Lepchas demand primitive tribal status

KALIMPONG, July 26. — After their demands failed to elicit the desired response from the state authorities, the Lepchas are now thinking of approaching the centre with their grievances.
A delegation, consisting of members of Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association (ILTA) actually met some senior bureaucrats at the centre last week. They also deliberated with the chairperson of UPA, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, on the issue of introducing their language in schools and colleges of the Darjeeling district.
After returning from the official visit, the general secretary of the ILTA, Mr Lyangsong Tamsang, said that their other demand is the granting of primitive tribe status to the Lepchas of Darjeeling. The seniors of ILTA also met the Union minister for human resources, Mr Arjun Singh, the Union minister of tribal affairs Mr PR Kyndiah and the chairperson of national commission for scheduled tribes Mr Kunwar Singh. Interestingly while both these demands have been sidestepped within the state of West Bengal, the neighbouring state of Sikkim has already recognised them.
The official language of the Darjeeling hills until 1911, the Lepcha language was recognised and introduced for the benefit of Lepcha children in schools of Sikkim in the year 1975. In spite of having introduced the Lepcha language at the degree level courses in colleges of Gangtok and Namchi with effect from 2000, the North Bengal University has not encouraged its teaching in the other colleges of Bengal.
The Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association has argued that language of the Lepchas is one of the oldest and richest languages of the world. While the tribe has been recognised and listed under the Primitive Tribal Group (PTG) in Sikkim, this status has not been extended to those in Darjeeling. It may be noted that once this status is granted, the members of this tribe will be the beneficiaries of a cent percent centrally funded development scheme. — SNS

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