violent agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland in north
Bengal has taken its toll on the internationally famed boarding
schools of Darjeeling, with some considering shifting to safer
areas or closing down altogether.
The 50-odd major boarding schools in the three hill subdivisions
of northern West Bengal's Darjeeling district draw around 15,000
students mostly from well-to-do families in various parts of India
and even foreign countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan,
Thailand and South Korea.
These schools are worried about the recent spurt in violence,
including the death of three supporters of the Gorkha Janamukti
Morcha (GJM), which is spearheading the stir, in police firing in
the Shipchu area of Jalpaiguri district early February.
Enraged GJM activists torched tourist lodges, forest bungalows,
fire service stations, a checkpost, two police outposts and other
government offices. The supporters allegedly also looted rifles
and ammunition in the hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong
"The recent uproar has created a fear psychosis among guardians.
They are reluctant to send their wards to school. As a result, the
attendance of students in schools, mainly in Kalimpong, has come
down drastically. We are finding it difficult to run the school,"
said Rabondra Subba, director of the Himali Boarding School in
He said most of his school's students come from SAARC (South Asian
Association for Regional Cooperation) countries like Bhutan, Nepal
and Bangladesh, apart from India's northeastern states.
"The guardians are scared because of the ongoing agitation by GJM
and they are pulling out their wards from the schools. A large
number of withdrawals has been reported in several schools this
year," he said.
Like Subba, the principals of other schools also admitted that
guardians were withdrawing students, but blamed the media for
creating a hype.
"Most media outlets came out with the story that the firing
occurred in Darjeeling and GJM supporters have torched government
properties and vehicles, though it occurred near the Bhutan
border. They also published that there was no rule of law in the
hills. That's why parents from outside Darjeeling are scared of
sending their wards here," said Chetan Tiwari, principal of St.
"With the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission
recommendations, the salaries of teachers have increased; so have
the establishment costs; and if the student strength goes down day
by day, we have to close down our school," said Tiwari.
"Either we have to sell out our school here and move to the plains
or shift to another business," he said.
However, students in Class 10 and at the plus two level have
started coming back.
"Our school opened a week ago; students have started coming. Five
to six students have taken transfer, but others are yet to come,"
The principal of a reputed boarding school in Kalimpong said: "The
schools in Kalimpong are badly affected. Because of close
proximity, students from Sikkim and Bhutan crowd these schools,
but most of them are not attending classes due to the agitation.
The student strength in reputed institutions like Rockvale Academy
has come down by 60 percent."
The Sacred Heart school has opened its branch in the plains of
Siliguri in Darjeeling. And they are toying with the idea of
shifting the entire school to Siliguri, said the principal.
He, however, hoped: "Things will change and we will get back to
our full strength in the near future."
Interestingly, the principals said GJM's leaders are going out of
their way to help them in running the schools.
"During indefinite shutdown calls, they allowed us to import food,
medicines and other essential goods for the boarders in our
schools. Not a single student was harassed or suffered from hunger
during the indefinite shutdown period," said Subba.
GJM spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chetri said: "We are well aware of
the situation. It's an economic blockade conspired by opposition
political parties and the ruling Marxist government against the
Morcha to tarnish our image. We have nothing to do with it. If the
schools close down, we will do something else to boost the
He urged guardians to come and visit the hills and talk to school
principals to understand the situation better, rather than take a
decision based on media reports.
Since the late 1980s, voices in Darjeeling demanding a separate
Gorkhaland state to be carved out of the district and parts of
neighbouring Jalpaiguri have grown louder. For the last three
years, GJM has been spearheading the movement and called several
indefinite shutdowns which have brought life to a standstill in
(Sabyasachi Roy can be contacted at