|Sachin Rai Dumi, the president of the association, (centre) in Darjeeling on Tuesday. |
Picture by Suman Tamang
Rai community rejects development board under West Bengal govt
Writes: Vivek Chhetri
An association of Rai community members today said it would not accept a development board for them as such an arrangement would divide not only the hill population but also their own community.
This is the first time that any community-based organisation in the hills has taken a stand against the state government's development board.
The Mamata Banerjee government has already announced development boards for five communities in the Darjeeling hills, Lepchas, Tamangs, Sherpas, Bhutias and Mangars.
The All India Kirati Khambu Rai Association today held a meeting at the Gorkha Dukha Niwarak Sammelan Hall to decide whether the community should accept a development board.
"The meeting was attended by the office-bearers of the association and 95 per cent of those present were of the opinion that we must not accept the development board," said Sachin Rai Dumi, the president of the association.
The Rai community has another organisation, Kirati Khambu Rai Sanskriti Sansthan, which hasn't yet made its stand on the development board clear. Both the organisations are equally influential in the hills.
The association led by Sachin said its members would even sit on a hunger strike and bring out protest rallies if the development board was accepted by any other section of the Rai community.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, during her visit to Kalimpong in September, had said in a public speech that she was considering the demands made by the Rai and Limbu communities for development boards.
"We have come to know that some individuals are approaching the chief minister for a development board. We will tell the chief minister that we do not want the board. If the need arises, we will organise protest rallies and hunger strikes to protest the formation of the board," said Hem Rai, the general secretary of the All India Kirati Khambu Rai Association.
Explaining their opposition to the board, Sachin said: "First of all, the board is not a permanent body and it cannot fulfil the aspirations of 5 lakh Rai community members. The board will divide not only the Gorkha community but also the Rai community."
The development boards have been registered as societies and are under the backward classes welfare department of the state government.
"We fear division within the Rai community as the board will not be able to build houses for 3 lakh Rai families in the BPL category. Some Rai members will receive benefits, while others will not. This will create a rift in the community," said Sachin.
M.K. Rai, the president of the Darjeeling subdivisional committee of the association, said: "Moreover, our main demand is to declare the community as a Scheduled Tribe. If we start running for houses and toilets, we will not have time to pursue our ST demand with seriousness."
Rais are now enlisted in the OBC category.
The total hill population is around 15 lakh and Sachin's association claims that 33 are the Rais.
The decision by an association of the Rai community to reject the development board has come as a major relief to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which has been alleging that Mamata Banerjee is trying to divide and rule the hill people through the formation of development boards.
"It is a very positive thought and we welcome it. Such thoughts will go a long way in strengthening the unity among the Gorkhas in the hills," said Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Morcha.
Prominent Rai leaders in the Morcha are Jyoti Kumar Rai and Phoebe Rai, both of whom are executive GTA Sabha members.
Jyoti Kumar Rai welcomed the decision.
"The benefits that come through the tribal status are far more than those given under the development board. After all, the development board only divides the hill population," he said.
Tara Rai, the president of the other Rai association, Kiranti Khambu Rai Sanskriti Sansthan, could not be contacted today.
However, a senior member of this association on condition of anonymity said: "Our main demand is the Scheduled Tribe tag for the Rais. Nevertheless, some youths want the development board. Our association has formed a fact-finding team to study the implications of the development board and it is only after it submits a report, will we take a stand on the matter."
Binny Sharma, the spokesman for Trinamul (hills), said: "A lot of people from the Rai community have met the chief minister with the demand for a development board. They want development and to preserve their culture like other communities in the hills. I haven't heard much about the association which is saying that they do not want the board. As far as the tribal status is concerned, the state government was the first to write to the Centre. It is the BJP government which has not yet shown any interest towards the demand."