The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hills find voice of protest

Darjeeling, Nov. 28: Five days of GNLF bandh had crippled the hills but the unrest seems to have stirred the people, who are now ready to come out into the forefront to mobilise public opinion on several issues.

Riding high on the response of over 7,000 residents who turned out for the “peace rally” here yesterday, a group of senior citizens today convened a meeting at Darjeeling Gymkhana Club to concretise the movement.

People like Father Kinley Tshering, rector, St Joseph’s School (North Point), and B.K. Pradhan, a lawyer, who were part of the rally, attended the meeting to form a yet-to-be-named body to protest against bandhs. The platform is expected to act as a pressure group to redress other social and civic problems as well.

The recent spate of bandhs over the Sixth Schedule — the five-day shutdown of the GNLF as well as the one-day strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and ABGL on Thursday — had hit hard the tourism industry and residents fear that schools, the backbone of hill economy, too will suffer in the long run. While hotel operators counted losses of around Rs 50 lakh (the figure was provided by Suresh Periwal, the president of the north Bengal and Sikkim chapter of Indian Association of Tour Operators yesterday), school principals are afraid that prospective students might be scared away.

Today, about 40 senior citizens of Darjeeling unanimously chose S.B. Zimba, a retired bureaucrat, the president of the new body while Pradhan was made secretary. Zimba said “the isolated awareness” must spread to every nook and corner of the hills.

Father Kinley, who presided over the meeting, blamed the crisis in the hills on the attitude of the people to take things lying down. “I have stayed in many cities. But I have seen that people there fight for their rights. We, in Darjeeling, prefer to remain quiet and try and seek individual solution on an individual basis,” said Kinley.

V. Pradhan, a retired police official and one of the vice-presidents, said: “People must join us to make Darjeeling a better place. We cannot just sit back and watch.”

There were, however, words of caution on how the forum could be influenced by politicians and people with vested interest. “We had formed a similar platform to protest against the lack of regular water supply in Darjeeling. But supporters of a political party beat up those who attended the rally. Though a complaint was lodged with the authorities, nothing came out of it. Many people also called up schools and asked the principals not to sent their students to the rally,” said Kiran Tamang, the newly appointed joint secretary.

The hill town today returned to normality. Almost all the shops in town were open. Despite being a cold day— the sun had not come out — there were long queues in front of banks. Most government offices reported almost 100 per cent attendance.

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