28/06/2017 by Michael Matergia 0 Comments
What's going on in Darjeeling?
Michael recounts his recent trip in Darjeeling as political unrest unfolded within the region.
Broadleaf is adamantly apolitical; we focus on improving health and education. For that reason, I will be vague and as unbiased as possible in this post.* However, I hope that the story of my recent trip to Darjeeling provides a further glimpse into life in the region and why we believe so passionately in our work.
On June 8th, we were beginning the planning process for an upcoming child mental health trial, when we were informed that the office would be closing due to a political demonstration. This is not an uncommon experience in Darjeeling. What was unusual though were the two pillars of black smoke rising over the town and the sounds of explosions echoing through the hills.
The facts are hazy. But in a conflict between the police and local activists, stones and bricks were thrown, tear gas fired, and several Jeeps and buses torched.
Immediately the town entered a “bandh” or strike. A strike in Darjeeling means the entire region shuts-down – vehicles stop running, shops and offices shutter, schools close, and families’ retreat into their private residences. For me this unfortunately meant an apartment without running water that I had yet to stock up.
The situation steadily deteriorated. Protestors marched, police raided homes, political leaders went underground, media & internet blackouts were enforced, and the army was called in as a form of martial law settled over the hills. Thanks to the generosity of good friends we remained safe and comfortable. **
On June 17th– Gorkha protesters clashed with state forces. The facts are contentious including if and who fired live rounds – but tragically three young men lost
their lives that day.
It was clearly time to leave.
This proved easier said than done. Public transport was suspended and private vehicles were fearful of operating. For 3 tense days, we explored every option to leave town. We were preparing for a 70 km walk to the plains – when luckily, we found one driver brave enough to drive us under the cover of darkness.
While I was able to leave, for my friends and colleagues, life remains upside down. An indefinite strike has continued into the 10th day. Internet service remains suspended. And CHHIP schools remain closed.
However, this situation though does not call for us to abandon our work. Rather, I feel that it compels us to re-double our efforts -- to commit further to helping the people of Darjeeling achieve vibrant communities built on a foundation of healthy and educated children.
*For more background on the Gorkhaland movement please see here and here.
**Special thanks to Gatty, Cath, Emma, and Roshan for sheltering and feeding us and allowing us to be entertained by your beautiful children!
***Update (11/25/2017): Our community schools re-opened in October. Many schools will be staying open through the winter break to make sure students are caught up.