The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ring of gunshots as police Sumo burns

Siliguri, Sept. 28: The first three shots rang out clear.

The mob of 400, which had gathered near Siliguri District Hospital and had just set a Tata Sumo on fire, suddenly became quiet. In a moment, it dawned on them that police had opened fire and the crowd ran helter-skelter.

But that did not silence the police guns. Four more shots rang out and two persons fell to the ground, bleeding.

“Till 2pm, the police were helplessly taking a beating, getting hit by stones. As the Sumo (that of the Jalpaiguri additional superintendent of police) was set on fire, they kept looking and were on the defensive,” said Gouranga Haldar, a bystander.

“A policeman getting hit and the car being set on fire was perhaps the last straw.”

That was at 4pm. The violence had started much before — around 11.30 in the morning — as more than 5,000 Prashant Tamang supporters snaked their way through the road in front of the hospital.

“I was at my shop watching the rally go past peacefully when suddenly something seemed to go wrong,” said Sanjib Biswas.

“I saw a scuffle break out and some boys and men from the locality attack those in the procession. People got beaten up as stones were thrown and then some in the rally went berserk in retaliation.”

Biswas saw some of them rushing towards his shop — it sells stationery items and fruits — and realised that it was not the time to reason.

“I rushed out in fear when they attacked my shop, throwing things around and smashing my goods,” said Biswas. “I watched helplessly at first and then, scared that I, too, might be beaten up, took shelter in a nearby housing complex. When I returned later, I found the glowsign of my shop on the ground, smashed to pieces.”

Jatin Das, who has a paan shop near the hospital, was witness to the fury of the mob that attacked the rally.

“There were schoolchildren in the procession that was passing by and I was really scared for them,” Das said. “I saw them run when the trouble started. Many took shelter on the court premises. After that I don’t know what happened to them.”

It was around 2pm and Das had downed shutters and taken shelter inside the court campus. Half an hour later, he stepped out.

Hours later, around 8pm, the children were rescued by the army and escorted home.

“The people who took shelter inside the court were shouting and screaming,” said lawyer Debashis Dam. “I was with my clients when I saw the trouble break out and the participants of the rally rush in for shelter. I quickly escorted my clients through the back door and then came back to see what was happening.”

Dam said as people crouched for shelter on the court premises, they were pounded with stones and bricks. It was only when the police formed a ring around the campus and tear gas shells were fired that the brickbatting stopped for a while.

It resumed again in the evening, when the police tried to escort the protesters out of the court campus.

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