BAGLUNG ?Seventeen high schools students from Beni had gone home to their villages for holidays. They never returned. On the way, the Maoists accused them of leaving the village to go to school without their permission. The rebels had told them to study in the village school but the classes had been disrupted because the Maoists themselves had forced Grade Nine and 10 students to join their abhiyan . A group of journalists ran into the students just after they had been stopped from returning to their schools in the district headquarters. They were all teary-eyed but there was nothing they could do against the threat of Maoist violence. All of them were forced to agree to study in the village school.
Students here are used to being force on one abhiyan after another where they have to listen to long speeches on the revolution, drill and get some military training. The abhiyan lasts five months and the students are forced to go back every month for more training. But last month, a group of 600 students and Maoists who were taking them towards their training grounds came face to face with an army patrol. The soldiers had already taken up firing positions but a confrontation was averted when the Maoists ran away. A student from Bhanu Secondary School who had been forced away from her class without even getting a chance to tell her parents trembles as she recounts the incident. I was never as afraid as I was then, she recalls. Her parents were even more frightened.
The Maoists are obviously doing this as a part of their recruitment drive and to tap young minds which are more malleable. But most of the school children say they only go out of fear and if it were up to them, they would just return to their studies. The Gulmi Baglung head of the Maoist affiliated student union, Sarad Oli, says his group is in a militarisation phase and the training of students is a part of that process. The Maoists have already closed down 49 private schools in the region and only one is still running. The Maoists say the campaign is working because government schools have improved their SLC records. Out of the 38 students who appeared in the SLC from the Nepal Secondary School, 27 passed. But the closure of private schools has increased the overcrowding in government schools and there are cases where 185 students study in a single class.