Communities, cultures, religions and customs of different hues intermingle freely here in Sikkim to constitute a homogeneous blend and present a kaleidoscopic picture. Hindu temples coexist with Buddhist monasteries and there are even a few Christain churches, Muslim mosques and Sikh Gurdwaras. Although the Buddhists with monasteries all over the state are the most conspicuous religious group, they are infact a minority constituting only 28% of the population. The majority, 68% profess Hinduism. The predominant communities are the
In urban areas many plainsmen- Marwaris, Biharis, Bengalis, South Indians, Punjabis- have also settled and they are mostly engaged in business and government service. Because of development and construction activities in the state, a small part of the population consists of migrant labourers from the plains and from Nepal: plumbers, masons and carpenters from Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal and Sherpas who are hired by the army to maintain the roads at high altitudes. There are also a few thousand Tibetan Refugees settled in Sikkim. Many locals have names that are indistinguishable from those of Hindi speaking states in India: Singhs, Sharmas, Bhandaris, Pradhan etc. The communities celebrate an eclectic range of festivals which mean a lot to rural folks who normally do not have any other means of recreation.
Of the violent invasions that Sikkim had to face over the centuries from Nepal and Bhutan, there is hardly any trace today; but a quieter invasion is taking place; that of cultures from outside at the cross roads of Gangtok and other towns of Sikkim. Cultural and economic forces are reshaping the way of life of the Sikkimese. This can be seen by taking a walk down the M.G. Marg of Gangtok: boys and girls sporting the latest fashions probably picked up from a new Hindi movie or BBC s Clothes Show gaily tromp up and down. An open Jeep carrying jubilant footballers who have won a match passes by – they are singing DalerMehndi’s popular Punjabi song “HoJaygiBalleBalle ” at the top of their voices. A Domino Pizza Bike buzzes past.And a Bhutia politician turned philantrophist and Guru every morning teaches Yoga to participants mostly from the plains – a sign of true national integration.
Something prosaic and inexorable is also happening. Jobs in urban areas appeal to local young people more than traditional livelihoods tied to land like agriculture, yak rearing etc. Farming communities have shrunk and therefore it is not the wildboars or yaks that are headed for extinctions but the wildboar hunters and the yakherders themselves. Western dresses have replaced tradional ones like Bakus which are worn only during special occasions like marriages and religious ceremonies.
The cable TV is definitely attempting to remould the cultural landscape of Sikkim. You should not be surprised if you come across a village girl somewhere in the wilderness dressed in a Punjabi KurtaPajama singing a Hindi number “Diditeradewardiwana ….” while tending to her herd of cattle. Inspite of such powerful external influences, Sikkimese have proved to be resilient accepting the benefits of progress while retaining their ethnic identity.
In Sikkim, women are not confined to home and the hearth. You purchase your vegetables from a lady puffing away at her bidi (local made cigaratte). And in the small local restaurant you go to, you are greeted by a burly woman behind the sale counter lined with bottles of beer who asks you in Nepali ” KeKhanuHoncha?” (What would you like to eat?). At a busy traffice intersection a smartly turned out woman police constable is busy regulating the traffic while another is issuing a ticket to an errant woman driver. On construction sites, women work side by side with men, carrying material in wicker baskets and pulversing stones. Women, even those belonging to the conservative Marwari community run many of the shops in town. In the Government Sector, more than fifteen percent of the employees are women.
Hindi movies are a craze with the locals here and Hindi music is invariably played at all functions here. Even traditional cultural programmes get eclipsed by the blare of Hindi songs.