The opening lines of the school chorus of a famous Jesuit School in Darjeeling, “Hurrah for the home in the mountains….,” seem to be losing out to the political uncertainty that has engulfed the Darjeeling Hills.
The G orkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), walking the path of a renewed agitation for a separate state, has appealed to all boarding students to leave the Hills before the indefinite bandh kicks off from Saturday.
Incidentally, Darjeeling has been a seat of education since the days of the Raj with students from all over the world coming to study in these Hill schools.
The 28-month violent agitation of the 80s led by the GNLF had taken a toll on these schools with students from neighbouring Nepal and Bhutan and also from within the country avoiding the Darjeeling Hills.
There could be a rerun of this, feel many. With parents having wider options (with renowned boarding schools all over the country) Darjeeling with the escalating strife could soon lose out as an education destination.
With news of the GJM’s appeal to the boarding schools to send their boarders home spreading, Hills schools received frantic phone calls from anxious parents throughout the day.
“It was difficult to pacify the parents and guardians that we would do the needful and take the right steps,” said Father Santy Mathew of St. Joseph’s School, North Point, Darjeeling.
The situation is tricky. At such a short notice it would be difficult to arrange for the travel of students hailing from other places, including Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Thailand.
Adding to the woes, political outfits have called a 48-hour bandh in the plains of Siliguri coinciding with the two-day bandh relaxation in the Hills.
The schools are finding it risky to send the boarders on these two days as all would have to cross Siliguri.
“We will arrange for the travel of students from nearby areas like Sikkim and Siliguri. Whereas we will have to ask the students from far off places to stay back. We will stock up for the bandh,” said Father Santy.
Justifying his appeal, GJM president Bimal Gurung said, “The decision to tell the students to go home is because I care for the children staying in the hostel and I am worried that there won’t be ration for the children. I don’t want them to starve during the indefinite strike.”
Reputed boarding schools, especially girls schools, have been closing down their boarding facilities owing to political turmoil.
Loreto Convent in Darjeeling closed down the boarding facility in 1989. St Helen’s, a reputed girls school in Kurseong, has also decided to close down its boarding unit.
“Who would like to take a risk when there are options available elsewhere. For imparting education one needs a peaceful environment. We are spending sleepless nights,” said a guardian from Nepal, preferring anonymity.