JVivek Singh documents the ongoing unrest in Darjeeling over the demand of a separate state and removal of Bengali as a compulsory language from schools.
Darjeeling: Nearly three decades after the birth of the Gorkha Hill Council, which put a lid on the Shubhas Ghising-led demand by the people of the Darjeeling district for a separate state, a string of violent protests have hit the region.
The immediate trigger for the turmoil in the hills – almost like a throwback to the 1980s violent agitation led by Ghising under the banner of Gorkhaland National Liberation Front (GNLF) – was the Mamata Banerjee government’s decision on May 15 to make the Bengali language compulsory in all schools across the state from class 1 to 10.
The Gorkhas – who had a long battle with the earlier Left Front government on the issue of language, leading to introduction of Nepali as the official language in the Darjeeling district way back in 1961, and thereafter to a demand for a separate state in reaction to a number of governmental attempts to introduce Bengali in the educational institutions of the hill areas – saw it as yet another imposition of the Bengali majoritarian rule over them. Although Ghishing is no more and there are power struggles among the many Gorkha political factions, as per media reports, the local parties have come together to revive the demand for the separate state of Gorkhaland. The latest protest is spearheaded by Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) leader Bimal Gurung, who called for a shutdown on June 8 to coincide with Banerjee’s visit to Darjeeling. Though Banerjee said the government’s rule won’t be implemented in the hill areas, it was of little use.
On June 27, protesters intensified their demand by burning copies of the 2011 Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA) accord in Chowkbazar area of Darjeeling. While the accord for the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council was signed between Ghising and the then state and central governments in 1988, which led to the formation of the new council – and the temporary burial of the demand for statehood – GTA was signed by GJM with the state government to have a semi-autonomous administrative body for the Darjeeling, Kurseong and Mirik subdivisions and the Kalimpong district.
With friction between the BJP and the ruling Trinamool Congress growing to an ugly confrontation, the unrest in the hills is not likely to see an early solution anytime soon without turning into a political rallying point between the two forces. Meanwhile, perennial bandhs, the closure of educational institutions and an internet ban have continued to disrupt normal life in the region.
Vivek Singh is a New Delhi-based photographer and journalist. He works on extended documentary projects.
Text by Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty.