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Friday, January 19, 2018

When it rained stones in Darjeeling

Monday, 19 June 2017 13:40
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Shiv Sahay Singh

DARJEELING, JUNE 18: It was a beautiful cloudy morning in Darjeeling with the occasional drizzle that makes the hills look even greener. With shops, commercial establishments and schools remaining closed on the third day of the indefinite shutdown called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha ( GJM), it seemed like a day of usual protests. There was no hint of that the situation would spiral out of control and blood would stain the streets of Darjeeling.

When I reached the GJM headquarters at Singamari, I observed that there was a modest deployment of security forces. At about 11:15 a.m., a group of about 200 women emerged, carrying a huge national flag and shouting pro-Gorkhaland slogans. Soon another group of several hundred women protestors joined them. As the chants for Gorkhaland became louder, it became evident that the security forces were vastly out-numbered.

As the situation began to turn violent, the police resorted to a lathi-charge and then tear gas to control the crowds. The protest broke up with people running in panic. A tear gas shell exploded very close to where I stood, forcing me to join the running protesters. I managed to find a small alley to escape. The doors of all the houses were shut. I was joined with another journalist from an English daily.

And that is when I saw the hundreds of young men and women with their faces covered, who had taken position on the undulating hill road above the party office. Armed with stones and other projectiles, they were attacking the trapped police contingent below. Police once again resorted to tear gas shelling and lathi-charge. As smoke filled the locality, I could neither breathe nor see. Sounds of bricks falling on vehicles and the bursting of tear gas shells filled the air.

No mercy

The protesters were in no mood to show any mercy to anyone who was not on their side; not even to journalists. When a few tried to threaten me with bricks, another protester intervened. "Our fight is not with you," he said. "It is with Mamata." But rescue from the mob was not easy. The young man knocked on several houses, before a door opened and we were quickly pulled in. The house owners, who offered paying guest accommodation to students, allowed both of us to stay till the violence raged outside.

Later, when we stepped out, the entire stretch resembled a war zone. Stones and bricks lay all over; cars stood with shattered windscreens and windows. Three overturned vehicles were burning.

Another protester asked me who I was, and offered to take to me to safe place. He convinced a house owner, a young gym instructor, to offer us shelter for a while.(Courtesy: The Hindu)


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