The Gorkhaland protests have pushed Darjeeling to the brink of collapse, with widespread violence erupting in the picturesque hill station for the first time in almost three decades.
But apart from the usual arms and clashes, the security forces are battling a new adversary: a mob of stone pelters who are allegedly backed by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) that is helming the movement for a new state.
Stone pelters are alien to this part of the country and some of the protesters HT spoke to said that they were inspired by protesters in Jammu and Kashmir.
“We have reasons to draw inspiration from the youths of Kashmir. On YouTube, one can see even girls throwing stones at the police and security forces in Kashmir,” said Pritam Lama, who stays near Bijanbari, about 30 km from Darjeeling. GJM leaders refused to comment.
Like in Jammu and Kashmir, teenagers and youth in their twenties use stones to attack the police, often using the advantage of height in the hills to injure the police. Since June 8, when the clashes first broke out, the protesters have rained stones on police and paramilitary forces, who had to retreat on some occasions.
“A total of 36 police personnel were injured in the clashes on June 17, and many of them by the stones thrown by GJM agitators,” said Siddhinath Gupta, additional director general of police.
Over the past week, at least three people have died and scores injured in Darjeeling as thousands-strong mobs have clashed with police, torched vehicles and ransacked property to push for a separate Gorkhaland state.
Bengal Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has ruled out talks and alleged that the GJM nurture terrorists and smuggle arms to fuel unrest. She even pointed at stone pelters. “The agitators have been raining bombs and stones on the police for hours at a stretch,” Banerjee told reporters in Kolkata on Saturday.
But some of the stone pelters seem determined. “Stones are the easiest way to attack the police. These are free, available just about everywhere in the hills and most come in sizes that fit our fingers perfectly,” said Subir Rai, a youth from Birch Hill area.
“Why only in Kashmir, the stone has been used by youths of Palestine too. We watched all the videos on YouTube,” said another youth in Darjeeling on Sunday. He participated in the rally with the body of a GJM supporter who allegedly fell to the bullets of the security forces.