Labour unrest pushes Bishop Cotton School to brink

Shimla: In its 150th year of existence Bishop Cotton School – one of Asia’s oldest public schools, is headed into an uncertain future as a dispute between the school administration and some sacked employees threatens to get out of hand.


Caught up in the dispute are the about 600 boys who are living in fear at the all boarding school. “With perfect strangers walking into the campus carrying hockey sticks and rods, there is a sense of insecurity around in BCS,” said Puia Ralte, a class XII student who hails from Mizoram.

Three days ago, police had to resort to a mild cane charge and arrested 80 people, which included 10 women, who had trespassed shouting anti-management slogans, throwing stones and breaking windowpanes.

The school administration, last December, sacked 33 employees who ran the senior boys kitchen and dining room for having resorted to a sudden two day strike in October, leaving the boys and staff to fend for themselves.

“We had to take action against all of them as they went on a sudden strike, apparently attempting to starve the children,” says Roy Christopher Robinson, headmaster of the school. “All the school had done was put 3 members of the kitchen staff under suspension for beating up a security guard,” he added.

Justifying the schools action Robinson says, “we will not allow the school to be held to ransom. The sacked employees have registered disputes with the labour office and we will abide with whatever decision is arrived at.”

Seeking a revocation of the termination order, the employees are threatening a general strike by which they intend to cripple the institutions functioning.

“Our one point demand is to restore the jobs of the terminated employees,” said Chunni Lal, head of the agigating employees. “Till then we will continue to agitate peacefully,” he added.

Rajinder Thakur, secretary Old Cottonian Association (OCA) who is camping in school says, “our primary concern is that there is enough security around for the school to function normally, especially when class X & XII boys are writing their board examinations.

When contacted RM Sharma, district police superintendent said, “the school is only trying to pass the buck about security on the police. There is an school management and employee problem going on, which we cannot solve. Preventive security we have provided but if they want more force, the private institution very well can afford it,” he said.

Opened in 1859, the school was established mainly for education of Europeans and Eurasians in the aftermath of 1857 Mutiny.

Famous alumini include writer Ruskin Bond, constitutional expert Fali S Nariman, golfer Jeev Milka Singh, former chief minister Virbhadra Singh among a host of others.

Among the infamous is General Dyer, notorious for the Jallinawala Bagh massacre.

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