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Our sacrifice has gone in vain, say kin of those killed in 1980s Gorkhaland stir

Darjeeling is witness to fresh turmoil as a new generation of activists takes to the streets to push for the demand of a separate state.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2017 19:55 IST
Probir Pramanik
Probir Pramanik
Darjeeling, Hindustan Times
Gorkhaland,Darjeeling,Darjeeling unrest
Tara Mothay’s son was among the 1,200 people who were killed between 1985 and 1987.(Bikram Sashanker/HT)

But for a small memorial built at Singamari Phatak, the spot where he was shot, few in Darjeeling remember Bhupen Mothay who laid down his life in June 1987 for the cause of a separate Gorkhaland state.

Like in the mid-1980s when the demand for a separate state plunged the hills of north Bengal into violence, Darjeeling is witness to fresh turmoil as a new generation of activists takes to the streets to push for the same demand.

But Mothay’s mother Tara remains a silent spectator, unimpressed by the shrill rhetoric or raucous rallies for statehood.

Her son was among the 1,200 people who were killed between 1985 and 1987. But the sacrifice of Mothay, who was killed in police firing, has all but been forgotten and Tara is bitter. “I lost my son who was the only earning member of the family. He was the eldest of my three sons. But what purpose did his death serve?” she asks.

Forced to work as a maid servant for a living, Tara got a one-time compensation of Rs 8,000 for her son’s death in 1989. She gets a monthly old-age pension of Rs 750, but that too has not been paid for the last six months.

“His sacrifice for Gorkhaland is forgotten. He gave his life in vain,” she says.

Her biggest grouse is reserved for local politicians at the helm of the Gorkhaland agitation. Though youngsters like Mothay heeded to their calls and paid with their lives, the leaders settled for autonomous councils rather than a separate state in the past.

The agitation of the 1980s was suspended by Subash Ghising after Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) was formed. Bimal Gurung, the prime mover behind the current agitation, had signed up for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) in 2011.

Tara isn’t the only one in Darjeeling who isn’t swayed by the tumult in the hills. Kishore Gurung, 61, is another.

Once a prominent foot soldier of Ghising, he was a name to reckon with in the Darjeeling hills. His sacrifices – he lost his father and two brothers during the 1985-87 unrest – made him into part of folklore.

Kishore Gurung. ( Bikram Sashanker/HT )

But that was then. Now, Gurung is more of a pariah with no part to play in the latest round of protests being described by many as Gorkhaland II. First, his mentor Ghising fell out of favour and had to flee the hills. Two, the new Gorkhaland leaders have no place for him.

“I took up arms, inspired by Subash Ghising’s call for a separate state of Gorkhaland and was involved in a series of attacks on the CRPF and the CPI(M) workers,” recounts Gurung, sitting in his house above the Happy Valley Tea estate some 10km away from Darjeeling.

At the height of the 1980s movement, he was a wanted man with 26 criminal cases lodged against him. His father Dil Bahadur was allegedly killed by the security forces, brother Bal Bahadur was killed in a clash with CPI(M) activists, and another brother Binod was murdered after being abducted.

He has lost stature and prestige since with some of the current Gorkhaland leaders even describing him as ‘anti-Gorkhaland’.

Gurung is a far cry from his fiery past and now advocates peaceful agitation for realising a separate Gorkhaland. “It is an emotive issue but people must realise that political parties are playing games and the local politicians of the hills are their pawns,” he says.

Though far less enthusiastic than what she was in the 1980s, even Tara - Mothay’s mother - is all for a separate state. “Politicians have betrayed us, but if Gorkhaland is created, my son’s soul will have peace,” she says, surveying the current unrest.

First Published: Jun 27, 2017 17:59 IST