Demand for Gorkhaland: How Bengali language derailed peace in Darjeeling
Today in New Delhi, India
Jan 18, 2019-Friday
New Delhi
  • Humidity
  • Wind

Demand for Gorkhaland: How Bengali language derailed peace in Darjeeling

The Mamata Banerjee government provoked the Gokha Janmukti Morcha by announcing that Bengali should be a compulsory subject from Class 1 to 10.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2017 07:24 IST
Shops and business establishments remain shut after the bandh called by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in Darjeeling. (PTI Photo)

The crisis that has paralysed Darjeeling, one of the country’s most popular hill stations, seems to be the result of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s (GJM) apprehension of the Mamata Banerjee government forcing Bengali as a compulsory subject for school students in the hills.

The origin of the fear – which seems misplaced now – lies in the May 16 announcement by Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee that Bengali should be a compulsory subject from Class 1 to 10 in the state.

The statement was enough to provoke GJM, which rules the semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), that interpreted it as an imposition.

Nepali is the official language in the hills of Bengal, recognised as an official language of Bengal in 1961. In 1992, Nepali was recognised as one of the official languages of India.

Bimal Gurung, head of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) party that seeks the creation of a separate state of Gorkhaland, takes part in a news conference in Darjeeling. (AFP Photo)

“The people in Mirik and other places would switch off their lights every day from 6 pm to 8 pm till June 8 as a mark of protest against the state government’s decision to make Bengali compulsory,” Binoy Tamang, GJM assistant secretary, said on June 4.

The state government ignored the initial reactions of the GJM and chief minister Mamata Banerjee said the morcha leaders were making “an issue out of a non-issue”.

GJM president Bimal Gurung led protest rallies in the hills between June 5 to 8, when the chief minister was present, to highlight their opposition to the state’s decision. They demanded that there should be a cabinet resolution stating Bengali will not be compulsory in Darjeeling.

The government softened its tone after the GJM stepped up its protest. After the cabinet meeting at Raj Bhavan in Darjeeling on June 8, the chief minister clarified that Bengali will be an optional subject in the hills.

But Gurung and other GJM leaders refused to take the decision just on face value and decided to intensify agitations. When the situation went totally out of control, the state administration sought army help.

Peace came temporarily and on June 10, the chief minister repeated her announcement that Bengali will be an optional subject.

But the GJM refused to relent, scaling up the agitation to the old demand for a separate Gorkhaland state.

June 5
  • West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee reaches Darjeeling for a 4-day trip.
  • At a public meeting in Mirik, Banerjee announces special audit of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) to unearth financial irregularities that Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leaders allegedly indulged in.
  • GJM supporter arrested for showing black flag to CM.
June 8
  • GJM supporters organise agitation close to Raj Bhavan where Banerjee is holding a cabinet meeting.
  • At press meet, CM clarifies Bengali will not be compulsory for hill students. In May, she had declared Bengali as a mandatory subject for students till Class 10 in schools across the state.
  • Clashes erupt between police and GJM supporters
  • Banerjee calls in the army as situation deteriorates.
  • Bengal government withdraws security cover of GJM chief Bimal Gurung.
June 9
  • GJM youth wing calls 12-hour bandh in the hills.
June 10
  • In Siliguri, Banerjee hints at stern police action to deal with GJM. "Enough is enough. We can’t compromise any longer with a party that uses bombs and guns," she says.
June 12
  • GJM supporters set fire to the block development office in Bijanbari around midnight of June 11-12.
  • Protesters set fire to PWD office and vandalise a state-run power utility office in Darjeeling.
June 13
  • Resolution to push for separate state of Gorkhaland adopted at a meet by 4 political parties of the hills, the BJP and an apolitical body.
June 15
  • Police raid GJM office in Patlebas, about 5 km from Darjeeling, seize weapons such as bows and arrows, axe, scythes and cash
  • GJM retaliates by calling indefinite bandh.
  • Agitators set fire to an outpost in Kalimpong
  • Clashes erupt again between police and GJM supporters at Patlebas.
  • Police claim they were fired upon by GJM supporters.
June 20
  • Date of the next all-party meeting

On June 13, the statehood demand got a push after an all-party meeting attended by all hill-based political outfits and the BJP, where an unanimous resolution in favour of Gorkhaland state was adopted.

The battle of attrition reached a flash point on Thursday when the police raided the office of the GJM at Darjeeling and seized weapons, cash and radio sets from there.

By the end of the day and beyond, different pockets in the hills turned into battlefields with violent clashes between police and GJM activists.

First Published: Jun 15, 2017 18:55 IST