The demand for Gorkhaland has crossed ethnic boundaries. Muslims and a part of the Rajasthani population have joined in to demand a separate statehood for the Darjeeling Hills, amid larger protests led by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
Around 2,000 Muslims who identified themselves as Gorkha Muslims on Sunday took out a protest march holding placards which read “We want Gorkhaland and we support Bimal Gurung”, indicating their support to the GJM’s call for Gorkhaland. GJM has been demanding to carve out a separate state for the ethnic Gorkha and Lepcha population in northern West Bengal.
“We support the issue and demand for Gorkhaland. The Muslims who numbered around 20,000-25,000 here identified themselves as Gorkha Muslims and live here peacefully. We have been living here for generations and do not face any problems with the Gorkhas,” Mustaq Usmani, a local businessman who was participating in the protest march, said.
The Muslims, in line with the GJM MLA from Darjeeling, Amar Singh Rai, are of the view that the state government has failed to address the local problems of infrastructure, education and health in the hilly terrain and has mishandled the current situation.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday claimed that GJM has links with terror organisations based in North-east India. Rai termed the claim as “laughable”.
Rai, who is a senior GJM leader, said that his party is open to talks with the Centre with two preconditions. First, GJM wants the security forces deployed throughout Darjeeling to be withdrawn and the sole discussion point has to be the creation of Gorkhaland.
He said the state government can also be part of these talks if these preconditions are met.
However, like the state government, the GJM is also unhappy with the Narendra Modi-led BJP government's stance.
Following the alleged death of three GJM activists, the political party on Sunday took out a march carrying black flags while crying “Jai Gorkha”.
Till late afternoon, except for some stray incidents in Doors, no major incident took place in the Hills.
Unlike previous days, the police did not stop any protest march as the GJM took a peace procession in Chowk Bazaar in Darjeeling carrying their falling comrades. On Saturday, the GJM claimed that the police had shot down three of their activists while the state administration refuted the claim. A senior officer from the IRB second battalion was also seriously injured and is battling for life.
After GJM chief Bimal Gurung started sending video messages from his unknown hideout, the internet connectivity in the Hills was snapped due to unknown reasons.
Police said eight people had been taken to three separate hospitals and two people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
A 48-year old van driver, who was detained by members of public at the scene and then arrested by police, has been taken to hospital and will be subject to a mental health assessment.
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