I visited Sikkim in 2003 when I was just 10. Back in school, we were taught how Sikkim is an integral part of India. But we were never told that it hadn’t always been so. Around two years ago, I saw a 1971 documentary by Satyajit Ray called “Sikkim”, and to my surprise and embarrassment, learned that Sikkim was not a part of democratic India in that year. When I travelled there in 2003, I had assumed that it had always been so. But in reality, it used to be the Kingdom of Sikkim.
The Indo-Sikkim Treaty signed in 1950 made Sikkim a protectorate of India. And it only opted to become a part of the country in 1975, after a referendum. At that time, the state had such a small population, that it could spend 25% of its overall budget on education, and make schooling free for everyone.
The film “Sikkim”, just like the beautiful landscape of the state, is a visual spectacle – an anthropological study on the syncretic culture and tradition of people who are largely Hindus, ethnically Nepalese and culturally Buddhists. It harks back to a time where being Hindu didn’t have to be about reading a single holy book or worshipping one god. It’s also a celebration of a state blessed with beautiful mountains. In times when taking a walk in the capital city has become an exercise in toxicity due to alarming levels of pollution, Sikkim as a state has gone fully organic.
This film is a must watch in times when the clash between narrow ideas of nationalism and plurality ensures that people belonging to different ethnicities are labelled as ‘chinky’ or even ‘Chinese’. “Sikkim” has the potential to make other Indians sensitive about people from the northeastern part of India, who haven’t yet been given their due space as the country continues to make its tryst with destiny.