Darjeeling: Thousands of tourists stranded as shutdown called over imposition of Bengali in schools
On Friday and Saturday, the state buses will ferry stranded tourists from Darjeeling to Siliguri and from Siliguri to Kolkata free of cost.
The situation in Darjeeling, West Bengal, continued to remain tense on Friday as the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha observed a 12-hour bandh following violent clashes between its supporters and the Army. Most shops remained shut while transportation was suspended, reported The Times of India. However, no fresh violence was reported.
Meanwhile, over 10,000 tourists are believed to be stranded because of the bandh, according to ANI. The state government has arranged for a fleet of vehicles to evacuate the stranded tourists. On Friday and Saturday, the North Bengal State Transport Corporation buses will ferry stranded tourists from Darjeeling to Siliguri and from Siliguri to Kolkata free of cost. Police personnel will escort the buses till Siliguri.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is in Darjeeling to take stock of the situation. “Our government has made arrangements for them [the stranded tourists] to leave safely,” she said, according to The Times of India. “I will be here till situation normalises.”
Violence had erupted in the hills on Thursday as GJM members protested against the proposal to make Bengali mandatory in state-run schools. The protestors set police vehicles and a government bus on fire. The West Bengal government had to call in armed forces to quell the violent protests.
GJM General Secretary Roshan Giri criticised the state government for calling in the Army. “This suppression of our voice that Banerjee is doing by using the administration will not work,” he told The Indian Express. Both GJM leaders and police officers were injured in Thursday’s clashes. Local channels were asked to go off air until further notice.
The protests took place despite Banerjee exempting the schools in the hill district from the language proposal. On Monday, the chief minister had said in Mirik that the proposal to make Bengali compulsory in government schools would not be applicable to schools in the hill region.
On Friday, Banerjee criticised the protestors for damaging public property. “Just see what they have done,” she told The Times of India. “Public property has been vandalised and set on fire… the Army is patrolling the area and I hope the Hills will be peaceful soon.”