05 Mar 2011 04:21 am IST

Tea embargo kicks off to extract more


Darjeeling, March 4: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today upped the ante by enforcing an embargo on the first flush of Darjeeling tea to fulfil en extended charter of demands, which include housing and medical benefits, apart from a double hike in wages for garden workers in the hills.

Morcha chief Bimal Gurung had announced earlier that the embargo would be in force from March 7 if the wages were not hiked by the previous day. However, the party changed the tack and advanced the embargo today as “gardens have started manufacturing the first flush.”

“We have learnt that some gardens have started manufacturing the first flush and that is why we have decided to advance the embargo,” said Suraj Subba, the general secretary of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union.

Besides the demand for the increase in the wage from Rs 67 to Rs 120-154, the union affiliated to the Morcha sought negotiations with garden owners on dearness allowance (DA), variable dearness allowances (VDA) and uniform rate for extra leaf price. The other demands relate to housing, ration, firewood, clothing and medical benefits.

Asked about the reason for raising more demands, Subba said: “Wage negotiations take place once in three years and it is a routine practice to place a charter of demands before the talks.”

Among the new demands is a hike in the DA, which is payable to the staff and sub-staff. “Since the agreement on wages and other payments is for a period of three years, the industry would not pay DA in the first year. Garden employees get DA at the rate of 8 per cent and 16 per cent for the second and the third years respectively,” said a source. (more…)

05 Mar 2011 04:17 am IST

Delhi changes Karmapa tune

The Telegraph

New Delhi, March 4: India has indicated it recognises Ugyen Trinley Dorje as the Karmapa, signalling an about-turn by the government whose China policy has been marked by caution.

Home secretary G.K. Pillai today became the first central government representative to refer to Dorje, 25, as the “Karmapa”, and declared him the second-highest Tibetan monk after the Dalai Lama.

Till now, Delhi would make no bones about its suspicion that Dorje was an agent of China, which had crowned him the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa at Tibet’s Tsurphu monastery.

“The Karmapa is a spiritual leader. He is second in ranking to the Dalai Lama,” Pillai said. “Currently, the Karmapa is in prayer and by the end of March he will write to the home ministry (about) how he will put his house in order.”

Last month, Himachal Pradesh chief secretary Rajwant Sandhu too had referred to Dorje as the Karmapa.

Yet, just five weeks ago, a senior central government official had said Dorje was “not a Karmapa” after Himachal police seized Rs 8.5 crore in Indian and foreign currency from his residence and arrested some of his aides. Security agencies accused Dorje of planning to build “Chinese-friendly Tibetan institutions” across the Indian Himalayas.

Sources said the Centre’s correspondence always referred to Dorje as a “Lama” and as “one of the claimants to the Karmapa seat”.

The policy shift comes after protests against the government action on Dorje, who has followers worldwide. Sources said New Delhi got isolated because the Dalai Lama himself recognises Dorje as the Karmapa and recently gave him a clean chit.

The Karmapa’s office is now being probed by the Enforcement Directorate and the directorate of revenue intelligence. Pillai today said steps needed to be taken so that a spiritual leader like Dorje did not get into such embarrassing situations in the future.

A year after Dorje’s January 2000 “escape” to India, the NDA government’s cabinet committee on security had decided “he is not in our interest”. The UPA ratified the decision in 2004, sources said.

04 Mar 2011 04:32 am IST

Gorkha protests bleed north Bengal

Shine Jacob
Kumani / Darjeeling
March 3, 2011, 0:44 IST

Economy takes a hit, with tourist arrivals declining 70% and tea production 17% since 2008.

“Tell them you are not a Bengali.” The survival tip from a top Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leader was almost ominous.

Streets draped in green-white-yellow GJM flags, a small procession on every street, road blockades and candle-light vigils gave an appearance that the hills were backing the Gorkhaland movement, or, perhaps, just wanted to sever ties with West Bengal.

The resentment was against the West Bengal government’s policies, or the lack of them. But, ironically, the agitation demanding a separate Gorkhaland has been slowly, but steadily, eating into the economic backbone of this part of the state.

With strikes and bandhs becoming a daily affair in the last three years, tourists are deserting their once-favourite holiday destination. The streets used to be buzzing with tourists and the economy zoomed, with the lush tea industry. But for Darjeeling and North Bengal, that’s history.

Today’s reality is a 70 per cent drop in tourists and a significant impact on an already stressed tea industry.

“The number of tourists has halved since the movement by GJM gathered steam in 2008,” says Darjeeling Chamber of Commerce President B M Garg. (more…)

04 Mar 2011 04:27 am IST

From Himal Magazine: A Lepcha in your own land – Peter Karthak

On being an ‘outsider’ in Kathmandu and remembering the past.

At the very outset, I must be a village explainer: Firstly, my full name is Peter John Karthak, and this name has been a frequent irritant in my life. Secondly, I am a Lepcha, a far-eastern aboriginal nationality of Ilam, in Nepal, a group duly enshrined in the country’s official ethnic list. But Nepali bureaucracy and even the country’s intelligentsia are not fully aware of my tribe’s existence, thus leading to doubts about my own Nepaliness and aggravating my identity as an irredentist. Contrary to this identity, however, I am not one to advocate for reclaiming my people’s native lands, parcelled out to other newly created Southasian countries during the 20th century; I am only labelling myself as somebody who is chronically uprooted by the region’s recent history.

Adding to my irredentism is the fact that, thirdly, I am a fifth-generation Christian, a rare bird for the majority Hindu and Buddhist populace of Nepal. Fourthly, I am taken as an immigrant from Darjeeling, and such a creature is called prabasi in Kathmandu. Fifthly, though my ancestral roots are in Ilam of Nepal, the then-His Majesty’s Government of Nepal granted me a naturalised citizenship certificate, and this does not help address my irredentism – as further exacerbated by, sixthly, the additional fact of having been born in Shillong.

Seventhly, being tossed in and around my family farm and the tea gardens of Darjeeling before settling in the district headquarters of Darjeeling – where the native Lepcha are being reduced to a miniscule minority in the much-vaunted Gorkhaland – further added to my internal irredentism. Eighthly, as a Lepcha, I could claim Sikkim as my new home, too, if not the other sanctuaries in the Lepcha world, but Sikkim’s own various turmoil were more discouraging than welcoming. So I ended up in Kathmandu, whose ownership of me is yet to materialise, even after 44 years of dwelling here.

Ninthly, had I not been a child who never saw his father, my irredentism would not have arisen in the first place; rather, my parental firm address would have solidly anchored me somewhere. Tenthly and lastly, were I living somewhere within a fold of the ancient Lepcha realms, I would not be an irredentist. Technically, I belong to Kathmandu, yes, but ethnically I belong to a territory that once embraced Ilam (in Nepal), Darjeeling and Sikkim (now in India) and west Bhutan. But since none claims me, I belong spiritually nowhere. As an irredentist, I am thus practically invisible. My parts are scattered; so the sum, the total, is far from being whole. (more…)

04 Mar 2011 04:23 am IST

Fast withdrawn

The Telegraph

The Morcha on Thursday lifted its indefinite hunger strike in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Gorubathan.

The withdrawal came on a day when the Centre asked the Bengal government to shift those on fast to hospitals. Fortunately for the Left Front government, the Morcha lifted the fast before anything was to be done.

Five Morcha members each had been on fast at the four places since Friday to demand a CBI probe into the Sibchu police firing. The party withdrew the hunger strike as the government couldn’t recommend the CBI probe after the model code of conduct had come into force with the declaration of polls.

Meanwhile, the GNLF today formed its Kurseong branch committee with Palden Lama as its president.

04 Mar 2011 04:23 am IST

Tea wage link with polls – Morcha eye on plains

The Telegraph

Darjeeling, March 3: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha hopes a decision in favour of its demand for the revision of wages for tea garden workers will impact the results of the Assembly elections not only in the Darjeeling hills but also in the Dooars and the Terai.

Bimal Gurung, the president of the Morcha, had threatened on February 27 that if the wages were not increased from Rs 68 a day to Rs 120-150 by March 6, the party would put an embargo on the despatch of the first flush of the Darjeeling tea from the next day.

However, sources said the Morcha would start blocking the despatch of the first flush from tomorrow to exert more pressure on garden owners.

The Morcha has raised the demand for the workers in 80-odd gardens in the hills. The current wage agreement is applicable only till March 31 and a revision is slated to come into effect from April 1, a fortnight before north Bengal goes to polls.

The Morcha believes if the gardens agree to raise wages substantially, then the party will be able to consolidate its position in three Assembly seats in the hills and earn goodwill in the Dooars and the Terai. Such a deal will help the Morcha make inroads into the plains, where the unions have less bargain power to fetch workers higher wages.

The majority of voters in the hills, the Terai and the Dooars are garden dwellers. According to figures with the Tea Board of India, there are about 53,492 workers in the hill gardens. While 39,680 are dependant on the sector in the Terai, the number of garden workers in the Dooars is 1,68,867.

Observers say since the Morcha is having sway over the hills and the demand for the wage increase is accompanied by a threat, there are chances that the plantations will agree to hike the workers’ wages at least partly to meet the Morcha’s demand.

“If that were the case, operating unions in the Dooars and the Terai and their political parties will be in a tight spot. They would be seen as not working in the interest of tea garden workers,” said an observer. “Besides, no parties have demanded a hike in the wages of late in the Dooars and the Terai and looking at the way unions function in the plains, it is unlikely that they will reach a consensus.”

In fact, the trade union affiliated to the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikash Parishad had sometime back sought a wage increase from Rs 68 to Rs 250.

“The demand by the Parishad is unlikely to be met by the gardens in the plains as most of them are financially not very healthy,” said an industry insider.

03 Mar 2011 03:16 am IST

SUMI basks in 125 yrs of glory

The Telegraph

Kalimpong, March 2: The Scottish Universities’ Mission Institution, one of the oldest schools in the Darjeeling district, will celebrate its 125th anniversary with a three-day event starting on March 10.

The school, which was started by the Scottish missionaries in 1886, has catered for the educational needs of not only the students from the hills, but also from neighbouring Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal.

During the programme that will end on March 12, hundreds of Sumians, the members of the school alumni, are expected to gather to reminisce and thank the institution for stoking the flame of learning in them.

Principal of SUMI, Nava Ratna Pradhan, said the celebrations would begin on March 10 with a candlelight service and a prayer for the Sumians and the teachers who had departed.

“A special prayer for the school will also be held at the Mac Farlane Church in the morning of May 11,” he said.

The church in Kalimpong is incidentally named after the founder of the school William Mac Farlane.

The students of the school will put up cultural programmes during the event in which other institutions of the town and the members of the alumni will also take part.

SUMI was set up with funds from the Scottish Universities Mission Association, an association of four Scottish universities under the guidance of the Church of Scotland.

The institution started functioning as a training school for teachers and catechists on April 19, 1886 with 12 students.

“The student strength now is about 2,500. We have classes from the primary level to Class XII. We are the only school in the hills to offer agriculture as a vocational subject in higher secondary,” said the principal.

According to him, the school had very little time to prepare for the celebrations because of the political situation in the Darjeeling hills.

“We started our preparation about a week back after receiving an assurance from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president (Bimal Gurung) that our celebrations will be exempted in the event of a strike,” said Pradhan.

Tshering Tamang, a senior teacher of the institution, said the school was planning to organise many more programmes during the year. “We will organise more events in June, August and November. However, the programmes are to be firmed up. We will also be honouring the past and present teachers during the three-day event,” he said.

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