Darjeeling unrest: Shutdown continues, thousands gather for GJM protest rally
The GJM called the rally with bodies of three of its supporters who were killed allegedly in police firing on Saturday.india Updated: Jun 18, 2017 14:09 IST
Normal life was affected in the Darjeeling hills for the fourth consecutive day, as the indefinite bandh called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) continued on Sunday amid a protest rally.
The GJM called the protest rally with bodies of three of its supporters who were killed allegedly in police firing on Saturday.
Thousands of Gorkhaland supporters occupy the 1.5km stretch between Darjeeling railway station and old supermarket, where the bodies of the three supporters killed on Saturday are to arrive.
A large contingent of the army, paramilitary and the police stood guard at some distance.
Vehicles were off the roads and shops and business establishments in the picturesque hill station downed their shutters.
The 12-hour bandh called in the adjoining Dooars region to protest the alleged police attrocities, however, had partial impact.
Bimal Gurung, the chief of the GJM which rules the semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, in a video statement released on Saturday evening from his hideout urged people from all over the hills and the adjoining areas to gather at Chawkbazar to pay “tributes to the three martyrs”.
Police, however, declined permission to hold the rally. A senior police official was quoted by PTI as saying, “No one has been given permission to hold a rally in the hills.”
Police, who are on high alert after Saturday’s violence and arson, conducted route marches with the army in several parts of the hills.
Police pickets and barricades were placed in front of government and GTA offices, and various entry-exit points of the hills. Several woman police personnel were also deployed.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee earlier refuted the GJM’s claim that the three persons died in police firing, terming the ongoing agitation in the Darjeeling hills a “deep-rooted conspiracy” supported by insurgent groups of the northeast and some foreign countries.
Meanwhile, a few hundred members from the Muslim community took out a ‘peace rally’ in the town on Sunday morning, supporting the demand for Gorkhaland and condemning the alleged police atrocities.
“We never faced any discrimination from the Gorkha community. We feel their demand is just,” said Mushtaq Ahmed, trader, a fourth-generation Darjeeling resident.
They called for peace talks between the state government and the Gorkha leadership, who are spearheading the agitation, sparked by fears of Bengali being imposed in schools in the GJM-administered areas where majority of the people speak Nepali.
Though the government clarified that Bengali will be an optional subject, the GJM refused to back down and instead revived the almost 100-year-old demand for a separate Gorkhaland.
On Saturday night, GJM supporters set two more panchayat offices on fire, at Alay and Dalim in Gorubathan block in Kalimpong.
Bimal Gurung, who is in hiding, in his second video statement, appealed to the Trinamool Congress workers in the hills to join the Gorkhaland movement.
(With PTI inputs)