Nepali Times Asian Paints
From The Nepali Press
Learning fear

Seventy-four percent of students in Maoist-affected areas are suffering from the fear that they might be abducted either by Maoist rebels or security forces, a recent survey in Gulmi reveals.

Of the 281 high school students from Dhurkot Bastu and Jaisithok villages that took part in the study, 74 percent said they were afraid that the Maoist rebels or the security force would forcibly take them again. "That fear haunts us all the time, whether we are attending class or even our way to or from school," said Ramita Pandey and Ranju Bhandari of Himalaya Higher Secondary School. "We feel afraid even when we study late at night."

Perhaps more alarming is that 14 percent said that they looked forward to learning more if the rebels take them. The surveyed students underwent Maoist indoctrination that lasted anywhere between a few hours to over a day. Most students had to walk up to 10 hours at a stretch to reach the rebel camps. They were told about the negative aspects of the present curriculum and promised that the 'people's education' would be scientific and practical. Most of the students were too afraid for their own safety to comprehend or embrace the revolutionary rhetoric. Their biggest concern was a military ambush along the way and being caught in the crossfire.

The students said that the rebels used them as labourers during Maoist programs and training. They were made to carry firewood, stones and soil, build roads, clear drains and grounds, cook food and clean utensils. The students said they had no choice but to do what they were told after the rebels threatened to send them to Rolpa and Rukum as guerillas if they defied orders.

Parents are equally worried. "When our children are taken, their education is disrupted and we are left to worry about the security forces thinking we are Maoists," they say. Bright students and those who can afford it have left the villages to pursue their studies in safer urban areas.

During the survey, even primary level students attended Maoist political programs and the second-in-command at the local 'people's government', Dhurkot Rajasthal Bishnu Bhandari, said data could be collected only after permission was granted by the rebels.

The survey established that rebels go to the schools more often than the security forces. When soldiers come, they force teachers to lick off Maoist slogans from school walls before making them erase it. "When we, the caretakers of the students are ridiculed in front of the students they are traumatised," says Madan Kumar Singh, a teacher. He says if they don't erase the slogans, the security forces punish them, and if they do, they become rebel targets. What the students want is simple: "We need peace, we don't want to live with fear. May the war end forever and let us go back to school to study."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)