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Maoist arson attacks force private schools to close


The ongoing war by Maoists against Nepal's private education system escalated this week following attacks on two of the Kathmandu Valley's most prominent schools.

An estimated 8,000 private schools across the country have closed for at least a week on the recommendation of their association, which wants the government and the Maoists to hold talks.

Members of the All Nepal National Free Students' Union (Revolutionary) armed with iron rods and knives broke into Elite Co-Ed school, burned the principal's car and wrecked a school bus.

In a savage parody of the traditional Hindu form of welcome, garlanding with flowers, they blackened the face of the principal, Neena Morada, and strung old shoes around her neck. She was then ordered to empty the boarding hostel and send students home. A day after the attack, the school was closed indefinitely.

Later that morning, a larger group estimated at more than 100 students stormed Rupy's International School, smashing computers and photocopiers. The principal, Shanta Sharan, was held down in a chair and was splashed with kerosene. The students threatened to set her on fire but released her after realising that she was not their chief target, school founder Rupy Singh.

Two ANNFSU(R) leaders have been arrested. The attacks are not the first in the valley but they are by far the most serious. They also appear to be partially motivated by anti-Indian sentiment. Earlier this year, the Modern Indian School had a bus burned, and both the Elite Co-Ed and Rupy's International have strong connections with India. Rupy Singh is Indian, and the school is staffed almost entirely by Indian teachers.

The ANNFSU (R) has protested about what it claims is prejudice against local tachers and has submitted a list of 15 points to the ministry of education. These include demands that the public sector be better financed, that the teaching of Sanskrit be abolished, that the singing of the national anthem be banned and that the "exorbitant" fees charged by private schools should be cut by half.

They have also demanded that government officials and dignitaries send their children to state schools.

ANNFSU (R) president Devendra Parajuli said at a recent public debate:

"What we are concerned about is that there must be a minimal gap in quality between public and private school education. If the children of elites were sent to state schools, it would help to ensure the quality of state schools."

In Morang, almost all private schools have closed indefinitely following threats and in Dhading members of the ANNFSU (R) have written warning letters to school principals and owners. Most private schools in these districts have now closed or are about to close. Notre Dame, a school in Bandipur founded by Japanese nuns 10 years ago, has announced that it will close.

The situation is very tense, with school owners and parents angry that the government seems unwilling or unable to provide security measures. Many parents feel that it is safer to send their children to India, a drain of money that Nepal can ill afford.

Meanwhile, principals throughout the Kathmandu Valley fear that their schools may also be attacked. One, speaking on condition of anonymity, confessed that he had moved his desk so that he could see if a mob arrived at the school gate.

He said that if they did, he would escape via the rear entrance."Seeing the principal is like a red rag to a bull for these people," he added.

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