KOLKATA: Not every aspect of the indefinite shutdown of Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts of West Bengal for Gorkhaland statehood, that entered 59th day on Saturday, is haunting.
The haunting aspect has been the death of eight people since the agitation started in the hills on June 8. With the Centre turning back to the statehood demand, the Mamata Banerjee administration has also continued with total isolation of the hills by cutting off Internet.
LPG cylinder prices have touched high of Rs1,800 per cylinder and availability of food in markets have touched new low. Food supplies from the plains have been stopped by Bengali organisations of Siliguri, allegedly supported by the police.
Though GJM has often distributed eatables to residents of tea gardens where cultivation does not take place, it has never been sufficient.
However, one word has kept the indefinite strike going is indigenous knowledge.
The indigenous knowledge orally passed down through generations has allowed the consumerism-struck residents of the two hill districts to fall back to their roots.
This indigenous knowledge has enabled the residents to scourge the correct locations in the forests for shoots and roots and cultivate indigenous varieties of crop after supplies from the plains stopped. The indefinite strike has also led to increased cooperation between people -- including age-old barter system -- which had faded away as consumerism crept in.
"Many of us had started to depend on rice from the plains and stopped cultivating our locally-grown indigenous varieties. Now, many farmers in our village and neighbouring villages are cultivating maize and local varieties of rice and are also fetching bamboo shoots and wild mushrooms from the forests. Many are also preparing fermented soyabean, a must with every meal that was earlier available in the markets, at their homes," said Man Bahadur of Yokprintam village, 25 km from Kalimpong town.
The soil of this part of the Himalayas also supports cultivation of a variety of vegetables including potatoes, ladies finger, brinjals, tomatoes, beans, bitter gourd among others.
With currency notes rendered useless in the wake of the complete shutdown, availability of farm workers has also gone down the abyss, which has also forced people to work together at each other's farmlands.
"It seems we have returned to the traditional way of cultivation that our forefathers followed when society was egalitarian. Farm workers are not available due to the strike. So, people nowadays work together in rotation at one person's farm in the village. The next day, they will all work at someone else's land. After work, all the farm workers eat at the residence of the person on whose land they worked. Nobody is small or big in this work. This has brought us closer," said Ramesh Rai of Samalbong village in Kalimpong district.
Besides this commune-type work, villagers are also sharing their meat. "Just today, a big chicken was slaughtered at my house. While we kept 1 kilogram, we gave the rest to our neighbours. They would do the same when they slaughter their chickens," said Suren Tamang of Seokbhir Khani village of Kalimpong district.
However, one crop that has taken a beating due to the strike is ginger. "While 40 kg of ginger costed Rs 6,000 last year, it has reduced to only Rs 800 per 40 kg due to the strike," said Mangal Tamang of Takling village, equidistant from both Darjeeling and Kalimpong towns.