Thousands of tourists fled Monday from the Darjeeling Indian mountain resort, fearing violence in a wave of separatist agitation.
Hundreds of soldiers and policemen patrolled the streets of this steep city of West Bengal built in a landscape of tea plantations while panicked travelers made their sacks.
“As of Sunday, 7,000 tourists had left Darjeeling,” said Pradip Lama, head of the tourism association of Darjeeling travel agents. Nearly 70% of bookings have been canceled.
The Gorkhas, a Nepalese ethnic group, have been campaigning for decades to pull out the region of West Bengal state and get their own state within the Indian Union. The recent decision by the authorities to make the teaching of the Bengali language compulsory in schools in Darjeeling has rekindled the tensions.
As a leading figure in the Gorkhaland movement, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) launched a general strike and advised visitors to leave Darjeeling for their safety.
An Indian tourist reported that protesters had taken the vehicle of his group, asking to know the identity of the people inside.
“I was hooked on my mother’s arm as she pleaded with her joined hands to let us go,” she told AFP.
A similar protest in 2007 allowed the locals to gain more administrative power.
Many groups across India are leading similar campaigns to get their own state. The last to succeed had allowed the birth of the State of Telangana, resulting from the split of Andhra Pradesh in 2014.