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Neglect sparks unrest in Darjeeling


HONG KONG (SE): Hundreds of Gurkhas and Nepali-speaking people held a rally in George V Memorial Park, Hong Kong, on June 25 in support of ethnic Gurkha people in Darjeeling, India, who have gone on indefinite strike, demanding a separate homeland—Gorkhaland, the South China Morning Post reported on June 26.
The newspaper reported Subash Thapa, president of the United Gorkha Community of India-Hong Kong, as saying, "We are not advocating separatism here. As Gurkhas we want our identity to be better represented and respected."
The district in Himalayan foothills of India’s West Bengal state, has seen clashes between local residents and police since June 8, but the unrest escalated when the Gurkha Janmukti Morcha party called the strike to protest the imposition of the Bengali language as a compulsory school subject in the predominantly Nepali-speaking region.
"The Church is not directly involved in the protest. But the Church is with the people," Bishop Stephen Lepcha, from Darjeeling, said in expressing solidarity with the strikers.
The bishop explained to UCAN that people are demanding the right of self-governance because the state officials of West Bengal have been neglecting their needs.
"The problem arises here again because people do not see the government helping with any development in this hilly region. People suffer unemployment and poverty. The administration has failed miserably," the bishop said.
The struggle for a separate state within the Indian federation began three decades ago with armed clashes claiming 1,200 lives from 1986 to1988. At the time, this was resolved by the setting up of semi-autonomous Darjeeling Gurkha Hill council, to administer Darjeeling.
However, Bishop Lepcha noted that, "In effect, everything was controlled by the state government," adding that without freedom the council also "failed to work for the welfare of the people."
He said that the demand for Gorkhaland is "genuine as it will help Gurkha people safeguard their language and ethnic culture which they consider under threat."
Tej Kumar Thapa, who works with Darjeeling Diocesan Social Service Society, said the demand for autonomy and the resulting conflict had been "waiting to happen because the government can’t impose or restrict what language we learn and speak."
Father Kinley Tshering, the provincial superior of the Jesuits in Darjeeling, told UCAN of his concern that if the strike goes on, it will impact ordinary people as food and other essential items run out. The strike has led to blocked roads, preventing trucks with food and other supplies from reaching the region.
Bishop Lepcha expressed his desire to see government and the Gurkha people to enter into dialogue to address the issue "or else the situation will be out of control."
The bishop went on to say that while Catholics are small in number, they maintain good rapport with other local people as well as the West Bengal government. "We are in a process to find out some ways to help bring peace back to the region," he said.
CNN reported on June 23 that as many as three people had been killed and some 60 injured in the ongoing clashes.



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