Santosh Patnaik

Some 7,000 of them are settled in rehabilitation colonies for generations

  • They mix freely with locals, relish Oriya food and watch Hindi films
  • Mostly, they cultivate the land given as part of package

    BERHAMPUR: For 7,000-odd Tibetan refugees in Chandragiri area, about 50 km from here, Ganjam district has become a home away from home.

    Settled in rehabilitation colonies at Chandragiri, Mahendragarh, Labrasingh, Zirang and Tankilipodar for past four decades, they find it quite comfortabe with the locals, relish Oriya food and watch Hindi movies. Some of them have also acquired working knowledge of Oriya. For their children, there is a Tibetan Central School at Chandragiri where Tibetan, English and Hindi are taught.

    Most of the refugees eke out a living by raising paddy, ragi and maize in the land given to them as part of rehabilitation package by the Government and during off-season, they go to different places to sell sweaters and other warm clothes by procuring them from Ludhiana and other places of Punjab.

    Berhampur is the most sought-after place during winter November-December -- an off-season for agricultural operations. Sixteen Tibetan families have set up 43 stalls at the church ground here to sell woollen clothes. For several years, they have taken this ground on a nominal rent from the church authorities.

    `No discrimination'

    "Despite being refugees, we don't find any discrimination against us here.

    The Indians are very friendly towards us. Some of us are born and brought up here. So we don't feel that we are foreigners," declares Migmar Tsering, who heads the committee set up to manage the Tibetan Woolen Market.

    The Tibetans have taken loans from SBI, Mahendragarh, for their business. As winter turns colder, their business becomes warmer with more people flocking the market. On an average, each stall owner gets a business of Rs.1,000 a day with which they have to meet their expenses including the wages given to local youth for engaging them as salesmen.

    During their migration to Berhampur and other towns, they leave their school-going children with their relatives so that their education is not affected.

    Mr. Tsering says that this year they are very happy to dispense with bargaining system. "Items are sold only at fixed rate. No bargaining please," reads a banner erected at the market. "We are very happy with the new system. There is no jhamela (problem) this season as those who want to buy genuinely are coming here. As a result, there is no wastage of time for them as well as for us," Kalsang, mother of two, states.