Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bhutanese students in dress code dilemma

Darjeeling, Nov 17: Bhutanese students across the Darjeeling hills have been caught in a crossfire between the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and police on wearing of their national dress.

The Morcha has asked all students and teachers to wear their traditional dresses for three days a week from October 26 till further notice.

Bhutan government officials, along with senior police officers of Bengal, have appealed to Bhutanese students to stop wearing their national dress, which incidentally is mandatory in their country, while attending colleges in the hills.

The Gorkha Janmukti Vidyarthi Morcha, the hill party’s student wing, however, described the appeal as a move to derail the agitation for Gorkhaland. “It is the conspiracy of K.L. Tamta (inspector-general of police, north Bengal) to derail the cultural movement by using the Bhutanese government. The conspiracy is being hatched to create problems before the next tripartite meeting,” said Keshav Raj Pokhrel, the general secretary of the Vidyarthi Morcha.

The Morcha student wing has decided to “be more vigilant” from tomorrow to ensure the strict compliance of the dress code. “If the police want to use their power to ensure that the dress code is not followed, we, too, will use all our means to ensure that the dress code is adhered to by all students,” Pokhrel said.

Tamta, who held a meeting with Bhutanese officials in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, said: “They (the Bhutanese officials) were of the opinion that as foreigners they should not be forced to wear the dress.”

The Bhutanese government also felt that the dress code could pose serious problems for the safety and security of the Bhutanese students in a foreign country, Tamta said.

“After the people of Nepali origin were pushed back to Nepal from Bhutan in 1993, there are apprehensions that Bhutanese citizens could be attacked. Wearing the dress would make them soft targets especially after some members of the Bhutan Tiger Force were arrested in Siliguri a year ago. Their intention is to attack Bhutanese citizens and the government has strong views on this issue,” the police chief of the region said.

Tamta called upon the Morcha to consider the appeal from the Bhutanese officials.

Over a lakh of people of Nepali origin who had been pushed out of Bhutan have been living in refugee camps in eastern Nepal, close to the border with Darjeeling district.

Pokhrel, however, argued that the dress would not make the Bhutanese students “soft targets”. “If anyone is bent on doing something to Bhutanese students, they can easily be identified by their language. Moreover, the refugees were pushed back almost 15 years ago and till now the Bhutanese have never been attacked in the Darjeeling hills,” he said. “Even last year, the Bhutanese students wore their dress for a month without any problem.”

The 700-odd Bhutanese students who mostly study in various Darjeeling and Kalimpong colleges are now in a dilemma. Many of them refused comment when asked about their reaction.

Bhutanese men wear gho, while the women’s dress is called kira. Gho is a knee-length robe, which is tightly wrapped around the body to form a pouch above the waist. The kira is a floor-length cloth wrapped over a wonju or blouse. It is held from the shoulders by komas or hooks. The dress is complete with a short toego or jacket.

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