DARJEELING, West Bengal
The Indian government turned off the internet as several hundred heavily armed security forces arrived in Darjeeling over the weekend to help quell a 34-day strike by West Bengal Gorkha seeking statehood. Organizers announced the agitation will “turn terrible” if their demands are not met.
The strike halted the second flush tea harvest, closed factories, and has idled several hundred thousand tea workers across the northern reaches of the state, which produces India’s most famous and most expensive teas. Prolonged unrest may prevent the third and final harvest of autumnal tea.
“The agitation which has been going on for over one month will turn terrible and it will be a decisive battle for our independence,” Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) Chief Bimal Gurung told reporters Saturday night. “If I need to shed my blood I am ready to do that, but the fight will go on till Gorkhaland is achieved,” Gurung said.
Food is in short supply, traffic is unable to move unhindered, and the ban on internet services has been extended until July 25. While most protests are routine and the streets generally safe, police and security forces are patrolling Kurseong after protesters engaged in arson and large-scale violence that has claimed seven lives and left hundreds injured. In Darjeeling, local bus service was halted after five buses were destroyed by protesters, along with 20 cars and trucks.
GJM activists demanded a return of internet service, which was blocked to prevent organizers from coordinating efforts.
District Magistrate Joyoshi Das Gupta ordered Darjeeling Television, the ABN Channel, Darjeeling Siliguri TV and Himali Channel to stop airing news of the ongoing protest.
Four companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were deployed to Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and Sonada. CRPF is the largest of India’s armed police forces. It functions under the aegis of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). There are 11 CRPF companies now in place in the region. On Monday a protester confronting police in Mirik was shot in the chest and later pronounced dead.
According to The Hindu, the government of West Bengal has ruled out a division of its boundaries, relying on the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee (GMCC) to address local concerns. The GMCC is a 30-member body comprising all political parties in the region and social organizations. In 1988, violent protests led to the creation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) which, in turn, led to the establishment, in 2012, of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA).
Shutting down the internet is to pre-empt those spearheading the agitation from canvassing for public support. This has led to widespread resentment, which is being tapped into by the movement, according to The Hindu report.
Except for pharmacies and hospitals, all other shops, restaurants, and hotels remain closed. Banks and ATMs are closed. Bars and pubs are closed and outdoor sporting events canceled. Schools and colleges have extended their summer break until the unrest ends. Students were allowed to travel June 23 to return home. Boarding schools, housing 10,000 students, are struggling to fill classrooms. Ludo, a popular indoor game occupies the time. Hill people, accustomed to power disruptions and roads blocked by landslides following heavy rains, commonly hold a month’s supply of food in their pantries but many receive water weekly by truck and few can store more than one month of LPG to heat their homes and cook. Food is being distributed by care organizations, according to the The Times of India.
Tourist shuttles no longer run and tourists, a main source of revenue for the region, are staying away.