Exam Tension Beats Shutdown Threat In Hills

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Darjeeling: The first signs of impatience with the over-two-month-long shutdown in the Hills have started coming from Kurseong, perhaps GJM’s weakest link in the Darjeeling belt.

Two incidents — apparently insignificant if read separately — indicate the growing pressure on GJM to produce results or call off the indefinite shutdown. The first incident happened on a school campus, where classes were held on Monday for the first time since the start of the shutdown on June 15. The second incident came from a tea garden, where workers returned to work “voluntarily” after being forced to stay away by GJM workers.

No one would miss the significance of both incidents happening in Kurseong, where the Gorkha National Liberation Front — the voice of the Hills people till 2007, before it was supplanted by the GJM — has its strongest presence.

Teachers at the Himali Boarding School in Kurseong started taking classes for students appearing for the board examinations in 2018. As many as 246 students of the English-medium boarding school attended classes for five hours from 8am to 1pm on Monday to make up for the two-month loss. The classes were held at the community centre and students did not wear uniforms as “concessions” to the GJM. But it was clear which side was backing down and which side had had enough of the indefinite shutdown.

More than 500 workers at the Long View Tea Estate, again in Kurseong, returned to “voluntary work” on Monday after being driven away by GJM cadre last week. The GNLF had a trade union in this tea estate earlier. “Workers came for voluntary work,” said manager Kuldeep Mullick. “There is no one to listen to our demands. We have been without wages for the past 70 days,” said one of the workers.

Hills watchers say workers at other gardens, like Makaibari, Ambootia and Teesta Valley, may get infected by this spirit. “This is not specific to Kurseong. It is the dominant mood at all tea gardens. Workers are poorly paid and have been suffering since before the strike. The bandh has just added to their problems,” said Jan Andolan Party president Harka Bahadur Chhetri

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