The present population of Sikkim is primarily composed of different
races or ethnic groups. They are the Lepchas, the Bhutia, the Nepali and
the plainsmen. These different ethnic groups have their distinct languages
and cultural pattern. This cultural diversity of the ethnic groups who
have no common racial backgrounds has become the central point of socio-economic
and political problems in Sikkim. Over centuries, the narrow fertile valleys
of the inner Himalayas and the rugged hill tracts of the greater Himalayas
have been settled by the Tibeto-Burmese, Tibeto-Mongoloid and Indo-Aryan
have adjusted themselves to the rigorous climate of this state. Thus Sikkim
has become a state of multi-racial inhabitants. The oldest inhabitants
are the Rongs or Lepchas who migrated via Assam to this mountain state.
Next came the Khampas from the Tibetan province of Kham, they are
now commonly known as Bhutias. The Limbus who are considered by some as
belonging to Lhasa gotra are believed to have migrated from Shigatse,
Penam, Norpu, Giangtse etc of the Tsong province of Tibet. These Limbus
and other Magar, Rai, Gurung, Murmi etc are allied races and in fact belong
to the Kirati sub-cultural stock of the Nepali race who migrated to Sikkim
from Nepal in the west.
English is the official language of Sikkim. The Lingua-franca
is however Nepalese. It closely resembles Hindi. The Lepcha language belongs
to the Tibeto-Burman family. The languages of the Bhutias, Limbu, Murmi,
Magar, Khamba and Mewar also belongs to it.
High priority has been given to education. Education
is free upto the primary school level. While in the higher classes
the fee is nominal, for girls education is free up to class XI.
In Sikkim, inter-marriage among these higher castes is
not uncommon. Traditionally a Gurkha can possess any number of wives.
A wife taken through formal ceremonial marriage is called a 'Behaite 'while
others are called 'Lihaites'. But this practice is now on the wane. Divorce
is permissible. Both man and wife can refer any plea for divorce to the
village elders who decide it.