KOLKATA: The Army was redeployed in the Darjeeling hills on Saturday, ten days after it was withdrawn, following the eruption of fresh violence in Sonada where Gorkhaland supporters torched a police outpost and the waiting room of a Darjeeling-Himalayan Railway (Toy Train) station after two GJM activists were allegedly shot dead by police.
Tashi Bhutia (37) of Sonada and Suraj Sundas (35) of Darjeeling were shot dead on Friday night and Saturday morning respectively, 21 days after alleged police firing claimed the lives of three Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters on June 17.
Tashi was allegedly shot dead by police when he had gone to buy medicines in Sonada, GNLF spokesperson Neeraj Zimba claimed. The police, however, denied the incident.
An FIR lodged by the young man’s elder brother Jinday Bhutia said, "My brother Tashi Bhutia was shot in the head by unknown policemen at around 11 pm on Friday night at Sonada market when he ventured out to buy medicines."
Local sources claimed that they found a few empty cartridges at the site of the shooting.
"The youth was killed by police without any reason. His body has bullet injuries. We demand that the policemen involved be punished," GJM leader Binay Tamang said.
"We don't have any reports of police firing as of now. We are looking into the incident," a police official said.
A political analyst Upendra Pradhan said standard operating procedure for the security forces required them to fire a warning shot in the air and then at the feet of a protester. “But as in the case of three GJM supporters shot dead a fortnight ago in Darjeeling and Ghoom, Tashi was found to be shot in the head," he said.
Though Tashi Bhutia belonged to a family that supported the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) -- which was confirmed by GNLF spokesperson Neeraj Zimba on social media -- the party claimed he was not out on any party activity on Friday night.
"An innocent Gorkhaland supporter has been shot dead. We are deeply hurt and shaken to the core," Neeraj Zimba said.
As news of Tashi Bhutia’s death spread, hundreds of Gorkhaland supporters came out on the streets. Sonada town erupted in protests as more than a thousand protesters staged a rally with Bhutia’s body.
Sources said police fired tear gas shells to quell the mob when a few protesters set fire to a traffic outpost.
Police and security forces patrolled the streets and kept vigil on the entry and exit routes.
Darjeeling has been in turbulence for more than three weeks. Barring pharmacies, all shops, schools, colleges have remained closed. Internet services remained suspended for the 21st day.
With food supply severely hit due to the indefinite strike, the GJM and various NGOs distributed food amongst the people.