A British-era community hall run by the Bengali Association in Kurseong in the Darjeeling Hills was set on fire on Wednesday allegedly by Gorkhaland supporters, the Hindustan Times reported. A group of masked men set the Raj Rajeswari Hall ablaze around 2 am amid renewed protests in the town.
Leaders of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha have denied that their members had destroyed the property. Built in 1930, the Raj Rajeshwari Hall had survived the previous Gorkhaland agitations in 1986 and 2007.
“After vandalising the place, they poured fuel and set it on fire,” The Times of India quoted an unidentified police officier as saying. “The local people were too scared to go to the spot till the police arrived.”
The Bengali Association in Kurseong is nearly a century old and has around 80 members. In February, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had granted it Rs 38 lakh to renovate the community hall.
“The hall had been undergoing repairs when the strike halted the work,” Chandan Karmakar, a trustee of the hall, told The Telegraph. “In the fire yesterday, everything, including old documents, the sound system and furniture, were destroyed.”
Other incidents of violence
As the indefinite bandh in the Hills entered its 36th day on Thursday, several incidents of violence and arson were reported from other parts of the tourist town. The women’s wing of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has decided to take out a “dhikkar” (condemnation) rally on Friday in Darjeeling, The Telegraph reported.
A Trinamool Congress party office in the city’s Chowk Bazaar was also vandalised on Wednesday, and a police vehicle was set of fire in the same area, DNA reported. The Nagari gram panchayat office and a tourist lodge in Kurseong were attacked allegedly by Gorkhaland supporters.
The Darjeeling unrest
Violence broke out in Darjeeling in June after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced her decision to make Bengali compulsory in state-run schools. Though she had said that hill districts will be exempted from the rule, the GJM began an agitation that soon turned into a revival of the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland.