Tea, Tourism Affected by Violence in India's Darjeeling DistrictBy Nilanjana Bhowmick
Darjeeling/Kolkata, India
18 June 2008

India's scenic Darjeeling district is known for its teas and draws tens-of-thousands of tourists each year. But political turmoil in the multi-ethnic district is threatening to undermine the tourism industry and the tea trade. Leaders of an ethnic minority pushing for a separate state have called an indefinite strike. Nilanjana Bhowmick spoke with the leader of the movement, who says he will not compromise, even though the government has rejected demands for part of West Bengal to become a separate state.

Indian supporters of Gorkha People's Liberation Front (GJM) shout slogans as they stage protest in Darjeeling, 17 Jun 2008Members of the Gorkha community in the Indian state of West Bengal began protest strikes last week to demand an independent state, shutting down transportation in some areas and stranding many tourists. The strike was temporarily suspended last week to allow tourists to leave.

In response to the latest protests, the West Bengal government met on Tuesday with the leaders of all the major political parties in the state. The communist government in West Bengal has offered to meet with the leaders of the Gorkha independence movement, but has ruled out demands for a Gorkha state.

The leader of the separatist movement, Bimal Gurung, said he declined to meet with the West Bengal chief minister, and that the strike would continue.

Gurung says his movement is peaceful. He says he called for the indefinite shutdown after consultation with people from the grassroots level and it has wide support.

The Gorkha community fought for a separate state in the 1980s, and at least 1200 people died. The group later settled for greater autonomy.

Gurung says the Gorkhas have fought many decisive wars for India, starting under colonial rule. Gurung says many Gorkhas belong to the forces manning India's borders.

He says, "if tomorrow I give a call, they will leave their posts unmanned and come here to fight for their Gorkhaland. Then what will happen to India's borders?" He says, "I am saying, 'give us our demand and see how we continue to shed blood for the country.'"

Leaders of the Gorkha say they are ready to talk with the central government in New Delhi, along with all the major parites in West Bengal state.

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