FORCES IN NORTH POINT
Calcutta, July 16: An elderly man was attacked by suspected drug addicts and a shoe shop was set on fire in the heart of Darjeeling last night, prompting a section of residents to allege that "anti-socials" were taking advantage of the fluid situation in the hills to resort to lawlessness.
Ever since the unrest began in the hills on June 8, the attacks had largely been confined to property belonging to the government and political rivals. The incidents since last night were the first to target a resident or a business establishment not having anything to do with the statehood movement.
Norden Lepcha, a 69-year-old Darjeeling resident, had gone to Chowrastha last evening to collect a bag of vegetables his son had sent from Siliguri.
"His son stays in Siliguri and had sent some vegetables for him. The old man, accompanied by two others, was returning home around 10pm when some suspected drug addicts hit him with an iron rod on the head. They snatched the bag of vegetables the old man was carrying but it fell as they fled," said Arjun Rai, another resident who was passing by.
Lepcha has been referred to a Siliguri hospital with serious head injuries.
A section of hill residents said the area had become a den of drug addicts and alcoholics in the absence of any activity in the wake of the strike. The administration has also withdrawn police from many areas following recurring incidents of violence and allegations that statehood supporters had been killed in police firing.
"The area is almost always deserted because of the strike.
Anti-socials are taking advantage of it. It has become difficult for women and common people to go out of homes once evening sets in," Rai said.
Around 1am today, the shoe shop at Chowrastha was set on fire.
"CCTV footage shows that a youth carrying a bag had set the shop on fire. We scanned the tapes and found that the same youth had gone there the day before yesterday. It is unfortunate that a private business establishment was attacked," a source said.
In many places where government properties have been torched, residents had complained that "outsiders" were seen in the locality.
"In fact, there are many instances of locals coming out to help douse the fire at the properties," said a source.
Told about the attacks, Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, said: "Some anti-socials are taking advantage of the situation. We appeal to the people to be vigilant against such people."