Food shortages intensify in Darjeeling hills but the statehood movement remains strong

Late night, sometime in the hours before dawn, Rajen Lama* of Kurseong, a town in the West Bengal’s mountainous Darjeeling district, drives down to Siliguri, about 35 km away in the foothills.

The first thing he buys when the shops open is formula milk. Next, he picks up some vegetables and rations for his family and neighbours. Then, he waits for the darkness to come.

For 45 days now, an indefinite general strike in the Darjeeling hills in support of the demand for a separate state called Gorkhaland has crippled normal life. The strike, called initially by the dominant hill party, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, and later endorsed by the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee, a newly formed consortium of 14 hill parties, shows no sign of ending.

During the day, pro-Gorkhaland picketers restrict travel in the hills, while in the plains, the Bengal police reportedly check vehicles and disallow those carrying food to travel uphill. Many pro-Gorkhaland leaders have accused the Bengal government of blocking the supply of essentials to the hills.

“My brother’s eight month old baby does not breast feed and is dependent on formula,” said Lama, who drives a taxi for a living. “With everything closed here, we are forced to travel to Siliguri to get the baby food in the dark of the night.”

Lama has been out of work for 38 days now. “There’s no money at home,” he said. “Sisters and other relatives are helping, but for how long will they be able to do that?”

Expressing his frustration at the strike, Lama said: “Who is suffering? Us. No one in Delhi or Kolkata is suffering. It is us, our people who are suffering.” But in the same vein, he added: “The dream of Gorkhaland has always been lodged inside me. I support the movement. The loss in income that I have suffered and the problems that I am facing because of the strike – these are my contributions to the movement.”

Continue reading this piece, published in Scroll.in here.

Featured image by Kundan Yolmo.

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