Chowk Bazar, the centre of Darjeeling town, today resembles Egypt’s Tahrir Square.
With the renewed agitation for Gorkhaland showing no signs of abating, the Bazar has become the unofficial centre of the ongoing stir, with all roads leading to it.
Tahrir Square was the focal point of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution against former president Hosni Mubarak and, again in 2013, against Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi.
Thousands of Egyptians converged on Tahrir Square to articulate their demands for change. The square not only served as the focal point of the agitation, but also played a vital role in uniting the masses against the perceived oppression they faced.
The fate of the Darjeeling’s Chowk Bazar is eerily similar.
People begin gathering in the market square at sunrise and spend the days exchanging views, ideas, discussing political developments and reading the newspapers.
As the day progresses, the political rallies begin. Most important political announcements concerning the struggle for Gorkhaland are also made in Chowk Bazar.
One of the square’s most intriguing features is the “democracy wall”, which is completely covered in posters. Everything that anyone needs to know about the bandhs in the Hills can be found on the democracy wall.
With the renewed agitation for Gorkhaland still spreading like wildfire, the innovative manner in which the protests are being conducted has caught the public imagination.
Women come to the square to tonsure themselves for Gorkhaland, while most political rallies are marked by barefoot youths and youths rolling on the ground, with their torsos covered in graffiti.
Fire torch rallies, candlelight vigils and children in fetters locked inside cages (symbolising the state’s suppression) are all the rage.
For shutterbugs, there seems to be no end to the iconic images on offer. Youths armed with digital cameras are busy clicking photographs throughout the day.
Since “no army can march on empty stomachs”, a good spread has been put on offer for the agitators.
Steaming khichdi served with fiery aachar conjured from the famous Dalleys — the round chillies also known as the fireballs of the Hills — strike a perfect balance between the political environment and the equally fiery rhetoric.
Chowk Bazar has always played an important role in all major political turning points in the Hills.
It bore witness to the police firing on Pranta Parishad activists in 1982, in which two people died. Chowk Bazar again occupied centre stage during the GNLF’s 28-month-long violent agitation for Gorkhaland led by Subash Ghising in the ‘80s.
It seems that in 2013, Chowk Bazar has once again emerged as the most crucial meeting point on the political crossroads that will determine the destiny of Darjeeling.
All photos credit to ' We Want Gorkhaland ' Facebook page.