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British- era Bengali community Hall in Kurseong destroyed by Gorkhaland supporters

In Kurseong town, where number of members of the Bengali Association has been reduced to 75, Raj Rajeswari Hall was venue of the only Durga puja that turned 100 last year. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee declared it a heritage property and allocated funds for renovation.

kolkata Updated: Jul 19, 2017 19:37 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times
Raj Rajeswari Hall,Kurseong,Darjeeling
The charred remains of the 87-year-old Raj Rajeswari Hall run by the Bengali Association of Kurseong. (Bikram Sashanker)

Raj Rajeswari Hall, a British-era community hall run by the Bengali Association of Kurseong, was completely destroyed in the wee hours on Wednesday when alleged Gorkhaland supporters set it on fire. Made of wood, stone and concrete, the single-storey building on Dow Hill Road in Kurseong town was set up in 1930.

The hall was part of local history and venue of the only Durga Puja held in the town. The puja turned 100 last year. In February, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had allocated funds for renovation of the heritage structure.

The arson took place on the 35th day of the bandh in the hills and hours after the 15 political parties and non-political organisations heading the agitation decided to stage rallies and seminars in Delhi to draw the Centre’s attention to their demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland.

The decorated Raj Rajeswari Hall during Durga puja in 2016. (Bikram Sashanker)

Chandan Karmakar, a member of the trustee board that looks after the building said that all documents, furniture and the audio system were gutted. Interestingly, the property was never attacked during the earlier Gorkhaland movements in 1986-1988 and 2007-2011. The state PWD department had recently started a renovation project at a cost of Rs 38 lakh. Brijmohan Ghosh, secretary of the Bengali Association of Kurseong, said, “A part of Darjeeling’s history is lost.”

Members of the local Bengali community and tourists at Raj Rajeswari Hall during Durga puja in 2015 (HT file photo)

With only around 75 members left, the 100-year-old association is a proof of the ethnic tension and exodus of Bengalis from the hills since mid-1980s. Though many government and private properties, including Darjeeling Himalayan Railway stations, have been targeted since June 8, Raj Rajeswari Hall was never attacked. It was used for community events such as marriage and social gatherings. People of Kurseong used to take pride in the property.

Read: Indefinite Darjeeling bandh bleeds Siliguri’s business of Rs 2 crore every day

Alleged Gorkhaland supporters also set on fire the Nagari gram panchayat office and attacked the Kurseong tourist lodge and a police outpost. They also set on fire all the furniture inside the Trinamool Congress office in Darjeeling. On Wednesday afternoon a police vehicle was set on fire near the official residence of the deputy superintendent of police, Darjeeling.

Read: Darjeeling witnessing violent insurgency, Maoists from ‘neighbouring’ country, Bengal govt tells HC

State tourism minister Gautam Deb said that repeated act s of arson has proved that Gorkhaland supporters are not interested in peace talks. “We strongly condemn this violence,” said the minister who is also president of the Darjeeling Trinamool Congress district unit.

A police jeep on fire near a police officer’s quarters in Darjeeling town on Wednesday. (Bikram Sashanker)

On Tuesday, Union law & information technology minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, had brushed aside allegations by the Bengal government which accuses the Centre of encouraging the unrest. “Such allegations are baseless. The Union government is keen to see peace restored in the hills and we are ready to cooperate with the state. We have already sent Central forces. If needed, we will send more. The state government should initiate talks to restore normalcy,” Prasad said on the sidelines of a seminar organized by the Indian Chamber of Commerce.

First Published: Jul 19, 2017 19:37 IST