How schools are becoming easy target to fulfil petty party interests


The Kathmandu Post

KATHMANDU : For years since the start of the Maoist insurgency, academic institutions became the first target of the dissenting party to pressurise the government to fulfil its interests. But after the Maoists joined peaceful politics in 2006 following the Comprehensive Peace Accord, other parties and their sister wings adopted the practice of shutting down schools and colleges to make their demands heard.

The tendency, however, waned after the second Constituency Assembly elections in 2013. And it almost stopped, with some exceptions, after the promulgation of the constitution in 2015.

Children return home on Friday morning after learning that their school was closed due to the banda called by the Netra Bikram Chand party Communist Party of Nepal.

But of late, the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal, an offshoot of the Maoist party that waged the decade-long insurgency, is increasingly resorting to the pressure tactics of calling educational strikes.

On Friday, the All Nepal National Independent Students’ Union (Revolutionary), the student wing of the party, whose activities the government has banned, enforced a strike, depriving students--from the pre-primary to university levels--of their daily educational activities.

“On an average, we are forced to close our institutions at least once a month,” Ritu Raj Sapkota, president of National Private and Boarding Schools Association, Nepal, an umbrella body of private schools, told the Post. “It’s reminiscent of the insurgency days.”
The country has undergone a sea change politically, he said, but there has been no change in the political culture.

Friday’s was the third educational strike enforced by the Chand party, which the government has labelled a criminal outfit, so far this academic year. This was to demand the release of over two dozen party cadres arrested by police from several districts.

On May 6 and 27, the union backed by the mother party enforced similar strikes. Before the start of the current academic session in mid-April, there were two strikes on February 7 and March 26.

According to Sapkota, students make up the highest percentage of population in the country and parties consider closure of academic institutions an easy and effective way to make their voices heard.

There are around 7.5 million students from school to university levels and the closure of academic institutions directly affects three times the number, including their parents.

“The closure has become intolerant,” said Deependra Neupane, a lecturer at Nepal Commerce Campus, Minbhawan and father of two children. “The dissenting political parties must find alternative ways of protest.”

Parents of children who are troubled by such strikes say quality education, which is a major challenge in Nepal, will further deteriorate if such practices continue.

Chand party’s strikes in schools and colleges come amid the government’s intensified crackdown on the outfit since March 12, when it was declared a criminal outfit following two deadly blasts in the Capital. Last month, there were multiple blasts in different parts of the Capital in which four cadres of the radical party were killed when cooking gas cylinders went off as they tried to rig them as explosive devices.

The explosions occurred just a day ahead of the Chand outfit’s general strike.

Though the government has asked the Chand party to join mainstream politics, no talks have been held, and the authorities’ approach to dealing with the communist outfit has been criticised by experts. On Thursday, police shot dead Kumar Paudel, Sarlahi district in-charge of the Chand party in Lalbandi.

Students have been affected by the deepening conflict between the government and the Chand party. Basant Shrestha, who has been living in Dubai with his family, enrolled his daughter in a private school in Kathmandu in April hoping that there would not be disturbances in the education sector as the country had got political stability.

“The school has already been closed a couple of times for political reasons since my daughter joined this year,” said Shrestha, who works in a multinational company. His daughter Darshana, who completed her early education in Dubai, is a fourth grader at Rosebud School in Kathmandu.

It’s the government’s duty to ensure that children get a quality education so that they can compete globally, said Shrestha. “A country cannot progress without good education and good education is not possible without conducive environment. I hope every concerned party keeps this fact in mind.”