Tourists, students flee as protests spread in India's Darjeeling tea lands

Indian police personnel stop Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters following a raid at the GJM office in Darjeeling on June 15, 2017.

Story highlights

  • Nepali-speaking Gorkhas are demanding a state within India
  • Three people have been killed and up to 60 injured
  • Region-wide strike has left tourism and tea industries in ruins

New Delhi (CNN)The sleepy hills of India's northeast have erupted into violence, as calls for a separate state for the area's Nepali-speaking Gorkhas gain traction.

The protest movement -- now entering into its ninth day and showing no signs of resolution -- is centered around the tea producing region of Darjeeling, in West Bengal, home to the country's largest concentration of ethnic Gorkhas.
As many as three people have been killed and up to 60 injured, in ongoing clashes between protestors and local paramilitary forces. Earlier this week, military troops were drafted into the region in a bid to help quell tensions, which have hurt the region's tea and tourist industries.
    The protests are part of a wider regional strike as called for by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) -- an ethno-nationalist political party spearheading the statehood movement -- that has seen the local economy paralyzed, as workers abandon their posts and take to the streets in their thousands.

    Crisis deepens

    Darjeeling, a popular tourist destination in India, is best known for its sprawling tea gardens, lush green hills and panoramic views of snow-clad mountain ranges. Hundreds of Indian and foreign tourists have fled the area since the unrest began.
    Who are the Indian Gorkhas?

    In 1816, the Treaty of Sugauli was signed between the government of Nepal and the British East India Company following the Anglo-Nepal war, in which Nepal ceded some of its territories, including Darjeeling, to the British.

    After Indian Independence, the ceded territories continued to be a part of present-day India; the Nepali-speaking majority in Darjeeling and adjoining areas, also called Gorkhas, became a part of West Bengal -- a state of Bengali speakers.

    The creation of modern day West Bengal became the springboard for an ethnically-driven battle for a separate state of Gorkhaland.

    In the 1980s, under the leadership of Subash Ghising, the movement's separatist demands intensified, leading to the death of over 1200 people.

    The bloodshed was finally brought to an end with the creation of Gorkha autonomous council, and the introduction of self rule in Darjeeling.