KOLKATA: Learning lessons from the 105-day Gorkhaland agitation last year, several boarding schools in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts of West Bengal are opening campuses in and around Siliguri so that education does not suffer due to any future statehood agitations.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supremo Bimal Gurung had given a 12-hour window to boarders in the schools of Darjeeling and Kalimpong to escape the hills during the 105-day strike last year. Students from across India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan study in the boarding schools of the two hill districts of the state.
After the evacuation from the hills, many of schools had held 'teaching-learning camps' in Siliguri which is when ideas for second campuses were proposed by managements of several schools, sources revealed.
Besides, special classes had to be taken in winter - a traditional holiday season due to sharp dip in temperatures - to compensate the losses incurred during the agitation in summer.
Accordingly, Kalimpong's Rockvale Academy and Kurseong's St. Anthony's and Bethany School - each having around 2,000 students on an average -- are scouting for land in and around Siliguri for establishing their new campuses, sources revealed. Himali Boarding School of Kurseong has even inaugurated its second campus and seats have already filled up. "Our new campus will be an alternative arrangement in times of emergency besides attracting a fresh client base from across the plains," Himali Boarding chairman Rabi Subba said.
Several students left the boarding schools of the two hills districts during the 2009 Gorkhaland statehood agitation, never to return again. Most parents welcomed the concept of plains campuses in the wake of the repeated agitations.
"Keeping in mind the unsettled nature of Gorkhaland statehood demand, the Siliguri campuses are a win-win situation for both the school authorities and the parents. The education of students won't be hampered during future Gorkhaland agitations. We don't have to worry about the security of our children but at the same time put them in the discipline of the hill boarding schools but in a safer place like Siliguri," said Kolkata-based businessman Rounak Roy whose son studies in Class VII in a hill boarding school. But not all are happy.
"The second campuses in Siliguri may be opened with good intentions and practical sense but I feel this will further commercialise the education of the hill schools. Also, what is the point of keeping my son in another big, polluted city like Siliguri? I will keep him in Kolkata instead with me and my wife. Darjeeling may have political problems but there is a lot to learn from the hills which my son won't get in a city lying in the crossroads like Siliguri," said Kolkata-based photographer Gautam Mukherjee.