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Teachers at the frontlines


KISHORE NEPAL in DAILEKH


When Maoists murdered Mukti Nath Adhikari, a respected social worker and teacher in Lamjung two years ago, the government that employed him, politicians and activists didn't speak out.

A magazine cover printed a picture of him nailed to a tree like Jesus Christ and Adhikari became an icon of the fate of teachers in Nepal's Maoist war. Intimidated, tortured and killed by the Maoists and abandoned by their employers, the government.

Adhikari's murder was also a reminder of just how brutal the Maoists had become. It is featured in Dhruba Basnet's film, Schools in the Crossfire being screened at the Kathmandu International Film Festival on Friday.

According to the human rights group INSEC, 74 teachers have been killed by the Maoists since the conflict began nearly nine years ago. Fifty-two teachers, suspected of being Maoists, have been slain by the state. But here in Dailekh, teachers still remember the fate of a decent and hard working teacher from the magazine cover two years ago and it has reminded them about just how vulnerable they are.

Like Dailekh's women who rose up against the Maoists, the district's teachers have been on a defiant strike against the Maoists for two months now. The district's 300 schools have been closed since Dasain after teachers stopped taking classes to protest the Maoist threat to make them 'whole-timers' (WTs).

Some teachers have gone underground, others have been unable to resist the pressure and agreed to become WTs, but most have abandoned their schools and fled to the district headquarters. Many schools have since been turned into barracks for the Maoists, and students have been recruited into the rebel ranks.

The walls between classrooms have been demolished, the schools have been turned into meeting and training rooms. Students have been forced to dig trenches and bunkers around the school as part of the Maoist 'tunnel war' campaign.

Although Maoist intimidation is not new, the mandatory requirement to become WT has provoked the backlash from the teachers. "We are on strike against the Maoists but we are still getting our salary from the government," says Jaya Prasad Timilsina, a teacher from a secondary school in Chaumunda who has fled to the town.

"We have to take permission from them even to move to the next village. How can a teacher work?" ask Deepak Hamal of Chauratha.

Teachers have always been at the frontline of this war and nowhere more so than in Dailekh. For many years now, they have obediently paid Maoist taxes, which sometimes amounts to 10 percent of their meagre salaries. Even so, the property of some teachers have been seized and teachers with political affiliations have either been killed or hounded out of the district.

Two years ago, the Maoists abducted Chet Bahadur Thapa, a teacher of Laxmi High School in Sat Tala village and beat him up, breaking his right leg. Himalaya Jung Shah, a teacher of Jwala Higher Secondary School of Betan village and the vice president of the District Teacher's Organisation, was also beaten up and is still an invalid. Narendra Singh, a teacher of Bhairab High School in Naumule, where the women rose up against the Maoists last month, was recently ordered by local rebels to leave the village with his 70-year-old mother and family.

Krishna Bhattarai, district president of the Teacher's Union blames both the government and the Maoists. Indeed, Maoists call teachers "Green snakes in the green grass", suspect them of being informants and whenever they come to the district headquarters, the security forces suspect teachers of being Maoists and abuse them.

"Many of our members have been threatened and abducted by Maoists but the government has never tried to help," says Bhattarai, "Instead of protection all we get from the police and army is harassment."

Inspired by the women-led anti-Maoist movement in Dullu, Bhattarai says Dailekh's teachers are determined to continue their strike until the Maoists stop harassing them. The Teachers' Union had given an ultimatum of 30 November, which the Maoists ignored. Actvists Gauri Shankar Lal Das and Sushil Pyakurel of the National Human Rights Commission recently visited Dailekh to try to mediate with the Maoists but they returned empty handed.

Krishna Bahadur Bhandari, a teacher at the Tribeni Sangam School in Chupra, explains why teachers can't be WTs: "It means total surrender, they will take over our property and our students will have to join the Maoists."

Hrishikesh Niraula, Dailekh's CDO admits there isn't much the government can do but says the Maoists have no option but to allow the schools to reopen. "After all, the tax on teachers' salaries is one of their main sources of income," he says, "The teachers' strike has deprived them of an income."


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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