By B. Khaling
[Editor’s Note: This is a meager effort at framing Mr. Khaling’s eye-witness account of the brutal killing of innocent Gorkhas on 27 July, 1986, at the peak of Gorkhaland agitation. The protesting hill people had gathered at the Kalimpong Mela Ground to burn copies of the 7th article in the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950. On the instruction of the then Communist government of West Bengal, the CRPF started shooting at the marchers, leading to the death of innocent people.
I came across Mr. Khaling’s tattered booklet accidentally in the library of Kurseong College, where I was teaching. While I found the account heart-rending, I was not sure if many knew about the existence of this account.
I happened to edit the Kurseong College magazine, Orchids, in 2006. And I decided to reproduce part of Mr. Khaling’s account in the magazine. Even though the Darjeeling hills were going through a leadership crisis at the time, with Mr. Subhash Ghising booted out of the hills, there was no sign of an active agitation for a state. (I had an opportunity to meet him once in his office in Darjeeling. Accompanied by the Kurseong MLA, I met him to request for funding for a conference that I was organizing at the college. Personally, I found him to be a soft-spoken and charming man. He funded the conference very generously and gave almost as much money as the UGC had sanctioned for the conference. Mr. Ghising died early this year away from the Hills.) I left Kurseong College in 2007 and the second wave of agitation for statehood started the very next year.
Despite there not being an immediate context for the publication of this account, I felt the younger generation of college-going Gorkhas must read this account to form a clearer idea of what exactly happened that day. Of course, they must have heard about the shooting and killing, which has become part of the popular lore in the hills.
Since it was not possible to reproduce the whole account, I abridged the booklet. We are reproducing Mr. Khaling’s account here from Orchids, and not directly from the booklet, to which I have no access at the moment. The excerpt will be reproduced on the Café Dissensus Blog in three parts.
Finally, as the saying goes, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. This account is a reminder of what form the excesses of state-power can take in violently suppressing popular movements. However ugly the past is, we must revisit it, not to repeat the same mistake in the future. – Mosarrap H. Khan, co-editor, Café Dissensus.]
The events described on the pages of this book are real, as real as the characters who played their parts. Not one single character is fictitious – except, perhaps for his or her identity which cannot be pinpointed. The dead and injured on both sides excepted. After all, the arena was not a ring or stadium with limited boundaries, where the contest was between Muhammad Ali and Joe Fraser; or a final game between Argentina and West Germany for the world soccer. The characters involved in the killings on both sides can never be pin-pointed and identical.
The date was 27th of July, 1986. It was a grey Sunday with high clouds and occasional gusty burst of wind and rain, as the dawn broke into broad day-light, with a promise of fairly good weather all through the day. If there was any tension in the air, nobody bothered to smell it. As on any other Sundays, there was enough time for everyone to seep and enjoy a few extra cups of tea before leaving the bed. In fact, there was a sense of jubilation, a touch of festive mood – a common weakness shared by the fun-loving Gorkhas of the Hills – as everyone looked forward to the moment of the day scheduled for the performance of the rites, in which the copies of the 7th article in the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950, would be consigned to the flames as a token of mass-protest against the very spirit and the implication of the text of the said Treaty that stands to condemn us, in the very words of the former Prime Minister, Mr. Morarji Desai, as foreigners living on the Indian soil since and as of 1950 to enjoy the token benefits as accrued from the said Treaty. The auspicious moment selected for the observance of the rites was fixed at 2.30 P.M. The venue – Kalimpong Mela Ground.
Life in Kurseong town on Saturday, the haat day of the week, despite the prohibitory orders as envisaged under 144 CrPC having been clamped as early as the evening of Friday, was perfectly normal. Rather, deceptive enough to instill in the people a false sense of security and assurance that the third programme the following day would be a repeat-bonanza of the ’72 hour bandh’ in middle May. An immature leadership of the Chief Convener, GNLF, Kalimpong was apparently showing in his failure to stick to the directives of the Central Command. An over-doze of valor and ambition, when discretion should have prevailed.
What the people in their ignorance failed to notice in the evident behavior and gesture of the rifle-toting CRP jawans were their open hostility and cock-sureness to do something drastic that was dripping all over all the place. The dead-pan expression accentuated by the American G.I.s type helmet to match their dark somber faces, while they patrolled their rounds, were all too ominous. This time they were determined to display their expertise. Everything when added up pointed to one single fact that they had standing orders to shoot on the slightest provocation.
The tragic event that unfolded itself in the afternoon of Sunday left little doubt as to how meticulously and painstakingly the entire gamut of massacre and manslaughter had been thought out and planned that was finally executed to ghastly perfection. In real Communist style.
Little wonder, the D.I.G. (C.I.D.), West Bengal, had been assigned to the task of conducting the whole operation. Perhaps, the ‘Operation Red Star’ in the Marxist terminology.
The psychological climate in which the entire plan seems to have been hatched may be traced to a basic human weakness. An overdose of misguided ambition. “But for his ambition, I slew him.” So said Brutus when Caesar lay slain by his own friends, Roman and countrymen.
Mr. Binoy Chowdhury, the then acting West Bengal Chief Minister, was overambitious to establish his right of accession to the chair he temporarily occupied by mobilizing every bit of power his august office made available to him so that his multi-pronged action on all fronts would come as the final Coup de Grace delivered to completely uproot the G.N.L.F. movement in the Hills. As if Mr. Jyoti Basu, the Chief Minister, apparently failed to do just that. Mr. Buta Singh, the Union Home Minister, seemed to agree with Mr. Chowdhury. He agreed to furnish eight companies of CRP jawans to boost the sagging morale of the West Bengal administration…
As a matter of fact, the very imposition of 144 CrPC with everything it implied, to discourage the protest-demonstration was an act of flagrant violation denying the Constitutional rights of the people. The very basics of the Fundamental Rights were trampled underfoot, when prohibitory orders to silence the voice of the people was clamped in pretence of maintaining law and order.
If unchallenged and unprovoked, the demonstrators would have assembled at the Mela Ground, as usual, to burn the copies of the said Articles of the treaty. Perhaps, the majority did not even know the implication of the act – the burning of the copies. That the people of the hills were so naïve and ignorant may be indicated by the fact, that when the curfew was clamped on the 26th of July, beginning since 6.00 p.m. the previous evening, many villagers were coming to town to see what the Curfew was like. They had to be sent back home by the sympathetic Army personnel. And then, as usual, the platform would have been adorned by the same run-of-the-mill bunch of Soap-box orators to blabber away their proto-typed and very often self-contradictory speeches, by now repeated umpteenth times – in the midst of thunderous clapping that sometimes would have little connection to the orator’s off-the-beat renderings. If I remember right, in the last meeting held on the 19th of July, 1986, a group from the far corner of the eastern portion of the stadium suddenly clapped away when a lady-speaker was emotionally recounting the tragic drama of shooting in Kurseong on 25th May, 1986. That was perhaps the anti-climax of the day. At its worst, there would have been slogan shouting of Ghising Zindabad with gusto and enthusiasm, and the crowd would have dispersed, ready to go home, thoroughly elated…
…There was no stopping the people once they decided to go ahead with the programme, scheduled to be held on the Mela Ground. Slowly but surely, the town began to be thronged, at first by curious crowds of onlookers, who came in small groups to loiter around the town aimlessly, but with keen eyes to watch the mood and attitude of the patrolling CRP jawans. As the tempo of outpouring mass began to swell, by now marching with determined steps and a sense of purpose; by 11.00 a.m., the patrolling jawans were virtually on edge, their innards tightening to a hard ball. The expected inevitable just seemed around the corner.
As the hands of the clock struck 11.40 a.m., the town witnessed the first spurt of action when the jawans made the first charge of the day on the couple of isolated groups of students. About twelve in number were arrested and put under police custody. The arrest was made in the vicinity of the Kalimpong P.S. Another group of about twenty five young boys and girls coming from the upper Cart Road were confronted by the CRP jawans in a bid to disperse the girls. The boys were apprehended and locked behind the hajat. By now the inside accommodation of the Police Station was almost filled to overflowing with boys confronted and arrested. The spell of high noon saw the ominous panorama of converging columns of humanity from the far-flung outskirts of Greater Kalimpong – the outlying villages and small settlements like Labha, Algarah, Pedong and even those tiny villages scattered all along the Labha-Gorubathan road. Platoons of CRP jawans had already been kept posted at several key point to stem the inflow of the marching column of crowd to prevent them from entering the heart of the town – the Mela Ground, the targeted venue.
By 1.20 p.m., this particular column of men, women, both old and young, and boys and girls of the age group of twelve to fifteen years had reached the intersection point of Rishi Road and R.C.Mintri Road, just beyond the Power House. They had been debarred by a cordon of rifle-toting jawans from entering the town premises…
B. Khaling: Unfortunately, we have no information on Mr. Khaling. Even when we asked people in the hills, no one seemed to know. If you happen to know, please inform us. We will update the bio.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issues of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on Muslim Women on Hijab/Veil, edited by Varsha Basheer, University of Kerala & IRDP, UC Berkeley.