Unrest in Darjeeling is causing people to worry about families back home.They plan a demonstration at Town Hall today, thousands from across South India plan a larger gathering in Freedom Park on June 28.
BENGALURU: On the evening of a pouring Sunday afternoon, a house of a Gorkhali family in Vasanth Nagar, running a paying guest accommodation, remained silent. Nobody talked to each other, the television was fixed on a news channel unlike other Sundays when it blasts out Bollywood item numbers.
Among the nine paying guests residing, four are from the now troubled hills of Darjeeling. There has been news of deaths and an even more disturbing viral video.
A one-minute video, taken from a verandah in Darjeeling, shows a young boy being manhandled and taken away by a dozen policemen. A woman, who seems to be doing the recording, can be heard crying in the background.
Gorkhalis (from North Bengal in the Terai and Dooars regions) scattered across the city say they have been praying for peace to be restored and their families to be safe. Display pictures on social media accounts have been turned to black – for the dark hours of the hills and in solidarity with three young Gorkhali men who were killed in the protests against the state government’s move to make Bengali a compulsory language in schools.
So far no protest marches have been held in Bengaluru because no one had anticipated the situation to turn this ugly. Rahul Rai, state president of NEP India Foundation, says that they have now gained permission to host a silent protest today at Town Hall at 3pm and a mass protest with about 5,000 Gorkhalis of South India on June 28 at Freedom Park.
Many Gorkhalis in Bengaluru have been wondering how to extend support to people back home. In a popular Gorkhali WhatsApp group people have been suggesting holding rallies and protests, and wearing wrist bands. People are signing petitions and tweeting developments. However, there is an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.
Abigail Pradhan, a medical student introduces herself as a “helpless Bengalurean, living peacefully but with a great turmoil in her heart.” She has been residing in Bengaluru for the past five years and says it’s the first time she is feeling so helpless being away from home.
She says she is sad for her family and her identity crisis has become more pronounced now with the protests. “I tell those who ask that I am from West Bengal but not a Bengali, I speak Nepali but not from Nepal. They get confused and I wonder who I am,” she says.
Rinchen Yonzon, who is interning in Bengaluru came to the city two weeks ago, before the clashes began. “The last memory I have of the place is the old, cold and sunny Darjeeing where tourists roamed about and children were playing,” he says. “Those same places don’t look the same when I see it on TV with the police force marching with guns.”
“I actually haven’t been eating well. I am not being able to focus in my work. I am constantly worried,” he says with a sigh.
For Tripti Chettri, a second-year MSc student at Ramaiah Institute of Technology, the daily routine has changed drastically. “I wake up feeling scared and go to bed at night with the same fear that something may happen to my mom and dad,” she says.
On June 18, what the local leaders of the hills have called a “Black Day”, Bengalurean Revati Gurung did not a get her usual “good morning” messages from her mother. She panicked and called her mother only to be told that Internet has been jammed by the government for 48 hours.
This lack of connectivity is more upsetting for Gorkhalis living outside of India. Sherab Rabzyor Yolmo is a theatre student in Winnipeg, Canada. He uses WhatsApp, Facebook and Skype to connect with his family regularly, and hasn’t heard from them in two days. “Half of my day goes in scrolling news online,” he says, adding that he is “informed and scared”.
News from the ground has been difficult to access and share. Upendra Pradhan, columnist and journalist running a popular news page, says that they have not been able to upload stories online because of the shutdown. The stories that are being uploaded are by journalists outside of the town.
Protests in cities
Delhi, Dehradun, Gurgaon, Guwahati, Tejpur, Shillong and parts of Arunachal Pradesh have seen some dharnas in support of the agitation. Bengaluru along with Mumbai is going to witness its first protest today. “Irrespective of caste or creed or religion, these are times when we ought to stand united and support our people,” says Rahul Rai.