Thursday, 18 September 2008

Bhutan : The other Jaigaon – in Zhemgang

18 September, 2008 - To most Bhutanese, the name ‘Jaigaon’ conjures up the image of a busy town across the border to Phuentsholing.

But there’s a Jaigaon too in Zhemgang. Only that the one here is a picturesque cluster of huts on a gentle slope.

Located between the Zhemgang dzong and its higher secondary school, this ‘Jaigaon’ houses 11 private huts of the dzongkhag’s sweepers, gardeners, peons, dratshang cook and daily wage earners. However, nobody remembers how it got its name.

A group of low-income dzongkhag staff had built these huts on lands leased by Trong residents, paying a monthly rent of Nu 100.

Tashi, 59, from Kheng Salambi in Mongar, is one of the oldest residents of Zhemgang’s Jaigaon. He was in his 20’s when he first came to Zhemgang as a carpenter working for the dzongkhag administration and became the dzongkhag peon later.

The father of five said his family rented a house in Trong in 1986 before the landowner advised him to shift to the present location. “It came as a blessing. My family was struggling to make ends meet with my meagre salary,” said Tashi.

Soon his neighbours followed.

Phuntsho, 50, who looks after her paralysed son, is happy to be in Jaigaon. “We’ve developed a close bond among ourselves,” he said. The closeness was witnessed on Sunday when most Jaigaon residents gathered at Tashi house to watch the finals of the Yangphel archery tournament over bangchang and ara (locally brewed alcohol). “Our Jaigaon is a small community of low income but happy people,” said a resident, gulping down his brew.

Town residents say that, although Jaigaon residents are all low-income people, they had many advantages. “They’re saving from cheap rent and grow their own vegetables,” said a town resident.

But Jaigaon is also not spared from the water shortage the small Zhemgang township faces frequently. “We have to live without water for weeks and endure drinking muddy water during the monsoon,” said a Zhemgang Jaigaon resident. But for now their biggest worry is the landowners. “We’re concerned that they might ask us to move,” said Tashi. “The rent was raised to Nu 150 a month but we’ll be happy to pay that if they allow us to stay here only,” he said.

By Tashi Dema

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