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Darjeeling crisis: Schools flooded with calls from panic-stricken parents

Students from all Indian states and neighbouring countries study in schools in Darjeeling and nearby areas

india Updated: Jun 19, 2017 14:41 IST
Pramod Giri
Security personnel fire teargas shells during a protest by GJM activists in Darjeeling on June 17, 2017.
Security personnel fire teargas shells during a protest by GJM activists in Darjeeling on June 17, 2017. (PTI)

Authorities have been overwhelmed with calls and messages from panic-stricken parents anxious about the well-being of their children studying in schools in violence-hit Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong in West Bengal after the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha called an indefinite shutdown in the hills over demands for a separate state.

Academics have been partially affected but there is no reason to worry about the safety of thousands of children who stay in hostels in the area, authorities of various schools in the area told the Hindustan Times.

“I am getting more than 500 telephone calls every day from anxious parents. We have told them that there is nothing to panic so far. We have provisions for weeks and the students are fully secure,” Chetan Tewari, the Kurseong coordinator for Association of Hill Listed ICSE Schools (AHLIS), told the Hindustan Times.

As many as 43 schools are members of AHLIS.

Tewari is also the principal of St Anthony’s School that has 900 students of whom more than 350 stay in boarding facilities offered by the school.

The protests for a separate Gorkhaland state have pushed Darjeeling to the brink of collapse, with widespread violence erupting in the picturesque hill station for the first time in almost three decades.

The current agitation started off as protests against an alleged move by the Trinamool Congress government to impose Bengali in schools in the hills where most people speak Nepali. The GJM, which administers the semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, revived the 110-year-old demand for a separate state after a police raid on the office of its chief Bimal Gurung.

At least three people have died and scores injured in Darjeeling over the past week, as thousands-strong mobs have clashed with police, torched vehicles and ransacked property.

“We have at least two month’s supply. There is nothing to worry. We have some teachers who stay inside the campus. They are engaging the residential students with academics,” Father Shajuman, the rector of St Joseph’s (North Point) School, said. The 129-year school has students from 15 states as well as neighbouring countries.

The schools will close for summer vacation in the last week of June, and for thousands of students leaving the hills for the plains in the midst of a shutdown may not be smooth. However, school authorities were hopeful of a peaceful evacuation.

“There was a bandh in 2013 too, but both the agitators and the government helped us in evacuating the children. School buses and vehicles ferrying students were allowed unhindered and safe passage,” said Bobby Chachan, director of Bethany School in Kurseong. He has more than 100 students living in the school hostel.

“The school boarding is a completely safe place. We have adequate supplies too,” said Chachan.

Despite the assurances from school authorities, tension is running high among parents. “Need help friends! My relative’s son is stranded in a Darjeeling school. The resources are fast diminishing. Can anyone please help to rescue him?” a Kolkata resident posted on Facebook on Saturday.

Sanjoy Roy, the father of a Class 11 student in a reputed school in Darjeeling, told HT that authorities have started rationing food. “My son was given a roti less at night. I have nothing to complain on that front. But I am worried about his safety. This is his first year in Darjeeling as a student,” Roy said.

The hills of north Bengal have traditionally been known for good school education for well over a century. Children from almost every Indian state come to study in the schools in the area along with those from Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Thailand and even Hong Kong.

Some of the sought after schools in this region are St Paul’s School (set up in 1864), St Joseph’s School (1888), Loreto Convent (1846), Goethals Memorial (1907), Mount Hermon (1895), Dr Graham’s Homes (1900). Almost all schools have boarding facilities for students.