Security forces men guard as GJM supporters stage a protest rally in Darjeeling. Pic/AFP
Massive protests in Darjeeling and sporadic incidents of violence in Kalimpong and Kurseong marked the GJM-called "black day" in the north Bengal hills on Sunday while its 12-hour strike in Dooars -- foothills covering parts of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts -- received lukewarm response. However, there were no reports of fresh clashes between the agitators and the security forces in Darjeeling.
Thousands of protestors took out rallies on the streets of Darjeeling amid tight security, including by army patrols, to mark the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha's protest against alleged killing of its three activists in police firing and also pressing the demand of a separate state of Gorkhaland. Led by the GJM activists, protestors carried the coffins of the three activists allegedly shot dead by security personnel in Darjeeling's Singmari during clashes on Saturday.
Holding aloft the tricolour, GJM youth members led the rally from Chawk Bazar, the famous lower market area on the Hill cart Road in Darjeeling, passionately shouting pro-Gorkhaland slogans. Shouts of "Police go back" and "Gorkhaland-Gorkhaland" reverberated through the picturesque hills as some Gorkha activists claimed that the protest has shifted from the political to the commoners' movement in the hills.
"There are more than 15,000 people in the rally today. This is not just GJM. People of the hills have come together to demand separate Gorkhaland. Let's see how far we can go," a young woman protestor told a TV channel. Superintendent of Police Akhilesh Kumar Chaturvedi told IANS that the rally "was by and large peaceful. There were no instances of violence in Darjeeling today".
He also rebuffed GJM's claims of gathering more than 15,000 people, putting the attendance somewhere around 2,000. The rally was preceded by a silent march of the civilians on Sunday morning, demanding peace to be restored in the hills. Sporadic violence was reported from elsewhere.
GJM supporters allegedly vandalised two cars in Kurseong and torched three panchayat offices in the neighbouring Kalimpong district while a prominent library in Kalimpong town went ablaze with the administration blaming 'GJM-backed goons' for it. Terming the situation "very very volatile", GJM leader Amar Singh Rai claimed that a separate state of Gorkhaland is the biggest priority for them and rebuffed any possibility of discussions with the Bengal government.
"We will seek a discussion with the Centre. But only on one agenda -- a separate state of Gorkhaland," he added. GJM activists also blocked roads and staged demonstrations at many places in the Dooars -- foothills covering parts of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts -- in support as the agitation in the hills spilled onto the plains.
They blocked the road near Dalsingpara tea estate in Jaigaon, choking the only road connecting India and Bhutan. However, unlike the hills, the GJM-called strike only managed to achieve partial success as most of the shops stayed open in prominent towns like Jalpaiguri, Malbazar, Dhupguri and Nagrakata and public transport plied as usual.
According to the North Bengal State Transport Corporation (NBSTC), buses from Jalpaiguri to various places in Dooars and Cooch Behar district ran in sufficient numbers. However, the effect of the strike was better felt at the regions close to Bhutan border that boasts a higher amount of Nepali population. The gateway to Bhutan at Chamurti was kept closed by the Bhutan government to avoid any possible scuffles.
The GJM announced an indefinite general strike from last Monday in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts and the Dooars to oppose the government's purported decision to make study of Bengali language compulsory in state-run schools -- despite the government clarification this would not be applicable in this region -- and to press for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
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