Sept. 28: Unfounded rumours of hooliganism by supporters of Indian Idol 3 winner Prashant Tamang led to street riots in Siliguri today, prompting police firing, army intervention and an indefinite curfew.
Some 5,000 marchers, including 800 schoolchildren, were protesting against a Delhi radio jockey’s controversial remarks about Tamang’s Nepalese origins when a local mob stoned, chased and besieged them for eight hours since 11.35am.
The mob later clashed with the police, leaving at least 50 people injured, including two men hit by police bullets. The army and the BSF were patrolling the town tonight.
The rumour that the marchers had beaten up patients near a hospital (see chart) turned out to be false but a minor quarrel may have taken place between some of the rallyists and a patient’s relatives.
When the marchers came under attack, about 800 of them ran into the compounds of a court and the district telecom office and were trapped inside till the army rescued them around 7.45pm.
“There were more than 50 schoolchildren with us. They had nothing to eat through the day,” said Avinash Tamang.
Indian Idol, a TV music talent hunt decided by voting via text messaging and phone calls, had stoked regional sentiments but failed to divide Siliguri. All communities had united to vote for Tamang, 24, helping him beat Shillong’s Amit Paul, 25, on Sunday.
Many Nepalese, however, saw RJ Nitin’s comments as an insult. The marchers, mostly Nepalese from in and around Siliguri, set out from Darjeeling More towards the subdivisional office 2km away to hand over a written demand for an apology from the FM channel.
Red FM said Nitin had “used some humorous phrases” which were “misinterpreted”. The RJ has apologised saying if any listener “misinterpreted my intent and felt hurt or insulted, I am extremely sorry”.
In the first few minutes of the clashes, the rallyists, too, vandalised about 50 makeshift stalls outside the courthouse but soon most of them fled.
Once the rest were hemmed in, the mob stood guard outside the court and telecom office, braving the police batons and tear gas and ignoring back-to-back proclamations of Section 144 by the district and subdivision administrations.
The rumours spread across the town prompting crowds to torch a Tata Sumo with a Sikkim number plate at Collegepara and a police vehicle at Hospital More in the afternoon. Outside the court, a motorbike was in flames.
The police, who had driven four buses and three vans inside the court compound abandoned plans to rescue the rallyists and called for BSF and army help.
The BSF could do little till the army arrived from Sukna at 7pm. The first batch of besieged rallyists was taken out in three police buses, three army trucks and two police vans, escorted by troops. The second batch came out at 8.30pm in five vans.
The police fired “seven rounds” around 4.30pm. One bullet struck Biswajit Das, a shopper from Jalpaiguri district, in the back while a second lodged in trader Acchalal Prasad’s right thigh. Ten policemen, including the Darjeeling superintendent, were injured, too.
PLEASE DON'T SPOIL THE MOMENT: PRASHANT
Prashant Tamang spoke to The Telegraph from Kathmandu, where he performed this evening.
Whatever has happened in Siliguri was totally uncalled for. I was very shocked. I appeal to my people not to indulge in violence.
Even I felt bad when I heard that certain comments about the community had been made. This should not have happened. But corrective action is being taken and the matter should rest there.
We should forget what has happened as this will only affect my work and I will not be able to concentrate. I have been working very hard to bring out my new album and this will be my gift to all of you. Please do not spoil the moment and pray for me. Thank you very much.