Of all the memories of incidents that happened to me during my almost twelve years of stay in Khaling as a student, the memory of what happened on the night of 15th June 1996 still lives afresh in my brain. The incident became so memorable that I can still clearly remember even the exact day and date when it happened. It was a cool Saturday night and in the boys’ hostel in the present-day Muenselling Institute, my friend Leki and I were still awake in our beds talking about all sorts of things as usual. Most of the Saturday nights, we usually used to stay late at night, either gossiping or playing card games/carom because the next day being Sunday, we didn’t have to worry about getting up late in the morning. But on this particular night as we were chitchatting, a mischievous thought ran through our mind. I don’t remember who suggested first but we both decided to venture out on a nightly adventure that eventually brought us in conflict with school authorities.
In the wisp of ghostly silence of the night, we quietly sneaked out of our room and headed to the girls’ hostel which was just across the road. It was about 11 o’clock and we knew that the entire world was fast asleep. The girls lived in two rooms adjacent to each other. We first knocked the door of the left room. There was no response. We had made no appointments with any particular girl. It was a very casual and unplanned hunting. We kept on knocking the door but we couldn’t hear anybody making even the slightest move inside. We shifted to the right room and started knocking the door to wake up the girls. Some girls woke up but refused to open the door. We tried to negotiate through the windows but failed. Then suddenly one of the girls, who was a low-vision, came out of the bed, switched on the lights and came towards to the window to see who we were. My friend had the light perception and sensing that the lights were on, he rushed to the Miniature Circuit Breakers (MCB) and pulled down the switch to cut the power supply. The girl warned us through the window and we had to give up there too. But as we were climbing down the balcony, some of the girls from the left room burst out through the door shouting at us. They warned that they would call the Matron if we continued to disturb them. We all dispersed in different directions and stayed silent across the garden below the balcony. I hid in the garden controlling even my breath. The girls went back and latched the door from inside. I decided to return to my room and called my friend in a whisper but he was nowhere to be found. I didn’t know that all my friends had managed to squeeze in through the door from behind the girls when they were shouting at us.
In a matter of hours, a few more friends joined the mission and in total, we became six. After sometime, the situation seemed to become normal and we didn’t fear anybody. We shouted and made noises around the girls’ hostel, climbing up their windows and munching the plums which we had plucked from the only plum tree the school had. While all other friends managed to get inside, I and my another friend Dorji Drakpa remained outdoors. At one point, I noticed that the door of the left room was not latched. So, I went in but by then, everybody was awake. So, a group of girls pushed me out saying that it was too much and the teachers might know about it. I requested them to let me stay for a while but they kept pushing me back and forcefully closed the door. Feeling rejected and disappointed, I had to come back to my own room. I was the last member of my group to leave the girls’ hostel.
The next day, we woke up as normal and after completing daily morning rituals, we went to the dining hall for breakfast. The warden, who was one of the simplest teachers of the Institute was happy and smiling as usual. But after the breakfast, some girls had complained to him that the lights in their hostel were not working. When he went to fix it, he found that the MCB was down but that didn’t bother him much because it usually happens during a power surge. What bothered him was the covering plate of the MCB which was displaced from its original position. When he asked the girls if anybody had touched it, the girls had told him the story that had happened the night before. After asking a number of girls, he had got the identity of all six of us. When we met during the lunch time, we noticed that there was a drastic shift in his mood. He was serious and did not talk much. I began to fear the worst. I started praying for the better ending to this story.
Out of six, five of us were studying in Jigme Sherubling High School as day-scholars because that was the practice during our time. The students from class 7 and above were integrated into the regular school. On Monday, we went to high school with a lot of anxiety and worries. When we returned in the evening, all the junior students studying in the Institute had gone for the music class which was held from 4-5 pm. We went to the kitchen to have our share of tea and while I and another friend, late Tshongtu were having our tea, other friends had finished theirs and went to the physical training (PT) hall for the music class before us. When I and my friend reached the hall, we noticed that none of our friends who had gone before us was there in the hall. Only the junior students were singing. I sat down and joined the group singing half-heartedly. Soon I heard some footsteps coming from the main door and went back with somebody. I realized that my friend Tshongtu was gone. I was getting more scared and nervous. Soon my turn came. The music teacher walked in again and this time, he held my hand and escorted me to the staff room where all the teachers headed by the principal were waiting for me. There was an empty chair kept in the middle of the circle of teachers. I was asked to sit down on it. The principal, late Ngawang Namgyal began the conversation casually. “Which subject did you have during the last period today?” he asked. “History, Sir!” I responded in a shaky voice. “What did you study in history?” he added. “We studied about Jigme Namgyal, Sir” I answered. “He was such a tough man, right?” he said and I replied “Yes, Sir!” “So here also, we have a tough man today!” he added. His words immediately made my nerves go cold. “Do you know why we have called you here today?” he asked me. Although I knew the reason, I acted innocent. “No, Sir!” I whispered. “It seems something has happened last Saturday night. Is that right?” he continued. Then I immediately pretended as if he reminded me of something I had completely forgotten. “Oh, yes, Sir, we went to the girls’ hostel!” I confessed. Then he fired questions like bullets, one after another, why and how I did that. No matter how I tried my best to defend my action, he did not accept my justification. I told him that I had simply gone to tease girls and to disturb them, not for any other intention, but he was never convinced. I was 16 and he knew what will be the intention of boys of that age. Finally he handed me three options to face the consequences of my action:
1. To go on suspension for three months: My half-yearly exams were just a few weeks away and I could not afford to miss it because I was in class 8 and I had to appear for the board exam that year. Certainly this wasn’t a good option for me.
2. To vacate the hostel and study in high school as day-scholars. I didn’t have anybody to financially support me and hence, renting a house and studying at the personal expense was out of question.
3. To receive lashes at fixed time daily for one month. I thought this was the only suitable option for me.
However, the Principal did not ask me to decide on the spot. He put me in an empty class-room and asked me to write a statement mentioning my choice of the punishment. All my friends were put in different class-rooms individually, not allowing us to discuss the options. I rolled a sheet of paper into my type-writer and was about to start writing my statement, but I suddenly heard a voice calling from the back of the building. “Please come at the window!” the voice said. It was my friend Leki. We immediately popped our heads out of the windows and discussed what option should we choose. All the class-rooms we were kept in were in a row and we could all discuss what should be done. Leki suggested that if we all choose to go on suspension, they won’t be able to send us because even if they do, they will be questioned. So, we all decided to go for the first option, although I was deeply worried. So, we handed over our statements and it took sometime for the teachers to decide on it in the staff room. Finally at around 8:30 pm, they all summoned us to the PT hall and caned us. Two of our friends who had entered the girls’ hostel first were considered leaders and they received three lashes while rest of us received two lashes each on our buttocks. Even three girls received two lashes each on the palm for not informing the matron on time. Then we went to have our dinner at around 9 o’clock. The dining hall was so strangely silent. Everybody was quiet and nobody talked even a word. Only the sounds of spoons and plates could be heard. That was the most serious dinner we ever had. Since then, it took quite sometime for us to restore our rapport with teachers especially the warden and matron. After a while, things returned to normal but I never dared to go for hunting again. This incident left a very bad impression about us for a long time. In the following days, many people including the teachers of other schools had known about it and they used to tease us. It was very embarrassing for us. I learned a big lesson out of this.