Schools in Darjeeling are at the receiving end of the ongoing turmoil in the struggle for Gorkhaland, reports Saket Suman

The beautiful hill station of Darjeeling is once again in a state of unrest due to the ongoing struggle for Gorkhaland. The leaders of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (the leading political party in the hills) have again resorted to strikes to echo their demand for Gorkhaland. But while the leaders are lost in political dilemma and the vicissitudes of the Gorkhaland movement, they tend to forget that students are caught in the crossfire, their studies disrupted and the reputation of their schools at stake.
" How can we shut the schools in the name of prosperity?" asked a teacher from a leading school. "The entire ideology of the Gorkhaland movement is focussed to bring prosperity in the hills, but there can be no significant progress without education." This also reflects the views of the students as they are often taken away to participate in rallies. Bandhs prevent the students from attending schools and colleges, which are anyway forced to shut down. As they face a long winter break of over two months, the schools and colleges are under pressure to finish their syllabi. This is particularly hard for those classes appearing for Board examinations in March.
The teachers too are concerned for the students who are to appear in the board exams in this session. Principal of North Point, Father Santy Mathew had said, "I can send the junior students home somehow but the senior students need help to prepare for their exams."
Another teacher, Abha Sharma, echoed, " It is unfortunate that the schools are being involved in the agitation. I am afraid the board results will be disastrous this year."
 
Hills of repute
Darjeeling has always been proud of its educational institutions, which are now part of the multi-ethnic tapestry that the hills boast of. On any Sunday, one can find students from all parts of the country out on the streets. There is a clutch of foreign pupils too, from Nepal, Bhutan, China, Bangladesh, Thailand, Spain, Myanmar, Philippines and Sri Lanka. Schools such as North Point, St. Paul&’s, Goethals Memorial, Victoria Boys, Dow Hill and Mount Heromon, are all more than 100 years old and their names are now synonymous with quality education in the country. It is because of this “education-rich” heritage of Darjeeling that even new schools like Jnaneshwar Memorial Academy have become popular globally. Looking at Darjeeling with its three subdivisions of Kurseong, Kalimpong and Mirik, one would find that education runs parallel to tourism in the hills.
 
The turmoil
The 11-day-long bandh called by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJMM) after Centre&’s nod for the creation of Telangana forced several students to leave numerous boarding schools in the hills. But many of them were compelled to stay back as their parents could not come and take them away during the two day relaxation between bandhs called by the GJMM.
At present around 50 reputed schools have been shut down since 29 June. This is not something new for the students in the hills, it&’s a grim reality that they have to cope up with year after year. But it is high time that the leaders understand that it took these schools more than a hundred years to build up this reputation that puts them at par with any other educational institution in the country and these regular strikes, indefinite bandhs and Janta curfews, are playing havoc with the lives of children.
While most teachers from the hills are not willing to express themselves because of the mass appeal that the statehood demand has in the hearts of the people, it is but natural that everyone in the teaching fraternity hopes and prays for the schools to resume soon.