From 371F to Sangha seats, Sikkim's constitutional history needs local attention

From 371F to Sangha seats, Sikkim's constitutional history needs local attention
Photo Source: Deccan Herald

The Constitution Day or Law Day in India is celebrated annually on November 26, after the enactment of the Indian Constitution on November 26, 1950. The tiny Himalayan North-eastern state of Sikkim, believed to be discovered by Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century, brought about the era of the monarchy in the 14th century starting with Phuntsong Namgyal as the first Chogyal (King) of Sikkim. The monarchy, however, was eventually diluted in 1975 after Sikkim merged with Indian Union brought on by the 36th Amendment Act, 1975 of the Indian constitution bringing a new form of political governance in the Himalayan state.

Under the 36th Amendment Act, 1975, Article 371(F) is of particularly great importance to the Sikkimese people as it preserves the ethnicity and historic culture of the state. Article 371(F) in its special provision states that the State Legislative Assembly will have thirty-two seats, from which 12 seats will be reserved for the Bhutia-Lepcha community of Sikkim and 1 for the Sangha, which the is a monastic seat with no constitutional boundaries, in which only monks from registered monasteries will be able to vote. In regard to this, a case was filed at the Supreme Court by R.C. Poudyal in which he has stated that the reservation of the 12 Bhutia-Lepcha and the 1 sangha reserved seat on the basis of caste and religion is a violation of Article 15, however, the verdict of the case was not in favour of him.

As Sikkim’s ethnicity is unique among all of the other states as it was under the rule of a descendant of Buddhist monarchs before 1975, hence the heavy influence of Buddhism, even today some traditional institutions such as the system of Dzumsa of Lachen and Lachung, the reservation of the Sangha seat and the Ecclesiastical Department exist.

The Ecclesiastical department is also one of a kind in Sikkim, the department tracks back to the time of chogyals when it was known as “LADE MIDE” meaning an assembly of Sangha’s who used to look after the monastic affairs. After 1975 it was preserved and given a modern name as Ecclesiastical department, which is a full-fledged department, today it not only looks after the monastic affairs rather it includes looks after all religious places such as temples, churches, mosques. The department is responsible for the maintenance and renovation of all the religious places across the state.

Even when Sikkim enacted Panchayati Raj Act of 1993, the local governing body of i.e. Dzumsa was untouched and is still serving as a local body in two villages of Sikkim

While Article 370 was dissolved in the Indian constitution, many political parties including SKM, HSP appealed to the Centre government not to interfere with Article 371(F) which provides special status for the state of Sikkim.

This special provision is important and works to the advantage of Sikkimese people, especially for the indigenous Lepcha and Bhutia tribes of Sikkim. The Certificate of Identification is marked as one of the most important documents in Sikkim, non-holders of the certificate are not allowed to buy any kind of land in Sikkim. In the case of Lepcha and Bhutia tribes, the land of these two communities cannot be bought by other communities of Sikkim.

As far as Constitution day goes, knowing Sikkim's old laws and its legal system should be paramount - young people and old need to understand that keeping aside the beauty of the land and its people, state laws are as interesting too.