Roshni Rai is no Ordinary Marathon Runner

Find out why Roshni Rai is no Ordinary Marathon Runner and what is she doing for YOU!

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Roshni Rai of the “Run with Roshni” fame joins Adwiti Subba Haffner in a spirited interview, addressing crucial issues that the Nepali speaking Indian Gorkhas face in their own country and what she is doing to resolve this crisis.

“A runner must run with dreams in his/her heart.” Emil Zatopek

The Nariman Point in Mumbai glistened as the cool breeze softened the heat of the day, Roshni Rai reflected on her day. She had found new life in Mumbai, yet felt a tug in her heart as she yearned to feel the mountain air and watch the mist move seductively through the undulating hills of Pedong, Kalimpong. She was rudely shaken from her reverie when she heard taunts from the local boys “Oiy…Chinky…minky…” “ Oiy…..Chicken chili” “ oiy…Oiy..kancheee..”

In a fit of rage she strode over to the group and said “I am from Darjeeling, India and yes proud to be a Gorkhali Indian”.

The group scattered, but Roshni knew deep in her heart that she had to do something, to be an agent of change about this identity crisis and urgently. This was only one of the cases. She reflected back on how she had felt uncomfortable and repressed when introducing herself, speaking Nepali most people thought she was from Nepali, as a lot of people from the hills introduced themselves as are Nepal is and there too, confusion was compounded.

How long would she be able to keep slapping people, how long would she keep explaining to people that Nepali is a one of the official languages of India, wouldn’t it be better to educate them on a mass platform?

Find out more about Roshni’s makes her marathons so unique, race after race, and about how you can benefit from Mr. Pawan Kumar Chamling (Chief Minister of Sikkim) from his clever comment about identity. The organization has got media mentions in more than 15 national newspapers such as Times of India, Mid Day, DNA, Hindustan Times, and The Telegraph etc. She is a girl from Darjeeling with a dream and the courage to run after it!

Adwiti: Congratulations on getting the prestigious Gorkha Gaurav Award!  How was it like sharing the stage with such well renowned political and spiritual figures and that too in your own turf?

Roshni: Thank you very much. It was a wonderful experience to receive the award from Baba Ramdev, Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling and Mr. Bimal Gurung. But because I got the invitation for the award function very late, my parents could not join me and I missed them.

Adwiti: Run with Roshni is a very extensive and ambitious venture, spreading awareness about “Indian Gorkhas” and our age old identity crisis. The way you have incorporated a political statement with your marathon running is very inspiring. How was this idea born?  What does “Run with Roshni” want, what is its underlying concept?

Roshni: Thank you for acknowledging that ‘Run with Roshni’ is an extensive venture to spread awareness about ‘Indian Gorkhas’ and our age old identity crisis.

Mr. C B Chettri is the man responsible for introducing me to Landmark Forum, a personal development company which helped me bring a pivotal shift in my life. In Landmark Forum, I understood that unless I am proud of whom I am I will not grow in my life. I did Landmark Advance course and also three months course of Self Expression and Leadership Program (SELP).

While doing SELP, I had to take up a project, about self expression to benefit my community- so I decided to support the Gorkha runners to run different marathons all over India. We have trademark T-shirts with the slogan, ‘WE ARE GORKHAS AND PROUD TO BE INDIANINIDAN. JAI GORKHA, JAI HIND’ to bring awareness that Gorkhas are Indians, while we run.

So the vision statement “‘Run with Roshni’ wants to create world class Gorkha runners, who will represent India in Olympic Marathon, so the need to explain that we are Nepali speaking people from India is eradicated”.

Adwiti: I am going to address something that has been a longstanding bone of contention and has riled up heated debates and anger amongst us, Gorkhalis. Every watchman no matter what background they belong to is synonymously addressed or referred to as a “Gorkha”?  Through your awareness campaign what changes have you seen?

Roshni: Since 2012, team ‘Run with Roshni’ is running various marathons with the slogan on our organization’s T-shirts ‘WE ARE GORKHAS AND PROUD TO BE INDIANS. JAI GORKHA, JAI HIND’. We have got many media mentions. During my various interviews, I got the opportunity to inform the audience about the history of Darjeeling which is intertwined with that of Bengal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal. Many reporters, who took my interview, had no idea that Nepali is a recognized National language under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India and it is the 9th language mentioned on the Indian Currency.

So I believe that ‘Run with Roshni’ has created a platform from where we can enlighten the rest of India that Gorkhas are proud Indians and not synonymous to watchmen. We have so much talent in our community that I urge and encourage our people, our locals to have the courage to explore their talents and gifts and express them fully.

I must add that people from our region are in a variety of lucrative careers that they enjoy, I mention Mumbai since that is where I am residing right now. While we should not discount any honest work, be it a “watchman” or a “house help”, the comments that are passed to insult, devalue, underrate and stereotype a whole community causes the problem and the rift.

Adwiti: Gorkhas are famous for their unquestionable loyalty, bravery “better to die than be a coward”, obedience, and their renowned warrior status. These are labels which we carry with a lot of pride, but what do you think? Are Gorkhas just that?  How can we remove ourselves from being so stereotyped and also be recognized as artists, musicians, poets, intellectuals?

Roshni: Of course we are a brave community. I am very proud that Gorkhas are known for their obedience and for their renowned warrior status. But like you said we have more artists, musicians, poets and intellectuals in our community than warriors now but unfortunately we have not been able to promote them or they have not been able to promote themselves. We should band together as a community, acknowledge our intellectuals, and become curators of our culture and language. We should encourage, promote, sponsor, help and support our talents by writing about them, making documentaries of their lives, which will help us remove ourselves from being so stereotyped. I am also subtly trying to say “Khisi nagara…ubho lagney manchey heru lai utsa dew” ( Don’t criticise people who are wanting more in life, or trying to achieve more, instead give them support and  encouragement).

Adwiti: How do you think people outside of our region are being confused of our identity? What in your opinion is the root cause of our identity crisis?  

Roshni: In 1950, India and Nepal signed a treaty known as the Indo Nepal Treaty by virtue of which on reciprocal basis both the countries allowed free entry and settling of their citizens on either soil. This treaty served to aggravate the identity crisis situation of the Gorkhas of Indian origin for we were also seen as Nepali citizens residing on Indian soil. While the confusion or crisis was felt at a smaller scale in areas where the Gorkhas were a majority, it escalated to enormous proportions in regions where we are a minority. It also has to be because of our features and of course our language, but I am not going to let that be an excuse any more.

Root cause of our identity crisis is, like I said before the lack of awareness and also the treaty of 1950 signed between India and Nepal.

Furthermore Nepal is economically a lower-income country. Most of the people from Nepal come to the cities like Mumbai, Delhi in India and do odd jobs. They also speak Nepali and Gorkhas of Indian origin also speak Nepali and I think this is also another reason why there is confusion with the identity.

Adwiti: What advice/suggestion do you have for a radical change of this identity crisis at grass roots level?  What guidance can you give for the people from our region leaving their homes for the plains to stave off these “racially offensive” comments?

Roshni: When I first went to Mumbai, I used to get very angry with the comments like CHINESE DOLL, CHINKI-MINKI, And CHICKEN CHILLY. I have slapped many people on the roads. But later, I began to slowly but surely understand that those people were passing such comments because they were ignorant. They have no knowledge about North- East India and zero knowledge that Nepali speaking people are also Indians. Now, if I have time, I make it a point to stop and talk to them and educate them that I am also Indian. If I have no time, I just ignore them.

During Gorkha Gaurav Award Ceremony on 19th April, 2015, I got the opportunity to listen to the speech of Mr. Pawan Kumar Chamling, Chief Minister of Sikkim for last 23years. In his speech he made a very succinct point about this very thing, that when he visits Delhi, any time new Ministers from different parts of India ask him, if his father or grandfather had come to India from Nepal he replies that he came to India along with Gautama Buddha. I hope it will help my brothers and sisters to handle such comments in future because I am adopting this comment. Thank you Mr. Chamling.

Adwiti: You hold a law degree, you have  travelled to  the UK, Czech Republic and  South Africa bearing the flag  of a proud Indian Gorkha girl from GTA, you have thousands of followers,  you are looked upon as a role model. What advice do you have for the people from our region who are competing in the national and international level?

Roshni: Thank you for letting me know that I am a role model ;-) It was humbling to internationally represent my country.

As a Bal Vikas (Child Development) Students of Sri Satya Sai Organization, I always follow five Ds, which are

1. Duty
2. Discipline
3. Determination
4. Dedication
5. Devotion.

If anybody wants to be like me, just follow the five Ds.

Adwiti: You have done some leadership training in Landmark Worldwide self development company. How has this helped you in your journey as an:

Roshni: a)     An activist
b)     A marathon runner and
c)      and as a person

I have done the entire curriculum for living and Communication course from Landmark Worldwide. It has helped me to understand my human-ness and I learnt to have courage in my own voice. My voice being my heart, and the words that follow and I own it with pride and conviction.

Landmark taught me to be natural and to express myself fully in any situation.

Two years of the Communication Course, which is known as Team Management and Leadership Program (TMLP), trained me to listen to the greatness of people. I feel I can relate to anybody as a human being and can communicate with anybody.

The roles you have mentioned are temporary roles. Since I have learnt to be comfortable in my own skin, I can play any role, which inspires me in the particular moment. So Landmark education has helped me to understand my own potential as a human being with all my flaws.

Adwiti: Besides Sri Satya Sai Baba and your parents who are your inspirations? What makes you get up in the wee hours of the morning and hit the road with your running shoes?

Roshni: Sri Satya Sai Baba initially said to his devotees that ‘my life is my message’ and later on he said that ‘your life is my message’. Again in Bal Vikas, we were taught ‘MATRI DEVA BHAVA, PITRI DEVA BHAVA’, which means our mother and father are God. I follow this principle very strictly. Wherever I go, I keep myself in touch with Sri Satya Sai Organizations. I get inspired to be fully self expressed from small kids of 2-3years old as well. But if I have to name my inspirations, it is limited to Bhagwan Sri Satya Sai Baba and my parents only.

Adwiti: I believe you are writing a book. Please elaborate.

Roshni: Yes ‘Journey from Mountain to the Ocean- Run with Roshni’. It is about my experiences of growing up in a small village in Pedong, Darjeeling and of course about the political situation we lived through. I write extensively about my experiences of coming to Mumbai and running marathons. I have dedicated a few chapters to Darjeeling and her history and the  demand for separation from West Bengal as Gorkhaland. I have submitted my manuscript to many publishers. I am waiting for replies from other publishers. If I don’t get positive replies, I will self publish.

Adwiti: I am sure you already have an audience who are waiting for your book to be published. Could you share with us the achievements of ‘Run with Roshni’ till date?

Roshni: There are many achievements of ‘Run with Roshni’ but most important, I would like to share are as follows;
Five runners from team ‘Run with Roshni’ was recruited in the Indian Army, which is one of the pathways for them to reach Olympic Marathon.

Since 2012, till now, we have supported 30 runners to run eight marathons which includes, Mumbai marathon, Hyderabad Marathon and Chennai Marathon.

One of our runners became drug free. He says he gets a similar high from running, which he used to get from drugs.

Two runners from team ‘Run with Roshni’, Kamal and Runesh got an invitation to participate in ‘I love my Tiranga Relay 2015’, which started from Mumbai on 26th Jan, 2015 and ended in Delhi on 14th February, 2015.

“Run with Roshni” has another marathon event coming up in January 2016 in Mumbai. She is raising funds to support six runners for the event.  Three boys and three girls will be selected from the half marathon held this 1st May in Kalimpong.  Her vision cannot be accomplished without the loyal dedication and participation from her own community. Her email address is [email protected] and her Face book page is https://www.facebook.com/pages/Run-with-Roshni/431038796960083?fref=ts.

[Adwiti Subba Haffner is an entrepreneur, social worker, writer, freelance journalist, world traveler, mother, wife, meditation instructor. You can find her at https://www.facebook.com/AdwitiHaffner and her website iswww.alivewithadwiti.com]

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