KALIMPONG: For Arun Yonzon of Samalbong village, 22 km from Kalimpong, value of a cigarette packet equals to that of a home-grown pineapple. So, he traded his pineapple for a cigarette packet of Maku Lepcha of neighbouring hill Yokprintam village.
With Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters enforcing total bandh through blockades at various major road junctions in Kalimpong district, remote villages in district have returned to barter system as the indefinite bandh entered the 14th day on Thursday.
"We are allowing only emergencies to pass through our blockade. We note down numbers of every passing vehicle. We can live on millets but we have to give sacrifices for Gorkhaland statehood. The blockade will not be withdrawn until the Centre takes up the Gorkhaland issue. Political leaders should not forget that this is not a political movement anymore, it's a leaderless mass movement," said Bharat Sharma, GJM secretary of Relli region in Kalimpong while sitting at a blockade with other bandh enforcers on the way to Kalimpong own.
All the political parties demanding Gorkhaland statehood are sitting at an all-party meeting at Hotel Reli here since 1 pm on Thursday. While the leaders are discussing on taking the movement to the next level, supporters outside shout slogans that no 'settlement' will be tolerated.
But in the rural areas of the district, ways to deal with the harsh terrain and difficult life weighs more than anything else. With food in plenty in the rural areas of Kalimpong district, villagers are often resorting to exchange of food items for luxury items.
"We brew our local millet-based alcohol 'tongba' at home. However, if someone wants cigarettes, oil, soap, shampoo, foreign liquor and other products which can't be made at home, we have to exchange it with the best fruit or best millet that we have grown at home," Arun said.
The bandh has brought back memories of earlier long periods of strikes and also of recent demonetisation, when many of the remote villages in Kalimpong district had returned to exchange of essential commodities when cash turned useless.
"The goods and amount of exchange is decided by the two parties and may vary on every transaction. It depends both on availability and necessity keeping in mind future needs," said Phurba Sherpa of Yokprintam village near Samalbong.
Others feel a form of barter always existed in the remote villages of the Himalayan region and that it gets bolstered every time people need each other to sustain. "People generally tend to help each other during times of need. These times of crisis also increase camaraderie between villages," said Ashok Tamang of Seokhbhir Khani, another village near Samalbong.
Asked about Gorkhaland statehood, everybody nods in unison. For some statehood means better connectivity while for others, a means of escape to the towns with government jobs in hand. With food in abundance and other products getting managed through the barter system, the villages around Kalimpong are ready to brace for a long-drawn strike to press for Gorkhaland statehood.