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Students face the consequences of Gorkhaland agitation

Students of schools & colleges of the strike-hit hills of West Bengal have virtually become refugees bearing the consequences of the protest.

The violent protest going on in the hills of West Bengal is taking a toll on the lives of the students in Darjeeling, which is considered as one of the best education hub in India.

Students whose future is at stake include those from Thailand, Indonesia, Dubai, South Korea, Canada, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

There are about 52 schools out of which 40 of them accommodate boarding facilities and about 8 colleges with more than 60,000 students. The future of the students receiving education in the hills of West Bengal in Darjeeling is at stake on account of the Gorkhaland agitation going on in the hills for now almost more than 2 months.

Along with Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and a few other regional parties, the Gorkhas of Darjeeling are demonstrating protest from few months demanding a separate statehood for the Gorkhas. Darjeeling is facing indefinite shut down for more than 60 days now. The supply of basic amenities and food is banned in the region by the Mamata Banerjee led government hoping to restore peace with such measures. Even the telephone lines and the internet has been cut.

The Centre has been asked to intervene to solve the matter but has reached no conclusion as yet. CPRF armies have been deployed in Darjeeling to keep a watch on the violence created during the protest. But the measures taken by the government to curb the situation is counter attacking, even more agitating the protestors.

Darjeeling is facing huge damages following the Gorkhaland agitation. Most of the government buildings including, libraries, hospitals, panchayat offices have suffered torching and vandalizing. More than 150 government properties were either burnt down or demolished. Damaging of government offices have also caused the destruction of all government files and comments regarding old age and disability pension, adhaar data and other records. This is affecting the pension bearers as the government is apprehensive about giving pensions to beneficiaries as there is hardly any document left in the affected areas.

The history of the demand for a separate statehood goes long back. The demand for a separate administrative unit in Darjeeling has existed since 1907 when the Hillmen’s Association of Darjeeling submitted a memorandum to Minto-Morley Reforms demanding a separate administrative setup. In the 1980s, Subhash Ghisingh raised the demand for the creation of a state called Gorkhaland within India to be carved out of the hills of Darjeeling and areas of Dooars and Siliguri Terai contiguous to Darjeeling. The demand took a violent turn, which led to the death of over 1,200 people. This movement culminated in the formation of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in 1988. The DGHC administered the Darjeeling hills for 23 years with some degree of autonomy.

A new violent movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland was started in 1986 by Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led by Subhash Ghisingh. The agitation ultimately led to the establishment of a semi-autonomous body in 1988 called the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council(DGHC) to govern certain areas of Darjeeling district. However, in 2007, a new party called the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) raised the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland once again. The demand for Gorkhaland took a new turn with the assassination of Madan Tamang, leader of Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League. He was stabbed to death allegedly by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters on 21 May 2010, in Darjeeling, which led to a spontaneous shutdown in three Darjeeling hill subdivisions.

On 8 February 2011, three GJM activists were shot dead, one of whom broke down to her injuries later, by the police as they tried to enter Jalpaiguri district on a padayatra led by Bimal Gurung. The protest for Gorkhaland once again triggered in 2017, when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declared that Bengali should be made mandatory in all schools in Bengal.

GJM initially began the protest demanding for a separate statehood and was later joined by GNLF. GNLF the biggest rival of GJM withdrew its alliance from ruling party and joined hands with GJM taking an active part in the protest. To control the situation in Darjeeling seven CRPF forces were deployed in the region, out of which 2 were all women force. Banerjee-led government pressurized the protesters to stop the violence. Instead of things smoothing down the protest was, even more, fueled when raids were conducted on the residence of GJM Chief Bimal Gurung. and the police claimed that during the raid they seized arms and huge amounts of money from Gurung’s residence. This act of the Banerjee government further triggered the anger of the GJM supports taking the protest to new heights.

After the raids conducted at the premises of Bimal, GJM planned to recall all its members from the state legislature, civic bodies and the Gorkha Territorial Administration. A few days later police also reported seizing a consignment which contained, around 300 army like uniforms, army shoes, sleeping bags and masks. The reports of the investigation carried out after the consignment was seized stated that Bimal was secretly training and raising a group of 200 youths under the Gorkha Liberation Personnel (GLP), to fight against the security forces, who were trying to suppress the protest on the orders of the Banerjee-government.

To restore peace in the region CPIM and Left parties also met West Bengal governor and urged him to convince the state government to hold talks with GJM leaders and win the confidence of the people of Darjeeling. The Left Front Legislative Party (LFLP) leader and CPIM MLA Sujan Chakraborty  also wrote a letter to Mamata Banerjee and requested her to call for any emergency State Assembly session, to discuss the growing violence in the hills and demonstration of protest in some other parts of the state and reach to a solutions on the basis of consensus among all political parties. But nothing has been done yet.

It has now been more than two months the hills are suffering the consequences of the protest. The political unrest that has gripped the hills has left educational institutions the most worried and affected. Partha Chatterjee West Bengal education minister said that “Darjeeling was famous for three Ts – tea, tourism and teaching. They have nothing now.” Several schools and colleges have not opened after the summer vacation. The agitation has taken a toll on students, their parents, teachers and school managements.

The schools have hired marriage houses, banquet halls, community halls, vacant residential properties, guest houses and hotels in the plains, paying astronomical rents to ensure that classes for secondary and higher secondary students are not disrupted. Several colleges could not hold new admission process following the unrest.

Himali Boarding School in Kurseong has shifted around 230 students of class 10th and 12th in a marriage hall in the plains of Siliguri. Robindra Subba, principal of Himali Boarding School and convener of ICSE schools in the hills said that “the students have been accommodated in a huge marriage hall. We are trying our best to minimise the damage our kids can suffer due to this agitation.” He further added that it costs around Rs 60,000 rent every day and the entire cost of relocation is borne by the schools. “Unlike the politicians, we do not believe that losing a year does not really matter. For us, even a month for a student matters and it makes difference,” said Subba

The boarders of St. Joseph’s School at North Point in Darjeeling, run by the Jesuits since 1888 have been temporarily accommodated in a school at Matigarah near Siliguri. “We have made a temporary arrangement for the students of class X and XII at Matigarah. More than 220 students are given coaching classes there so that they do not miss out on their syllabus,” said Shajumon CK, the rector of St Joseph’s School, North Point.

Mount Hermon School in Darjeeling has sent its students to Kolkata, with the boarders accommodated in hostels of the Calcutta Girls’ High School and the Calcutta Boys’ School. The day scholars attend class at a school in Dankuni in Hooghly district.

St Joseph’s School has 520 boarders, of whom 202 are from Thailand, Hong Kong, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Canada. Himali Boarding School has 120 students from Dubai, Thailand, South Korea, Bhutan and Nepal.

The heads of schools recently met with the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee requesting them to at least allow the regular functioning of the schhols. They also wrote a letter to Union home minister Rajnath Singh and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seeking intervention to restore peace get the schools back on track. While GMCC is believed to have denied the request of allowing schools to function and both the Central and the state government have been silent on the matter.

“We do not know how many students would return after normalcy is restored here. In future, it will be really difficult to run the schools,” said Partha Pratim Dey, senior master at Mount Hermon. “The teachers are also sceptical. They have already started looking for options elsewhere. We can see the schools being the victim of this agitation.”

It is high time now that the Centre and the State government find some solution to peacefully get back the lives in the hills back to normalcy as soon as possible putting an end to the protest.

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