Updates from the One Child Matters team, partners, and supporters.


India Update: Darjeeling Strikes

Darjeeling

Darjeeling best known for its misty slopes and breath-taking views of the Himalayas isn’t quite the same anymore. Much is brewing and no, it is not the teas it is famed for.

In May of this year, the West Bengal government announced it would be introducing Bengali as a compulsory language to be taught in all schools across the state. That was, for the many living in the hills, a slight too many and almost simultaneously one that led to widespread protests, beginning with black flag demonstrations at the Chief Minister’s visit on June 5th, further spiralling into burning of vehicles and stone throwing at the police and para military personnel that have since resulted in the deaths of eight civilians.

A call for a strike, complete shutdown of one and all establishments that include schools and banks, not to mention the hotel and tea industries, in the peak of tourist season and the second flush, has been ongoing since then, today, July 27th being the 43rd day. Almost immediately, the state government in swift measure blocked all internet and cable television services and deployed large flanks of the para military forces in the region.

For those unfamiliar as to why the introduction of a language would spill over into such a prolonged agitation, a little background as to the history of Darjeeling and its role in the state of West Bengal.

Map

West Bengal is the state that lies extreme to the east of the Indian sub-peninsula, the rest of the seven north-eastern states separated by the country of Bangladesh. The only route to and from the north-eastern states is through the town of Siliguri that lies in the foothills of the Darjeeling district.

So what is so important about Darjeeling? The fact that it lies just above what is known as the “Chicken Neck”, a 20km-wide corridor that includes the town of Siliguri and one that connects these seven north-eastern states to the rest of the country.

These seven states as can be seen in the map here share its borders with China, Myanmar and Bangladesh, and almost all these states have had their share of bloodshed, some in the carving of its statehoods and some unfortunately, still.

As far as the history and ethos of Darjeeling itself, its people, language and culture is one that is completely different from that of the rest of the populace that fill the state of West Bengal. In fact, it did not even belong to West Bengal, rather the kingdom of Sikkim, whose ruler, the Chogyal, waged several wars against the Gurkhas of Nepal who had made several attempts to conquer the region from him. A resulting defeat in 1814 led to the eventual signing of the Sugauli Treaty wherein Nepal had to include the territories which the Gurkhas had annexed from the Chogyal to the British East India Company as well.

Later after the independence of India in 1947, Darjeeling was merged with the state of West Bengal. A separate district of Darjeeling was established consisting of the hill towns of Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong and some parts of the Terai region. Since then and spurred on the by creation of Sikkim as a state in 1975, there has been a rising clamour for a separate identity, an autonomous state and the recognition of Nepali as an official language.

While the latter has been acknowledged, with the Nepali language listed in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India as an Indian language having an official status in 1961, the demand for a separate state has been an ongoing one.

For the most part, Gurkhas are a soft-spoken lot, warm and generous, exhibiting a fierce loyalty, a trait well served in the various Gurkha regiments across the world. Unfortunately, for the rest of the country, Gurkhas have often been portrayed and widely accepted as, the bungling idiot who slurs the Hindi vocals and more often than not, is deemed fit to be just the local guard at the door, the chowkidar, a depiction that is understandably most resented.

Over the years, as with other territories’ voices for a separate statehood, the protests while ongoing really had no representation and for the state and capital, Delhi, it was generally perceived that the cause as such would die a natural death. That is until 1980.

Subhas Ghising, an ex-soldier and former teacher had been quite vocal in the demand for statehood since the 70s but it was only in 1980 that the GNLF was born and a formal statement for the issuance of a separate statehood, Gorkhaland presented. In the next few years that were to follow, peaking at 1986-87, the party led by him set this quiet town and the surrounding hills on fire, literally.

It was not uncommon in those days to see smoke spiralling in the distance or hear of veiled threats of decapitation should anyone protest. The whole region locked down, across markets, schools and hotels as violent protests began. The governments, both state and central, moved in brutal force to quell this, the worst being July 27, 1986, where 13 protesters who were burning copies of the India-Nepal Friendship Treaty, died in a GNLF rally in Kalimpong when police opened fire.

After many such bloodied encounters and long consultations, both the state and central governments then negotiated on granting a semi-autonomous administrative body to the Darjeeling hill region. In July 1988, the GNLF gave up its demand for a separate state, and by August 1988, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council came into being, with Subhas Ghising as Chairman who by then won the first council elections.

However, the path since then has rocky at best. While the GNLF continued to rule and win over consecutive council elections spanning two decades, progress otherwise in the hills remained at a standstill.

The region still continues to remain the same with no or very little civic development in terms of roads, electric and water supplies, not to mention medical facilities or the provisions for higher education. There were widespread allegations of corruption across the board that the DGHC and its members were too busy lining their pockets from the state funds, with very little actually being used for the betterment of its people.

And although in a stunning coup led by Ghising’s right hand man, Bimal Gurung, the GNLF were soon ousted and a new party in place, the GJM, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, matters and overall development otherwise, remains at status quo. Any voices of dissent or otherwise have been dealt with viciousness as in the cold blooded murder of Madan Tamang on a busy street in 2010, while the primary suspect, Bimal Gurung continues to walk the same streets, a free man.

These recent clashes and the outpouring of people across the nation and even the world has very little to do with the party ideology, although different factions across the board may speak the same language of Gorkhaland. This time the massive support seen online and in street demonstrations are but the singular cry of a people that have had enough.

Enough of the politics of those whom they had seen as a leader, enough of the forced imposition of a language that has never been theirs to begin with and enough of living a life marred with labels, missed opportunities and misplaced priorities.

Along with the rising cry of Ayo Gorkhali, (here come the Gurkhas) is also the term across almost every social media post, that of #NotMyLeader. However, as clichéd as it sounds, unfortunately, out of sight is out of mind. For Darjeeling and its surrounding towns, all tucked away in the hills, the plight of the common man is something that can never be felt in the bustle of its capital city, Kolkata or even among the seats of power in Delhi.

For most Indians, Gurkhas are foreigners, as harsh as it sounds. Like them, and the rest of the North-east population, they do not look anywhere close to the average Indian, far from it; and furthermore, they do not sound, dress, eat or talk the way most Indians do. There could be no further distance, both geographically and otherwise between the them and us.

So while the clamour grows and whilst the hills remain blanketed under troops and the shutdown, someone really does need to step up to the plate. Whether it is the collective band of new and old factions, or the state and central government representatives is irrelevant. If it is indeed the peoples’ best interests that they seek, then gather they must.

Or else climb every mountain would seem an insurmountable task, a line best sung at school plays. No amount of agitation or strikes, while good publicity, would ever bring that about. In the end it would all just amount to a storm in a teacup and going by the days passing by, perhaps not even that after all. Storm yes, tea definitely not…

A Day Through Any’s Eyes

Cristhian

Hi friends! My name is Any, and I’d like to show you what my day looks like! I am ten years old, and some of my favorite ways to play are with my dolls and my toy dishes. When I am not playing, I am either helping my mother pick up the garbage around our house or going to school. I love school, and one day I want to be a teacher.


Cristhian

This is my mother standing outside of our house. I live there with her and my sister. My sister helps to take care of me – she is 21 years old.


Cristhian

One of my chores is to help my mother clean up around our house. This is what the outside of our house looks like, so we have a lot to keep clean. I have to help her every single day.


Cristhian

I also have to clean in the bathroom, which is where this door leads. So stinky!


Cristhian

This is my uncle, Lalo, and his dog, Canela, outside the entrance to my house. Canela was run over by car and has a broken foot. My uncle lives next door so I see him often.


Cristhian

I took this photo from the street that crosses near my house. My house is a little ways down the path.


Cristhian

My uncle lives right next door to us, and this is him sitting outside his front door. He helps my mom and me a lot because he is so close by.


Cristhian

Some of my favorite things are plants and flowers. This is my garden that I work hard to take care of and help things grow.


Cristhian

My mom taught me to read the Bible when I was young. Now, I read it every day and we go to church every week. I also am able to learn about the Bible and Jesus when I go to the Child Development Center. My favorite book is Genesis.


Cristhian

This is me praying. I pray often; I ask that God protects my family and me, heals all the sick people, and I always thank Him for our food.


Cristhian

Here are two of my nieces! One is 12 months old and the other is 8 months old. They are the daughters of my older sister that lives with us.


Cristhian

This is my best friend, Katherine. We go to school together and are both in the 5th grade. We spend lots of time together and play games.


Cristhian

My other niece was in a science fair. I decided to take a picture of her and her classmates when I was at the fair looking at her projects. I really enjoyed the fair, and am excited to be part of one someday.


Any was so cute and sweet with us when she sat down to share her pictures. We know already that she is going to make a great teacher one day! Thanks for sharing, Any!

A Day Through Cristhian’s Eyes

Cristhian

Hello, everyone – I’m Cristhian, and I am 14 years old! I live with my mom and many siblings in Honduras, and I love playing soccer with my friends, listening to music, and helping my mom with washing the dishes. One day I would like to be a chef so that I can make exotic dishes. Welcome to a day in my ilfe!


Cristhian

My brother and I attend the activities at the Center together. This is one of the games we play with the other children in my age group.


Cristhian

This is the Child Development Center. I have been coming here twice a week since I was 8 years old. When I’m here we do our homework, make new friends, have devotional time, and overall just have lots of fun.


Cristhian

Meet Saul! He is my cousin, and he lives with me, my mom, and my 3 brothers. We are the same age, so we do everything together. He is my best friend!


Cristhian

This is my selfie when I was standing in my living room. I took this photo because I love soccer and I am wearing the shirt of my favorite team – Brazil.


Cristhian

When I am home, I like to help my mom with the chores around the house. All of us usually take turns helping, and today was my day. My mom took the photos of me helping her cook and cleaning the kitchen.


Cristhian

One of my favorite lessons to learn in school is how to build different things. This is one of the projects I made…it’s a little bench! I’ve done several other projects as well, and I am grateful to learn this!


Cristhian

This is the front of my house where I live. My cousin is standing there too, but I didn’t know he was going to be in the photo! Ha Ha!


Cristhian

It takes me about 30 minutes to walk to school every day. Because of the walk through town, I have to wash my school uniform every day to keep without dust and dirt all over it. I’m currently in the 9th grade, and my hope is to go to university and study engineering.


Cristhian

This is my school where I have attended for 3 years. My favorite class to go to is called Technology, which is the class where I learned to make the bench.


Thank you for sharing your day with us, Cristhian! You are an incredibly talented, smart, and caring boy who will continue to grow into a strong leader!

A Day Through Jefry’s Eyes

Jefry

Hello! My name is Jefry and I am 16 years old! Some things to know about me are that I really like school – my favorite subject is Spanish – and that one day I want to become an engineer so that I help my community build good buildings. I also love reading my Bible and playing soccer with my friends. Here are a few pictures from my day!


Jefry

I took this photo when we were about to play games at the Child Development Center. We always have lots of fun playing games together – this game we run around the bottles and do relay races. The three kids in the photo are three of my group mates.


Jefry

Three times a week I go to my old elementary school where I teach a kid how to read. His name is Kevin and he is six years old. I do this because I am part of a foundation that supports my studies, and one of the requirements is that I help other children.


Jefry

One of my favorite pastimes is listening to music. My favorite genre is Rock music, and I listen to it almost every day when I’m in my room.


Jefry

This is my breakfast of champions! I believe that breakfast is very important, and this meal is one of my favorites. It has refried beans, tortillas, and ham.


Jefry

This is my uncle outside the front of my house. I live there with my mom, brother, sister, and grandfather. My grandfather is sick, so my uncles comes and helps with things around the house. Today he was fixing one of the lights.


Jefry

I have three dogs, and this is my youngest dog, Alvin. He can be very defensive, but he is also playful. We are playing outside on the walkway in front of my house.


Jefry

I walk this street every day – it is the road to the Child Development Center and also to my school.


Jefry

Here is my Child Development Center (with the cook standing in the doorway)! I go there every Tuesday and Thursday, and I have been going since the first grade, or about eight years. I like going because I have lots of friends there, and we also get to learn about God.


Thanks for sharing your day with us, Jefry! We know that God is using you strongly in your community, and you will continue to do great things!

A Day Through Nazareth’s Eyes

Nazareth

Hello, my name is Nazareth! I am 14 years old, and I live with my mother and father in mud home that is close to many shops and the river. Please be praying that my father finds employment, and that God would strengthen my mother as she works all day to provide for us. I am so thankful I can attend the center and learn so many things! My favorite class is science, and one day I want to be a doctor so I can help the sick people in my community. Here is what a day looks like through my eyes:


Nazareth

This is Jerry, my favorite cat in the whole world! My brother and I have taken care of him for 6 years. My favorite thing about Jerry is that he always snuggles me when I’m sad. But he can be very naughty and will knock things off the table.


Nazareth

This is the park in front of my school. It is special to me because this is where I go when I am sad or when I am mad. I sit here when I need some time to be by myself, especially when I don’t do well on an exam.


Nazareth

I also like to go to the other side of the park. This side is where I play with my friends – we can sit and talk or run around and have fun. So one part of the park is where I go when I’m sad, and the other side is where I go to have fun.


Nazareth

These girls are my absolute best friends! We are all in the same grade, and we’ve been friends since we were little, maybe like 8 years now. You can also see my other best friend in the back left of the photo. She ran away because she didn’t want her picture taken!


Nazareth

I used to love to play basketball. I played on the basketball team at my previous school – we would play on this basketball court, and we would even go to tournaments. Since I switched schools there are no opportunities for me to play, but whenever I see this court I have some really nice memories.


Nazareth

My family and I live on the side of a mountain, and this is the view when you step out my front door. My home is about a 30 minute walk from my school, but I think this is so pretty to see when I leave my house every morning.


Nazareth

One of my favorite things is flowers. These are some flowers outside of my school, and I think they are so pretty. And my classmate didn’t want her photo taken – ha ha!


Nazareth

This is the sidewalk in front of my school, where I go every day to either attend school or pick up my little brother. I also like to come and visit my teachers just to say hi.


Nazareth

We like to play lots of games at the Child Development Center, and I love that my cousin comes with me. In this photo, we are playing a running game on these courts that are just down the street from the Center.


Nazareth

This is my age group at the Child Development Center. All of us have been attending the Center together since we were three years old! A couple other kids have left, but most of us are still together. There’s only one other person in this group that goes to the same school as me, and everyone else goes to different schools.


While most of us probably first notice the low resolution in the photos or some of the crummy conditions, Nazareth sees beauty in flowers, joy in her activities, and blessing in her friends. And what we love most is her vulnerability and openness to sharing some of her special places with us. Thanks, Nazareth! You are a bright light!