| A deserted road in Khagrabari with sandals strewn around and patches of clotted blood. 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 members dead from police firing. They in turn, in a moment of blind fury, had beaten to death two constables and injured fatally the additional police superintendent of Kalimpong, Mustaq Ahmed, by pelting stones at him. Ironically, both the constables were residents of this town, but were posted elsewhere.
With buses off the road today because of the statewide transport strike, only the supporters from Haldibari had hired buses to travel the 80-km stretch to reach here early today. The rest had come on foot from Dinhata and Toofanganj and other areas 20 to 30 km from here.
But the police were determined to keep them out of the 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 men in khaki began confronting the demonstrators and those travelling in rickshaw-vans at several points that lead to the town.
As more and more people collected at places like Bhataguri, Dewanhat, Ghugumari, Khagrabari (where the firing took place) and Chakchaka ' areas located in and around the town ' the police began to mobilise its forces. Officers with crackling walkie-talkie sets were seen barking commands.
Busloads of policemen were despatched to each spot as and when needed.
By afternoon each of these points had over 2,000 men and women. The policemen deployed there were a couple of hundred. The first clash broke out at noon when a large number of women rushed at policewomen barricading the Gunjabari area of the town. Additional superintendent of police, James Kijur, was injured by a mob of hysterical women till a lathicharge dispersed the crowd.
At 1.30 pm tired of waiting at Ghughumari, just 7 km from here, the group sneaked out and crossed the bridge over the Torsa to enter the town. 'We were not sure where they were going but we apprehended them in front of Baniniketan Girls' School and prevented them from going any further,' said a police officer.
Hemen Barma, who had cycled all the way from Dinhata and was present at one of the gatherings close to town, said he had not come all the way 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.
Hours before the firing was to take place at the Khagrabari barricade, Pramila Barman was standing expectantly. 'We are here because our status as residents of a state has been taken away from us. 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 rattled off excitedly.
As the day wore on even a torrential downpour did not deter the waiting groups. 'Nothing can budge us from our goal, not even nature,' said one of the demonstrators.
However, once the violence began and spread to several spots, the members withdrew. Left behind after the firing and lynching were sandals and clothes and patches of clotted blood on the roads.
Till late at night at almost all the six spots leading to town, huddled groups of people were found not very far from the policemen. It seems as if they intend to stay there for the night.
'We are keeping vigil and we have orders to see to it that they don't enter town. Anyone who approaches us will be arrested immediately,' a senior officer standing guard at Khagrabari said.
Left Front district chairman, Chandi Pal, said the 'misguided' people were fighting a battle that had no logical end. 'These people have been instigated by divisive forces, out to cause tension and bloodshed and have no idea what they are seeking,' Pal said.