Protesters end Darjeeling strike

DISRUPTION: The strike was called off after 104 days
DISRUPTION: The strike was called off after 104 days

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.