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18 Jun 2017

Journalists trapped... Shelter in dark corridor, rampage outside - SP to senior: 'We are trapped'

Kinsuk Basu, TT, Darjeeling, June 17: Kinsuk Basu and Passang Yolmo, two journalists of The Telegraph, were caught in today's clash between Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters and police in Singamari, Darjeeling.
Basu and Yolmo took shelter in a local resident's house, where they spent one-and-a-half hours as tear gas shells, bullets and bombs raged outside.
A first-person account by Basu:
It was 12.05 in the afternoon, some 45 minutes since Morcha supporters had begun attacking the police posted around their party office in Singamari.
Stones - huge chunks - were being thrown on Lebong Cart Road, where the forces had been deployed, from the upper reaches. The police had started firing tear gas shells.
I was walking uphill towards the Singamari police outpost from the party office along with photojournalist Passang Yolmo. Journalists covering the violence did not have helmets, unlike the security personnel.
A big stone landed close to me. My eyes were burning because of the tear gas.
Yolmo pulled me to a side. We started running. Bricks and stones were raining from the top. There was no place to take temporary cover.
The police too were running around. A jeep had been set on fire.
Yolmo, another photojournalist and I spotted a house and ran up a flight of steps. A woman in her late 30s opened the collapsible gate and let us in.
'Stay here,' she said as we stepped into a narrow corridor that ended in stairs leading to the second floor.
'Please don't go upstairs. My children are there. They will feel scared,' she said in English before locking the gate.
There was no electricity in the area as power cables had snapped because of the stone-pelting.
We stood in the dark corridor. We could smell tyres burning.
'Sir, we are trapped. They have gheraoed us from the top,' I heard Darjeeling police superintendent Akhilesh Chaturvedi shouting as he led a force uphill.
Over the next few minutes, the only sounds we heard were those of stones and glass bottles landing on the road. Some of them fell on tin roofs, others on billboards, which came crashing down. Stones and bottles were hurled at police vehicles.
We dared not speak among ourselves or make phone calls.
There were a few minutes of silence. Then we heard explosions. We went numb.
The police seemed to have left the area. We heard Morcha supporters on the street outside, daring the police to come out.
Some of them started looking into houses for journalists who could have taken shelter. A section of the Morcha blames journalists too for the trouble in the hills. Two days ago, a media vehicle had been set on fire.
Some Morcha supporters peered into the house where we had taken shelter but could not see anything because the corridor was dark and we made no noise.
Minutes seemed like hours. We heard gunshots.
Half an hour later, we heard the sound of a whistle.
Aap logon sun lijiye. Army yahan aa gaya hain. Pathharbazi maat kijiye. Army aap logon ko ghere huye hai (Please listen. The army is here. Do not throw stones. The army has encircled you),' we heard a voice on the loudhailer.
Later we learnt it was Commandant Sagar Barge of the Maratha Light Infantry, which has been sent to Darjeeling after the state called in the army.
We peeped out of the collapsible gate. Two army personnel spotted us. We raised our hands.
"Sir, there are some media persons inside," one of them said. A senior officer arrived. "Don't worry, we are here," he said.
We called the woman and asked her to open the lock. Before leaving, we thanked her profusely. 'My pleasure,' she said with a smile.
On the road we saw policemen limping. Some of their colleagues helped them into a jeep, which took them to hospital. Some jeeps were still burning. The stone-pelting had stopped. Senior IPS officers had arrived.
Time to get back to work, we said.

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