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Holed up inside court for six hours

Siliguri, Sept. 28: The rally was primarily peaceful.

Called to protest against the alleged comments by a Delhi-based radio jockey against Indian Idol Prashant Tamang, the kilometre-long procession took off from Darjeeling More and made its way towards the office of Siliguri subdivisional officer Smita Pandey. By 11.30am, leaders of the rally had already submitted a memorandum to Pandey on the issue.

It was then that rumours about rallyists beating up a pregnant woman started doing the rounds. This infuriated the local traders and triggered the violence.

While a major portion of the rally had managed to disperse from the scene, about 800-900 people, including around 50 schoolchildren, were forced to seek shelter inside the court campus. They were kept inside the rooms of the additional district magistrate, the subdivisional officer, the collectorate building and also in the rooms of the Siliguri Bar Association lawyers.

“Some of them were sent to Siliguri Boys’ High School nearby and the Head Post Office,” said Abhijit Sen, a lawyer in the court.

The plight of the rallyists holed-up inside the court was pitiable.

“We did not have any food or water throughout the day and could not reach the toilets because of the brick-batting,” said Avinash Tamang, a resident of Salugara.

“It was a peaceful rally in which we had even refrained from shouting slogans,” said D.R. Gurung of Salbari. “All of a sudden, we heard that some of our girls were beaten up by the mob outside and our boys got agitated.”

The first attempt to evacuate the rallyists from the court, which had become the epicentre of the flare-up, was made around 2pm.

“But none of the buses could be dispatched because of the huge mob presence all around and the sustained brick-batting,” said Darjeeling police superintendent Rajesh Subarno.

Finally, after the arrival of the army and BSF personnel, the police could push the mob a kilometre away from court premises. It was then that the district magistrate, Rajesh Pandey, gave the permission for the rallyists to be evacuated with army escort in two batches, the first one leaving around 7.45pm.

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