A day after police and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) workers fought pitched battle across the Darjeeling Hills and three GJM workers were killed in firing, thousands of protesters poured into the streets to mourn the deaths and demand a separate state of Gorkhaland. Bodies of two of the three individuals killed on Saturday were brought to Chowkbazar in mortuary vans.
From Delhi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh appealed for calm and peace in Darjeeling. “Nobody should resort to violence… Every issue can be resolved through mutual dialogue,” he tweeted.
Amid tight security arrangements, protesters started to gather at Chowkbazar around 10 am. Over two hundred members of Darjeeling’s Muslim community, and members of other communities, joined the GJM’s peace and solidarity rally. By afternoon, thousands from across the Hills had gathered at Chowkbazar to pay homage to the deceased.
According to the GJM, Bimal Sashankar of Goke Basti, Sunil Rai of Kainjalay and Mahesh Gurung of Relling were killed in police firing, an accusation that the police and state government have denied. Sashankar and Rai were killed in Singmari and Gurung in Ghoom, the GJM claimed.
Rai (23), was married two years ago, and had a six-month-old child. He was the sole breadwinner for his family of his mother, wife and child. Sashankar (28), had an 8-year-old son. He too was his family’s sole breadwinner. Gurung (24), was not married, and has left behind a brother and a sister.
“We do not know how he (Sashankar) was killed. The police are tightlipped. Our family is destroyed,” said Raju, a cousin of Bimal Sashankar.
Muhammed Mushtaq, whose family has lived in Darjeeling for four generations, said, “We want peace in Darjeeling. We have never faced any problems with the Gorkhas, and have been peacefully living side by side. We support Gorkhaland, and we are a part of it.”
Sunita Rani, a housewife, who was seen along with GJM supporters shouting slogans demanding Gorkhaland, said, “Here, it is not about Gorkhas or non-Gorkhas. We are originally from Bihar, but we are now settled here. We do business. This is as much as our land. We too are out in the streets.”
Protesters participating in the march wore black armbands and waved black flags as they chanted slogans for Gorkhaland and justice, and demanding that the police and CRPF be withdrawn from the Hills.
“Police firing killed our brothers. We will not rest until we have Gorkhaland. The fight has just begun. Can you see the number of people who have turned up today to mourn and protest?” said Sonal Chetri, a resident of Darjeeling.
The Internet has been disrupted in Darjeeling and adjoining areas since midnight on Saturday, handicapping protesters who have been using social media to organise. While the police and administration remained tightlipped on the reason for the disruption, GJM supporters alleged it was a way to clamp down on the agitation.
Rajnath Singh tweeted that he had spoken to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the morning, and she had apprised him of the situation in Darjeeling.
“I appeal to the people living in Darjeeling and nearby areas to remain calm and peaceful. Nobody should resort to violence,” Singh tweeted.
“In a democracy like India resorting to violence would never help in finding a solution. Every issue can be resolved through mutual dialogue… All concerned parties and stakeholders should resolve their differences and misunderstandings through dialogue in amicable environment.”
Singh had spoken to Banerjee on Saturday as well, and asked her to take all possible steps to ensure peace returned to the hill station where the GJM, which is in power in the semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, is protesting against the “imposition” of Bengali in schools.