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25 Jul 2017

History repeats itself in hills but with less heat now

NISHA CHETTRI, SNS, KALIMPONG, 24 JULY: The bullet missed him by a whisker when a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel opened fire at the protesters  near Mission Compound in Kalimpong in the year 1985. Ashish Lepcha, who was 11 years old then says this time around, it's different, a lot more peaceful."
The infamous 40- day shut down of the Darjeeling halls is hack to haunt those who witnessed it 29 long years ago, prompting them to compare the situation with today's state of affairs.
In 1986, the chief of the Gorkha National Liberation Front, Sub has Ghisingh, spearheaded a bloody two-year agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland and called for a 40-day strike in the Hills in February-March 1968.
On the 40th day of the ongoing shutdown today. several people recalled the past and started telling tales of t he hardship and a similar situation they faced back then 100.
The first comparison with the eighties came on 27 June this year, when Gorkhaland agitators burnt the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) accord. People had linked the date 27 June to the situation 27 July 1986 when protesters burnt the Indo-Nepal treaty, and people clashed with the police and para-military forces, leaving several dead.
'Many decapitated heads used to hang at Dambar Chowk here, while the CRPF was ruthless showing no mercy and giving two hoots to human rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Article 19 was scrapped after Himalchuli'. His head was found hanging from a pole of Dambar Chowk the day after he went missing," Lepcha recalls.
Many of the protesters who were out on the streets today had also marched for Gorkhaland 29 years ago too.
`The same Gorkhaland slogans - "We want Gorkhaland!..Bangal hamro chihaan ho; Bangal ma haami basdainau (Bengal is our grave and we won't dwell in the graveyard) - are back and reverberating the hills and valleys after three decades," says Lepcha, who adds he is still hitting the streets, in support of the statehood demand.
People say the population and were sparse back then, and that they had plenty things to eat in their backyard - from roots and shoots to tender ferns and mushrooms, and of course the chicken, goat and pigs which they reared.
The heavens opened up after the rains poured in on Sunday at the balcony of Bhakta Thapa's house, the former vice-president of the GNWO (Gorkha National Women's Organisation) as it shows a big scar on her leg.
Thapa was shot at by a CRPF personnel during the agitation in the eighties."A shrapnel is still lodged deep inside my leg. It could never he removed," says Thapa, who is 68 now.
'Many people were killed then, but that doesn't mean people are not dying now. Even if we take up the non-violent path, the government and its atrocities will still be there. Their atrocities were there in the eighties, and atrocities are there now as well she says.
Thapa says she was once involved in a clash with the police/CRPF. While she and other protesters started pelting the law enforcers with stones, the policemen opened Fire and one of the bullets hit her on her leg at Trikone Park.
People further say that the comparison between the two phases in time will not be complete until one talks about the much-dreaded raids during the eighties' agitation.
"At least that's not happening right now," says Ajay Lama from Mirik, who vividly remembers how he and his Friends tied to the jungles or nearby areas bordering Nepal in the eighties.
Mahindra Gurung, the president of the Drivers' union in Kalimpong, says: "I was 14 when Subhas Ghishing started the Gorkhaland agitation I had joined the Gorkha Volunteer Cell (GVC) when I was studying in class 9. They trained us for 10 days and were left to fend for ourselves, not knowing what ugly turn things would take any moment.But today, the agitation is peaceful and people are more literate and aware," he said 
With every thing on a standstill, local Tv channels off air, no school for children, limited options when it comes to eating, and with no Internet connection, many people in the hills presently fed that the situation has gone back to the eighties.
They, however, also realise that fact that they still have the telephones that are ringing, something which they did not get to use in the eighties".
"I used to cross the woods, jungles, rivers and streams on foot just to deliver a small message to our branches/fellow agitators in Kurseong in between 1986-88,' recalls a man in Mirik, (who does not want to be named), and who was close aide to Subhas Ghisingh.
'At least the mobile and landline phones are working presently, and that will help people keep connected,' he says.
Meanwhile, on the streets of Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Kurseong and Mirik, people say they dont mind the turmoil and the shutdown.
What they want is a 'logical conclusion' to the'people's movement they have started.
"I would rather go hungry half a day than leave this thing in the middle of nowhere, and sure will not mind if the indefinite strike stretches further," says Chhewang Tamang, a die-hard Gorkhaland supporter,
As the strike crosses the 40- day mark and sets another record in the hills, we feel for the eight people who have died so far in the fresh bout of the agitation." a woman belonging to the GJMM's women's wing, Kalimpong branch says. 

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