Students of St Joseph’s School arrive at Kolkata station in Chitpur on Sunday. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Calcutta, Aug. 11: Twenty-seven students of Darjeeling’s St. Joseph’s School, North Point, returned home to Calcutta this evening with the boarding school forced shut for an indefinite period because of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha strike.
The children, accompanied by two guardians, took the Haldibari Express from New Jalpaiguri station to reach Chitpur at 7.50pm. The students had come to NJP station from their school in four cars.
“We were put in the cars by the school authorities. We were given a permission letter that we stuck on the front window of the cars so that no one stopped us,” said Clement Xavier Ling, a Class XII student who was given the responsibility of taking the children from the school to NJP station.
Sources said the school authorities spoke to Morcha leaders to ensure that the students were not stopped on their way to the station.
“We were in our uniform and were carrying our identity cards so that it was easy to identify us as students,” said Ling, who lives in Beliaghata.
The children — between Class III and XII — said they had their last class on August 3, the day the strike started. “We were studying in our hostel but the classes had stopped. However, the school was not affected in any other way. It was peaceful inside,” said Sharadindu Khusro Das, a Class VII student who was among the group of 27.
A St. Joseph’s official said: “Since classes had stopped, they had very little activity and it was getting monotonous for them. We wanted them to go back home, get rejuvenated and return when the school reopens.”
Children from Calcutta who study in other boarding schools in Darjeeling have also been returning in the past few days.
Most guardians who gathered at Kolkata station in Chitpur this evening voiced apprehension that their wards’ studies would be hampered if the situation in the hills turned worse.
“My son is so happy at St. Joseph’s. He is sad that he has had to come back. I hope things will return to normal soon,” said Manoj Ghosh from Hind Motor, whose son Srijan studies in Class VI.
Another parent of a St. Joseph’s student said: “I think the authorities tried their best to keep the school open by speaking to Morcha leaders. But after the situation turned volatile in the past few days, they thought it would be best not to take a risk.”
All educational institutions in Darjeeling were called to a meeting with Morcha leaders on Friday. The leaders had assured the school authorities of rations if they needed.
At St. Joseph’s, 105 of the 520 boarders are still left. “Thirty-three students from Calcutta and adjoining districts left today. Some students from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh also left today,” said Father Santy Mathew, the principal of St. Joseph’s.
Of the 33 students who took the Haldibari Express, six got off at stations on the way.
“Only three-four students from Calcutta are still in the school. The rest are from Bihar, Chhattisgarh and from countries such as Canada, Thailand and Indonesia,” Father Mathew said.