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Darjeeling a war zone as 'beware Mamata, we want Gorkhaland' slogans echo

Agitations turn violent in Singmari; 3 GJM supporters and 15 security personnel injured

Avishek Rakshit  |  Kolkata 

darjeeling, protests, Gorkhaland
Security personnel retreat during a protest by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) activists in Darjeeling. Photo: Subrata Majumder

As one enters Kurseong on the way to Darjeeling, one is greeted with slogans of: “Hoshiyar Mamata Banerjee! We want Gorkhaland! We want justice!”
 
The demand for a of has reared its head again after 35 years, with protests by the (GJM) turning violent on Saturday. At the Singmari area, GJM activists allegedly threw petrol bombs and stones at riot police, who in retaliation, fired teargas shells and resorted to a baton charge.
 
The incident, in which three GJM supporters and at least 15 security personnel were injured, prompted the administration to deploy the army in the area.
 
As the indefinite shutdown to demand a entered its third day, GJM activists took out a protest rally from their headquarters at Singmari. Prohibitory orders were in force and the police told the protesters, who were carrying the Tricolour and GJM flags, to disperse.
 
The protesters did not relent and started throwing stones and bottles at the police. A vehicle was also set on fire. The GJM claimed that four of its supporters had been killed in police firing. The security forces denied the claim. Instead, it said, Assistant Commandant Kiran Tamang was critically injured after being stabbed with a khukri. He was taken to the hospital where he died.
 
The immediate provocation for the troubles that have gripped the hills over the past week is Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s announcement that Bengali would be made compulsory in schools of the area. She clarified later that Nepali — the language of the majority of the people living there — would also be taught. But by then, the protests had already begun.
 
The state government had already augmented the presence of security personnel to more than 1,400. Three columns of the army were also deployed to maintain peace.
 
On Thursday, the police raided the offices of the GJM and recovered arrows and khukris. The party’s Assistant General Secretary Binoy Tamang and Vikram Ray, son of Member of Legislative Assembly Amar Ray, have also been taken into custody.
 
The police also managed to stop a number of other protest marches in Darjeeling, but the demands of those who took part in these were heard loud and clear.
 
“We want Gorkhaland,” said a protester at Ghoom, about 8 km south of “People who do not belong to this area do not understand our culture and disrespect us.”
 
Protestors also voiced their discontent with the Gorkha Territorial Administration agreement signed between the Centre, the state government and the Gorkha Liberation Front in 2011. “It has created 15 departments, but these are not of any help,” said another protestor.
 
The protestors have also adopted a new strategy to counter claims of the state government that their demands were secessionist or they had links to terror outfits in the Many of them were seen carrying the Flag.
 
“It is being projected that we want secession. That’s not true. We only want a in India,” said a protestor.
 
Chief Minister Banerjee has said her government was willing to enter negotiations with the GJM, but only if they called off their shutdown call. “If they are a political party, they should respect court orders,” she said, referring to a Calcutta High Court order on Thursday that said the GJM’s protest was illegal. Opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist), which during its 34-year-long rule in the state had opposed the demand for Gorkhaland, has extended support to the two-day strike called by 24 trade unions in the region. With monsoon setting in, visibility on Darjeeling’s roads has been severely restricted. But, one can hear the war cry loud and clear: “Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali (Hail Kali, here comes the Gorkha)”.

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