Fresh violence erupted in Darjeeling yesterday after a separatist group accused police of killing a supporter, prompting forces to fire tear gas as the hill resort reels from weeks-long unrest.
Bouts of clashes and arson attacks have rattled the picturesque hill station for more than three weeks, causing schools and shops to shut down as thousands of mostly Indian tourists pack their bags and flee.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) — a movement that has long called for a separate state for ethnic Gorkhas in West Bengal — accused police of shooting dead 31-year-old Tashi Bhutia late on Friday.
“(He) was shot dead by police at Sonada on the outskirts of Darjeeling town when he was returning home from a medicine shop,” GJM’s general secretary Roshan Giri told AFP.
But authorities, including West Bengal tourism minister Gautam Dev, have denied GJM’s latest allegation, saying they were unaware of any death and that “police did not open fire”.
The news of his death sparked anger among supporters who set ablaze and destroyed parts of a police station and train terminal as baton-wielding forces responded with tear gas and rubber pellets.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee deployed the army again to quell heightened tensions, which she has described as a “deep-rooted conspiracy”.
The hills are famous for Darjeeling tea, the production of which is jealously guarded.
It is also famed for its “toy train” — a 78km uphill ride from New Jalpaiguri.
Tension has been mounting in the region since the government announced it was making Bengali mandatory in state schools — angering the state’s Gorkha population, who speak Nepali.
Gorkhas have been agitating for decades for a new state of ‘Gorkhaland’ within West Bengal, claiming Bengali-speaking outsiders have exploited their resources and imposed their culture and language.
A similar uprising in 2007 saw Gorkhas granted some administrative powers.
An injured man is taken away during clashes between Gorkhaland supporters and the police in Sonada near Darjeeling.