Darjeeling: For a place famed for its schools, the hills of Darjeeling have just a lone option for higher education: The woefully short-staffed government college.
For Gorkha students, who can afford it, going to a college in Delhi or Bangalore is far more attractive. But for the majority who can’t, the college in the town and a couple more in the foothills are what they have to make do with.
Breeding discontent: Students at Darjeeling Government College, the only college in the tourist town
“It is these sullen, disaffected youth who will create the biggest headache for the government in the days ahead,” warns a retired army colonel, who is now an adviser to Bimal Gurung, leader of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) agitating for a separate state, Gorkhaland.
“And the state of the government college is one of the biggest reasons for this disaffection,” he adds on condition of anonymity.
The Singamari residence of Bimal Gurung is teeming with student activists. Some have just come from Siliguri and other areas in the foothills, having run the gauntlet of anti-Gorkhaland activists. The litany of complaints ranges from physical assault to more subtle means of opposition.
“The SFI boys at Surya Sen College and Siliguri College refused to even accept the forms of hill students who had gone to seek admission to undergraduate courses,” said Keshav Raj, the organizing secretary of the GJM’s student wing, Vidyarthi Morcha.
The SFI, or Students’ Federation of India, is the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which leads the Left Front government in the state.
The government college in Darjeeling in Singamari—set up in 1947—caters to some 2,600 students from the hill subdivisions of Kurseong, Kalimpong and Darjeeling. “We need at least two more colleges as the population has burgeoned but the government has not opened any new colleges in the hills,” says Raj.
The college has already turned into a breeding ground for activists, and the retired colonel’s words sound ominous in the light of recent rumours that the GJM is planning to raise a Gorkhaland police force and sending youth to Nepal for arms training.
Though the organization rubbishes the rumour, a local tea grower, requesting anonymity, said, “Remember the feared Gorkha National Volunteers (an activists’ group led by the erstwhile Gorkha National Liberation Front, or GNLF)? It had also started this way.”
The Darjeeling government college, Raj says, hasn’t had a full-time principal for six years now, has 47 posts of lecturers lying vacant and suffers from a “communication gap” between teachers and students.
The “gap” is predictable since there are only 70 teachers for 2,600 students. But what the students say is altogether different—the mostly Bengali teachers at the college cannot communicate with the Nepali-speaking Gorkhas.
“We’ve written to everyone, from the district magistrate to the chief minister to the governor, but all we’ve got are assurances,” Raj says, waving a sheaf of petitions.
The young men and women , who were earlier part of the GNSF, now swear allegiance to Gurung and the Vidyarthi Morcha.
“I admit the shortage of teachers but our hands are tied. It’s a problem with all government colleges across the state,” says Lalita Rai Ahmed, college officer in charge.
“We have to recruit teachers through the state public service commission and not enough are coming through,” says Ahmed, who has been running the college in the absence of a regular principal.
She, however, admits not many people are willing to work in Darjeeling. “They prefer to join government-aided colleges near their homes and there aren’t enough suitable candidates from the hills,” she says, rueing having to play the principal without being paid.
“That’s precisely why we want Gorkhaland because that will allow us to formulate our own recruitment norms for teachers,” said Sachin Gurung, general secretary of the college union. “We will be able to formulate our own syllabus and introduce more contemporary courses that will help us get jobs.”
Next: Darjeeling’s Gorkha Hill Council’s accounts not audited for 20 years.