Can you imagine a world without any shops or cars? Where the streets are empty except when a herd of people shouting slogans pass by the town square twice every day. A shortage of food and water, no internet and an intense atmosphere. The occasional frustrated people breaking out into riots and destroying government property. The Authorities in return start lathi charging, hurling tear gas and even firing at civilians. Sounds like dark times, doesn’t it? Well, this is the current situation in the beautiful hills of Darjeeling.
Darjeeling a hill station and tourist hub in the northern parts of West Bengal is known for its beautiful scenery and its aromatic tea. Business is the common profession here and the hill station depends on tourists for a large part of its income. A separate state for a separate people is what has been the cry of the hills since the 1980’s when the demand for Gorkhaland was first put up. The people living in this area are the indigenous mix of Nepalese Gorkhas, Tibetans, and other smaller communities of people. Nepali is the common language spoken here and the Indian school boards have provisions for studying these indigenous languages in schools. Everything was mostly smooth running and business as usual until a decision was passed for every school in Bengal to have Bengali as a compulsory language from class I to IX. This hurt the sentiments of the local residents of Darjeeling as they consider themselves to be Indian; not particularly only Bengali.
The situation went downhill after that. Identity crisis was the mass sentiment, which is also the root cause of the agitation. Protests against this new rule broke out which took on a violent turn a few buses were burnt and in retaliation the CRPF who were deployed raided the house of the leader (Bimal Gurung) of the ruling party (GJMM) in Darjeeling. Bimal Gurung who has pending murder charges was not caught though. After this the protests intensified and the movement took on a new turn from hurt sentiments to pro Gorkhaland. Protests both violent and non-violent started, followed by riots with the CRPF which caused deaths, burning of government buildings, curfew and mass arrests. Internet and local news reporting were stopped by the government and all shops, business establishments, transport, government offices and schools were shut down in strike by protesters.
This has been the situation in Darjeeling for over a month, 50 days to be precise. This has to be one of the longest strikes in India breaking the movement’s own record of a 40-day strike in 1988 and a 44-day strike in 2013. The previous strikes at least had days of relaxation where the people could buy food but this time no such relaxation period has been given by protesters. Basic human rights like food and water are scarce. Food sources are dwindling and people are literally emptying any shop with supplies within minutes. The tourist industry has crashed due to which businesses are taking on losses as employers are not making any money to pay even basic salaries of their staff. The production of the world famous aromatic Darjeeling tea which is exported for hundreds of dollars a kilo has also stopped.
The State government does not want to partition the state and the people protesting don’t want anything else but to part from the state; this rigidity in decisions by both the opposing political parties is what is causing this huge issue. In this whole mess of state-hood, patriotism and using common people of Darjeeling as pawns, their basic rights are being forgotten. The basic rights to information, right to an education, to proper food and water supply, to do legal business and more have been taken away from the common people. The Digital Citizen Summit is going to happen in New Delhi this September but how can we make this possible when internet can be revoked for so long to such a large group of people? There cannot be such a lockdown for so long in a functional country. One magnifying glass is with the state and the other with the party leaders and the people are the ants in this mess. The Strike continues and the people continue to endure.....