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26 Jun 2017

Siliguri residents hit streets against carve-up

BIRESWAR BANERJEE, TT, Siliguri, June 25: Over 5,000 people from Siliguri and adjoining areas hit the streets today to protest the demand for a Gorkhaland state, the first such apolitical procession on the issue in recent memory.
Holding aloft placards and banners bearing messages like "Bengal can never be divided" and "we want peace in the hills", the rallyists walked through the heart of Siliguri for about an hour before being stopped by police.
While returning, some of those who had participated in the procession allegedly smashed the windscreens of at least three cars.
Sources said the call for today's apolitical rally had been given a couple of weeks ago on social media.
"Over the past few days, I have seen several posts on social media asking people to come out on the streets against the demand for Gorkhaland and attempts to divide Bengal. As a Siliguri resident, I, too, felt the urge to join the rally and protest against the statehood demand. We want Bengal to remain undivided," said Avik Chakraborty, a civil engineer who walked along with many of his friends.
Although many rallies have been taken out against the demand for Gorkhaland since Bimal Gurung formed the Gorkha Janmukti Morha in 2007, they were essentially political in nature. The Trinamul Congress took out a rally in Mirik recently over the same issue.
"Today's rally was, however, different in nature. It was organised by local residents who had initiated a campaign on social media against division of Bengal. People of different age groups and economic background took part in the march today," said Rohit Prasad, a trader.
The rallyists cut across the heart of Siliguri, shouting slogans not only against the statehood demand but also against Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling for his letter to Union home minister Rajnath Singh supporting Gorkhaland.
As soon as the procession reached Airview More, one of the major points in the town, the police put up a barricade, leading to a scuffle.
The police managed to restrict the procession to Airview More. The march led to hour-long traffic snarls in several areas.
"We walked the streets today to send a clear message that Darjeeling is an integral part of Bengal and it cannot be separated from the state under any situation," said one of the rallyists, waving the national flag.
Stopped at Airview More, the marchers burnt effigies of Morcha chief Bimal Gurung and Chamling.
Around 12.30pm, the rally participants started to disperse. It was then that the windscreens of three cars were smashed allegedly by a section of the rallyists.
"When the processionists were returning from Airview More, some among them threw stones at the vehicles that were parked along the way. We controlled the situation," said C. S. Lepcha, the commissioner of Siliguri Metropolitan Police.
Told about the rally against the Gorkhaland demand, Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said: "It is a political demand. There should not be any attempt to make it a community-based issue. We hope necessary intervention would be made to prevent any breach of peace in Siliguri and in the region as a whole."

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