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6 Aug 2017

Darjeeling unrest: Masked men roam after dark, loot people, vandalise vehicles

Vandalism of government property, toy train stations, and vehicles have become a regular occurrence since June 8 when Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters had their first clash with the police.Pramod Giri, HT, Siliguri, 6 August 2017:With no end to the indefinite bandh in sight, an emerging menace has raised the hackles of the administration in Darjeeling — a group of masked men has been going on a rampage, vandalising property and vehicles.

Significantly, the group strikes only after dark, and mostly targets vehicles plying in the hills, vandalising them and even looting the passengers. The men have their faces covered, which, coupled with the cover of darkness, makes it impossible to establish their identity.

“Groups of outsiders, some of them armed and masked, are roaming around the hills, destroying government property,” Darjeeling district magistrate Joyoshi Dasgupta told HT.

Not a single person has been caught and no official complaint has been lodged. “The group comprises people from Goak, Kaijaley, Rimbik and Sukiapokhari. They work on rotation and even loot people travelling in the night for emergency purposes,” the official said.

On August 3, some miscreants tried to set fire to a forest department tower at Lamahata. Locals claimed they saw a few masked people fleeing the spot.

In a separate incident a day before, masked men looted Rs 70,000 from people in a vehicle which was found vandalised between Sonada and Ghoom. This was reportedly the first incident of passengers being looted in the hills in the current phase of agitation.

The DM claims some of these masked attackers are backed by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), the principal political party in the hills, to ensure traffic remains affected during the indefinite bandh.

Rejecting the charge, GJM assistant secretary Binay Tamang said, “This is nothing but a conspiracy to defame the Morcha that is conducting a peaceful and democratic movement. We have heard that in a few instances, supporters of opposition parties were involved and the West Bengal government is doing this in a planned way.”

Tamang also said they are keeping vigil, and that if these miscreants are apprehended, they will be severely punished.

The attacks by the masked group have added to the panic in the hills. “We are scared to go back to Darjeeling even if we have a vehicle pass issued by the GJM,” said a Darjeeling resident who had come to Siliguri for his daughter’s treatment.

The GJM issues car passes that allow its holder to unrestricted travel through the hills for emergency purposes such as medical treatment, funerals and weddings.

Vandalism of government property, toy train stations, and vehicles have become a regular occurrence since June 8 when GJM supporters had their first clash with the police. What began as a protest against the state government’s announcment of mandatory teaching of Bengali language in all schools of the state turned into a renewed demand for the separate state of Gorkhaland.

So far, government property worth more than Rs 15 crore has been destroyed in the agitation.

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