KALIMPONG: Rajen Pradhan rises at 3.30 am and leaves his village Pala by 4.15 am. He walks 4 km down the hill, crosses the Relli river to reach the nearest blockade at Relli Bridge, 10 km south from Kalimpong town. This is his routine since the beginning of shutdown of Darjeeling hills on June 12.
The 26-year-old is one of the many blockade enforcers ensuring a complete shutdown of Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts after West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee declared her plans to make Bengali compulsory in all schools of West Bengal.
“We gather by 5.30 am and take turns to maintain a register of emergency vehicles that are allowed to pass with a valid pass from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha party office,” says Rajen.
Blockade enforcer Pemba Sherpa multi-tasks at 7th Mile Bridge blockade, 5 km from Kalimpong. “I give water bottles to participants of political rallies, stop and verify each vehicle passing through our blockade and counsel intoxicated youth who try to create a ruckus that affects the Gorkhaland movement,” he says.
But the blockade enforcers know that many of the hill residents defy the shutdown by commuting to Siliguri and other parts of the hills at night.
“We are not against Bengalis or Mamata Banerjee. We just want our own state. Look at the glory and money of our neighbours in Sikkim and at our poverty,” rued Tenzing Bhutia.
They vow not to vandalise vehicles in response to vandalising Sikkim vehicles in Siliguri. Several vehicles were vandalised and the Sikkimese people harassed in Siliguri after Sikkim CM Pawan Kumar Chamling wrote to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in support of Gorkhaland.