43 days without internet obstruct and embitter residents of Darjeeling
Many students are struggling with their college applications, and other locals frustrated by the ban are joining the protests.cities Updated: Aug 01, 2017 13:05 IST
People in the hills of Darjeeling have been cut off from the internet and local TV news channels courtesy of the West Bengal government since June 19.
The goal, according to district magistrate Joyoshi Dasgupta, was to prevent rumour mongering that would exacerbate the tension in the hills. But the ban has also disrupted the lives of many residents, particularly students, and encouraged others to join the movement for a separate state.
Dasgupta said that the ban was set to continue until at least midnight on August 4 and may be extended longer.
As a result of the lack of internet locally, Yasang Subba, a 19- year old student who lives in a village outside Darjeeling, had to travel 70 kilometres to an internet cafe in Siliguri in order to submit her online college application to the Polytechnic College of Kurseong. Subba was not able to start working on the application until she arrived.
Getting to Siliguri while the hills are shut down was itself a torturous exercise. With no buses or other conventional modes of transport available, Subba and her mother had to pay a succession of drivers to take them from one town to the next along the border with Nepal. The trip to Siliguri is normally Rs 300, but it ended up costing Subba’s family Rs 4,500.
Many other young people have also had trouble applying to college. The Darjeeling Government College was supposed to release its first list of accepted students on June 17, but that ended up being the day when violence escalated between protesters and security personnel. The college postponed its announcement of admissions, and then the ban on the internet started two days later. Since then, all local colleges have deferred announcing who they will admit.
Kabir Rai, 19, a student from Rimbik, applied to the English honours program at Darjeeling Government College on June 6 and still doesn’t know whether he got in. “The internet ban has hit hard the students like us who are looking for admission in colleges and other vocational courses,” said Rai.
The process of online registration for Class 9 and Class 11 students has also been delayed because of the internet ban. “The online registration process of the students in ICSE schools will have to be completed by mid-August after linking them with Aadhaar numbers,” said Prakash Pradhan, the director of Kalimpong’s Rockvale Academy. Most students do not have Aadhaar numbers, said Pradhan, and cannot apply for them without access to the web.
The difficulties are provoking some residents of the hills to take extreme measures. HT spoke to four locals who reported crossing the border into Nepal or Bhutan and asking people there to help them connect to nearby internet providers.
For some, the ban on the internet, intended to mitigate the intensity of the Gorkhaland movement, has had the paradoxical result of encouraging them to join protests. Priyanka Subba, a 35-year-old housewife, used to get her news from social media. “But now I participate in the rallies to get news updates,” she said, since at the rallies she can talk to other people from the city and the district and ask them what is happening. “This serves a dual purpose,” Subba said: “the first is to get news, and the second is that I am able to lend my support to the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state.”