No work, supplies for a month due to bandh, poor hunt for food in Darjeeling forests
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No work, supplies for a month due to bandh, poor hunt for food in Darjeeling forests

As the bandh in support of a separate Gorkhaland in the Darjeeling hills entered its 38th day on Friday, the plight of the economically downtrodden hill people has become evident with many trying to find food inside local forests.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2017 22:58 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times, Siliguri
Out of work because of the bandh in Darjeeling hills, wage labourers Ajay Rai (left) and Asok Thapa hunt for food inside Sukna forest every day. (Bikram Sashanker / HT photo)

Fifty-six-year-old and without work for a month, Asok Thapa is not strong enough to walk 7 km every day and search for wild mushroom and bamboo shoots inside the Sukna forest. So, Thapa has found a partner in Ajay Rai, 20 years younger. Unlike the childless Thapa, Rai has three children to look after. Compulsions have somehow made them perfect partners.

The duo, just like most poor people in the Darjeeeling hills, is victim of the circumstances created by the indefinite bandh called by 15 political parties and non-political organisations that want a separate state of Gorkhaland.

Thapa and Rai want their own state too but right now, they are desperately looking for food. And, on most days they return to their wives empty-handed.

Till the bandh started and he lost his job, Ajay Rai used to get a daily wage of Rs 250 from contractors who were repairing NH-55. (Bikram Sashanker / HT Photo)

As life in these picturesque hills remain paralysed, people like Rai and Thapa seem to find themselves at the wrong end of an ethnic movement although their support for the cause remains unquestioned.

Residents of Chunbhatti in Kurseong sub-division, about 21 km from Siliguri, the duo was seen walking down NH-55 on Thursday. They were returning from Sukna forest after completing a rigorous routine.

“All we have at home is some rice. We go deep into the forest to look for mushroom and bamboo shoot so that we can at least cook a dish. Our families received 10 kg rice each a week days ago from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. But how long can one eat only rice?” said Rai.

Thapa, a daily wage earner till last month, said, “We have no lentils, cooking oil, vegetable and money. Mushroom and herbs from the jungles are all we can live on, only if we are lucky enough to find some.”

“We will starve once we run out of rice,” said Thapa. His wife used to be a wage labourer at Sepoydhura tea estate, which closed down because of the bandh.

Rai shifted to Chunbhatti 15 years ago from Kalimpong’s Bong Bustee and used to earn anything between Rs 200 and Rs 250 a day. He worked for contractors who were deployed to repair NH-55. The repair work stopped when the agitation started.

A rally in Darjeeling town by Gorkhaland supporters. (HT Photo)

Today, Rai and Thapa live like brothers in arms. They wake up early and follow the hill tracks leading to Sukna forest.

Thursday was not a lucky day though. Some bamboo shoot was all they could find. “We will at least have some rice and bamboo shoot soup,” said Thapa even as he tried to hide his agony behind a grin.

Rai’s eldest son is a class 8 student in a free school in Kurseong while his daughter studies in class 7. The youngest, a son, is barely a year old.

Pointing at a couple of Darjeeling-bound cars, Rai said, “Those who have money are bringing in food from Siliguri and Salbari markets. The poor are always the worst hit.”

First Published: Jul 21, 2017 10:40 IST