A STRIKE that shut down India’s picturesque hill station of Darjeeling – causing violence and disruption to tourism and tea production – was called off last Wednesday (27) after 104 days, protesters said.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), a movement demanding the formation of a separate Indian state for ethnic Gorkhas in West Bengal, said it would enter into talks with the government.
“After the union home minister Rajnath Singh’s appeal, we had a discussion with senior leaders and decided to withdraw the indefinite strike from Wednesday,” GJM’s Jyoti Rai said. “We are going for talks because of the sacrifices of people in the hills and will wait for the outcome.”
Clashes between protesters and police, as well as arson attacks, have rattled the town for months, causing schools and shops to close and thousands of mostly Indian tourists to flee the popular destination.
The unrest, which intensified in June, was triggered by the state government’s announcement the previous month that it was making Bengali mandatory in local schools – angering West Bengal’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. The hilly area is famous for Darjeeling tea, the production of which is jealously guarded.
The region’s economy, almost entirely dependent on tea gardens and tourism, was badly hit by the unrest and subsequent crackdown.