Anjay Shah is a worried father of a Class X boy who has been at home in Nepal for almost a month. His son can’t go back to his Darjeeling school because the Gorkhaland statehood agitation has compelled all institutions to shut down. Shah is a businessman in Kathmandu but had studied in St Joseph’s, North Point. So he put his two sons there — the younger one is in Class VII, the older in Class X. Only, they cannot go to school, at least for now.
The fate of his sons’ education is uncertain as is the future of one of Darjeeling’s oldest schools that opened its classrooms to 18 students in 1888. On July 14, at least 60 schools in the hills, among them residential and day schools in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kuresong, held a meeting to decide what they should do for students in the current impasse. ‘’The schools collectively decided to approach the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee and ask it to allow us to resume classes for at least the senior school children — that is Classes IX, X, XI and XII. The children don’t have to attend school in uniform and we won’t hold any extra-curricular activities. As long as the students, especially those who are about to sit for board exams, should not lose out,’’ said a school principal, adding that the schools were now awaiting the response of the coordination committee.
Shah is waiting for the response too. “There are many families in Nepal who send their children to Darjeeling to study. It’s not like Nepal doesn’t have schools but we have to think about our children’s future and an Indian education, especially in a school like North Point, will help them in their higher studies as well, because they will go out for higher studies,” he said.
The businessman said many families, like his, attached a sentimental value to the boarding schools in Darjeeling, that were founded by foreign missionaries and thrived as centres of all-round education till the 1980s. In some families, several generations of boys went to the same school. But after a violent movement for Gorkhaland in the 1980s under Subash Ghisingh, student enrolment took a hit.
Father Kinley, a former proctor of North Point, said students used to come from Mumbai and Bangalore as well. “But after the agitation in the 1980s, that stopped… After the ‘80s’ we lost 50 per cent of our students. The fear is that we will lose the next 25 per cent this time. These are families who have always sent their students to study with us.” He pointed out a big difference between the 1980s and now. “In the eighties, the alternatives were limited, but now you have good schools with modern facilities everywhere, so the fear of losing clients is very real,” Father Kinley said.
A Darjeeling resident said one of his sons was in Class X and he has a feeling of deja vu “because when I was in Class XII, about to give my boards, there was an agitation and the school was shut. I pushed through then. He will, too, hopefully,’’ he said.