Life returned to normal in the hills of West Bengal on Wednesday as Nepalese-origin residents ended a three-month strike over demands for a separate state in the region.
The shutdown that lasted 104 days in Darjeeling, a popular tourist destination in the Indian state with a large Nepalese population, crippled daily life and the economy in the tea-producing hill station.
“The strike resulted in losses amounting to more than 4 billion rupees (U.S. $61 million) in the tea and tourism industries,” Biswajit Das of the Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industries told BenarNews.
The decision to end the strike followed an appeal Tuesday by Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which was spearheading the agitation, Jyoti Rai, GJM’s assistant general secretary, told reporters.
The sporadically violent protests led to deaths and injuries.
“Eleven precious lives have been lost so far, several have been injured and the entire people of Darjeeling hills have suffered a lot since the strike. I have been pained immensely by what has happened in Darjeeling hills,” Singh said in a statement issued late Tuesday.
“In a democracy, dialogue is the only way to resolve any problem, and solutions can be found through restraint and mutual dialogue,” the minister said.
India’s almost 5 million-strong Gorkha population has been demanding a state separate from Bengal for more than a century. The latest cycle of protests for a separate Gorkhaland erupted on June 8 after West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) party decided to make the Bengali language mandatory in the state’s classrooms.
“Even if the GJM had not withdrawn the strike, the people of Darjeeling would have done so themselves, because they were suffering for more than three months, and for nothing. The shutdown solved nothing,” Anit Thapa of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, GJM’s rival body, told BenarNews.
In statement released from an undisclosed location, GJM president Bimal Gurung, who was accused of masterminding explosions during the unrest and was believed to be in hiding, said he was withdrawing the strike to “pay respect to the appeal of the Union Home Minister.”
Jameng Bhutia, a tour operator based in Kalimpong, which is about 50 km (31 miles) east of Darjeeling, said he couldn’t be happier with the decision.
“In the last three months, I have lost business worth at least 1 million rupees ($15,254). What did the protesters achieve by this agitation? Only the locals suffered,” Bhutia told BenarNews as he readied to take a group of tourists to Darjeeling.
“I am extremely happy now that everything has returned to normal,” he said.
Residents said all markets, banks, offices and educational institutes, which stayed shut during the strike, resumed operations on Wednesday morning.
“It’s a sight we were waiting to see. The streets are packed with people rushing to their offices and schools. People are also heading to the market in huge numbers to get basic supplies. Quite a few tourists have also landed here since this morning,” resident Sima Chetri told BenarNews.
Internet services, which were down since June to prevent groups from organizing protests, resumed on Tuesday, Darjeeling District Magistrate Joyoshi Dasgupta told reporters.
“But we will continue to assess the situation and keep a close watch on the content that is uploaded and shared on various social networking sites,” Dasgupta said.
West Bengal Tourism Minister Goutam Deb welcomed the move to end the strike even as he played down the role of Singh, who belongs to TMC’s rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Life was already gradually returning to normal in the hills. Such appeals (by the BJP) are meaningless and baseless. Nevertheless, it’s great that the Gorkhas have ended their agitation and normalcy has returned to the hills,” Deb told BenarNews.
Jhumur Deb in Guwahati, India, contributed to this report.