Darjeeling bishop backs Gorkhaland stir, prays for peace
By Matters India Reporter
Darjeeling: Bishop Stephen Lepcha of Darjeeling has urged his people to pray for peace and joy to return to the hilly region.
“We have a long standing culture of living in peace. We hope and pray that this peace and joy return to Darjeeling hills,” the bishop said in a June 20 message to media persons.
However, the bishop has expressed solidarity with the Gorkha people who have demanded a separate state.
“Our aspirations are the same as that of Gorkhas from time immemorial. We have been the integral part of expressing these aspirations and have done so whole heartedly since its beginning. We pray that our desire may be realized soon,” the prelate added.
Violence has gripped Darjeeling, the northern region of West Bengal and one India’s most popular hill stations, after the state’s Mamata Banerjee government decided to impose Bengali as a compulsory subject for all school students in the state.
Spearheading the stir is the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s (GJM, Gorkha people’s liberation front) that wants a separate Gorkha state.
Protesters set ablaze government buildings and vehicles and a World Heritage Site train station in Darjeeling on June 15.
The flare-up came shortly after police raided an office of the GJM in Darjeeling and claimed to have seized arms, explosives and a night vision equipment.
The GJM, which rules the hill districts under the semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), called an indefinite shutdown to protest the raid.
Bishop Lepcha expressed “deep sorry at the violence, injuries and the loss of lives” in the hills following the agitation and police crackdown. “Our heartfelt condolence to all the families of those who are martyrs,” the bishop’s message added.
The Catholic bishop also asserted that Christians in the region belong to the Gorkha tribe and that they shared the community’s aspirations and demands.
Bishop Lepcha also clarified that the Christian community does not find a need to reassert its stand on the issue every time the Gorkha agitation takes a new turn.
The bishop announced a special Mass at 7 am on June 21 at the cathedral church. He also plans to release a statement to the media on behalf of the Catholics in the diocese. “I felt that it is an urgent need for us Catholic community to share our views through media,” he told Matters India.
The prelate has also urged the Catholic communities in region to organize special prayers for the Gorkha cause.
Meanwhile the protesters on June 20 decided to continue the strike indefinitely and boycott elections of GTA in future. They have reiterated that they will end the strike only if the state government withdraws armed forces from the region.
The protestors have formed an All India Coordination Committee on Gorkhaland to take the stir nationwide and appointed Tilak Kumar Roka as its coordinator .
They have also decided to hold talks on Gorkhaland only with the federal government.
Meanwhile the Salesian-managed Radio Salesian 90.8 FM Boice of the Hills is putting out messages from the principal of Salesian College Sonada and other leaders soliciting peace and non-violence. They have also urged people to avoid rumors