CALCUTTA, India – Tens of thousands of tourists were stranded in the tea-growing region of eastern India on Tuesday after a Gurkha separatist group called a strike to press its demand for an independent state, shutting down hotels, shops and roads.
The Gurkha Janamukti Morcha wants a state for ethnic Gurkhas in the hill areas around Darjeeling in West Bengal state.
All shops and businesses were closed Tuesday in Darjeeling and nearby towns, an area famous for its tea and cool climate, a strong draw in India’s scorching summer. Roughly 40,000 tourists were rushing to leave the area after the Gurkha group asked them to go home as soon as possible, said Raj Kanojia, a senior state police official.
The newly formed separatist group’s general secretary, Roshan Giri, said it would help with travel arrangements, but prospects appeared difficult with all public transport staying off the roads.
“We are stuck here with our kids,” said Sanjay Singh, an Indian tourist on vacation with his family. “We want to get out earliest but there is no transport.”
There was no reported violence, said Raj Kanojia, a senior state police official.
Giri said the strike would continue until the government “accepts our demand for a separate state.”
The state government dismissed the group’s wishes.
“A separate state is out of the question,” said state minister Asok Bhattcharya. “They need to settle down and agree to discuss and negotiate.”
Gurkhas are an ethnic group in northern India and Nepal who are famed for their fighting prowess and bravery. They began serving as soldiers loyal to Britain in 1815 in India. When India gained independence from Britain in 1947, they became part of the British army and have received accolades for fighting around the world.
The Gurkhas, under a separate group, the Gurkha National Liberation Front, fought for an independent state in the 1980s and were granted some autonomy, which allows them control over local village councils and sales taxes. But key areas such as finance and security remain controlled by the West Bengal state government.
Leaders of the Gurkha Janamukti Morcha said those concessions were not enough.
“We will not settle for anything less than a separate state this time,” said Bimal Gurung, the group’s president.