DARJEELING, July 8, 2008 (AFP) – Leaders of the ethnic Nepali-speaking minority in India’s mountainous and tea-rich northeast have started month-long prayers to press for their own federal state. Ethnic Gorkhas — who number more than a million in the eastern state of West Bengal — have been demanding a separate state within India for decades, and renewed their movement last year under a new leader.
More than a thousand people poured into the main square in the tea-producing and scenic town of Darjeeling, where the Gorkhas are concentrated, to join in the prayers on the first day on Monday.
“We want a peaceful protest. These prayers will give power to our movement,” said Bimal Gurung, the chief of the Gorkha People’s Liberation Front, who floated the idea.
Separate prayers will be held for various castes among the Gorkhas and for other communities in the region, wedged between Nepal and Bhutan and overlooked by Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain.
Many locals believe the gods will fulfil their wishes after the West Bengal government rejected demands for a separate Gorkhaland state last month.
“We don’t want any violence. That’s why we pray to our gods for ou