Darjeeling protest: Masked, agile & motivated—meet the youths who took on cops

As police lathicharged at the rally of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s (GJM’s) women’s wing, who braved the drizzle, the area in front of party office here became a war zone. Bottles, mostly drained of alcohol, were lobbed at the police who retaliated with tear gas shells.

Written by Ravik Bhattacharya | Singmari | Published: June 18, 2017 2:43 am
The young protesters came from different backgrounds. Partha Paul

Hundreds of youngsters, most of whose faces were covered with wet cloth, with stones and bottles in hand held up the Lebong Cart Road, confronting and driving away the security forces for a good couple of hours. Agile, prepared and motivated, from the road and from the hill tops they took on the security forces. The Sunday Express team was caught behind lines as the clash near Singmari began.

“We want Gorkhaland. Please write what is true. We want a separate state. What is wrong in it? We did not start the trouble, the police did. Now they are even firing at us,” said a teenager in fluent English, his face covered.

As police lathicharged at the rally of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s (GJM’s) women’s wing, who braved the drizzle, the area in front of party office here became a war zone. Bottles, mostly drained of alcohol, were lobbed at the police who retaliated with tear gas shells. The air became difficult to breath and people started to vomit. Women members of the GJM, some of them injured, ran from the clashes, taking shelter in some of the local houses. Members of the media too, who were covering the unfolding clash, took shelter.

The police, however, could not hold on for too long as the youths, numbering over a 100, overpowered them. Lathis and shields of police personnel were snatched as tear gas shells were lobbed back accompanied by petrol bombs that gutted police vehicles. The already pungent air soon bore the smell of burning fuel and rubber. “Do not worry, you guys will not be harmed,” said one young protester to the media. “But we cannot help if the police fires on you. You must understand why we are doing this. We do not want violence. But we are being forced (out on the streets). They lathi charged the women. We are ready for anything. We know the terrain and we can die for Gorkhaland.”

Speaking to some of the young protesters, it turns out that they come from a varied background — some are students, some have small family businesses and others were employed. Supporters of the GJM, many of them actively joined the party after the violence on May 8 in Darjeeling.

“We are not fools to leave our work, studies and do all this. When the fresh call for Gorkhaland came, we jumped in,” said another protester. Piles of stones, bags of glass bottles neatly placed on one side of the road are testimony to the fact that these protesters were prepared for the police. With youthful agility, they frequently changed positions to give the police a difficult target to hit.

Some even shouted abuses in Nepali and English at police personnel. As news of army deployment reached them, they requested the local residents to speak to the media.

“We do not want trouble or violence. But we all support Gorkhaland. The police and the government should understand this is a strong sentiment here. No one here likes shut downs and hardships. We are also scared,” said the 35-year-old man, who gave The Sunday Express team shelter at their house. With the Army said to come in, men, women and children locked themselves indoors. Some frequently had a quick peep from their window to review the situation outside. Soon the sounds of whistles and marching boots indicated that the Army was here. The young protesters slowly disappeared from the streets. Later, a huge contingent of police arrived on the spot to secure the area.

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