Darjeeling: Initial reports suggest that an officer of the Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) was stabbed to death with a traditional Nepali kukri on Saturday morning as the Hills witnessed fresh clashes between security personnel and protesters demanding a separate Gorkhaland. But latest reports confirm that he is critically injured.
Kiran Tamang, an IRB second battalion assistant commandant, was critically injured by GJM supporters, police alleged. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, “Look, they are killing their own people…. We want food to reach the affected areas, but they are burning down buildings. I appeal to the people of Darjeeling to work with us. We want development and peace in the Hills, but they are resisting it.”
Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress is locked in a fierce battle for the Hills with the Bimal Gurung-led Gorkha Janmukti Morcha which wants a separate state of Gorkhaland.
As the indefinite bandh called by the Morcha entered the sixth day, GJM supporters, their faces covered, wreaked havoc in Singamari area, setting a police outpost on fire. They clashed with paramilitary forces during which several policemen, GJM supporters and journalists were injured, forcing the Army to step in. Army personnel were seen asking GJM supporters to maintain law and order. They cautioned the local residents to stay indoors.
The clashes erupted when GJM supporters, mainly women, were barred from marching towards the GJM’s Patlebas office, which was recently raided by the police.
Tensions were fuelled when GJM leader Vinay Tamang, a close aide of party chief Bimal Gurung, claimed that two Morcha supporters had died in police firing. Tamang demanded a “high-level judicial inquiry” into the deaths.
West Bengal ADG (Law and Order) Anuj Sharma, however, refuted the charges, saying the police did not fire at GJM supporters. “There was no firing from our side. We will investigate how the two people were killed – if at all – as alleged by the GJM,” Sharma said.
The clashes erupted on a day when Vikram Rai, GJM media manager and son of Darjeeling MLA Amar Rai, was arrested from his residence. “We are shocked and stunned to inform you all that Vikram Rai – a local journalist, was arrested last night. Rai was associated with various media houses based in Kolkata and was also a stringer for a television channel. If local journalists are not safe in Darjeeling, who is,” Tamang said in statement. “There is a virtual emergency imposed in Darjeeling region,” he added. Police had also reportedly raided Tamang’s residence and seized some documents.
The ongoing agitation in the Hills has crippled tourism. According to a railway official, the toy-train services of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) has been suspended in view of the strike for the safety of passengers and staffs.
The GJM announced an indefinite general strike from Monday in the Hills encompassing Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts and the Dooars (foothills of the Himalayas covering stretches of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar district) protesting against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s decision to make Bengali language compulsory in state-run schools.
The strike was called even as the Chief Minister assured that the new rule would not be imposed in the hill districts.