Status of the Newars in Sikkim
Vis-à-vis the Black Hill
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
All the Best! - May the Best win, Serve the Best!!
~ ~ ~
Many were not aware that we have been here for such a long period as most of the people here are under the presumption that either we came with the land much before or since some generations back we do not know exactly. Most of us have forgotten the outstanding epoch-changing contributions made by our forefathers to make Sikkim what it is today. This might be due to lack of proper records even of historical background of this once Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim, perhaps. Mere our presence here in Sikkim make us proud to be a descendant by virtue of their foresight, grit and determination, dedication and courage that they came here invited finding them already a successful business entrepreneurs in neighbouring Darjeeling. This Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim was not like the present Sikkim, where industrialists find choice paddy fields as their playfield to take best out of the place with hills and vales as the best resort to extract its resources. Taksari Chandrabir Newar and his brother Taksari Laxmidas Newar had come invited to the malaria infested thick forests at a terrain deemed not be very productive but to be received by a hostile residents. It was the tact and shrewdness, dedication and determination, courage and strength all combined that saw them emerging successful in the power tussle that followed when they first came to Sikkim. Slowly and steadily they not only established their supremacy in the region but also soon won the heart of those who were earlier much against them and their settlement with much needed man-power to bring in civilization and development in Sikkim from that part of the little Himalayan Kingdom now known as Rhenock for place called the Black Hill.
Durbar Era (till 1900): a. the first and only Sikkim Durbar/ Government coin minted from the copper out of the mines excavated here only exactly after 50 years when the Newars had started it in Bhojpur that celebrated recently 200 years of the Mint in Nepal; b. agriculture land for cultivating rice and other crops by land terracing system hitherto unknown in this part of the Himalayas though the place was also known as Denjong, the valley of rice; and c. introduction of the revenue system that much added to the government exchequer to facilitate many other development activities thereafter.
British Era (1901-1946): a. Recognition of their outstanding contributions in the region to bring home for the Newars much honoured and coveted title of Rai Saheb as many as six to the illustrious Taksari family that out-poured to neighbouring Kalimpong sub-division in Darjeeling Hills; b. The Chandra Nursery established by Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan with his brother Babu Durga Shamsher Pradhan of Rhenock in 1910 that catapulted to put this tiny Himalayan Kingdom in the world floriculture map to make it possible at that time when Sikkim was yet untouched by modern conveniences.
Modern Era (1947-1975): Post Independence era saw Sikkim much embroiled politically that ultimately led to the merger with the country not much to the comfort of the people who loved to be dependent but not to that extent as to the loss of their unique identity since the ages. It was a fate accomplish that they had to swallow at the cost of their dignity with its ruler dying a martyr's death to many.
Present Era (1976-2015): Turn of events that followed merger of Sikkim with the mainland India, good or bad the Himalayan State has benefitted a lot bringing in again good and bad of the intermingling with the winds of change from the plains sweeping the hills though some gushes came from the neighbouring hills to influence much the otherwise calm and tranquil environment here. What the unrest of the majority population aggrieved brought has far been overdone by the subsequent inflow from the plains, it seems. Plenty of funds from the central government saw changes to be noticed between this side of the Teesta and the other side. So much so was the difference or the division four decades later that even they found a different classification of the Gorkha with the Nepali people in this part of the Himalayas. When the Nepali language was given the status of the official language here at a national level three decades ago, both the terms were mentioned lest there be any doubt or ambiguity on the issue. This has given much scope to play with to the people taking miles out of it, instead of benefitting what it actually could be best utilized for in the development of the language and literature besides matters associated with it.
As regards our own Newar language much has to be done to reach the stage when people here in Sikkim can see it at high school level. During the Book Preview function held recently for 'The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim', higlighting the historical background of the Newars in their mainland Nepal, Prof. (Dr.) Pratap Chandra Pradhan rued about the status of the Newar language that was listed as one of the threatened languages in the country. Die-hard Newar friends in Nepal do not accept their language to be threatened or dying but it is so here. The position here was clarified to them when they asked as a comment to a picture that we had posted showing us (Ranjana and I) being interviewed by the lecturer-in-charge Dr. Samar Sinha of the Sikkim University with a research scholar two years ago. Dr. Pradhan had opined that if they had text books approved at least up to the senior secondary school level, it would be easier for them to push forward from the Sikkim University side for its recognition at the college and higher level gradually. Recently some of the languages spoken here in Sikkim viz. Bhutia, Lepcha and Limbu have been accorded the status at the M.A./University level. This shows us how far we have to reach in respect of the Newar language as such, while most of the people concerned are happy getting it recognized at as the official language even after two decades along with some other favours that had to be there at par with that given to the others. How much and what we have lost in the process has not even been thought of and realized. They are not satisfied felicitating the same people again and again at the simple pretext year after year without achieving much of their own. So much so is the trend that like someone on Facebook had commented, this side of Mechi we would honour you and that side of Mechi you felicitate us for whatever reasons whatsoever be the occasion as often as possible. This goes very much as a part of our culture here too.
As such it was a poser for many of us when we decided to celebrate 150 Years of the Newars in Sikkim while presenting our recent work 'The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim'. It was launched within a span of five days at three different places (Gangtok, Baltimore and Kathmandu) known for the contributions of the Newars have been predominant in spite of its people being in insufficient number where voice often goes unheard but the custom and tradition, culture and rituals, architecture and heritage have been now assumed to be their own without owing much to our language and literature by according rightful status even in the mainland itself.
It is 150 Years of the Newars in Sikkim and also two decades of the recognition of the Newar language as one of the several regional languages in the state that was recognized at par with the already existing languages Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Limbu and English. An extra-ordinary notification brought out by the government of Sikkim in 1995 brought the Newar language along with five other languages spoken here viz., Rai, Gurung, Mangar, Sherpa and Tamang ( and later Bhujel also) came into the official status fold.This major decision of the government to accord official recognition also made the language lovers proud. This generous policy had made us pause awhile and ponder where we actually stood and what was the status of our language and what steps we should take so that to make best out of it. Besides thanking the Government for the kind gesture, it was an eye-opener this author with his wife Ranjana on advice of the late father/founder of our family trust Karuna Devi Smarak Dharmarth Guthi (established 1995) had brought out immediately thereafter Newa: Varna, Lipi ra Bhasha Parichaya in 1996 with its modified and revised edition in 2001. This book had far reaching effect that reached the message crisp and clear and awareness far and wide about our letters, scripts and language besides showing in a nutshell how varied were these besides the rich culture, tradition and heritage we had to many not only here in Sikkim and its neighbouring Darjeeling hills in this country but also beyond in Nepal. The book was brought out at a time when our language was slowly but steadily losing ground to the influence of other languages and culture. This little book was, therefore, equally helpful to those even in Kathmandu valley, the mainland of the Newars that makes us proud of. So much so that someone wise had once commented that the Newars in Sikkim showing us the way, the day might not be far off when we the Newars in Nepal might have to go to Sikkim to see and seek their help in this regard. But I find that more than here in Sikkim, it is much more in America what to be found during my last two sojourns and tell people the wonderful works towards the preservation and promotion of our culture, language, customs and traditions done by the Nepa: Pasa Pucha: Amerikaye that celebrates their Silver Jubilee later this year during the Nhu Dan 1137 and the Newah Organization of America established 15 years ago with its five chapters doing with some more such organizations like the Newa: American Dabu in Chicago doing there of late. Similarly, we hear of the good deeds of the Pasa Pucha: U.K., Guthi Australia or of those in Denmark, Japan and many other parts of the world where the Newars have reached to explore the fortune for themselves as true to their entrepreneurial trait. So, the reality back home is something different that many here rue about. We could not get a piece of land allotted in the capital that all other communities have got granted from the Government while a Newar himself was the Minister-in-charge of the urban affairs and another claimed to be so to influence. We have, as such, still to go many miles ahead so much so that there is not even a proper Newar Bhavan of our own in spite of the Government grant a decade back.
People here still love to call the place Black Hill and wondering its charred face due to frequent fire rages that engulfed the bazar is true to keep its ancient name for Rhenock (where the Newars landed first 150 years ago and have the Sri 3 Dhaneshwar Mahadev Shivalaya Mandir built in 1884 with the Newar Guthi from the days of Taksari Chandrabir Newar) to signify its fate in spite of its being an ancient heritage blessed land with the golden chapter of our history hidden covered by dust of time and their outstanding contributions being lost in the oblivion much ignored. Or is it thus due to the discomfort of our forefathers in heaven seeing their descendants not coming upto the mark and their influence weaning away slowly and gradually here in Sikkim too that, otherwise, had a brilliant and big influence in the general life of the people and society at large till recently as it should have been keeping to the true colours and rich tradition of being a successful ruling class.
Disclaimer: Since the author owes much to the Taksari Family of Rhenock for they being his maternal lineage, it is but natural the views, as such, more devoted to them in his writings on The Newars in Sikkim. We welcome and invite any further step towards a thorough proper research by scholars seriously to understand and evaluate their contributions or that of the Newars to this Himalayan State and beyond ever since they made Sikkim their new home 150 years ago. 'The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim' by the author could be had of www.rachnabooks.com