A journey into the heart of rage and fear: Travelling to Darjeeling and back. By Annabelle Mukhia

“Do we have the travel passes? Will there be trouble on the way?” I asked my brother-in-law as I boarded the Toyota Innova taxi outside Bagdogra airport, in the foothills of Darjeeling, on July 29, minutes after flying in from Delhi. I was headed home and my heart was heavy – my maternal uncle, who had regaled me with stories of thieves and ghosts through my childhood, had died the day before. But it wasn’t just sadness that weigned heavy on me: there was the worry of going back to a place where an often violent agitation raged for a separate state of Gorkhaland.

My fear grew as my brother-in-law, there to pick me up, told me of a clash between pro-Gorkhaland agitators and security forces in Sukna, a village in the plains on the way to the hills. There were rumours that three protestors had been shot, that the violence was spreading to the lowlands. I was reassured somewhat when the driver – who agreed to ferry us only because he knew my family – said he would take a detour to avoid Sukna.

“And we have these,” said my brother-in-law, holding up the all-important passes for travel in and out of Darjeeling, where a shutdown that began in mid-June is closing in on 70 days. Over a month ago, the strike and the internet ban that followed had forced me to cut my trip to Darjeeling short as I was unable to do my work as a copy editor for Scroll.in. I had fought my way onto a crowded state bus (which no longer runs) and reached the plains of Siliguri – the gateway to the rest of the country – after a 12-hour journey that usually takes less than three hours.

This time round, we had four travel passes to Darjeeling – one issued in Siliguri by a leader of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which runs the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration hills and is leading the agitation, another from the municipal councillor of the area where I live in the hills, a third from the president of the neighbourhood society, and the fourth from our parish priest. These had the names of all those traveling, including my sister and niece who had taken the flight from Delhi with me, and my cousin whom we picked up from Siliguri, where he is a university student.

For added protection, a large hand-written note pasted on the rear window read “funeral”, while a white khada (white scarf used in weddings and funerals) fluttered from a rear-view mirror…. 
read more:

Sonia Jabbar on the Gorkhaland agitation

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