Covid, racial slurs keep Tibetans away from annual winter bazaar – Times of India

Kolkata News

Come winter and central Kolkata’s Wellington Square starts buzzing with shoppers looking to grab some of the best deals on winter wear at the numerous stalls set up by Tibetans who come down from the hills of Sikkim, north Bengal, Nepal, Tibet and other places. Popular as Bhutia market, the annual winter bazaar is a paradise for those searching for sweaters, shawls, jackets and a host of other winter clothing items. This is where even moderate bargaining skills can help you crack some great deals. But this year, despite checking all these boxes, the vibrant market is missing its soul – the Tibetans. Not just the pandemic, but the fear of racial discrimination too has kept them away from this decades-old practice.
Fear of racial slurs bigger than covid
Many Tibetan merchants develop friendship with the locals during their stay here. According to them, their decision to not visit Kolkata this time was taken in September itself. Rana Pratap Dey, who has been setting up a stall at the
market with the Tibetans for the last 30 years, said, “When I called one of them, they said they will
not be coming this time because of the pandemic”.
However, the Tibetans have another reason to skip this yearly affair. Doma Bhutia, who has been participating in the bazaar for the last 20 years, said that on a number of occasions she was called ‘foreigner’ and ‘Chinese’ during her visit here. The fear of such racial slurs is all the more palpable in the wake of COVID-19 as China has been established as the birthplace of the virus. This has led to several incidents where people with Mongolian features and those from the North East faced harassment across the country. “I have always chosen to ignore such remarks. But ever since the pandemic hit us, the frequency of such incidents has gone up. People from North East India, Nepal and Bhutan are harassed and abused because some people think they are responsible for the pandemic,” said Doma.
Besides, for the likes of Doma, hills are much safer than big cities where Covid cases are higher. “My family members advised us not to go to Kolkata this year. That’s why we didn’t even buy our usual stock of winter garments,” she added.
We miss them, say local merchants
In the absence of Tibetans, Bhutia market this year is being managed by local sellers who have put up stalls at Wellington Square. Most of their stocks are from Delhi and Ludhiana. While they have bought around 40% of their usual stock, the rest of the products are from last year. “Last year winter was short-lived, so half of our stock remained unsold. We are trying to clear it now,” said Rana Pratap, adding that sales have picked up this month. “Despite better business, things are not the same this year. This market is incomplete without our Tibetan friends. I hope they come back next year,” he added.
Just two shops away from Rana’s, Selim Ali has put up a stall where he is mostly selling hoodies and jackets. He claims to be friends with almost all the Tibetan merchants who come to Kolkata to do business at the Bhutia market. “They would rent a house here for three months and leave by February end. Every year, we would spend those three months together, sharing. food and
endless cups of tea. We miss them,” Selim added.
Rise in demand for winter clothing brings the buzz back at city markets
Not just Wellington Square, almost all the big markets in the city have noticed a jump in demand for woollens since the beginning of December. According to N Naskar, a shop owner at New Market, there was a dry spell after Durga Puja and Diwali in terms of sale. “But now things are improving at a fast pace,” he said. Shop owners at Gariahat market echoed similar sentiments. They said compared to last month, sales went up by about 20% in the first week of December and continue to increase with the temperatures falling. “We didn’t buy any new stocks this year. Most of these items are from last year. Things are looking promising for us now,” said Sourav Ghosh, proprietor of agarment shop in Gariahat.