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10 Jul 2017

Darjeeling remains tense ahead of GJM's all-party meet tomorrow

Kamaljit Kaur Sandhu ;Edited by Kritika Banerjee, India Today,  Darjeeling, July 10, 2017: The spate of violence and the lock down of Darjeeling have hit common people hard. Yet, many feel that the agitation was long overdue. 
In Darjeeling, a crowd of several hundred people with multi-coloured umbrellas brave the heavy rain to march towards the main town to protest against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The anger is palpable after three civilians were killed in fresh violence over the weekend. A protester tells India Today, "The demand for Gorkhaland is a 107-year-old one. For this cause, so many of our people have died".
"Mamata may use force but we won't back down this time," says another protester.
Yet another woman protester joins the conversation and adds, "We are standing in solidarity with those who have died. We are standing up for Gorkhaland".
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) is set to convene an all-party meet on July 11.
It all began in the first week of June when Mamata Banerjee presided over her first cabinet meeting in the hills at the Raj Bhavan in Darjeeling--a first in 45 years--days after her government made Bengali language compulsory up to Class 10.
The West Bengal government's decision was strongly opposed by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) which began protesting against the "imposition" of the Bengali language in schools in the hills.
The sporadic protests soon turned into violent protests across Darjeeling for a separate state Gorkhaland.
The Army today conducted flag marches in areas that bore the scars of the violence--a charred bike and a scooter outside the DSP's office in Darjeeling--that has rocked the hill town since the last month.
Outside the ransacked office, a handful of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel are on guard. One of them says, "Times look tough ahead".
A banner of Gorkhaland is visible over a stretch of a partially burnt railway station in Sonad.
The town is in a lock down mode. Except medicine stores, all shops have downed shutters--the shutters have posters for Gorkhaland pasted on them.
The Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee, formed to lead the Gorkhaland movement, is expected to hold a meeting in Mirik on Tuesday.
Mirik is the municipality that Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress had wrested from the GJM in the recently concluded polls in West Bengal. Celebrating the win, Mamata had said that "hills are smiling".
The month-long violence in Darjeeling has hit the common people hard. The supply of essentials is drying up.
"We are waiting to get some milk. We wanted to leave but did not get any transport," rue two college students at a bus stand.
Some plan to leave the city in a day or two. A hotel owner says, "There is no staff in the hotel. No one will dare to oppose the shutdown. We have been surviving on potatoes and rice, but now the stock is finished."
He adds, "We have no option but to support the movement. In the last 50 years, we have lost opportunities, we don't have jobs, our children go out for education. The ones who have government jobs are Bengalis,  not Gorkhas or Lepchas."  
"This agitation was overdue. We need to have our own state. If it has to be done, it better be done now," he says.
Prakash Rana, an ex-Army man, travelled to Siliguri to complete the online admission procedure for his son, who has managed to get through Sikkim University.
With internet services suspended, Rana says, "I had to do this or my son's admission would have been stopped. His future is at stake".
Ghum Singh, who has also hitchhiked to Siliguri so that he could access an ATM and draw out some cash, says, "We are hoping for a resolution".

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