Darjeeling unrest: Three killed, Trinamool office and toy train station vandalised in fresh violence
A Trinamool Congress office and a police vehicle were set afire and a world heritage site vandalised as fresh violence erupted in Darjeeling on Saturday over the loss of two lives in alleged police firing during the ongoing statehood agitation.
The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), which is leading the agitation, alleged that a third person was also shot dead on the same day. However, the authorities are yet to confirm this.
The West Bengal government called in the Army just a week after it was withdrawn from the hill districts where the Gorkhaland agitation has been raging for nearly two months. While the state government denied any instance of firing, police officers were unavailable for comment.
The GJM said that while Tashi Bhutia was shot dead at Sonada on Friday night, Suraj Sundas was killed in Darjeeling the next day. The third victim – 40-year-old Samir Gurung – was allegedly killed later on Saturday.
“Samir was shot in the head when he was going to pay his last respects to Suraj Sundas, who was killed in Darjeeling around noon. Gurung was probably shot by CRPF personnel. He died at Singamari,” claimed Gorkha Janmukti Yuva Morcha president Prakash Gurung, adding that the ruling party cannot thwart their agitation by firing bullets.
While the state government referred to the Sonada incident as an “accident”, it made no mention of the other alleged deaths.
Protesters also targeted a station of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, popularly known as the toy train, vandalising furniture and setting the waiting room on fire. This is the second time they have attacked the tourist attraction during the course of the agitation.
The same afternoon, agitators set fire to two vehicles and the official quarters of a forest range officer at Gorubathan in Kalimpong. They also tried to torch a forest range office.
The renewed violence could pose a fresh challenge for chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is also battling communal violence at Basirhat in North 24 Parganas. The ruling Trinamool accuses the BJP of instigating violence in both Darjeeling and Basirhat. The BJP is an ally of the GJM.
“The violence in Darjeeling is a planned one. There are foreign links to this violence,” the chief minister said at a press conference in Kolkata.
Banerjee also accused the Central government of “disintegrating federalism” by refusing to send paramilitary forces to curb violence in Darjeeling and Basirhat. “The protesters have been setting fire to government offices, police establishments and vehicles but we have exercised restraint,” she said.
The hill regions of Bengal, including Darjeeling, have been on the boil since the first week of June – when the GJM launched an agitation over alleged attempts to introduce Bengali in its schools. The party later revived its 110-year old statehood demand, steadfastly refusing to hold talks with the Mamata-led government.
The indefinite shutdown in the hills completed 24 days on Saturday.
On Saturday, protesters fought pitched battles with police before setting ablaze a Trinamool office at George Bazar. They also pelted stones at the police, forcing them to respond with tear gas shells and rubber bullets.
Bijay Tamang, GJM assistant general secretary, said the state government has unleashed a reign of terror in the hills. Darjeeling BJP MP SS Ahluwalia agreed with Tamang. “Mamata Banerjee is refusing to come to terms with the people. The hill parties want withdrawal of security forces from the hills for peace to return,” he told HT.
On June 17, three persons were allegedly killed in police firing in Singamari , about two km from Darjeeling. Earlier this week, the newly formed 30-member Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee decided to continue the indefinite bandh. The government has banned Internet services in the hills since June 19.
Darjeeling hills have been witnessing arson and vandalism on government properties, particularly after June 15, when the house and the office of GJM president Bimal Gurung were raided by police.
The agitation started off as protests against an alleged move by the Trinamool government to impose Bengali in schools in the hills, where most people speak Nepali. The GJM used to administer the semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration.
Meanwhile, sources said a judicial commission headed by former Calcutta high justice Saumitra Pal was likely to probe the factors that led to the communal flare-up in Basirhat on July 2, and how it eventually spread.
(With inputs from HT Correspondent in Kolkata)