NEPALGANJ-By bombing and threatening schools with closure the Maoists and their fraternal student organisation have once more shown themselves to be an irrational anti-people force. This is not the first time they have threatened to close private schools but an overwhelming public opposition had forced them to back down and this is probably what will happen this time too. In the past, these threats have been linked to extortion drives from schools. Schools that pay them off adequately are spared bombings, however poor their reputation in society.
This time, the effect of the threats is seen more outside the capital and in remote districts. And if the Maoists want to present themselves as a responsible force in front of the people they have to call off the closure because higher secondary schools are providing special services in remote areas where there are no colleges. There are now about 10,500 private schools all over the country and there are 1.7 million students enrolled in them and some 300,000 teachers and staff are employed. There are another 350,000 students in private higher secondary schools with 20,000 teachers and employees. The Maoist threats have affected 2,300,000 people directly.
There have been bomb attacks on schools that were planning to defy the Maoist threats of closure in Banke, Dang and Nepalganj. The private school association, PABSON, has decided to keep schools open. "The reason for the present crisis is not the private education systems. Teachers, students, guardians and human rights organisations will use non-violent methods to keep schools open," says PABSON's Hemraj Sharma. This defiance would work if the state acted to protect the schools but it can't defend all schools against attacks. A teacher in Nepalganj says he can't open his school with such risks even though the government is forcing schools to keep their doors open. Some schools have been threatened with cancellation of their registration if they don't open. "We are caught in the middle," says Keshar Bahadur Ale of Gorkha United Public School.
Here in Banke, none of the schools have opened after new year's day. Many haven't even taken in new enrollments because of Maoist threats. "It's just too risky," says one teacher. The parents and guardians of the children are taking their children across the border to India to study. Parents are even pulling out children from schools in the capital and sending them to boarding schools in India. "There is a real danger that our schools will be empty at the rate our students are going to India," says Bijaya Lama of PABSON in Nepalganj, whose school Brightland was bombed this week by Maoists.
Of the 2,500 students enrolled in Simant School and Radha Krishna Inter College in the border town of Rupedia in India, 70 percent of the children are now Nepali. Says the principal of Radha Krishna: "In the past two years there has been an unprecedented flood of Nepali children."