|Police try to disperse the mob at Hamiltongonj with tear gas and (above) two injured women at the Alipurduar hospital. Pictures by Anirban Choudhury
Hamiltongonj, Dec. 10: A handful of employees had arrived at the Kalchini block development office around 10am today when around 300 local Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters came in a procession and began shouting slogans.
This surprised the staff members as well as block development officer R.R. Sunder, who came out of their offices. Shouting pro-Gorkhaland slogans, the Morcha rallyists proceeded to lock up the block and the adjacent panchayat samiti offices.
But the tinder — that set off a series of clashes between the local Morcha supporters and those opposed to their statehood demand — was lit at the Latabari gram panchayat office, 2km from here. Another procession had arrived there at 10.30am and demanded that the office be locked up.
“I was at the gram panchayat office on work. The employees told the rallyists to move away and not to disturb them. The Morcha supporters refused to budge and slowly a crowd started gathering. Soon, angry people surrounded the Morcha protesters and a clash broke out,” Biswanath Biswas, a trader said.
The news of the clash spread fast and a large number of Morcha supporters arrived at the Kalchini block office and began throwing stones at the handful of policemen, making them scurry for cover. But soon, the Morcha supporters were pushed back by a stone-throwing mob, while the administration tried to get more police. Shops in the Hamiltongonj market downed shutters fast.
The warring groups damaged two police vehicles, which were on their way to the trouble spot. While one was from Hamiltangonj outpost, the other was from Hasimara. The face-off continued throughout the day as the two sides kept throwing stones at each other and at the houses.
The mobs took position on the railway tracks, connecting Alipurduar with Siliguri, about 100m from the BDO office. No trains could pass till 4.30pm. Malati Buxla, the wife of Alipurduar MP Joachim Buxla, said the mob had thrown stones at her house which is located just behind the BDO office.
“I heard a lot of shouts and stones landed on our house damaging several window panes,” she said.
Around 11am, the minister of state (public works), Manohar Tirkey, arrived at the BDO office only to be heckled by people who wanted to know from him what the administration was doing to prevent government offices from being locked up. The police whisked him away.
By noon, reinforcements arrived from Alipurduar and Cooch Behar and they tried to keep the two groups at bay. Seven policemen and six others were injured. The police later said 16 of its men were hurt, while the Morcha claimed that 27 of its supporters were injured.
After 4pm, Jalpaiguri police superintendent Manoj Verma arrived with a large force. Tear-gas shells were burst to chase away both sides. People ran helter-skelter and motorcycles parked on the roadside fell on their sides in the melee.
Ashok Lama, the convener of the Morcha’s Dooars unit, said the violence would not have taken place if women supporters had not been beaten up. “We were mindlessly lathicharged after submitting a letter of protest to the subdivisional officer (SDO) ,” he said.
The SDO, Alice Vez, said the Morcha had not informed the administration that it would hold a rally.