Fresh violence, arson in Darjeeling amid funeral march of 3 Gorkhaland supporters
Arsonists set ablaze a police outpost and barracks three hours after the procession at Sonada, where a station of the world heritage toy train of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was torched on Saturday.india Updated: Jul 09, 2017 22:24 IST
Fresh attacks on public property were reported in the Darjeeling hills on Sunday as arsonists torched an abandoned police outpost and barracks, while pro-statehood supporters held a peaceful march with the bodies of three men killed in alleged police firing.
Army soldiers have taken position on rain-clad roads and squares, replacing West Bengal policemen and paramilitary troopers. The state government called in the military just a week after it was withdrawn from the restive hills.
Thousands of people marched in funeral processions with the bodies of Tashi Bhutia, a meat shop owner who died at Sonada on Friday night, and Suraj Sundas and Samir Gurung in Darjeeling town.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), spearheading the movement for a separate Gorkhaland state to be carved out of West Bengal’s tea-growing hill districts, said they were killed in police firing. But the police dismissed the charge, saying not a “single shot was fired”.
Gurung was a cook at a homestay and Sundas was a daily wage labourer. They were killed during Saturday’s clashes in which several policemen were reportedly wounded, but authorities did not make any official statement.
The marches were peaceful but arsonists set ablaze a police outpost and barracks barely three hours after the procession at Sonada, where a station of the world heritage toy train of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was torched on Saturday.
The police buildings were empty and no one was guarding them.
With a 110-metre national flag, Gorkhaland supporters marched in the national capital too on Sunday to reinforce their demand for a separate state. They asked the Centre to intervene and remove paramilitary forces with immediate effect.
The Gorkha leaders rejected chief minister’s offer for talks if peace returns to the hills in the next “10-15 days”.
A meeting of the hill parties, which was scheduled for July 18, has been advanced to July 11.
Binay Tamang, the GJM assistant general secretary, said the campaigners will speak only to the Centre and the agenda should be granting statehood.
But the Centre hasn’t shown any intention of intervening in the crisis, which began early June after the Trinamool Congress government made Bengali a compulsory subject for students in all schools in the state.
The majority in Darjeeling speaks Nepali and they opposed the government’s move. The language protest resurrected the region’s demand for a separate state that dates back to the British era.
Chief minister Banerjee has accused the Centre of fomenting the fire in Darjeeling, which is represented by the BJP in Parliament. She alleged the unrest could have been nipped at the onset if the BJP-led central government had sent troops on time.
The BJP denied the charges and warned that West Bengal could turn into a bigger problem.
Party leader Meenakshi Lekhi said: “I want to say that Bengal is on the way to become Kashmir. The government is not doing anything to control the situation.”
Echoing similar views, party colleague Satyapal Singh said chief minister Banerjee is encouraging communal forces.
The fresh violence in Darjeeling posed a twin challenge for Banerjee, who is battling communal clashes at Basirhat in North 24 Parganas. The Trinamool accuses the BJP, an ally of the GJM, of instigating violence in both places.
(With agency inputs)