The name Bhutia and Bhotiya also spelt as Bhotia is derived from Tibetan word ‘Bodpa’, ‘Bod’ meaning ‘Tibet’ and suffix ‘pa’ meaning ‘inhabitants’. The English word ‘Tibet’ appears to be derived from the Mongolian word ‘Thubot’, which is the Mongolian name for the northern portion of the Tibetan plateau. The Sanskrit form of the word ‘Bod’ was ‘Bhot’ and the Sanskrit speaking races of India have accordingly called the inhabitants of this region as “BHUTIA/ BHOTIYA”. The name “BHUTIA/BHOTIYA” is thus derived from Bhot or Bod, and is a generic term used for several groups of people of Tibetan origin inhabiting the ranges south of the Himalayas extending from Jammu & Kashmir in the North-west and extending all the way across to Arunachal Pradesh in the North-east. The different tribes of Tibetan origin who inhabit Sikkim and Darjeeling Hills of West Bengalis known under the generic name “Bhutia”, while those inhabiting Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are spelt as Bhotiya or Bhotia.
The Bhutias of Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal are varied groups of ethno linguistically Tibetan people whose ancestors migrated at different period of time, commencing as early as the 6th century, from Tibet to erstwhile Great Nation of Sikkim, which then included the area of present day Darjeeling district, Bhutan and Nepal; the migration was more prominent in the 15th and 16th century, an era where religious persecution of the Red hats (Ningmapa sect) forced them to move to safer havens.
According to the census of 1872 (Bengal District Gazetteers Darjeeling), the Bhutias of Darjeeling has been numbered as 9,300. Since much knowledge on the various groups comprising the Bhutias would not have been available at that time, the officials entrusted in conducting the census broadly categorized the Bhutias to be consisting of four classes, the Sikkimese Bhutias or Denzongpas ,a mixed race of Tibetans and Lepchas, being the descendents of Tibetans who settled in Sikkim a few centuries ago and intermarried with Lepchas; Sherpa Bhutias, who came from east of Nepal; the Drukpa Bhutias, the descendents of the Bhutanese who were settled on the land at the time of annexation and the Tibetan Bhutias who had immigrated from the table land of Tibet.
The Bhutia tribe of West Bengal has been accorded Scheduled Tribe status vide Constitution (Scheduled Tribe) Order, 1950. However, since there was no elaboration in the Order as to who all comprised the Bhutia, the Tribes Advisory Council of West Bengal, constituted under Rule 4 of the Fiffth Schedule of the Constitution, Part B, during its first meeting held in March 1954 adopted a resolution to seek an explanatory note in the President’s order specifying the Scheduled Tribes to the effect that the word “Bhutia” included Denzongpas, Dukpas, Kagateys, Sherpas, Tibetans, Yolmos and Walungpas. The composition of Bhutia population of West Bengal has been subsequently amplified in the publication titled ‘Backward Classes in West Bengal 1952-56 published by Government of West Bengal, Calcutta and forwarded by R Ray, Minister of Tribal Welfare as:
“Any other name or names by which it is known; the following sub-tribes also have been included in the list of Bhutias of West Bengal: Bhutia, Dukpa (Drukpa), Kagatey, Sharpa (Sherpa), Tibetan, Yolmo, and Toto. Division of the different sub tribes is based on the different areas of their origin viz Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet and Sikkim.”
Subsequently, vide Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders (Ammendment) Act 1956, Act No 63 of 1956 (25th September 1956), the Bhutia listed as Scheduled Tribe in West Bengal was amended to Bhutia including Sherpa, Toto, Dukpa, Kagatey, and Tibetan. An apparently innocuous faltering in subsequent Government publications is denoting the Bhutia as Bhutia, Sherpa, Toto, Dukpa, Kagatey, Tibetan, Yolmo and not mentioning the all important link word Bhutia ‘including’, has inadvertently provided opportunities to few in raising ineffectual queries on the composition of Bhutia. In all fairness the word Bhutias of Darjeeling should be spelt out to include the following: Sikkimese Bhutias or Denzongpas, Dukpas, Tibetans, Yolmos, Walongs, Singhsabas and Sherpas.
In the Census Report of 1951, the population of Bhutia (understandably the Sikkimese Bhutias or the Denzonpas) has been reported to be 4,801, but on the inclusion of the Dukpas, Kagateys, Sherpas, Tibetans, Yolmos and Totos, the total number of Bhutia speakers in Darjeeling was recorded as 18,959. All subsequent Census of India has thence probably included the groups namely Dukpas, Kagateys, Sherpas, Tibetans, Yolmos and Totos under the blanket term Bhutia of West Bengal.
According to the Publication’ West Bengal Data Highlights: Scheduled Tribes, Census of India 2001, the total population of ‘Bhutia’ has been recorded as 60,091 which forms 1.4 per cent proportion to the total Scheduled Tribe population of West Bengal.