Security forces patrolled the streets in the hills and Internet services remained suspended for the second day today as Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters held protest march in Darjeeling demanding Gorkhaland and burnt effigies of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Carrying black flags, protesters, especially the youth, marched on the streets of Chowkbazar area shouting slogans against the state government and the chief minister. Protesters also burnt effigies of Banerjee and vowed to continue their fight for Gorkhaland. "Three of our activists were killed. We are ready to give our lives but will not stop protesting till we get Gorkhaland," Sirish Pradhan, a GJM worker, said. Several small processions were taken out by GJM activists in various parts of Darjeeling. Internet services remained suspended for the second day today.
According to police sources, the step was taken to stop GJM activists from using the social media to spread "provocative posts". Security forces patrolled the streets as the situation remained tense on the fifth day of GJM-sponsored indefinite shutdown.
"The situation is still very tense. Since morning there has been no incident of violence. But we are on high alert and are prepared for any eventuality," said a senior police officer. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee urged all concerned parties and stakeholders to attend an all-party meeting called by the state government in Siliguri on June 22 on the prevailing situation in Darjeeling. She urged the people to maintain peace and said, "Violence cannot be a solution to any problem and only talks can solve it".
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had appealed to the protesters yesterday not to resort to violence and instead, hold dialogue to resolve any issue. He said resorting to violence would never help them in finding a solution and asked the people living there to remain calm and peaceful.
GJM expressed their "displeasure" with the Centre and questioned the absence of BJP MP from Darjeeling S S Ahluwalia at the time of crisis. "The role of alliance partner BJP is very unfortunate and very disappointing. We had expected something positive from the part of the Central government. We feel we are being used as pawns by the Centre and the state," Darjeeling MLA and senior GJM leader Amar Singh Rai said.
GJM is an ally of BJP and it was with the help of GJM that BJP won the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat twice in 2009 and 2014. "We are ready to sit with the Centre anytime. But with the state, the condition would be that they withdraw all forces and allow normalcy to return as a confidence building measure. And we will sit for dialogue with Gorkhaland as the sole agenda," Rai said.
GJM activists had taken out a protest march here yesterday carrying the bodies of two party supporters who, they alleged, were killed in police firing on Saturday. Police pickets and barricades were placed in front of the government and GTA offices and various entry exit points of the hills while Rapid Action Force (RAF) and a sizable number of women police personnel were also deployed. Except medicine shops, all others shops and hotels were closed in the hills.
Family members of those alleged to have been killed in clashes with police might have lost their sole bread winners, but they vowed to continue their fight for a separate state of Gorkhaland. Family members of Sunil Rai (23), Mahesh Gurung (25) and Bimal Shashanker (28) alleged that the three were killed during clashes with police on Saturday.
The police, however, confirmed the death of only one person but did not identify him nor gave the reason for his death. "Is it wrong to fight for your own right? Gorkhaland is our right and we will have it. His death will inspire other youths. We can starve but will continue our fight," Sunil's uncle, Aita Singh Thani told PTI.
Sunil, a driver by profession, is survived by his wife, a 10-month-old son and ailing parents. He used to live in Bijanbari area of Darjeeling. Bimal Shashanker, a farmer, was killed while he was with other GJM activists during a protest on Saturday, said Ramesh, a relative of Bimal. "Everybody started to flee once the lathi charge started. Suddenly Bimal fell down. He was a close friend and is the sole bread winner of the family. His death inspires us to take forward our fight for Gorkhaland," Ramesh said.
Bimal is survived by his 8-year-old son, wife and parents. Mahesh, who used to work in Rajasthan, had come home in Darjeeling for holidays, GJM sources said adding that he was a bachelor and is survived by his ailing parents. Since June 8, Darjeeling has witnessed violent clashes between GJM activists and police over the demand of a separate state of Gorkhaland.