Darjeeling Hill indefinite bandh touches the 40 day mark
Darjeeling, July 24, 2017: In the Hills of North Bengal, bandhs and specially the ones that are "indefinite" in nature are the perfect gauge of the intensity of any agitation. Out of this the 40 day mark popularly known as "Challish din" is an important yardstick. Monday marked the 40th day of the ongoing indefinite bandh in the Hills.
Past agitations in the Hills have also witnessed the "Challish." The Gorkhaland agitation of the 1980s spearheaded by Subash Ghising led Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) had witnessed the 40 day bandh for the first time.
Ghising's indefinite bandh call in 1988 was against alleged police excess and CRPF atrocities. The bandh which had ended on March 20 left 60 people including 6 CRPF dead. Around 450 agitators were arrested and booked under Anti Terrorist Act. Front rung GNLF leaders had gone underground. The Government had pegged losses towards damage and destruction of Government property at Rs. 8 Crores.
In Kalimpong the agitators had destroyed water pipe lines and disrupted electricity crippling the town. There were many areas declared as "liberated zones." Security forces came down heavily on the agitation.
As violence escalated there were demands for Ghising's arrest. Police had seized a howitzers, a cannon, three-inch and two-inch mortars and large quantities of gelatine sticks, dynamite, electronically detonated land-mines and high-explosive grenades during a raid on GNLF leader R.P. Waiba's hide-out at Okaity, near the town of Mirik.
Finally the agitation had culminated in the signing of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) accord on August 22, 1988 between the Centre, State and the GNLF. Thus the DGHC- an administrative body for the Hills had come into existence. The 28 month long violent agitation had left 1200 people dead and many homeless.
In 2007 Bimal Gurung, dissident GNLF leader and close confidant of Ghising, floated the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). The GJM ousted Ghising along with the GNLF from the Hills. Riding piggy back on the Gorkhaland demand the agitation had culminated in the Union, State and the GJM signing the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) Accord on July 18, 2011. Thus the GTA- a semi autonomous administrative body came into existence.
In July 2013 with the UPA Government deciding to carve out Telangana, the GJM had resurrected the Gorkhaland agitation. The State had come down heavily countering with mass arrests. More than 2000 GJM supporters and leaders including GTA members had been arrested in the near two month long agitation which had included a 44 day long bandh, thereby shattering Ghising's 40 day record.
The West Bengal government in September 2013 had pleaded before the Calcutta High Court to direct the GJM to pay Rs 69.163 crore as compensation for losses caused to public and private property during its agitation.
An agitation protesting against the alleged imposition of Bengali language in the Hills by the State Government got a Gorkhaland twist ringing in the indefinite bandh on June 15 this year.
The indefinite bandh saw 8 agitators dead in alleged police firing. Aniket Chettri, a truck driver, succumbed to burn injuries when agitators had set fire to his truck on the National Highway 10. 69 year old Norden Lepcha of Darjeeling was attacked by a group with iron rods and later lost his life.
A month into the bandh, a West Bengal Government report claimed that losses incurred is to the tune of Rs. 355 Crores. The report states that 54 vehicles have been damaged or torched; 73 Government offices and buildings have been damaged or torched and 113 government personnel including police have suffered injuries. This report submitted at the Calcutta High Court on July 15 stated that violence along with destruction in the Hills continues unabated. Most of the front rung GJM leaders, including Gurung, remains incommunicado.
However the present bandh has a difference with the previous ones. The 2017 bandh has been continuous without any relaxation in between. Both the 1988 and the 2013 bandhs had witnessed relaxations.
"I have seen all the three "Chaalish din" bandhs. Security forces were very aggressive during the 1988 bandh . They used to force open shops while the agitators used to force them shut. Raids were a daily affair. We used to hide in the jungles to avoid being picked up by the police. The 2013 bandh was not violence riddled. This time with no relaxations, life has become very difficult. With the banks closed we are cash strapped. Even if foodstuff is available at a premium we do not have the cash to buy" stated Dinesh Pradhan, a resident.
With the Government having discontinued internet services, Darjeeling feels cut off from the rest of the world this time. "We are bearing immense hardship. There is scarcity of food, banks are closed, there is no internet service. We are just waiting to see what the bandh will culminate into. What fruits will it bear after the immense sacrifice by the residents?" questioned Pradhan.