‘It’s been 30 years, but we panic every time’

The Times Of India

Deep Gazmer & Jaideep Mazumdar,

DARJEELING: In normal circumstances, a 305 litre double-door refrigerator should have been sufficient for Meera Pradhan’s small family of three comprising herself, her civil engineer husband and a five-year-old daughter. But on Thursday, Meera, an employee of the forest department, rushed to an appliances showroom in Darjeeling’s JP Singh Road to purchase another 250 litre refrigerator. Because, for Meera and the lakhs of other residents of this district, these are not normal times.

The indefinite shutdown announced by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) has triggered a rush in the Hills – to stock up on food and all other commodities. And, it has triggered a virtual run on the banks. An estimated Rs 20 crore was withdrawn from the 20-odd ATMs and more bank branches in Darjeeling town on Thursday and Friday. Many of the ATMs ran out of cash and people had to queue up for at least 30 minutes to withdraw money. Though the GJM ensured that traders did not take advantage of the situation and jack prices of commodities, some grocery stores selling foodgrains and other foodstuff reported running low on stocks due to the tit-for-tat shutdown of markets in Siliguri called by Bengali parochial organizations.

Meera and her husband Sooraj, employed with the urban development department, spent Thursday and Friday – the two-day window allowed by the GJM to allow people to stock up on supplies – rushing from one shop and market to another to buy foodgrains, meat, fish, vegetables and other foodstuff, toiletries, petrol for their car and all other essentials they could think of. “We’ve not had a moment to relax,” Meera told TOI. “We were told (by the GJM) that this shutdown would go on till August 14. And since I had to stock perishable food and provisions for 15 days, I had to get a new refrigerator. The existing one is too small for all the extra stuff,” she added.

Old-time resident of Darjeeling, teacher and social worker Noreen Dunne told TOI that such shutdowns always trigger a mad rush to stock up on essentials and finish last-minute urgent work. “It’s so difficult to cope with this,” she said.

People here have been experiencing long shutdowns since the mid-1980s when the GNLF-led Gorkhaland agitation started. “But even then, every time a fresh shutdown is announced, we panic. And it is not only the food and other provisions that one has to store. We also have to think what we need during the days everything will be closed. So, getting DVDs of movies and games and other forms of entertainment are also essential,” said K C Dorjee, a former officer of the state information department who now runs a store in Kurseong.

The worst sufferers are the poor who don’t have enough money to stock foodstuff for such prolonged shutdowns. Most return to their villages, where vegetables and foodstuff are easier to procure.

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