A police outpost and a forest bungalow were set on fire in Darjeeling as the first incidents of violence struck the district and the fight for a separate state of Gorkhaland intensified.
There were reports of sporadic violence throughout Darjeeling Hills in West Bengal on the intervening night of August 1 and 2 as the district moved towards an indefinite bandh starting on Saturday. The body of a GJM supporter was also recovered from a tea garden outside Darjeeling.
The agitation for a separate state has taken centre stage once again with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which is spearheading the movement, renewing its demand after the UPA government decided to carve out Telangana from Andhra Pradesh.
The demand for a separate Gorkhaland - opposed by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee - is among the most prominent mass movements of similar nature in other states including Bodoland in Assam, Vidarbha in Maharashtra and Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh-Madhya Pradesh.
Police said that the outpost at Pokriabong under the Sukhia Pokhari police state was torched on Thursday night "The rioters also tried to set afire two home guards who were present inside the camp. One of the home guards Birman Baraily has been admitted at the Darjeeling Sadar Hospital with grievous burn injuries," stated Supdeep Sarkar, additional superintendent of police, Darjeeling.
At around 10pm on Thursday, the forest bungalow at Tukdah was also torched though local residents with the help of forest personnel managed to put out the fire. Out of 5 rooms, 2 VIP rooms were totally gutted in the fire. In a similar incident, petrol bombs were hurled at the forest guesthouse at Lhodama. However, the forest guards managed to extinguish the fire. There were also attempts to torch a NHPC vehicle in Mongpu.
Meanwhile, police are trying to ascertain whether the killing of GJM activist Saroj Tamang - whose body was recovered from a tea garden on the outskirts of Darjeeling - was political in nature. Tamang was apparently hacked to death.
The GJM has, however, washed their hands from the incidents of arson. "It is a conspiracy to malign our agitation. We have nothing to do with these incidents," said Binay Tamang, GJM leader.
Jolted into action by the spurt of violence, the government was rushing 5 companies of CRPF. At present the Indian Reserve Batallion (IRB) and Rapid Action Force (RAF) are deployed in the hills along with Darjeeling police.