Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sikkim team rescued from Srinagar

Gangtok, 13 Sept [IPR]: The nine-member team from Sikkim stranded in Srinagar was evacuated from yesterday morning and taken to an army camp at Bandal Bal, 20 Km outside Srinagar.
Out of the nine, seven people led by Diki D. Bhutia left for Leh in the afternoon of 12 September and reached Leh this morning. They are now accommodated in a Government Guest House at Leh and efforts are being made to air lift them to Delhi as early as possible.
The other two officials who were based in Bandal Army Camp were airlifted to Delhi today afternoon.
All the members of the team will be arriving Delhi by tomorrow the 14th September and back to the state by 15th September.
After the communication was restored to some extent, the State Government officials were in touch with the officials as well as with different agencies including Army as a result of which prompt evacuation of the stranded officials of the state could be managed with the help of the Army.

79% voter turnout for Rangang-Yangang bye-poll

NAMCHI, 13 Sept [IPR]: According to the latest data received, the final percentage of voter turnout in the Bye-Election of 15 Rangang- Yangang Assembly Constituency is 79.22%. The April election had received a marginally higher turnout at 82.53%. 9,309 of the slightly over 11,747 electors in the constituency exercised their franchise today. In April, 9,695 electors had voted.
The total number of polling stations in the constituency is 14 whereby the final number of Female voters reported till 5p.m. was 4343 and Male voters was 4966.
As per the report there has been no violence recorded at any of the polling stations of 15 Rangang- Yangang so far.

The Viswa Bharati Outrage



Pic 1: Rally taken out by student fraternity of Kolkata organized by the Sikkim Students Association of Kolkata
Pic 2: 
Visvabharati – The general body of students of Viswa Bharati university also mark their protest and support for their fellow student from Sikkim. 
Pic 3:  
Sikkim univ – Peace rally held by students of Sikkim University in Gangtok.  
NEED FOR A RENEWED COMMUNION BETWEEN NORTH EAST AND THE REST OF INDIA
FATHER OF VICTIM SEEKS A SYSTEM FOR SECURING THE ENVIRONMENT FOR NORTH EAST STUDENTS - RANJIT SINGH.
Tagore wanted to bridge the gap between the East and the West and so established the Viswa Bharati University at Shantiniketan. The Nobel Laureate believed in open air education and had his misgivings about teaching imparted in four-walled enclosures. Given the recent events and circumstances at the University and other regions as well, these four walled enclosures have become synonymous to our blinkered minds and mind space. The belief of Tagore that walls represent the conditioning of the mind seems to have a direct resonance with the tunnel vision, brittle mindset and cheap outlook that our youth seem to be adopting. A major causative factor contributing to this development seems to be the entire learning model of present day India and its players from teachers to politicians.
The way Sikkim’s daughter and her family were castigated and made to suffer further humiliation at the hands of certain professors and others at Viswa Bharati University after she had been molested, blackmailed and victimized by a group of seniors is a horror story in itself. It exposes a huge vacuum of trust, respect, commitment and adherence to a basic humane ideology and any kind of a value system. In spite of this vacuum, the girl from Sikkim found the courage and steadfastness to speak out and this, as always, is infectious. A few days later another girl came out with her story of suffering saying that the girl from Sikkim had given her the courage to speak up.
The way the girl from Sikkim stuck to her story, the manner in which she persevered in the face of open hostility, the way her parents stood by her, the way the entire student fraternity of the north east came out on to the streets to protest and demand action - is inspiring. This should not be allowed to fade and be lost in the cacophony of our ravaging thoughts and chores. Something beautiful can be built upon this foundation that has been created.
The father of the girl, talking to Sikkim NOW! from Burdwan, West Bengal, echoed this sentiment.
“There should be a system for securing the situation of north east students. A commission to look into the security of students from north east has been established by the centre but there needs to be an initiative on the part of the student fraternity itself. North east students all over the country need to unite and put into place a system wherein all first year students can avail all necessary information about the institutes of their choice; this can be disseminated by the senior students. The can put in place a central committee for awareness generation, for sharing of information, counseling etc.”
His idea of such a body is that it would familiarize the students, particularly the first year students, on the environment, administration, faculty and related matters. At the same time it would also maintain a database of north east students and pass on information to their respective state governments. This is definitely a workable idea and something that needs to be kick-started at the earliest. The father of the victim girl also expressed that he was ready to share his experience and fullest cooperation to any such initiative.
Viswa Bharati means communion of the world with India. If nothing else, Tagore’s university may yet play a focal role in bridging the gap between India and the north east.
The Incident
TRAUMATIZED AT VISWA BHARATI’S KALA BHAVAN BY STUDENTS AND FACULTY
The Bolpur police have arrested 3 of the 4 accused in the molestation and blackmailing of the Fine Arts student from Sikkim at Viswa Bharati University. The fourth accused has not even been identified as yet. A senior Sikkim student at the university informs that the fourth person is not a student. The girl, according to information, had been stripped, had her pictures taken in order that she could be blackmailed and extorted. On the other hand, as the senior student from Sikkim informs, the university authorities didn’t support the victim and rather conspired to cover up the incident.
According to reports, on 08 August, three seniors from the University forcefully took her in a car and then tried to sexually assault her. They stripped her, took pictures and threatened her saying they will circulate it if the girl narrates the incident. The girl was even forced to cough up Rs 4,000 by the boys according to the complaint lodged with the university authorities. The incident came to light only in the last week of August and was picked up by the media in early September. The university administration, till then, had been attempting to cover up the incident, resorting even to intimidating and harassing the girl and her parents. They were almost kept in confinement and not allowed to approach the police under the pretext of discussions. In fact, the university authorities initially denied any such incident. It was only with the girl’s perseverance and the support of fellow students that the university, finally on 30 August, lodged an FIR with the police. The police, in turn, have been cooperative and have appointed a lady SI, Nandita Das as the investigating officer of the case.
The girl is also alleged to have been beaten up by the accused in order to dissuade her from going to the police. While this is not confirmed she has been hospitalized due to the severe trauma she experienced.
“She was first sent to the Syon hospital on the night of 3 September where a CT scan was required; however there were no proper facilities here so she had to be taken to the Burdwan hospital at around midnight. She was taken there on a vehicle and the police provided security. She reached Burdwan at 2 a.m.,” informed the victim’s fellow student at the Santiniketan university.  The girl has suffered severe mental trauma. The CT scan came clean, it is informed. However the girl was so weak that she had to be provided with saline drips, inform the victim’s fellow student.
With mounting media and student pressure, the college administration finally lodged an FIR with the Bolpur police. Talking to SikkimNOW!, a senior student from Sikkim informs that the 3 accused who were arrested have confessed to their guilt. “They have also stated that the principal of Kala Bhavan along with 3 professors and 2 senior students attempted to cover up and conceal the incident,” she informed.  And since this incident has been given wide media publicity a couple of other similar complaints by girl students have also emerged putting the Tagore varsity in a further mire of dark suspicions and conspiracies.
In fact reports suggest that the current VC has been accused of sexual harassment in the past.
“We are trying to provide all the help and support we can,” says the senior student referring to the concerted efforts of students from other north east regions including Darjeeling and also other ‘general’ students. She adds that Burdwan is over an hour’s distance from Santiniketan so it is not all that simple to take the journey and with classes still on. However she informs that two students are there to provide company and support. As per the father of the hospitalized girl, she was due to be discharged on 10 September. “Thereafter we will return to Sikkim”, the father informed SikkimNOW!
He is yet to lodge an FIR however he informs that he would lodge one as soon as his daughter has recovered. He said that he would also file a complaint against the university administration for their role in his daughter’s harassment.
THE STUDENTS DEMAND
Support has poured in from all quarters for the girl from Sikkim harassed and victimized by her seniors at Viswa Bharati University. Students have protested and rallied in Kolkata, Santiniketan and Gangtok in a show of solidarity. It is not just students from north east who have been demonstrating but students from all over the country who have participated in these rallies.
On 7 September a group of six students met with the UGC fact finding team and put up a charter of demands to the UGC; included in this team was Diki Choden, a senior student from Sikkim pursuing her PhD at Viswa Bharati team. She talks to Sikkim Now on the demands list submitted:
The victim girl has decided not to pursue her studies at the university then she should be allowed admission into any college of her choice where she can pursue Fine Arts.
The girl should not be harassed. Often in such cases there is an attempt to malign the girl and her character. This should not be done. The authorities have been trying to conceal and blame the girl instead. This should stop.
The safety and security of victimized girl should be ensured. The security around the campus also should be enhanced with mobile patrol vans so that all girls in the university feel secure.
The University should not put any restriction on the movement of any student especially girl students or put any conditions on the movement of students.
There should be proper dissemination of information about the internal committee on prevention of sexual harassment, its functions and on the committee members. The students need to be made aware about this committee. Information about this committee should also be included in the University prospectus so that students know that such a committee exists.
Demand that the Vice Chancellor establish a Gender Sensitization committee and publicize it. All faculty members other employees of the university should be made to attend gender sensitization workshops. This workshop should be organized and facilitated by an external agency.
Ms. Diki informed that the vice chancellor has agreed to form a gender sensitization committee and has already notified all departments of the university on it and asked them to send representatives.

Crimes against women in the country as a whole is a sad reality but women from the North East are particularly vulnerable to such acts because of a cultural disconnect between mainland India and the North Eastern region.  Women from the North East living in the metros especially New Delhi have for a long time been the target of violence.
SOME CASES THAT MADE HEADLINES
Jan 2014: Two young women from Manipur were thrashed in full public view by some local goons at Kotla Mubarakpur in New Delhi on 25 January 2014.
Feb 2014: A 14-year-old girl from Manipur was allegedly raped by her landlord's son on the night of 07 February at south Delhi's Munirka area. The victim was staying with her relatives.
May 2014: Three people including a woman lawyer were assaulted at the Tis Hazari court, New Delhi on 23 May, allegedly by a mob of about 30 lawyers. The trio had gone to the court in connection with a molestation case filed by a student from the North East against an advocate. On 22 May, a woman from Nagaland, studying at the Delhi University was allegedly molested by a lawyer at the Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station in North Delhi.
May 2013: AS Reingamphi from Manipur was found dead in her rented accommodation in Chirag Dilli. There were signs of assault on her nose, face and legs. The girl's relatives submitted a complaint to the police accusing the landlord and his brother in law of sexually assaulting and murdering her, but no action was taken. It was only after three days of pressure and after protesters gathered in various parts of Delhi that the police lodged a complaint.
Dec 2010: A 30-year-old call centre employee from Manipur was picked up by four men in Dhaula Kuan and gang raped in a moving vehicle. she and her colleague also from the north east were dropped outside the gate of their colony by the office cab driver. they were barely 100 metres away from the gate when the four men, travelling in a goods carrier abducted one of them
Oct 2009: Ramchanphy Hongray, a 19-year-old from Manipur was sexually assaulted, strangled to death and her body burnt at her rented apartment in Munirka by Pushpam Sinha, a PhD scholar of IIT Delhi.
May 2009: A call centre employee from Mizoram was gang raped in south west Delhi in 2005. The 20-year-old Delhi university student was abducted by four men traveling in a car. she was later dumped in Dhaula Kuan.




World Suicide Prevention Day observed

GANGTOK, 11 Sept [IPR]: In observance of the World Suicide Prevention Day, an awareness cum sensitization workshop was held at the European Conference Hall, STNM Hospital, Gangtok, on Wednesday. The workshop was organised by the Non Communicable Diseases Division of the Health Care Human Services & Family Welfare Department in collaboration with the Psychiatric Department of Sir Thutob Namgyal Memorial Hospital.
Chaired by Dr K Bhandari, DG cum Secretary, Health Department, and attended by Dr PM Pradhan-Mission Director, Dr Yogesh Verma , Medical Superintendent STNM Hospital amongst others, the programme took off on a solemn note with a two minute silence observed in the memory of the suicide victims.
Dr PM Pradhan, the Mission Director addressing all the HOD’s, health officials and the media personnel present said that suicide is a multifaceted issue with complex ramifications that needs to be solved with utmost care and tenacity. Dr Pradhan stated that Sikkim is the nation’s first state to have a District Mental Health Programme implemented in all the districts. He affirmed that the State is well equipped with Psychiatrists who specialise in suicides and added that efforts to control deliberate self harm right from the grassroots levels are in progress.
He also lauded the recent heroic effort of a home-guard who jumped into the river to save a person from drowning.
Dr. K. Bhandari declaimed that World Suicide Prevention Day is an important day and that it should be prioritised in view of the increasing suicide rate. He further discussed the many causes of suicide and greatly stressed on the fact that the society at large needs to come together and make collective efforts to understand and prevent suicides. He emphasised the need for every individual to be pro-active and be aware of suicidal signs as this is the very first cry for help for a person in distress. Dr Bhandari vocalised the role of the media in playing a positive role in overcoming the issue.
The programme was concluded by Dr CS Sharma , Head of Psychiatry Department , STNM who thanked all the HOD’s , Officials and the Media present .
The programme was followed by an interactive workshop for the Media Personnel where a slideshow was presented by Dr N Thapa, Consultant Psychologist .
During the interactive session, Dr KJ Tobgay, Additional Director, along with other officials answered doubts and concerns raised by the Media and elucidated them on the issue. The Media were also briefed on following certain guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation in reporting and writing about such cases. The workshop concluded with suggestions from the Media to work in tandem with all the concerned authorities to successfully prevent suicides and bring peace back to the Society.

Teachers’ Day 2014

GANGTOK, 06 Sept: Two teachers of primary and secondary level from each district were conferred with the state award on the occasion of Teachers' Day on 05 September in the state level Teacher's Day celebration held at Chintan Bhawan. The awardees are Pemkit Lepcha PRT, Lingzya JHS; Indira Tiwari PRT, West Point SSS; Sakuntala Subba, PRT, Sadam SSS; Bhakta Maya Tiwari PRT, Gyalshing Girls SS; Karma Chomu Bhutia, HM, Pakshek JHS; Tshering Chuzom Lepcha, GT, Modern SS; Mathias Tamang, HM Ratepani SSS and Harka Bdr. Khamdhak, GT Darap SSS were honored with the state award.
The function was chaired by Minister, Human Resource Development Department, RB Subba as the chief guest. The Minister handed over cash prize of Rs. 2 lakh to the National awardees 2013, Sangkit Lepcha, PRT, Pakshep JHS and Dinesh Pega HM Dodak Secondary School.
Commendation certificates were also handed over to the fifteen teachers from the state. Kunzang Wangchuk Lachungpa - Gairee PS, Ongkit Lepcha - Martam SS, Agam Dhar Dangal - Tumin Namrang JHS, Tshering Dorjee Tamang - Amaley PS, Shanti Giri - Maypong PS, Dhan Bdr. Thapa -  Simchen PS, AT Lepcha - Hee Yangthang, Samten Lepcha - Lingthem JHS, IB Panicker - Mangan SSS, Deoraj Sharma Tadong SSS, Kailash Thapa - Rangpo Bazar JHS, Deepak Kr. Sharma - Melli Payong JHS, Sakun Gurung - Namthang SSS, Rinzing Sherap Bhutia - Tashiding SSS and BB Rai Khechuperi SSS received the commendation certificates. On the occasion a number of  schools holding top three position in various streams of class ten and twelve board examination 2014, were also conferred with the awards.
Compendium document of North District HRDD was also released by the chief guest on the day.

Thupten Kunga Memorial Table Tennis Championship - A fitting tribute to a devoted teacher


Table Tennis in Sikkim owes a lot to Late Thupten Kunga, who has coached not only the present generation of paddlers but also future generations as his students who have now become coaches themselves take his teachings and the spirit of the game forward...
SAGAR CHETTRI
Late Thupten Kunga who was the State Chief Table Tennis Coach till 2008 when he died in a tragic car accident has contributed immensely to the development and popularity of the game in Sikkim. "Married to Table Tennis", as he would often say of himself, the hardworking and dedicated coach has produced many table tennis players, from national and regional level players to some who have now become table tennis coaches themselves.
In recognition of his hardwork and contributions and also to pay homage to the Late Coach, the Thupten Kunga Memorial Table Tennis Championship was started in 2012 by the State TT Coach, Norden Bhutia with the support of the Sikkim Table Tennis Academy, Tadong. Since then, every year his students and many others come together to participate in the tournament in his memory.
This year, the 3rd edition of the tournament was organised together with the 8th edition of the State Open Veterans Table Tennis Championship 2014 at Paljor Stadium indoor gymnasium hall from 07 to 09 September. The three-day championship was organised by Sikkim Veterans Table Tennis Association [SVTTA].
More than 250 paddlers from different parts of the state as well as St Joseph's Convent and Rockvale Academy from Kalimpong participated in the championship. The championship had 07-year-old Eunice Rai of St Thomas as the Youngest Participant and 65-year-old PJ Lama as the Oldest Participant. There were altogether 18 categories from U-12 cadet to 50 years’ plus in veteran’s category.
Speaking to NOW!. some of his students share their deep gratitude and respect for the Late Coach.
State TT Coach, Norden Bhutia, who was also a student of Thupten Sir says, "Thupten Sir has played a great role in developing and promoting table tennis in the state, producing lots of quality paddlers. It is great to see his students coming together to play and conduct this tournament in his name every year". He assures that this annual tournament will be continued in the future.
National player Zarina Rana, who is Table Tennis coach In-charge [West District] says, “I started playing table tennis under his guidance at the age of 11 and for everything I have achieved so far in table tennis the credit goes to Thupten Sir”. She also adds that he always engaged parents of TT players in the game in order to better develop and promote it.
Another national player, Mandira Gurung says, “I started playing table tennis when I was 8 years old. Thupten Sir taught me how to hold a racket correctly and I have learned whatever I know of the game from him".  He was very punctual and dedicated to his work and would be coaching students from early morning to late in the evening, she adds.
Former general secretary of Sikkim Table Tennis Association, Karma Bhutia credits Thupten Sir for producing lots of national players from the state. "Those students who started table tennis with Thupten Sir are now working as table tennis coaches in the state", he says.
“As a person he was a gentleman and a dedicated coach who developed the game of table tennis in the state. I never saw him dressed in any formal attire. Always in a tracksuit he would be busy teaching his students all the time,” Mr Bhutia added.
As his students compete with each other to be the best, the Thupten Kunga Memorial Championship is a fitting tribute to a devoted teacher.

Politicking over tragedy

Editorial featured in the Kashmir Times
J&K floods demand quick and effective action, shrill politicking can have devastating impact
The unprecedented rains and floods playing havoc with life and property in almost every nook and corner of Jammu and Kashmir is too serious a concern for any politicking to crop up on this issue or any other such calamity. The death toll has crossed the 150 mark and as weather begins to clear up, an assessment of casualties and destruction will reveal a more horrendous picture. Added to the images of devastation are the threats of health hazards and major epidemics for which the government needs to begin gearing itself. It goes without saying that the state government’s disaster management is both too centralised and inadequate to address even a small to medium calamity with a degree of efficiency which may ultimately need some genuine introspection and drastic measures. However, this might not be the occasion to beat the government with a stick, engage in nit-picking and indulge in some petty blame game.
The magnitude of the floods and the scale of damage is far too high for even the best of disaster management programmes to succeed at this juncture. What, however, would help is prompt administration, co-operation with political and social groups and a larger and wider networking with common masses caught in the fury of the rains and floods. Given the tough terrain and topography of vast regions of the state, it requires a greater degree of patience, calm, co-operation from all quarters and pooling in of all resources in terms of finances or manpower. It would be detrimental to everyone’s interests if local political groups including the ruling parties find this an opportune moment to engage in their petty mud-slinging combats or scoring brownie points in run up to the assembly elections. While co-operation from all sectors is important, the onus is indeed on the government to ensure that it heeds the voices of complaints from all including opposition political groups and address their issues instead of switching into a vindictive mode.
It is unfortunate that BJP, which is the ruling party at the centre, and could have played a more responsible role in offering maximum central assistance, has started on a wrong note. The central government headed by the BJP first turned a cold shoulder and instead focused on issues, that may be significant but long pending and are not pressing emergency issues demanding immediate attention. Instead of playing dirty politics, the centre should act with the magnanimity that the issue deserves and give all possible aid both in rescue and relief work at this trying juncture that the state is facing. Though a belated chopper visit was made on Saturday by union home minister Rajnath Singh after some criticism, it has come only after a rash and ugly display on Friday of misplaced priorities and also not enough to show the sincerity of the government and its concern for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Even during his visit, Rajnath Singh, instead of restricting himself to the flood situation, again raked up politically controversial issues. The follow up action was not aid and assistance of the magnitude that the tragedy requires but more chopper visits, this time by prime minister Narendra Modi himself. Such chopper rides in times of disaster have become a futile political tradition that only end up being a major drain on the public exchequer. The focus instead should be on making the administrative set up effective and efficient and ensuring better co-ordination between the state government and the Centre. At the same time, the central government should pay attention to the demands of declaring the J&K floods as a national calamity and offer liberal assistance. It would also require the state government to improvise its own apparatus to check the misuse of such assistance by plugging the channels of corruption and misappropriation of money. The affected population is in extreme distress and that should be the only priority.

Local communities join hands to take up road repair works

Communities across the state are rising up to the challenge of bad road conditions in their respective localities by coming together to initiate road repair projects. While this is laudable it also puts a curious question mark on the responsibility of the concerned department. Locals have shown initiative and enterprise in various places in and around Gangtok like Ranka, Penlong, Arithang, DC Court and Lumsey.
With the concerned department failing to respond to the demand for repair of these arterial roads, local residents, community organizations and taxi driver associations have now taken it upon themselves to take up such work.
Last Thursday, the Arithang local taxi drivers association, local residents and members of the civil society repaired around one and a half kilometers of road from Hotel Shere Punjab to Arithang school.
“There are around 110 taxis that ply in and around the area and use the road regularly, and then there are private vehicles too. The road condition here was so bad that we had to carry out repair works immediately. Since we had done this in the past as well, we decided that all of us would pitch in some money and manpower to get the road fixed since this is our bread and butter,” states Ravi Thapa of Arithang local taxi drivers association.
He informs that this year instead of celebrating Vishwakarma Puja, all the drivers decided that they use the funds collected to repair the roads instead. He states that the local community also helped in the initiative by donating materials and manpower for the works that lasted for two days.
A similar initiative was also undertaken up a couple of months ago by the local taxi drivers associations who ply their vehicles through Sichey to DC Court. There were stretches along this route such as the one near Thumi Sambotha school which was proving to be a big headache for the taxi drivers and commuters alike.
More recently residents of Lumsey, Tadong also worked long hours last week to get a road stretch towards the government school fixed since the inconvenience caused due to the bad road condition was not just limited to vehicles.
“The road was in such a bad condition that even pedestrians were facing big problems. School children had to negotiate the heavy slush along the road which was turning out to be a major inconvenience. Since the road is a major thoroughfare for every resident living in the area, we decided that we should do something about it,” states a local resident of Lumsey who is also member of the committee of various social organizations here that joined hands to take on the endeavor.
The Ranka road stretch is also in such a bad condition that the local taxi drivers and the general public of the area decided that some major sections where the road condition was turning out to be dangerous should be repaired immediately.
The local residents and taxi drivers instead of waiting for the concerned authorities to act upon their demand to repair the roads (that was last done when former President Pratibha Patil visited Sikkim) decided that a community approach should be taken up and those trouble spots which were proving difficult for vehicular movement at least be made safe and negotiable.
“This was not only the demand of the local residents but also the thousands of tourists who come visiting each season. With each passing day the road condition was getting so bad that even vehicles were getting stuck in the heavy slush, which is why the concerned locals and taxi drivers decided that they would do their bit to make the road safer,” states Yudha Singh, President, ICFAI stand, Lall Bazaar.    
This approach to tackle the condition of the suburban roads through community participation would be incomplete without mentioning the initiative taken up by area MLA, Kabi-Tingda, Ugen Nedup and the local residents of Penlong who decided that they repair the road stretch from Penlong to Dikchu which had been blocked since the 1990s.
In what can be called a big achievement for local residents and an exemplary community approach to deal with the deplorable road conditions in their locality, the residents, the MLA and his core group with the help of power developers, Sneha Kinetic opened the road for vehicular traffic after a hiatus of almost three decades.
“The government always waits for the estimates to be made high so that a major tender can be floated, however within this span, the local community has to face the brunt of the negligence of the concerned department and has to deal with the inconvenience. Thus it was decided that we would do this work on our own,” states the MLA.
He also mentions that the local community completed the work and made the roads negotiable for jeeps, which was a big achievement since a community had risen above their dependence on the government department.
“The local community had demanded this road to be repaired for a long time now, until we had had enough and we decided that we do it ourselves. With the manpower of the locals, equipment from the power project and finances collected through small donations, we started and completed the work in about a week, something that would have taken the government months and required finances that would cross Rs 50 lakhs,” stated the MLA.
 

Rough Roads, Good Neighbourhoods

Pic1:Arithang
Pic2:  Lumsey
Pic3: Penlong:
TIRED OF WAITING FOR THE OFFICIAL MACHINERY TO GET MOVING, LOCAL COMMUNITIES JOIN HANDS TO TAKE UP ROAD REPAIR WORKS
Road users across the State are rising up to the challenge of bad road conditions in their respective localities by coming together to initiate road repair projects. While this is laudable it also puts a curious question mark on the responsibility of the concerned department – the people’s initiative obviously coming because the concerned agency is dragging its feet. Locals have shown initiative and enterprise in various places in and around Gangtok like Ranka, Penlong, Arithang, DC Court and Lumsey.
With the concerned department failing to respond to the demand for repair of these arterial roads, residents, community organizations and taxi driver associations of such affected areas are increasingly taking it upon themselves to take up repairs instead of endlessly waiting or perpetually complaining.
Last Thursday for instance, the Arithang local taxi drivers association and residents of the area repaired around one and a half kilometer of road from Hotel Shere Punjab to Arithang school.
“There are around 110 taxis that ply in and around the area and use the road regularly, and then there are private vehicles too. The road condition here was so bad that we had to carry out repair works immediately. Since we had done this in the past as well, we decided that all of us would pitch in some money and manpower to get the road fixed since this is our bread and butter,” states Ravi Thapa of Arithang local taxi drivers association.
He informs that this year instead of celebrating Vishwakarma Puja, all the drivers decided that they use the funds collected to repair the roads instead. He states that the local community also helped in the initiative by donating materials and manpower for the works that lasted for two days.
A similar initiative was also undertaken a few months ago by the local taxi drivers associations who ply their vehicles through Sichey to DC Court. There were stretches along this route such as the one near Thumi Sambotha School which were proving to be a big headache for the taxi drivers and commuters.
More recently, residents of Lumsey in Tadong and members of the Naya Koseli Samaj also worked long hours last week to get a road stretch towards the government school fixed since the inconvenience caused due to the bad road condition was not just limited to vehicles.
“The road was in such a bad condition that even pedestrians were facing huge problems. School children had to negotiate the heavy slush along the road which was turning out to be a major inconvenience. Since the road is a major thoroughfare for every resident living in the area, we decided that we should do something about it,” states a resident of Lumsey who is also member of the committee of various social organizations here that joined hands to take on the endeavor.
The Ranka road stretch is also in such a bad condition that the local taxi drivers and the general public of the area decided that some major sections where the road condition was turning out to be dangerous should be repaired immediately.
The local residents and taxi drivers instead of waiting for the concerned authorities to act upon their demand to repair the roads (that was last done when former President Pratibha Patil visited Sikkim) decided that a community approach should be taken up and those trouble spots which were proving difficult for vehicular movement at least be made safe and negotiable.
“This was not only the demand of the local residents but also the thousands of tourists who come visiting each season. With each passing day the road condition was getting so bad that vehicles were even getting stuck in the heavy slush, which is why the concerned locals and taxi drivers decided that they would do their bit to make the road safer,” states Yudha Singh, President, ICFAI stand, Lall Bazaar.  
This approach to tackle the condition of suburban roads through community participation would be incomplete without mentioning the initiative taken up by the Kabi-Tingda MLA, Ugen Nedup, and the residents of Penlong who decided that they repair the road stretch from Penlong to Dikchu which had been blocked since the 1990s.
In what can be called a big achievement for local residents and an exemplary community approach to deal with the deplorable road conditions in their locality, the residents, the MLA and his core group with the help of power developers, Sneha Kinetic, opened the road for vehicular traffic after a hiatus of almost three decades.
“The government always waits for the estimates to be made high so that a major tender can be floated, however within this span, the local community has to face the brunt of the negligence of the concerned department and has to deal with the inconvenience. Thus it was decided that we would do this work on our own,” states the MLA.
He also mentions that the local community completed the work and made the roads negotiable for jeeps, which was a big achievement since a community had risen above their dependence on the government department.
“The local community had demanded this road to be repaired for a long long time now, until we had had enough and we decided that we do it ourselves. With the manpower of the locals, equipment from the power project and finances collected through small donations, we started and completed the work in about a week, something that would have taken the government months and required finances that would cross Rs 50 lakhs,” stated the MLA.
These are new initiatives in Sikkim, but community participation and effort has only limited durability when it comes to repairs and such developments should be seen as clear signals to the concerned agencies to take quicker decisions and become more responsive to the people’s woes. These band-aid efforts should be received as embarrassing signals for those in charge to deliver on their responsibilities.


Sikkim rebuilds

3,000 HOUSES CONSTRUCTED UNDER RECONSTRUCTION OF EARTHQUAKE DAMAGED RURAL HOUSES SCHEME SO FAR, 4972 ON THE WAY - 
SUBASH RAI
In the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, the State Government launched an ambitious project called Reconstruction of Earthquake Damaged Rural Houses [REDRH] with the view to reconstruct rural houses damaged by the quake. The government resolved to reconstruct a total of 7,972 houses damaged during the earthquake with the unit cost of Rs 4.89 lakh per house with a total central allocation of Rs 391 crore over a period of three financial years 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14. The project is fully funded under the Prime Minister’s Special Relief Package from the Planning Commission.
As of now, data from the Rural Management and Development Department reveals that of the 7,972 allotments, 3000 houses have been completed and handed over to the beneficiaries.
As per RMDD Special Secretary, Dr. Sandeep Tambe, the remaining 4,972 houses are in various stages of construction and the government is planning to handover 500-plus houses to beneficiaries on 18 September next week on the third anniversary of the 18/11 earthquake.
RMDD Secretary, DR Nepal, further informs that the aim is to hand over all 7,972 REDRH houses to beneficiaries by December 2014.
On complaints from the beneficiaries/ contractors of late supply of materials and funds, Mr. Nepal informs that the scheme is fully Centrally-sponsored and the State Government has to depend on the Centre for funds to be released. This can take time sometimes.
“We submitted the Utilization Certificate to the Central Government in the month of December 2013 but due to Parliamentary elections which came in between, the funds have not been released so far,” he said adding that the State Government has received assurance that the funds will be released any moment now.
As per the White Paper of the State Government on the high intensity earthquake of 18th September 2011 [released in December 2012], the Government has given the following reasons on why progress of REDRH scheme appears slow:
• Finalizing the technical house design took time: Consultation with experts and others
• Finalizing the strategy for stock material purchase and management which is transparent and fair. 23 lakh bags of cement and 2lakh quintals of TMT bars need to be not only purchased transparently, but also provided to 7,972 destinations as per requirement without pilferages
• Establishment of Block Level Stores for the first time
• Prioritizing 7,972 of the total12,548 beneficiaries following a transparent criteria in special gram sabhas
• Inadequate staff at Block level: Existing technical staff at the Block level (1 AE and 3 JEs) are already constructing 6,000 houses under Rural Housing Mission and implementing flagship programs like MGNREGA, IAY, NRDWP, TSC, BRGF, NSAP and various other state programmes
• Shortage of masons and labour: Already 6,000 houses under REDRH are under various stages of construction
• There is an acute shortage of masons and labour to build the houses.

The REDRH houses are of RCC frame with a slab roof and having a plinth area of 605 square feet. However, in few remote areas, option of GCI roofing has been provided. The total floor area of the house should not be less than 605 sq feet and RCC with 9 columns (1 feet x 1 feet) and RCC beams of (1feet x 1 feet). The walls should be half brick walling over RCC frame and flooring should be Cement Concrete with RCC Slab 4 inches thick roofing which include minimum one toilet along with septic tank.


Monitoring & Evaluation
Special Monitors: 29 senior officers from the Govt of Sikkim of the rank of Special Secretary have been assigned the task of monitoring each Block along with 29 supporting officers
District Level Monitoring: By District Level Committee headed by the District Collector.

READERS’ CORNER the space where you share anecdotes and experiences

Roscou - Our Pot of gold
Ongden Lepcha
Our pet dog was born on 05 May 2013 but came to us when he was exactly one- month old. With light cream coloured coat, the playful pup named Roscou by my wife would sleep in the laundry basket, pooping everywhere in our bedroom. As the days went by he grew in size and also started following us everywhere we went. I began taking him along on my morning walks and his indiscriminate pooping around the house gradually stopped.
As mischievous as pups usually are, he tore up my son’s school tie, curtain holder made by my wife, shred my slipper's elastic buckle which I still wear. Despite all this, we never yelled at him since we knew he was teething.
Anecdote 1: We were walking around in the neighborhood at Singtam with Roscou in tow on a leash. As we approached an ancient broken down jeep, a dog barked from underneath it. In seconds we were encircled by a pack of ferocious looking, feral or stray dogs. These four legged living beings sniffing the air, barking and growling angrily made me worried. I hurriedly picked Roscou and held him between my arms, close to my chest. To add to our woes, one dog was trying to leap up to my chest which made the situation even worse. It sent a shiver down my spine. With no other option, I asked people nearby in a low pitch to shoo the dogs off. It worked and we heaved a sigh of relief. A hair-raising experience never to slip from my mind.
Anecdote 2: One day, I was home early. As usual he jumped at me and wagged his tail. I commanded him to sit which he did, yawned and rolled over the cemented floor. I was surprised to see what was in his mouth when he opened his mouth to yawn. To confirm, I grabbed his mouth and opened it to get a closer look. To my horror, a piece of stick was stuck horizontally between his molar teeth on the upper-jaw. I immediately called my wife who gently pulled out the stick with her bare hands. It was a thin, carved piece of bamboo stick, approx 2.5 inches long. There was some blood trickling out of the base of his molars. She applied honey to stop the bleeding and also to ease the pain. The stick must have found its way into Roscou's mouth as he was chewing on it playfully.
Roscou is now fifteen months old, furry, light-gold, intelligent, friendly and looks like a Golden Retriever. He understands and follows a few basic commands (eat, sleep, go, no, come, sit, in-the-bathroom). He deserves a pat on the back for his intelligence and has become the talk of the house. We bathe him depending on how dirty he has gotten. Roscou likes to be blow-dried after a bath which is usually my wife's responsibility. I tried bathing him once but gave up after having poured some water on him. It is too complicated a job.
Roscou is never chained, moves freely and loves playing. He also hunts mice in the godown located on the roof of our house. Butterflies and insects are his other favourites although he never eats them. He still sleeps in our bedroom because we do not feel like letting him out of our sight. His loud barking at visitors also helps break the ice. While earlier he would often get car sick, now he prefers to sit by the car's window with his head hanging out.  Roscou is magnificent and full of beans.
What I like most about Roscou is his tail. It is furry, shiny, wavy, with a mix of long light-gold and white fur. This thick ball of fur reminds me of a plant miscanthus nepalensis, a native of eastern Himalayas. It is beautiful to watch the terminal drooping plumes (flower heads) of this plant when gusts of wind strike it on a sunny day. Immature plumes on the inside are light-gold and shiny which sway when there is a blast of wind - worth watching at close quarters. Our living room used to dazzle when it housed this plant in the past.
Roscou is lovable, faithful and brightens up our days when nothing else does.

PERSON OF THE WEEK

SIKKIMESE EXCELS IN JOURNALISM: Karma Paljor has been a rare exception in the success with which he has excelled in mainstream journalism despite hailing for the margins. Karma is now a TV journalism veteran specializing in business and economic reporting and regularly hosts news broadcasts on English news-channel, cnn-ibn. His professionalism received a strong endorsement on Wednesday when he received the prestigious Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards [for 2011]. Karma received the Business & Economic Journalism (Broadcast) award for comprehensive investigations into the corruption within Air India. The awards were presented by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Express Group MD and chairman Viveck Goenka. Here is one more opportunity for the State to bask in the reflected glory of its achievers.

For blurbs:

LitNow!
…on the beautiful slopes of Kalimpong - frozen smoke writing history with a bright ink
The journey that had begun as a morning walk, had transformed into a dark peripatetic madness.

One Morning, April 1984
DORJEE TSHERING LEPCHA, 1957-2008

When seven-year-old Phurchu woke up, he was surprised to find his father watching over him, gravely.
Phurchu had a bed that creaked whenever he moved, reminding him of his grandfather who had this irritating habit of grinding his teeth, whatever were left, for no reason. But his father had taken care not to rock the bed when he sat on it. From his bed, Phurchu could see his mother in the kitchen, sitting on a mura, crying.
He wondered why…
She would normally have been cooking at this time. Especially today! It was his birthday!
Phurchu had not been seeing much of his father. This time as well, his father had been away for three days and three nights. But he had learnt to take his father’s unannounced disappearances as routine, quite like the frequent closure of his school, sometimes for weeks on end, even when there were no festivals around. Much like the processions on the roads, menacing CRPF personnel parading everywhere, frequent retorts of gunfire bursts (which, to Phurchu, did not at all resemble the sound gathered from the movies) and between them, the silences louder than the exploding bombs, the burning of houses that he could see from his window on odd mornings on the beautiful slopes of Kalimpong - frozen smoke writing history with a bright ink. All of these had played so often that they had become normal occurrences for the seven-year-old.
For Phurchu, the best part of course was not having to go to school. He was having a ball.
He distinctly remembered his father’s arrival last night. His sleep was broken due to the banging on the door which initially he thought to be another spate of exploding bombs, but when he heard his mother’s admonishing tones, he knew who had arrived. He had tried to get up, but sleep benumbed his limbs and the 5-kilo quilt pinned him down like an opportunistic wrestler. He heard his mother and father talk in urgent, heated whispers. After sometime his mother had started crying. That had somehow lulled him to sleep.
And now…
“Get up Phurchu. We have to take a walk.”
His father forced a smile that made him look insane.
“Mmm…!” Phurchu showed no enthusiasm on this unusual proposal.
He pulled the quilt over his face and pretended to still be asleep.
“Come on, son. A He-Man never feels lazy to go for a walk. Aren’t you a He-Man?” Father coaxed him and gently pulled the quilt off his son’s face.
His voice carried the trace of a blocked nose.
“I feel too cold to go, Apa. We’ll go after the sun comes out, okay? After breakfast?” Phurchu made a last ditch attempt to procrastinate.
“No, no. Your Apa does not have that much time. A good boy always obeys his elders.”
He held his son’s hands and pulled him up. Phurchu rubbed his eyes and yawned.
“Are you going again? Where are you going?” Phurchu tried to make his father guilty by exaggerating his disappointment.
“You’ll know soon enough,” he replied cryptically and pushing the small shoes near the bed with his foot, said, “Just put on your sweater and shoes. You can wash your face later. Come on, hurry up. I don’t have all day.”
A reluctant pair of feet disappeared into the canvas shoes while the older man found a sweater for his son. He made Phurchu put his head through the neck of the sweater and helped him slip his arms in the sleeves. Once the son was ready, his father examined his handiwork with satisfaction and said, “We’re all set. Let’s move.”
As they proceeded towards the door, Phurchu stole a glance at his mother; she had not spoken all this while and was looking blankly over an empty pot, eyes swollen. A subtle stiffening in Phurchu’s hand around his finger made his father turn. He looked at his wife resignedly for a minute and said, “You hear, there? All the money is in the left drawer. I’ve left the keys on the table. By the way, don’t forget to burn the papers in the other drawer, all of them. Phurchu and I are just going to have a chat while we walk.”
She began to sob even more as the two walked out of the house, on to the road.
The road stretched its long arms both ways and seemed to be enjoying the scratching brooms of the municipality sweepers. A look at his watch told him that it was only five, but the morning was bright enough even without the sun.
Once, a bright artist from Dr. Graham’s Homes school had painted an imaginary aerial view of Kalimpong. The work was considered a masterpiece and as though to acknowledge its due worth, it was displayed in all the schools of Kalimpong. This painting, a sizeable 24”x30”, depicted the town with the Deolo hill on the north, Durpin in the South and the two rivers Relli on the east and to the west, Tista.
Phurchu had also seen the painting. The overhead picture of his own town was amusing for him. When his father had remarked on how the town had grown, Phurchu had silently disagreed; he thought, looking at the picture, it seemed that instead of the town growing in the middle of the wilderness it was the wilderness that was swallowing up the town. And in some ways he was quite right. For such was the township of Kalimpong that the moment one left the road and took one of the side roads, the scene changed dramatically like in some revolving theatre and one could end up in a moment on some dusty path leading down to the village.
It was one such path that the father and son took, the damp clay sticking adamantly to their shoes. The path danced abundantly and suddenly hid behind a large jackfruit tree. For a moment Phurchu forgot his morning lethargy, curious to find out how the path would unfold.
They walked without a word. Among the shallow terraces they saw goats fornicating in front of a hut. Phurchu was well aware of the act and just to overcome the embarrassment he asked his father, “Where were you for the last three days?”
“I was working,” he said tersely and seemed determined not to elaborate.
Phurchu sensed it and did not pursue the issue. He longed for his bed.
“Why did we have to come out so early!” he grumbled.
“Because you have to learn a lot of things.”
The father was fumbling for something in his trousers pocket.
“What?”
The frown wrote lines of confusion on his forehead.
“Things... There are many things you don’t know. And you have to learn fast.”
“Why?” Phurchu was perplexed. It was so easy to get back home – just turn and run.
“Because you don’t have the time. I don’t have the time myself, you know!”
“What do I have to learn exactly?” Phurchu had a feeling he was stirring a hornet’s nest.
“Tell me, what would you like to be when you grow up?”
The father opened his conversation as though playing a riddle.
Phurchu thought for a while and said, “I’d like to be like Philip uncle.”
“A bus conductor?” The amazement of it made the father halt and stare at his son. But his gaze eased and a wry smile spread on his lips. Then he continued, “So you want to be a bus conductor. Okay!  Fine… You can make a killing as a bus conductor as well. After all it’s money that matters. Who cares whether you are a conductor or a contractor.”
He fell silent for a while. Phurchu was thinking about the metal pistol Philip uncle’s son Sanu had, that did not break even when used as a walnut cracker.
“But as a conductor, or anytime when you’re in a moving vehicle, you have to keep one thing in mind,” Phurchu’s father was saying, “You should never stick out your tongue and you should never pick your nose.”
“Apa, I want to pee.” Phurchu said to his father.
When they came to a thick bamboo grove that opened up like an umbrella at the canopy, the father gently released Phurchu’s finger. The boy, who still carried sleep in his eyes, walked behind a tree, slipped down his pajamas and peed. Suddenly, his father came running to him, shouting, “Stop Phurchu! You’re pissing on your own shoes.”
Phurchu turned to look at his father, unsure of how he was supposed to do what his father wanted.
“Always remember, son, before you take a leak peel it like this…,” he said actually pulling down his son’s foreskin, and continued, “Otherwise you’ll end up ruining your clothes. Understand?”
The boy nodded, but he could not pee anymore. After waiting for some time they continued.
“Why shouldn’t we pick our noses or stick our tongues out in a bus, father?”
“Because roads are bad; they are full of bumps and puddles and holes. When the buses jerk and jolt you could end up biting your own tongue off or your finger might get shoved further up your nose. That’s why you should not stick your tongue out or pick your nose in a bus, or in any vehicle for that matter. Can you remember that?”
Not waiting for his son’s reply, he walked up to a poinsettia bush and started taking a leak himself. Phurchu looked longingly towards the town, imagining a hot plate of fried rice in front of him.
“Actually, you should write all this down. It will stand you in good stead in the future,” his father said, zipping his fly.
“Can we go back now, Apa? I’m hungry.” Phurchu said, almost begging.
His father pretended to look at him in mock dismay. He said nothing but gestured that they should carry on.
Just then the bell at the MacFarlane Church began to ring. As if breaking a trance, it made the whole atmosphere come alive for Phurchu’s father. He became conscious of it and furtively scanned his surroundings.
“Look! It’s just 5:30. Nobody eats this early in the morning. This is time for morning walks. It’s good for health. Remember, even though you’ll hear many people say this, there’s nothing, nothing at all, more valuable than health. This walk will give you a good appetite and better digestion. You’ll see.”
It looked like he wanted to elaborate further on the theme of health, but he abandoned the idea. Instead, he gently put his hand on Phurchu’s shoulder, subtly urging him to move on.
The countryside they were in was actually a horticulture farm. It was to the credit of the people who worked there that the cabbage and radish fields looked healthy and thriving, but the townspeople believed that this was primarily because of the sewage of the entire town which flowed down here. That, of course, did not stop the farm from selling their products in town and the people bought them anyway.
Phurchu held his tiny nose and complained to his father, who seemed impervious to the smell, “Apa, let’s go back. It’s too dirty here.”
“Don’t forget that you and I have also contributed to this smell. Why don’t you try to single out the smell of your own shit! Can you do that?” And he laughed.
“Let’s go back. I’ll be sick,” said the boy. He thought that the grossness of the joke was even more oppressive than the stench. He could not believe that his father could be so indifferent to the suffocating odour.
“Okay. Walk faster,” Phurchu’s father said. “We’ll soon be away from this.”
“Haven’t we already come away too far?” Phurchu asked.
“Yes, we might have. Just watch the path.” And he briskly moved ahead, his son following.
He kept quiet for another minute, and then repeated, “Just mind the path, okay? You might have to return alone.”
“Why, Apa? I can’t go back alone. You have to come back with me,” Phurchu said, starting to cry.
“Don’t start crying now. I was just joking. But do you expect me to be around you forever?” He said with mild impatience. But immediately, realizing the fact that such a question is not exactly reassuring for a kid of seven, he tried to distract his son by rubbing his sole on the grass pretending to have stepped on some shit.
Phurchu’s father looked up towards town which really appeared incredibly far away. The path concealed itself among the bushes like a vengeful snake skulking in the grass waiting to strike. He looked down towards the Relli river and the wilderness that unfurled beyond it in the morning light. A tug at his sleeve made him look quickly at his son and then at the wilderness again, his eyes just a pair of unreflecting, dry niches in the face. Just then, a careless crack of a pipe-gun rang out somewhere below. As if on cue, Phurchu’s father shuffled his feet and seemed to be preparing for something. Nearby a nestling dropped from a tree. Its agonized chattering went unnoticed, no bird came down to take it back to the nest.
“Son, I’m running out of time. I think I’ll have to shorten the purpose of this little jaunt. But even as we do so, I must tell you one thing. That is…” he stopped, as if he was disturbed by the quiet of the morning.
He was holding his son’s hand. He squeezed it so hard that his son squirmed. He let go of Phurchu’s hand, but there was no remorse in his face. All of a sudden his eyes assumed the blankness of a condemned man. The transformation robbed Phurchu of words.
After a while, Phurchu’s father resumed, “That is, you don’t have to always take sides in this world. People always fight for different reasons. Some out of conviction, some without. Do you follow me?”
Some months ago his mother had taken Phurchu to the local Sericulture farm where there was a huge mulberry tree. The gardener there grew pally with his mother and so he shook the tree for Phurchu. The fruits showered thickly to the ground but Phurchu standing under it, palms wide open, could not catch a single fruit. His father’s words reminded him of that day. But he could pick the fruits from the ground then, though.
When he saw no change in Phurchu’s face, his father decided to continue. Phurchu had not seen his father this grave, ever.
“You remember our milkman before the present one? Innocent, plain and harmless? You know what happened to him? He is dead. Shot mercilessly and blindly by the CRPF for nothing; hence, the new milkman. You remember the rooster thief whom Uncle Philip and others caught and was beaten black and blue? Well, the times have changed for him. He is one of the most powerful men now. You might’ve noticed things are not as calm as they used to be two or three years ago. The gunfire, bomb blasts, people running, people chasing – something is going on. You’ll not understand what. But you’ll be a part of it all the same, eventually.”
Phurchu seemed to listen carefully. He did not know what to say. By this time, he had found a roasted pea in his pocket which he promptly popped in his mouth. His father paused only to take a deep breath.
He resumed: “Whatever. Listen carefully. When you are able to understand what is going on now and if ever you find yourself in such times when you grow up, I’ll give you a few hints to remember. To begin with, try your utmost not to take sides. I can warn you that it’s the hardest thing to do, because it might leave you lonely sometimes. Powerful people will proclaim – ‘you are either with us or with the enemy,’ – and torment you.”
Phurchu was totally exhausted by now, physically and mentally. He was too tired to follow his father’s ranting. They were too grown up for him anyway. In fact, he rather suspected that his father was not talking to him at all. He was talking to himself; why else would he be so inscrutable. Phurchu, was really horrified at this thought. His eyes were filled with tears as he looked up to his father, who was unmoved by his son on the verge of tears. He seemed to carry the disquiet of the universe on his face. His eyes seemed dead, the mouth, however, spoke, “But if you do end up taking sides, then know how to fulfill it. For instance, if you side with the people fighting against the administration, then your commitment should be undivided. You are in it for better or for worse anyway.”

The two had come a rather long distance and the town was no longer even visible. Here, the bamboo grove was denser, the path muddier. All the cottages were thatched, attached to the ubiquitous cow-sheds that reeked of dung. The stray people around looked dirty and scared. Phurchu, his eyes moist by now, mustered all his courage and in a voice that sounded like the un-oiled door of a metal almirah, begged his father, “Apa, I’m scared. Let’s go back home. Please!”
“Let me finish the lesson first. I’m just about finished. Okay?”
And then, after carefully maneuvering over a log bridge across a small stream, and helping his son safely across, he said, “But woe betide if your loyalties get divided because of your scruples and you try to balance your conscience by going over to the administration to give them the names of those who ambushed the police jeep in August last year. Because that is treachery. And you will, and should, be punished for it.”
Phurchu’s father had to stop at that point because just then, out of nowhere, a young boy in his twenties came running down and glancing at them for the briefest of a second, overtook them. His camouflaged trousers were tucked into his boots. A black handkerchief tied round his head, a homemade gun slung across his back.
As he went bounding down, he jumped over the stream that Phurchu and his father had just crossed. Perhaps he misjudged his leap, for he very nearly fell on his back into the rocky stream; but he balanced himself somehow and threw himself face first into a thick lantana bush. Before he vanished, he had to struggle quite fiercely to disentangle himself from the maze of branches.
For a moment, Phurchu was completely distracted from his own surreal predicament, rapt in that fleeting cameo.
The two stood still for God knows an eternity. When Phurchu looked up at his father, he saw horror in his eyes.
“Apa…!” Phurchu nudged feebly.
The older man suddenly jerked into his senses. He disengaged his finger from his son’s grip and wiped his hand which had gone damp with sweat.
“Come son. Let’s move along.”
And they resumed their walk. After a while, Phurchu’s father began again.
“Now, where was I? Oh, yes. You will and should be punished for it.” And he put his hand on his son’s shoulder and gently pulled him closer, so that their bodies touched as they moved forward.
“But fortunately, there will be more than one group fighting for the same cause. It is always like that, my son. People do like to do things in their own particular way. All would like to be the ones who calls the shots,” Phurchu’s father said, or rather whispered.
It was probably because of the atmosphere around the place. It was too quiet, and perhaps he did not want his voice to carry. And Phurchu was in that state of half sleep and half dread, and the calm seemed to deafen him and noise seemed to lull.
The words of wisdom were coming faster and faster, as if Phurchu’s father had made a tryst with time.
He continued, “Can you remember all these things? Look son, these are really very important things for you. For your benefit, let me repeat: if you have taken a side which is fighting for a very important cause against the Administration, you should never betray your people and you should never, either for your conscience or your personal benefit, go over to the other side. For when your betrayal surfaces, you’ll be on the run. On the run because the group you used to side with, has sworn to spill your blood and the Administration, after getting a taste of your flair for treachery, will do everything to suck you dry. Phurchu, there is no choice for you but to remember all this.”

By now the sun had started streaking through the mesh of leaves, and now and then hit the trickling water flowing unevenly along the stream. It was getting a bit warm.
Oblivious of all this, Phurchu’s father looked carefully down at the rugged path as far as his eyes could see. Suddenly, he halted and looked at his son whose innocent face told a tale of exhaustion and fear. Phurchu was beyond repeating his plea to return home. All tenderness in his father’s face was buried in layers of unknown agony, remorse and despair. The man took a deep breath as if to conclude a story, and resumed, “So, as I told you there will be more than one group fighting for the same cause. And more often than not, remember, they will be fighting with each other. Or why should they not belong to the same group and fight with the Administration more strongly?”
With that rhetorical question he began his journey again, the end of which the son was totally unaware of, and perhaps, even the father as well. The journey that had begun as a morning walk, had transformed into a dark peripatetic madness.
“But son,” he started, “The risk of an inter-group feud is also an advantage, and you have to use it. Or will you have any other choices? None. Hence, you will be forced to seek asylum with another group. You’ll either be out of perils or you’ll be sacrificed in the name of the very cause they are agitating for. It’s fifty-fifty. That is a gamble you have to take.”
They had come quite far from the town. Halfway between the Relli river and home, the trees were thicker now. Phurchu, because his legs had already walked further than they could, had to be supported by his father even over small jutting stones and gaps in the path. His protests were long drowned by his father’s unsolicited soliloquy and so, taking it as one of those unhappy days that he often experienced in school, he accepted his lousy luck.
All right, he bitterly reconciled, this day I not only have to get out of bed in an ungodly hour, but also delay my breakfast, walk around half the world to this wilderness, listen to all these pearls of wisdom I could do without, and spend the worst birthday morning ever. I’m sure it’ll end soon. It has to.
Just then three boys appeared from the shadows of the trees.
They were in their late teens or thereabouts. Any innocence concomitant to their age had been erased by the soot smeared across their faces. They had an ape-like nimbleness despite being heavily encumbered by the weapons they carried. They looked like veterans of a deadly game.
Phurchu felt a strange limpness in his father’s fingers and his hand was released involuntarily. His father’s face froze.
The father asked, “You do remember the way back home, as I told you. Do you?”
He wanted to say no, but nothing came out of Phurchu’s mouth. He was still trying to figure out what was wrong.
“Very well, then. Time has come for you to find your way to town. You can do it, can’t you? Go now, quick!” And he detached himself from his son and started walking down towards the boys.
“Hello bhaiharu! Came looking for me? I was coming anyway. Did Ongkal get my message?”
Phurchu heard his father approach those boys in amicable tones. His own feet were, like the bamboos around him, fixed to the ground.
“Don’t call us brothers.”
Menace rang in the newcomers’ voice. “You don’t know the meaning of the word.”
And they surrounded him.

Phurchu’s father turned to his son once again and shouted, “Still there? I told you to go back, didn’t I? Now hurry back. I’ve to go to Ongkal on important business. Now go back, hurry!”
Phurchu, who felt he was in some kind of a nightmare, mustered all his strength and will and shouted back, tearfully, “No Apa, I can’t go back alone. Please let’s go back together. I’m scared.”
But by then the boys had already dragged his father long way down, cursing, shoving, kicking and pushing.
Phurchu began to cry. Even long after his father vanished from sight, Phurchu kept calling and crying.
When his father did not reappear even after a long time, and Phurchu had drained all his tears and gone hoarse from crying, he was suddenly overcome by an irresistible urge to go back to sleep. But he fought it. He resolved to wait for his father.
He sat on the dusty path, mouse-like and sobbing, “Apa… Please come back…”
It was mournfully quiet all around.
[This short story was first published in the Sunday edition of NOW! over three issues from 19 April 2009 to 03 May 2009]

Chinese scholarship for Sikkim scholar

China has offered an LLM degree in Chinese Law to a young Sikkimese student and is sponsoring her two-year degree course at the prestigious Zhejiang University, which is also known as the Cambridge of East.
Mukul Rani Parajuli, the youngest daughter of Laxmi Sharma and Bhupendra Sharma (Parajuli) of Tadong Daragoan, recently completed a Master’s Degree in International Law from Jindal Global Law School. She is reportedly the first student from the Northeast to bag a full Chinese Government Scholarship for a post-graduate course in Chinese Law. She left for Beijing on Thursday.
The proud mother meanwhile has expressed gratitude towards the Jindal Global Law School for recommending her daughter for the scholarship. Mukul Rani Parajuli has practiced for more than three years at the High Court of Sikkim under Senior Advocate, AK Upadhyaya from 2009 to 2012.

Modern School honours its senior-most teacher

Modern Secondary School honoured its senior most teacher Tshering Choezom Lepcha with the Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday in recognition of her dedicated service to the school. The award was presented to Ms Lepcha during the school's Teachers' Day celebration held on Thursday.
Modern SS Headmistress, DK Pradhan felicitated the senior teacher with a shawl and the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The other highlight of the celebration was the presentation of khadas and gifts to all the teachers of the school. The celebration also included a host of cultural events by the students.
Speaking to NOW! Ms Lepcha expressed her happiness for being honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the school. “I feel very happy and honoured. I am very much satisfied with my service to the school,” she added.
She hails from Gangtok and did her schooling from St Joseph's Convent, Kalimpong. After completing her graduation from Loreto College, Darjeeling, she joined the teaching profession in the first batch of teachers at Namchi Girls SSS in 1979.  She was posted to Modern SS in 1980 and has since been serving the school. Ms Lepcha will be retiring next year.
In recognition of her dedication and service, Ms Lepcha was awarded with the Commendation Award in year 2005 and also received the State Award this year on the occasion of the state-level Teacher’s Day Celebration held in the capital.
Sharing her long teaching experience, Ms Lepcha stated that a teacher should always work for the betterment of students and the school by putting his or her best efforts. Many who have studied here are now working successfully in the government and private sectors, she added.
In her message to young teachers, Ms Lepcha encouraged them to work for the development and good of the students, school and the society as a whole. Likewise, she urged students to focus on their studies and move forward with dedication and hard work to become better citizens in the future.
Headmistress, Ms Pradhan stated that Ms Lepcha is the most senior teacher of the school who has been part of all the ups and downs the school has experienced over the years. Expressing her appreciation of the role played by Ms Lepcha, she said that the school feels honoured to felicitate her with this Lifetime Achievement Award.
On the occasion, Modern SS also thanked the state government and the HRDD for awarding Ms Lepcha with the State Award in recognition of her service and hardwork.

3rd Inter Departmental Football Tournament

16 TEAMS ENTER KNOCK-OUT ROUND
The 3rd edition of the ongoing Inter Departmental Football Tournament has entered into the knock-out round from 09 September here at Paljor Stadium. 16 teams out of 29 participating teams have qualified for the knock-out round after playing league matches in their respective groups.
THE QUALIFYING TEAMS
Group A- Rural Management & Development Department and Human Resource Development Department, Pakyong
Group B- Human Resource Development Department, Gangtok and Social Justice Department
Group C- Roads & Bridges Department and DESME
Group D- Health Department and Sports and Youth Affairs
Group E- Tourism Department and Higher Education [HRDD]
Group F- State Bank of Sikkim and Gangtok Municipal Corporation
Group G- Power Department and Land Revenue Department
Best Losers - Ecclesiastical Department and Agriculture & Horticulture Department

The tournament has recorded some interesting figures during the league rounds [figures mentioned below are as on 08 September 2014]-
Total Goals Scored- 163 goals
Suicide Goal- 2
Walkover- 1
Red Card- 1
Double Yellow Cards- 2
Yellow Cards- 60
TOP SCORERS
[5 goals each]
Sonam Tashi [Forest Department]
Sangay Bhutia [Social Justice]
Sujan Gurung [HRDD Pakyong]
Tshering Thendup Bhutia [RMDD]
Tshering Thendup [SBS]
Diwakar Rai [RMDD]
 

SPEND THIS WEEKEND...
Teaching and learning with kids of Lingding Junior High School. Volunteer with BREW's Konnect Project which seeks to trigger critical thinking process amongst students by introducing design and innovation as part of the educational curriculum in government schools. You can also donate old books for their library project.
WHEN: Every Saturday.
WHERE: Lingding JHS, take the road towards ICAR Tadong.
GET IN TOUCH: 095 93 385889, brew.gangtok@facebook.com

BOOK RELEASE
'Footprints of the First One Hundred Years (1900-2000)' - The Kalimpong Homes
AUTHOR: Bernard T. Brooks, former Headmaster and Principal of Dr. Graham’s Homes, Kalimpong.
The book was released in Sikkim on Dr. Graham’s birth anniversary 08 September at Rachna Books, Development Area.
ABOUT THE BOOK: The book tells the story of Dr Graham's Homes from its founding in 1900 for a group of underprivileged Eurasians sadly referred to as the ‘Tea Garden children’, leading to the building of the ‘Children’s City of the Himalayas’ during the Graham era. It then deals with the difficult transition period following Dr. Graham’s passing, and finally the emergence of a progressive twentieth century multi-cultural school of repute, while retaining the rich values and traditions of the past.
All proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the Homes.
AVAILABLE AT: Rachna Books
PRICE: Rs 375 [Paperback], Rs 600 [Hardcover]

Potboiler bye-election

5 CONTENDERS, PERPETUAL NAME-CALLING, VIOLENCE, ARRESTS… ALL THE POLITICAL MASALA – FOR ONE SEAT!

One would never have anticipated the kind of heated and intense, and occasionally bitter campaign that a seemingly innocuous bye-election has thrown up. The poll-bound constituency of Rangang-Yangang in South Sikkim has become a throwback to Assembly Elections 2014 which was a bitter and violent affair between the SDF and the SKM, the kind that Sikkim had not seen in decades. The ruling front is clearly fighting for prestige here having already secured a comfortable majority of 21 seats in the 32 seat Assembly. The constituency being the home of Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, the SDF party is going full throttle and has deployed the entire arsenal at its disposal to ensure that this home constituency is in comfortably retained in their pocket in the face of what is building up to be stiff opposition independent candidate RN Chamling, the brother of the Chief Minister, and high stakes campaigning by the BJP for its SKM backed candidate.
A bye-election in Sikkim is rarely much news, at least it never has been. However the changing political landscape here has made even a single seat bye-election a contest. The Chief Minister along with all his cabinet colleagues camped long at Rangang Yangang for several days overseeing the campaign. The seat had earlier been won by Mr. Chamling who relinquished it after he also won and retained the Namchi-Singhithang seat. This would have been a walk-over at any other time, but the kind of campaigning and deployment of manpower at ‘ground zero’ is an indication of how important this solitary seat has become to all political players. The SDF president has reportedly directed all his Cabinet colleagues, MLAs, former Ministers and chairpersons to put in their bit and campaign in Rangang-Yangang.
The constituency has probably never seen so much political activity, perhaps not even during the general elections in April. The ruling party has already lost 14 sitting panchayats who have joined hands with the independent candidate, RN Chamling. While such crossovers were also seen in the run-up to the general elections, at that time, government formation was at stake and unknown. At present, even if SDF loses at Rangang-Yangang, its stay in office is not disturbed, and this throws up interesting interpretations to what the scale of contest being presented here suggests.
Another worrying factor for the SDF is the personal nature of this contest with the now open hostilities between the Chamlings.
That the brother of a four-term CM can contest as an Independent is a sure indicator of changing political possibilities and attitudes of the people towards politics and politicians in Sikkim. The bitter struggle from his home grown contender has left the SDF president infuriated as has been obvious in the tone of his campaign speeches. There were clear appeals and obvious warnings in speeches made in three rounds of campaigning in the constituency.
While many would say it is a two-way fight – between the SDF candidate Kuamri Thapa and the Independent RN Chamling - let’s not forget the BJP candidate, Bikash Basnett, who wore the SKM colours in the constituency in April when he polled a respectable 3,202 votes. His campaign has the SKM backing it full tilt and the BJP bringing in some national leaders to convey commitment.
All ten SKM MLAs are also camped in the constituency in support of their former colleague and now BJP candidate. They have also been denouncing what they see as vicious statements being made by the CM and protested against threats of “development” being denied if the constituency switches sides.
“What does the Chief Minister want to prove by saying that if the SDF candidate loses the bye-election then it is not the party but the people of that constituency who will be the losers? If the people of Rangang Yangang constituency are not satisfied with the SDF government and they want to question and challenge the ruling party, they have every right to do that. What is so sacrosanct about it that the people of Sikkim should identify themselves with the SDF party just because the latter is in power?” SKM leaders have stated in a press statement.  
The BJP may be seen by most as having only an outside chance in the bigger battle at Rangang-Yangang, but it is the scale of this very contest which might work in its favour. Also boosted by the Modi-wave and absolute majority in Parliament, the NE incharge, P Rauth, in his campaign speeches here has lashed out against the Chief Minister using some strong language and displaying open hostility clearly buoyed by the alliance it has with SKM and the confidence of the history-making rout at the national level.
At the end of the day, the battle really might turn out to be limited to the leaders and their immediate circle of supporters, with the around 11,000 electors having already made up their mind. The turnout on the day of the election, 13 September, will be an indicator of the mood and 16 September will reveal their verdict. In April, the constituency registered an 85% turnout [against Sikkim’s average of 80.80% turnout] with 9,976 of the 11,762 registered electors casting their votes. Can Kumari Manger match the performance of the CM, or in the light of this being a bye-election, even improve on the vote-share? Can Bikash Basnet better his performance or will the brother walk away with the constituency thus reducing SDF to 21 seats in the Assembly and giving Sikkim an independent MLA after decades. The answer, on 16 September, the day of counting.

Reap the Tokenism

Editorial:
WHEN INITIATIVES ARE ‘MANDATED’, EXPECT THEM TO BE INSENSITIVE
The horrors visited on the student from Sikkim at the Vishwa Bharati University in Shantiniketan are shocking and disturbing, but not necessarily rare. Criminality, especially offences against women, is more pervasive than accepted and unfortunately less prosecuted than is necessary for women to be made safe in this off-balance society. The criminally-inclined will commit excesses, that is a tendency they have been allowed to nurture and get away with, and every time they are ‘saved’ from the punishment that is due to them and the victim refused the justice that the society owes to her, the perpetrators are emboldened and the victim further smothered into silence to avoid double victimization. Where ‘punishment’ is seen essentially as a deterrent to discourage repeating of crimes, in cases like the one experienced by the girl student at Vishwa Bharati it serves only as a reiteration of the general distrust that people, and specially victims, hold the establishment and its institutions in. The victim in latest case was put through all the expected failures of the institution – from token assurances of relief to overt threats to brow-beating to ridicule to rejection. She has displayed exceptional courage in refusing to be suppressed by an establishment at its domineering best. Her perseverance has emboldened another student to speak out against her tormenters and has united students at institutions beyond her own to take to the streets to protest not just the crime but also the disconcerting frivolity with which the institution which should have looked out for her responded to her complaint.
There should, however, not be any surprises in how the university and its various agencies handled the ‘situation’. Institutions in our country are geared to instinctively stamp out all criticism or potential “embarrassments”. And this attitude, when coupled with the patriarchal reflexes and male-centric allowances that most people make subconsciously, makes for a dangerous mix in which gender sensitivity becomes a stillborn pursuit. The Shantiniketan incident fleshes out all that is wrong with efforts to make public spaces and institutions safe for women. And it is clearly in recognition of these societal failures that special institutions and committees have been established by law to address excesses which most people tend to ignore as “routine”, or even, in offensive displays of insensitivity, as somehow “invited upon” oneself. But when these institutions are introduced without the society at large having accepted the problem they seek to address as such, one stares at tokenism which makes addressing the challenge even more difficult. So most organizations now have gender-sensitivity committees and committees to look into complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace, but these are in place primarily because new laws require their setting up, not because the organizations in question recognize that there is a problem at hand or accept that complainants need stronger representation and more nuanced handling. What such groups then end up becoming are closed committees whose first response is to play mediators and somehow make the “problem” [the complaint] go away. Given the nexus of connections which most institutions and organizations, even societies at large have become, the priorities are often misplaced and reprehensive responses unleashed on victims. These problems and limitations, compromises rather, cannot be corrected with more rules and more laws – what is required is wider sensitivity and a clear checklist of due processes. Since individuals are routinely failing in what is expected of them, the institution should be made such that there is a prescribed code and a transparent process which needs to be followed whenever a complaint is lodged or an incident comes to light. Personal prejudices, and we are a nation which is deeply prejudiced on all issues, need to be snuffed out, and this will happen only when guidelines are detailed and digressions deeply penalized. Until that happens, in the present circumstances, tokenism will continue throwing up more horrors because initiatives, when they require to be mandated instead of realized and felt, will continue to be insensitive.

Walking down 18 Sept 2011 RANJIT SINGH

Come 18 September, 2014 and we will get yet another opportunity to recollect and reflect on the events of 18 September, 2011. This is the 3rd anniversary of that day in 2011 when Sikkim experienced a kind of disaster which set the benchmark for infrastructure development that Sikkim is witnessing today. Sikkim paid a price that day. 66 lives were lost, many were injured, houses were flattened and entire villages reduced to debris. The earthquake triggered a series of landslides which was the major cause for the widespread damages and loss of life and property.
The question Sikkim needs to ask at this moment is how far it has come since that day in terms of lessons learnt. The day was an eye-opener to the indiscriminate and unregulated construction works of all kinds including hydel projects, ill maintained roads along with weak power lines and fragile mobile connectivity. Most of all, it brought home the realization of vulnerability – both to natural calamities and our excesses.
North district was the hardest hit. An entire village was wiped off in Dzongu, roads totally scooped out or blocked by landslides rendering habitations inaccessible. Villagers of Bey, Dzongu had to depend on air lifting of basic necessities by the army. The more courageous ventured on the long trek to Mangan to get rice and other items. With no vehicles able to ply it was a three-day trek back to home with huge sacks of rice and a forest and still usnatble slopes to negotiate. There were labourers as well who wanted to get out and fast. The earthquake had shattered their nerves; many of them, with dumbfounded faces, piled onto trucks to make their way to Singtam and onward to Siliguri – without pay. Many walked down to Singtam from Dzongu and Chungthang. The highway to Singtam was lined with such labourers who didn’t think twice about the long trek downwards. The only thought was to put as much distance between them and Sikkim. So inaccessible was north district that it was only about a week later that photos of the ground situation and damages there could be accessed.
Many labourers also were reported to go missing. With communications out and no information system in place, families, particularly mothers and wives of local labourers waited at helipads for a word; some waited for days at Mangan hoping to see a familiar face emerging from the lines of labourers making their way out.
Chungthang, the epicenter, could hardly be called a town anymore. It was a dead zone with bodies being unearthed for days from debris of collapsed structures. The people waited endlessly for help and assistance. Local administration put up a brave face to encourage the people and provide as much as it could. They also had to cater to Lachen and Lachung which, too, had become inaccessible. One remembers the long walk up to Lachen by then SDM Chungthang. However and as admitted by officials, the north district administration was overwhelmed and found itself ill equipped to handle the magnitude of the situation, as did the entire government machinery.
The most frightening experience for the people of Sikkim was probably living in darkness and without any kind of communication with the outside world for days. All power lines were down along with mobile connectivity. Candles became sought after. Anticipating another tremor people of Gangtok crowded MG Marg which became a large open air dormitory at night. Closed spaces and heights suddenly became unwanted and seemed ominous.
We certainly cannot forget the army and the NDRF which put in all their resources to pull Sikkim out of its daze. Many stranded tourists, labourers as well as locals were rescued by army choppers making sorties to the towns of Chungthang, Lachen and Lachung. These choppers also air lifted supplies and basic necessities to the villagers of these regions. They also opened relief camps. Personnel from the army and NDRF also did a remarkable job in getting the major roads cleared for vehicles and opening communication lines. Locals also came together to donate in cash and kind in order that those in need could avail of basic supplies. South and west districts too, were badly affected by the earthquake but north, particularly Chungthang, remains the face of 18 September, 2011.
Whatever the extent of trauma and loss people, sooner or later, pick up the pieces and continue with their lives. We learn to carry on and get back to our lives, daily chores and our individual train of thoughts and emotions. Sikkim did the same – and is still doing so.