ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Under the Shadow of Mayel Lyang: The Spaces and Places of the Lepchas of the Darjeeling Hills


Namchu Jordan Kinchum Tshering - Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Humanities and Social Sciences, Mumbai, India


16 – Re-orienting Borderlands:Beyond spatial fixations in South Asia


 The Himalayan borderland hill districts (Kalimpong and Darjeeling) of West Bengal and the state of Sikkim are recognized as discrete areas with their respective political/governmental machineries by the Indian Nation State. These hills that have had a shared history of interaction of multiple communities across generations are today demarcated by the imaginary but sovereign boundaries of these two federal units. The result is the fragmentation of the erstwhile culturally homogenous populations who were not formerly delineated  by these absolute territorial margins. Such is case of the Lepcha tribe; the first inhabitants of erstwhile Mayel Lyang (North Bengal, Sikkim, East Nepal, West Bhutan). Post-independence, the demarcation of the Indian international border, the formation of West Bengal and the subsequent merger of Sikkim splintered the Lepcha community into predominantly two fragments; the majority residing in Sikkim. The formation of these spatial fixations have ushered their own political trajectories and the two Lepcha groups, though possessing a common history, have had their own divergent lived experiences. The paper aims to explore the ramifications of sovereign borderlands on the Lepchas of North Bengal who in their constant ethnopolitical articulations are also entangled in demands of a separate state of Gorkhaland by the demographically larger Nepali-Gorkhas within the territorial framework of the India.

Keywords: Lepcha Tribe,Borderlands,Ethnopolitics,Agency