Sixteen-year-old Devang Rai is from Kathmandu, Nepal. A student of Class 11 at St Joseph’s School, North Point, one of the premier boarding schools in Darjeeling, Devang was looking forward to his vacation that was to start on June 23. “I’m not sure if I can go now. We are safe for now, but trapped,” he said, sitting in the courtyard of the 127-year-old school.
With Darjeeling erupting and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) calling for an indefinite bandh on June 15, thousands of students who study in residential schools of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong — many of them from Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, Hong Kong and Bhutan, besides other parts of India – have been stranded. These schools are also worried about food stocks running out.
“We are worried about how to send children home once the vacation starts. We have to plan an evacuation soon. I have been receiving many frantic calls from parents ever since trouble started. Day-scholars have also stopped coming,” said Father Shajumon, rector of St Joseph’s, North Point, while assuring that “children are safe and exams and on.” The school has 520 boarders and 580 day scholars..
On Saturday, the road outside the school saw a pitched battle between GJM protesters and police, with two people killed allegedly in police firing. Charred skeletons of three vehicles that were set on fire that day continue to stand right outside the school gates.
Fr Shajumon said the curfew-like situation has meant that teachers who live outside the campus have been unable to come to school. The school has 50 teachers who live off-campus; the 25 residential teachers have been taking turns to conduct classes and examinations, he said. At Himali Boarding School, Kurseong, authorities said they were worried about depleting food stocks. “The sudden bandh call caught us unawares. Right now, we have food stocks that will last another week. From Friday, the vacation starts and our prime worry is how to send the children home. And if they have to stay on, what will we do about food? We pray that we can somehow evacuate the children,” said Robindra Subba, Director of the school that has 400 boarders and 600 day-scholars.
Subba said he was also worried about children dropping out of school. “After the agitation in 2013, we saw boarders and day-scholars dropping out. It took us four years to get back to full strength and now, this happens,” he said.
Parents said they had been frantically trying to reach their children. “We panicked when we saw on TV teargas shells bursting in front of the school and vehicles being burnt. We usually speak to our son every Sunday, but we couldn’t call him this weekend because the examinations are on. We are yet to talk to him,” said Sanjoy Roy, who lives in Kolkata and whose son Sushomoy Roy is a Class 11 student at St Joseph’s.