| Students at the protest march in Kalimpong. Picture by Chinlop Fudong Lepcha
April 4: All major education institutions in the Darjeeling hills and Siliguri today remained closed as thousands of students, staff and guardians took to the streets to protest against the government's decision to make it mandatory for minority schools to recruit teachers through the School Service Commission.
Though only 11 minority schools from the hills, which receive teachers' salaries from the state government, will be affected by the West Bengal School Service Commission (Amendment) Bill, the entire educational fraternity took part in the protest rally.
Institutions like St Joseph's School in Darjeeling, which receives only about 40 per cent of DA from the government and will not be affected, as well as schools like Gyanadoya Niketan that do not receive any assistance took part in the rally.
Many Madhyamik schools that have not been affected by the bill also supported the minority community by taking part in the rally.
The rally disrupted traffic movement in Darjeeling for almost an hour. Members of the Darjeeling United Minority Society later submitted a memorandum to the district magistrate requesting his office to convey their dissatisfaction to the government.
'The recent bill is not in favour of the minority community. Until now, the government has been protecting the rights and interests of the minority communities as enshrined in Articles 29 and 30 of the Indian Constitution. However, the government's sudden decision to break the confidence of the community has come as a shock,' said Stephen Lepcha, bishop, Catholic Diocese of Darjeeling.
In Kalimpong, a protest rally was brought out by Gorkha Hill Association of Christian Schools while the schools came under the banner of Kurseong United Christian Minority Society in Kurseong.
Until the bill was placed in the Assembly, the appointment of teachers in linguistic and minority schools were exempted from the purview of the SSC in accordance with Government Order No 1022 Edn (P) dt 06.09.1976 and notification No 641-Edn (S) dt 23-05-1974. These orders or Special Rules had been the guideline for the appointment of teachers in enlisted Christian minority schools.
Even those minority schools where the state only contributes the DA are sceptical that the government would try and interfere in their administration, as the bill is ambiguous on the issue. The bill merely mentions that all 'state government-funded schools' will be affected by the order.