Darjeeling, June 19, 2017: The ongoing unrest in the Hills has dealt a major blow to the image of Darjeeling as an education hub. A shadow of uncertainty looms large over the Hill schools with the ongoing indefinite bandh call by the Gorkha Janmukti since June 15. Caught in the political crossfire the schools have nothing much to do than to hope for an early withdrawal.
The boarders coming to these schools from all over the country and also from different parts of the continent, contribute largely to the economy of the Hills. The economy of Darjeeling is already in shambles with the tea industry in doldrums. The same fate is reserved for the tourism industry.
"We have provisions to tide us through for a week. After that we do not know what to do. During the agitation in 2013 many of the borders withdrew. It took 5 years for normalcy to return. After ages boarding schools in Kurseong had full student strength. With the ongoing unrest we fear that that the Hill schools will witness withdrawals once again. It will take many years to repair the damage" feels Robindro Subba, Director, Himali Boarding School, Kurseong. The school has 400 boarders and 600 day scholars. Day scholars are not coming to school.
A large number of the boarding schools located in Kurseong are largely dependent on students from Bangladesh.
Though schools like St. Joseph's, North Point have enough provisions, they are at a wits end as to how to send the boarders home with scheduled vacations commencing from June 23. "We are safe in the school. However we have to work out a plan as to how send the boarders home or how parents can come up to take their wards back as vacations commence from June 23" stated Father Shajumon, Rector, St. Joseph's school.
The school is located at Singamari, 3km away from Darjeeling town. Singamari where the GJM party office is located is the focal point of the ongoing agitation. The school has 520 boarders and 580 day scholars. "The boarders are appearing for their examinations. The day scholars are not coming to school. They will appear for their examinations when normalcy returns" stated the Rector. While the 25 residential teachers are conduction examinations for the boarders, the 50 odd non residential teachers have not been able to attend classes.
From early in the morning the telephones have been ringing with anxious parents calling. "I have seen the television coverage. With tear gas shells bursting, baton charge and stone pelting near the schools, it is sleepless nights for us. I do not know how to go to Darjeeling to bring my son back for the vacation with the bandh on" stated Anjay Shah from Nepal,
"Unless the bandh is relaxed or withdrawn it will be very difficult for us to send the boarders home" stated Father Shajumon.
This school founded in 1888 has students from Thailand, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Nepal, Bhutan along with students from all over the country. All the Anglo-Indian schools are scheduled to go on vacation from June 23. Similar woes are being faced by St. Paul's School and Mount Hermon in Darjeeling. Even Kalimpong has many such boarding schools affected by the current unrest.
The alumni of hill schools include former Kings of Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim; Michael Ferrera- Billiard world champion; David McMohan- eminent Australian writer; Vivian Leigh of the "Gone with the wind" fame.