Stones and bottles in hand, the highly motivated youths are giving a tough time to the security forces in keeping law and order in the restive Darjeeling hills. Meet 18-year-old Pranab, a student of class XII, who has become a regular stone-pelter since June 8 when the first stirring of disturbance appeared after the ‘imposition’ of Bengali language in schools. “We want Gorkhaland. We want a separate state. It is a fight for our own identity and future. It is my right and I will have it,” he asserted. He is one of the thousands of youths who have come out in open support for Gorkhaland and have challenged the security forces when they were lathi-charged.
“India is a democracy and in democracy, everybody has the right to hold a peaceful protest. How can someone stop us from organising a protest? We did not resort to violence first, but if we are beaten up we will not sit idle. The police will be paid back in their own coin,” a third-year student, whose face was covered with a black cloth, told PTI. Well-versed with the ideals of communists like Karl Marx and Che Guevara, the student said, “I have my own identity and don’t want to get it mixed up with others. I respect all communities and religions. But everybody should understand our sentiments.”
Most of the youths who have indulged in stone-pelting are educated and come from good families. “I am not a goon or a street guy whom the police can just beat up whenever it wants to. I am fighting for my right. Several of my family members have been in the Army and have served the nation. We are not anti-nationals. We just want a state of our own,” said 25-year-old Binay who has completed his masters in English from Calcutta University.
With the state government making it mandatory to learn Bengali in the schools of Bengal, the people of Darjeeling, whose local lingo and mother tongue is Nepali, felt that it was a threat of infringement into their cultural rights. “Had the state government come out with a statement declaring that Bengali would not be imposed in the hills, the situation would not have turned so violent,” said a student of renowned college of Darjeeling.
With their agility and intimate knowledge of the local terrain, the youths frequently switch positions while pelting stones giving the police a hard time. To be honest, the youths have stayed away from hurling stones at the Army, as defence forces have a passionate place in their heart with as many as 90 per cent of the families in Darjeeling having either a serving or a retired army personnel in their families. “Indian Army has a special place in our heart. You will not find a single family in the hills which doesn’t have either a serving or a retired army personnel,” a 20-year-old youth said.