The murder of a Siliguri school girl this week sparked the first major shutdown in North Bengal’s hill districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong in years on Saturday as a number of political parties called a 24-hour bandh and the BJP led a protest over the incident.
Most vehicles remained off the roads and shops and other establishments remained closed in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong, Mirik and other areas. A large number of people remained indoors.
On Monday, the 17-year-old girl returning from school was bludgeoned to death by a 22-year-old man who tried to sexually assault her. The body of the girl, who was from the Gorkha community, was found in a dilapidated house in Matigara area of Siliguri in North Bengal. The accused, Mohammed Abbas, was arrested the next day.
On Wednesday, mobs vandalised the house of the accused and assaulted his family members. Police had to deploy Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel to control the situation.
The newly-formed Gorkha Sewa Sena had given a call for a 12-hour bandh for Saturday which was supported by the taxi associations of Kurseong, Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Later, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Hamro Party and CPRM (Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists) supported the call and turned it into a 24-hour bandh. Essential services were kept out of the purview of the bandh, which started at 6 am.
This was the first major bandh in the North Bengal hills since the 105-day shutdown in 2017 over the Gorkhaland statehood demand.
Gorkha Sewa Sena member Ujjwal Rai said: “The incident is extremely sad. People in the hills have responded to the bandh positively. We demand strong action against the culprit.”
The Trinamool Congress, which has condemned the incident, did not support the shutdown. Senior TMC leader and Siliguri Mayor Gautam Deb said: “It is our party’s stand not to support any bandh in the state. Once a bandh is observed, people are inconvenienced and normal is affected. The form of protest could have been different. We have to keep the hills peaceful.”
He added that his party has also condemned the incident and took out rallies earlier this week to mark their protest. “The police have already arrested the accused. Investigation is on. Let law take its own course. Let us not disrupt the peace in the area by giving bandh calls,” said the TMC leader.
The BJP, meanwhile, organised a protest rally in Siliguri led by the party’s Darjeeling MP Raju Bista. The BJP leader demanded a CBI inquiry into the matter. “The Mamata Banerjee’s police do not work in an impartial manner. People have no faith in their investigation as they work to protect the Trinamool Congress only. Unless the CBI is probing the matter, the girl will not get justice,” he said.
Also on Saturday, a BJP delegation led by its Matigara-Naxalbari MLA Anandamoy Barman visited the house of the victim and spoke with her family members. “Women and child trafficking cases are rising in this area. Anti-social activities are also going on without any check. Youth are falling prey to drugs. As a result, incidents like this are taking place. I demand capital punishment for the youth,” said Barman.
Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha chief Anit Thapa said he neither supported nor opposed the bandh. “Those who called the bandh will have to understand that the matter is sub-judice. Therefore, let law take its own course.”
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The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and BJP had observed a 12-hour bandh in Siliguri on Thursday.
Siliguri Metropolitan police DCP Abhishek Gupta had said earlier: “The minor girl was murdered at an abandoned place in Siliguri’s Matigara area on Monday, as she was returning home from her school. The person who allegedly attempted to assault the minor girl sexually and then killed her has been arrested.”
The accused was Tuesday produced in a court which remanded him in police custody.