| A policeman in the war zone. A Telegraph picture
Cooch Behar, Sept. 20: They had been trickling in much before the morning sky lit up. Some had sneaked in last night and were staying in town.
All of them had come to attend the programme ' to fast unto death for a separate state ' called by the Greater Cooch Behar People's Association.
Their expedition left two of their own dead in police firing.
In a moment of blind rage, they beat to death two constables and injured fatally the additional police superintendent of Kalimpong, Mushtaq Ahmed, by pelting him with stones.
Ironically, both the constables were residents of this town, but posted elsewhere.
With public transport unavailable because of a strike, the supporters from Haldibari had hired buses to travel the 80 km to reach here early today. The rest had came on foot from Dinhata, Toofanganj and other places, 20-30 km away.
But the police were determined to keep them out of town, as prohibitory orders under Section 144 had been imposed since 6 pm yesterday. The objective of the marchers was to sit in a mass hunger strike before the office of the district magistrate, demanding a Greater Cooch Behar state.
From 6 am, the police began confronting the demonstrators and those travelling in rickshaw-vans at points that lead to the town.
As more people gathered at places like Bhataguri, Dewanhat, Ghugumari and Khagrabari (where the firing took place) and Chakchaka, the police began to mobilise more forces.
By afternoon, each of these points had over 2,000 men and women. The police numbered only a few hundred.
The first clash broke out at noon when a large number of women rushed at policewomen barricading the Gunjabari area of the town.
At 1.30 pm, tired of waiting at Ghughumari, 7 km from here, the group ventured out and crossed the bridge over the Torsa to enter the town. 'We were not sure where they were going but we stopped them in front of Baniniketan Girls' School,' said a police officer.
Hemen Barma, who had cycled from Dinhata and was present in one of the gatherings, said he had not come without a purpose. 'When we were an independent state under the maharajas, we were prosperous. The merger with Bengal was a disaster; we want our old status back,' he said.
Among the women present at the Khagrabari barricade, hours before the firing was to occur, was Pramila Barman. 'We are here because our status as residents of a state has been taken away. Our leaders have said that we are being deprived of something important. They said we will get more funds from the Centre once we are declared a state,' she said.
A torrential downpour did not deter the waiting groups. But once violence broke out, the members withdrew.
Left behind were sandals and clothes and patches of blood on the roads.