It has been more than three weeks after four students were killed during a firefight between Maoist and security forces at Sharada High School in this far-western district. The Maoists had forced the children to watch their cultural program when an army unit attacked them. The six Maoists whose bodies were rotting in the school for a week were finally buried by the army in the school premises.
The army says it had to make the move into the school because they had intelligence that Maoist area commander Agni Shrama was attending the cultural program. The Royal Nepali Army's Doti-based chief, Gaurab Rana, said that if the army had not been careful on 14 October, a bigger mishap would have occurred.
Bhubaneswar Sharma, a grade four student, did not know who had come to his school that day and wasn't worried. A while later, he learned that security forces had arrived in the nearby village, but the rebels convinced those present that it was their comrades. The Maoists had already begun their 'people's resistance program' after ending all classes. The rebel's area commander Agni Sharma, who was the chief guest, left immediately after the program, probably after being tipped off about the army's presence. Suddenly, soldiers in civvies opened fire inside the school compound. There was pandemonium with students trying to flee or hide below their desks. Four students and six Maoists were killed. The army says rebels tried to pass themselves off as students by using their uniforms.
"Neither side showed it cared about the students' lives," says Dambar Kumari Bika, whose younger sister died in the shooting. "Both used the school for their own purposes." Ninth grader Dharma Kumari Bhurtyal hid in the school canteen after she was injured and stayed there till the firing stopped. Bishnu Prasad Sharma, a student of grade seven, was shot twice in the back and remains in critical condition. Only 80 of the 400 students were present that day because school had just reopened after Dasai.
After his school turned into a battlefield, a teacher says he was not willing to go back to the classroom. "My students killed in front of me, how can I go back?" he asks. The students are traumatised knowing that the Maoists are buried in the school yard. "This is no longer a school, it is a cemetary," says Bishnu Datta Joshi, chairman of the school management committee.
Nine schools in Mudbhara VDC are still closed, affecting some 2,500 students. Teachers, parents and management committees of the school live in fear and utter confusion. Some teachers have tried to reopen the schools, but students stay away. Kathmandu-based foreign missions and Unicef have condemned the incident, saying it indicated the seriousness of the escalating conflict.
(After this report was dispatched, reports from Mudbhara say the Maoists came back to the village this week to rebury their dead comrades outside the school premises.)