Department of Lepcha,
Sikkim Government College, Gyalshing
Education is absolutely necessary to move up in the society and to cause the social activities. Education is, perhaps, the only means of preparation for a better life, society or Nation. Education provided within any society has to change from time to time for the better as the society changes.
Only about 150 years ago the Lepchas were in a state of deep slumber. They were slowly awakened to activity by the effort of alien nationals, particularly the Europeans. In this obscured Hill region the Lepchas were completely in the darkness, devoid of contact with the outside world. It was in such a crude state of affairs that some educational activities were undertaken by the European crusaders who trode in this hill region. It is imperative to find what this region was like once in respect of its status of education and what status it has duly attained after its acquisition by the East India Company in 1835.
Historical and Socio - Cultural Status
When the East India Company in 1835 first acquired the nucleus of the Darjeeling District from the Raja of Sikkim, it was almost under forest and relatively uninhabitated. It was estimated that this hill tract of 138 square miles contained a population of one hundred Lepchas (Dash, 1947:49) only. A primitive system of Government at the time hardly did anything to encourage the original inhabitants, the Lepchas, for their development.
Until 1911 the Lepcha language was the official language in the Darjeeling Hills. Unfortunately, at the present time, only in the interior region, the Lepcha languae has remained to be the mother tongue of the Lepchas;but in the urban areas in general and also in a few rural areas where they live in small numbers, their language is generally under the spell of Nepali language. Decades ago Florence Donaldson (1900:40) had remarked that their rich and beautiful language have been preserved from probable extinction by the effort of General G. B. Mainwaring and others. Yet some scholars are of the opinion that this language has a great tradition behind it and is very old. Unlike in Sikkim, the Lepcha language is not introduced yet in the Government Primary, Secondary Schools and Colleges for the Lepcha children in West Bengal. The Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association, Headquarters Kalimpong has opened up forty Lepcha Night Schools in remote Lepcha villages where the four skills of the Lepcha language and culture are imparted to the Lepcha children without any financial assistence and support from the Governments, Local, State and Central. The Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association, Headquarters Kalimpong continues to demand the introduction of Lepcha language in the Government Primary and the Secondary Schools in the Darjeeling Hills for the Lepcha children. The Association is also publishing Lepcha text books for the children and other Lepcha literary works on their own. 99% of the indigenous Lepchas live in remote villages.
According to General G. B. Mainwaring (1876: Preface) Lepcha language was very much in use in this hill tract at the time of opening the Hill Station. He remarked “ The Lepcha language which had, hitherto, been the language of the whole country of Sikkim, which all Tibetans, Bhutias or others who entered the country acquired and spoke, in which under the rule of Colonel Lloyd, business was carried on, and justice in the English Courts administered, in the character of which, decrees and documents were written and recorded; this language was completely set aside, and Hindustani was made the chief language in Dorjeling.”
Changes that took place among the Lepchas owing to their comming into contact with Europeans led to some disastrous effects on them. General G. B. Mainwaring (1876:XII) remarked that numerous tribes that had flocked into the land ruined the Lepchas. It was at the expense of widely prevelent Lepcha language that Hindustani was made the chief language in the Darjeeling Hills. “Oppressed and crushed on all side, the Lepcha race and language came to be considered unfashionable”.
General G. B. Mainwaring has thus observed that the advent of the Europeans was the first real blow the Lepchas received. Dr. Campbell’s inducing the other races to come and settle in the country was detriment to the Lepchas. The Lepcha people are rich in legends and fokllores. Myths, legends and folktales for them were the oldest traditional accounts of what was once a reality. Those days the Lepchas’ folklores were sufficient as the sources of education in the Darjeeling Hills. Here “folk” means Lepcha people and “lore” means knowledge.
Missionary Enterprise in Education
The first missionary to arrive in the Darjeeling Hills was Rev. W. Start who was quickly followed by a band of German Missionaries like Schultz, Niebel into this field of work. Rev William Start opened the first school for the Lepchas at Tukvar in 1841 (Newman’s Guide, 1900:50). It was his first attempt to reach to the Lepchas through education (O’Malley, 1907:170). The chief objective of the mission was to convert the Lepchas into Christianity; hence for the evangelical work and purposes they translated “The Book of Genesis and part of Exodus in Lepsha. 1849 and the Gospels of Matthews etc (Hatthorn 1863:95). It is clear that the first effort in the field of education was made by the non-British Christian Missionary. Even though short lived, the Lepcha School at Tukvar was the earliest school known in the Darjeeling Hill tract. This was the beginning of the Lepcha language school and Lepchas coming into contact with the modern education.
So, today we the Lepchas are quite fortunate enough to have come in contact with General G. B. Mainwaring who lived among the Lepchas for many years in the Darjeeling Hills and worked very hard indeed to recover and promote the very rich and ancient Lepcha language and literature.
According to the historical research work, in 1840s and 50s, there was a considerable development in the Lepcha language and literature in the Darjeeling Hills and it was the official language of ancient Mayel Lyang, the Lepcha Land, before the fragmentation of its existence as a Nation. Even in 1876, General G. B. Mainwaring compiled, wrote and published a Grammar of the Lepcha Language, although the Lepcha language was already deprived and oppressed by other languages in their own home land. General G. B. Mainwaring’s Grammar gave us a new beginning in the Lepcha education system. After a long struggle by the Lepcha intellectuals in Sikkim and with the support of Government, the Lepcha language was officialy introduced in the Government Primary and Secondary education in 1975. From the year 2001, the Lepcha language was introduced in the Graduate level in the Sikkim Government Colleges. Since the year 2012, the Lepcha language has been included as an honours subject in the Graduate level. We are very optimistic that from the next academic session, the Lepcha language will be introduced in the Post - Graduate level in Sikkim University. It will be a real new beginning in the Rong Sukdum.
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