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11 Dec 2016

Hills Christian and Muslim communities demand separate development boards

Amitava Banerjee, HT,11 Dec 2016, DARJEELING: Christians residing in Darjeeling, the Terai and the Dooars have appealed to the West Bengal government for the formation of a development board for Christians. They have also shunned any form of political interference to facilitate the formation of the development board.
The Mamata Banerjee-led Bengal government has created different development boards for Lepcha, Tamang, Sherpa, Bhutia, Mangar, Khambu-Rai, Limboo, Kami, Damai, Sarki, Bhujel and Newar communities of the Darjeeling Hills.
The state government has been constantly inviting flak from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) over the formation of the development boards. GJM alleges that formation of development boards are a ploy by the state government to “divide and rule.”
Waving off the allegations, Mamata, time and again, has claimed that different communities have been approaching her for the formation of the boards for the all-round development of their respective communities along with preservation of their unique culture, tradition and language. On September 22, Mamata, addressing a rally in Kalimpong, claimed that the Hill minority communities had approached her for the formation of a development board and that she was contemplating the formation of the board. Sources said the state government is toying with the idea of forming a “Pahari Minority Development Board” for minority communities including Christians and Muslims.
However, both Christians and Muslims have demanded separate boards. Representatives of different Christian denominations and associations from Darjeeling Hills, the Terai and the Dooars held a meeting in “Divya Vani” hall in Darjeeling on Saturday.
“The representatives are against the formation of a minority board. They have appealed for a development board for the Christian community in Darjeeling, the Terai and the Dooars. A seven-member apex committee was also constituted. This committee will take the demand forward,” said AK Rai, a representative of the Christian community.
The meeting also resolved to shun any form of political interference. “We do not want to align with any political outfit assuring to see our demand through,” said Rai. The Christian community has already written to the chief minister and the district magistrate, Darjeeling requesting for a Christian development board.
Christians comprise around 10% of the 8.75 lakh population of the Hills. There is the presence of a sizeable Christian population in the Terai and the Dooars too.
Meanwhile, the Pahari Muslim Welfare Society based in Kurseong with Arif Khan at the helm has been demanding a development board for Hill Muslims. “We have been demanding the formation of a development board for Muslims since 2004. We want the formation of a Pahari Muslim Development Board. Muslims have been recognised as Backward Class since 1999 by the West Bengal government,” said Khan.
There are around 40,000 Muslims in the Hills, said Khan. “We have been demanding a Pahari Muslim Development Board. Pahari Muslims were recognised as a backward class by the Bengal government in 1999,” he said.

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