, Gurung, Mangar, Newar, Jogi, Bahun-Chettri (Khas), Rai, Sunuwar, Thami, Yakha and Sanyasi.

Highlighting the historical background of Sikkim's ‘unique history’ of integration in the Indian Union through a popular referendum, the Chief Minister said that ‘grave injustice’ has been meted out to the Sikkimese Nepalese.

"Under the Chogyal rule all the three communities [Bhutias, Lepchas and Nepali] in Sikkim enjoyed equal rights," he said.

He cited the example of the parity formula under the erstwhile Kingdom of Sikkim where all the three communities of the State enjoyed the same status with 50-50 stake in power.

The Chief Minister said that the ‘unfortunate’ loss of seats by the Sikkimese Nepalese in the Assembly and subsequent silence of the post merger L.D Kazi government and the then administration's ‘feudal’ mindset resulted in the loss of the tribal status of the majority community, which Government of India was also keen to give.

He also informed that his government has been consistently putting this demand to the Centre irrespective of which party is in power.

Adding further, he stated that it is now up to the Centre to grant tribal status to the eleven left out communities.

He also said that partial justice was given in 2003 when Limboo and Tamang communities among the Nepali communitie were granted tribal status by the then National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government.

"They can also give other communities tribal status as territorial tribals," he said citing similar examples in Himachal Pradesh.

He stressed further that ‘injustice’ has been meted out to the Sikkimese Nepali community who have actively taken part in the democratic movement and nation building without proper understanding of historical perspective.

Mr Chamling also added that Sikkimese Nepalese have a unique identity in the nation but are frequently clubbed with other Nepalese.

The Chief Minister said that there are three types of Nepalese in India, Indian Nepalese who have been living in the country as citizens who have sacrificed their life in Indian freedom struggle like those in Darjeeling, Indian Sikkimese Nepalese who became Indian citizens after the merger and lastly Nepali citizens working or settled in India due to 1950 Indo-Nepal friendship treaty.

He added that tribal status will not just benefit the Sikkimese Nepalese but also all Indian Nepalese across the country.

The Chief Minister further appealed to the Bhutia-Lepcha communities and the already tribal Limboo Tamang communities to understand that securing tribal status for the left out communities will not affect their rights.

He also asked for unity in opinion and to be able to justify the demand.

Going back to 2008 when the Union government decided to provide IT exemption relief for all Sikkim subject holders and their descendants, the Chief Minister added that it was given to all Sikkimese including the Sikkimese Nepalese.

The Chief Minister urged members of the eleven communities not to dwell on criteria like social and economic backwardness but to ‘demand our rights back’.

"We were tribals. We all merged Sikkim with India," said the Chief Minister strongly.

"Government of India must recognize our constitutional demand," held the CM.

Speaking on the identity of the Indian Nepalese, the CM stated that the community still faces identity crisis. He added that questions are still raised on his own citizenship even after becoming the longest serving Chief Minister in India.

"We are equal partners in nation building, we are not here on lease," added the Chief Minister.

He also said that a fear psychosis is being fanned by vested interests pitching one community’s rights against others.

“Despite being surrounded by international borders and turmoil, communal harmony, secular fabric and federal structure have been maintained for the last 24 years," he said.

Coming to the issue of LT seat reservation in the Assembly, he assured members of the Bhutia Lepcha community that their seats and rights will be protected.

"Limboo Tamang communities have not been able to contest due to the existence of the BL seats in the assembly inspite of being equal tribals," he said.

The Chief Minister added that in an ideal situation in line with democratic norms, 60% non tribal Sikkimese population should get 60% of seats in the Assembly and a 50-member State Assembly would be ideal giving all Sikkimese equality.

However, with the State's low population, the government gave the 40-seat formula to give seats to the Limboo Tamang community.

This arrangement however he held was still injustice to the other communities but in the present context, the best solution.

"This all depends on the centre," he stated adding that the centre has agreed to this formula in principle.

The CM asked the Bhutia-Lepcha community to accept the reality of a democratic Sikkim where their interests will be fully safeguarded and not to give in to fear psychosis that their rights will be watered down in any way.

"Let's not repeat mistakes of the past governments," said the Chief Minister.

He further asked the Indian Nepali community in general to be self dependent and to be equal partners in reaping the dividends in a democratic country like India.

The Chief Minister said that the eleven left out communities are dissatisfied due to the historical injustice to the Sikkimese Nepali community.

He further asked all the communities of the state to take ownership as Sikkimese and sincerely hope to get justice.

Former Union Minister for Tribal Affairs and senior Congress leader, KC Chandra Deo in his key note address stated that there should be no politics in matters related to granting tribal status to various communities.

He also gave some details on mechanism that is in place at the union level with regards to recognition of a community as a Scheduled Tribe.

He stated that recognizing only Bhutias and Lepchas as Scheduled Tribe leaving aside the majority Sikkimese Nepali community could have been inspired by the neighboring State of West Bengal where only these two communities enjoyed that status.

Informing the audience, Mr Deo said that scheduling of communities is in the domain of the State and there is no need for Sikkim to follow other cases or even Centre's thrust to accept their proposal.

Mr Deo also stated that a community can be granted different recognition by the centre depending on their location.

He further congratulated the Chief Minister on being the longest serving Chief Minister in India.

KC Deo was the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj from 2011 to 2014 and has been members of both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for multiple terms representing the Indian National Congress.