All Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) offices as well as educational institutions across the Darjeeling Hills will be closed today for observing Shahid Diwas. On this day in 1986, 13 people were shot dead by the police at a Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) rally in Kalimpong. The police firing launched the first Gorkhaland Andolan which cost the lives of 1,200 people. As is the case with any society's painful memories, the occasion is jamboree for political parties to pledge their 'unwavering' dedication to the cause, so that the martyrs’ lives will not be in vain.
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The GTA has declared that government offices and educational institutions will be closed in order to prove to an unconvinced public, that the Binay Tamang and Anit Thap led GTA are committed to the Gorkhaland despite their actions following the 105 day shutdown last year, saying otherwise. Bimal Gurung, who is still in hiding, has reportedly called for unity among the people and politicians in the hills to achieve Gorkhaland. The Jan Andolan Party(JAP), another well-known, albeit less violent party, is organising events in Kalimpong to commemorate the memory.
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The official version of what transpired according to the 'Information Document' published by the Government of West Bengal states that:
“...on 27thJuly, at Kalimpong, on the first day of the new phase of agitation, a large mob collected at the periphery of the town with kukri and attempted to march to the centre. When they were dispersed by the police, they re-grouped in the Mela ground and on the road in front of the Kalimpong police station. Then they proceeded to attack the police station and the personnel inside. One policeman was knifed to death, another was hit in the neck by kukri and became severely injured, both arms of another policeman were nearly chopped off, while the DIG of police was repeatedly stabbed and 25 policemen were injured. In this situation, the police fired in self-defence, killing 13 and injuring another 38.”
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The unofficial memory however, deviates considerably from this version. The GNLF at the time had voiced its dissatisfaction with the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950. This was because clause 7 of the Treaty, which granted equal treatment to the citizens of both countries, was deemed to cause ambiguity regarding the citizenship of the people of the Hills. The July 27 rally would include burning flags of both the countries, along with copies of the offending clause. The symbolism is intended to make clear, the demands of the people who wish to be equal citizens of India instead of being left hanging with an ambiguous status.
On this day in 1986, the plan was for a peaceful march to the main centre in Kalimpong. However, as the men, women and children neared the police station, shots were heard. The police had full knowledge that a procession was being undertaken on that day. They had in anticipation, taken up positions along the buildings surrounding the road. Without warning the people, the police open fired at the procession—n act that violates not only Indian, but international laws as well. One of the victims in the police firing was a 14 years old girl, Pratima Pradhan. Her face had been shot so many times that it was unrecognisable. Police actions on that day were reason enough for the people of the Hills to wholeheartedly support the armed movement for Gorkhaland.
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It has been over three decades since that bitter day. Though the rally had been called by the Subhas Ghising led GNLF , the memory of the day cannot be claimed by any party alone meaning that it is being claimed by all parties in the Hills. Sandeep Chettri of the Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa led Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), has announced that the party would be organising events to commemorate the day in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Mirik and Kurseong. He also stated that the families of those who were martyred during the various agitations would be felicitated by the party. The Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPM) represented by Tara Sundas, however, made it clear that the families of the deceased were eligible to come under the 'Exempted Category' in terms of receiving government jobs. He stated that this fact would be made aware to the people by the party.
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The number of people who have lost their lives for the sake of Gorkhaland rises with every renewed agitation. In the rough and tumble of the political posturing, the only thing that remains constant is that no matter the blood spilt, Gorkhaland will remain a distant dream for the Hills.