Darjeeling, June 17, 2017: The otherwise peaceful Darjeeling in West Bengal was transformed into a battlefield with security forces and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters locking horns on Saturday.
The army later brought the situation under control.
GJM claimed that 3 of their supporters died in "police firing." Many security personnel were also injured with IRB Assistant Commandant Kiran Tamang's condition critical.
Incidentally the GJM is on an agitation path in the Darjeeling Hills in West Bengal since Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had suggested a three language formulae for the State. Though a bill to this effect has not been tabled in the West Bengal Assembly, the GJM cried of language imposition in the Hills.
With the CM clarifying that in Bengali language would be optional in the Hills, the GJM gave a Gorkhaland demand twist to the language agitation. Incidentally the GJM and other hill parties have been demanding a separate state "Gorkhaland" to be carved out of Bengal.
The agitation since June 5 has taken up different forms including indefinite office bandh including Centre, State, Gorkhaland Territorial Administration- an autonomous administrative arrangement for the Hills) and the 4 Hill Municipalities; indefinite general bandhs; sit in demonstrations and rallies. At present the Hills are under the grip of an indefinite general strike.
On Saturday situation got out of hand when security forces were trapped in between three rallies. State Security forces along with central police forces were deployed at Singamari and barricades were put up. Three rallies came in from Lebong, Patleybash and the Chowk Bazar.
At around 11. 30 am amidst the slogan shouting, things suddenly turned violent with clashes ensuing. While GJM supporters rained bricks, stones and bottles and slingshots, the security forces retaliated with baton charging and tear gas shelling. Security forces were clearly outnumbered and were forced to retreat.
Many journalists were trapped in between the security forces and the GJM supporters and had to take refuge in the house of the locals. Police vehicles were torched as the security forces retreated. The Singamari town police outpost was vandalised and the police vehicles torched.
Many security personnel were injured. IRB Assistant Commandant Kiran Tamang suffered grievous injuries from a sharp weapon believed to be a Khukuri. He was rushed to Siliguri for treatment. The GJM supporters had the clear advantage of the topography they were familiar with.
With the situation going out of hand, the army was called in. The army managed to diffuse the situation and took control of the area. Using the public address system the army personnel asked local residents not to come out on the streets.
Similar situation prevailed at Ghoom, around 8 km from Darjeeling town where Morcha supporters had taken to the streets. Here too security forces were outnumbered and were forced to retreat with stones, bottles and bricks thrown by GJM supporters. Later however the army came in and drove the GJM supporters back taking control of the area.
Binay Tamang, GJM Assistant Secretary claimed that three GJM supporters were killed in police firing. "Bimal Sashanker of Gok Bustee; Sunil Rai of Kainjaley and Mahesh Gurung of Relling died from police firing. We demand a judicial enquiry" demanded Tamang. The GJM has called a 12 hour long Dooars bandh on Sunday.
CM Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata on Saturday had stated that she had no problems to sit with the Morcha for talks provided they lifted the indefinite bandh.
Reacting to this, Tamang stated, "We will not sit with Bengal and Mamata Banerjee for talks. We will only sit with the Centre and we demand Centre's immediate intervention."
Anuj Sharma, ADG (Law and Order,) West Bengal, refuting allegations stated, "There was no firing from the side of security forces. On the other hand there was firing from the GJM side. We have more than 35 security personnel who were injured on Saturday."
Some GJM supporters were also rounded up in connection with the attack on security forces on Saturday evening.
Bimal Gurung in a video clip from an undisclosed location appealed to the Hill people to stand up strongly against police excess. Dubbing it the final battle for Gorkhaland he asked all to come out in support.
While an inspection bungalow was torched in Bijanbari on Friday night, a WBSEB vehicle was torched in Gorubathan on Saturday afternoon.
In the wee hours of Saturday GTA media cell executive Vikram Rai was picked up by the police from his residence in Darjeeling. He was however released later during the day. Police also raided the house of GJM Assistant Secretary Binay Tamang located at Dali, 3 km from Darjeeling town. Family members alleged that as Tamang was not in the house, security forces vandalised the house before leaving.