As the ongoing Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) protest enters the 59th day, Bhutanese residing in the border town of Jaigaon, which falls in the Alipurduar district of West Bengal are caught in the abrupt sealing of border gates and rumours of a possible strike every alternate day.
This follows the violent GJM agitation on 30 July outside the Bhutan gate forcing the West Bengal Police to deploy forces armed with tear gas and rubber bullets to control the mob.
There are close to 5,000 Bhutanese residents living across the Indian border because of housing shortages in the Bhutanese commercial town of Phuentsholing.
After incidences of violent protests, the Bhutanese people living in Jaigaon are shifting or looking for places to shift within the Bhutanese territory for security reasons.
Tirtha Ghalley, a government school staffer told Firstpost that he has shifted to Phuentsholing after being caught up in multiple unannounced sealing of border gates.
“It has been a week since I shifted to a place close by to the school,” said Ghalley adding that it was alarming to be stopped at the gate every time there is a problem.” I was not allowed to exit Bhutan or enter after the gates were closed, so I had to take a decision,” he said.
Ghalley is not the only one who is worried over the developments.
“We have fared so far but it may get worse, given the West Bengal government is paying no heed,” said Ugyen Lhamo, a private sector employee.
Authorities in Phuenstoling Municipal Corporation along with immigration officials, Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) are prepping temporary shelters just in case.
The mayor of Phuentsholing town, Uttar Kumar Rai said they are ready if they have to relocate people. “We are prepared for the worst-case scenario to accommodate people given the increasing security concerns,” he said. “You never know how the agitation might turn out to be,” Rai said.
According to local media reports, a committee has also been formed to put up an action plan to look into problems of Bhutanese living in Jaigaon. The RBP has also set up a control room.
Jaigaon serves as an overland entrance to Bhutan as the country does not have its own internal roads to connect to some districts in the southern belt. The bordering town also caters as a shopping and transit hub for travellers in terms of cheap lodging.
Meantime, over 100 Bhutanese students studying in Darjeeling and Kalimpong have been affected and are unable to return for over two months even after their holidays have ended.
Bhim Subba, a second year Bhutanese student studying at the Kalimpong Government College said his parents want him to remain at home until the agitation subsides.
“It is getting worrisome as I will lose a year or maybe be more,” said Bhim. He is also concerned about financial implications on his family. “I may start working if it takes longer,” he said.
Another student, Pema Gyeltshen told Firstpost that he is exploring possibilities of going to Bengaluru and start a new course. “I don’t think any Bhutanese parent or student will want to see Darjeeling and Kalimpong as an education hub anymore,” Gyeltshen said.
Firstpost has learnt that Bhutanese Students Association in North East India has approached Bhutan’s education ministry seeking intervention.
Business houses in Jaigaon have been affected as fewer Bhutanese vehicles ply towards India to avoid trouble.
Local travel agents in Jaigoan are suffering given the low volume of regional tourists arriving this year following the Gorkhaland unrest. Sanjay Kumar, proprietor of SK Tours and Travels said that business has been going from bad to worse.
“Our travel bookings should have been closed by now but this year we are not even able to open it as there are fewer travellers coming,” said Kumar. “There should have been plenty of booking during Durga Puja but because of the ongoing Darjeeling shutdown, tourists are rerouting their plans. I may have to close shop until the situation improves,” he said.