There was a time when minors were either brain-washed or forced to join armed conflict waged by the Maoists. During the insurgency era, parents who sent their children to school spent the whole day worrying about whether their wards would ever make it home.
Although the current situation is not as terrifying as it was during the armed conflict, the indefinite protest led by the United Democratic Madhesi Front–which entered 56th day on Wednesday surpassing any continuous shutdown imposed by an agitating group in Nepal’s history–threatens to jeopardize the education of millions of children in Tarai districts.
Over 3 million school children have been directly affected by the strike, whose daily routine involves either watching the protests or participating in them, instead of going to school.
“Preventing children from going to school should be defined as crime,” said educationist Bishnu Karki. He termed the closures in Tarai as worst in the last two decades, after the end of conflict and the conclusion of peace process.
While the impact on children who attended school when the insurgency was at its peak is still reflected on their performance, the fall out from this new political conflict will weigh on the minds of the children for the next decade, said Karki.
Emblematic of Karki’s fear was a picture that circulated in the social media that showed school-age children impersonating police, a Madhesi and three others who appeared to be mimicking the chief of big three political parties. In the picture, the boy playing the police was pointing a toy gun at the one who acted as a Madhesi protestor.
Although those who are holding the protests have sought to portray it as a struggle for the establishment of equality, a huge gap between rich and poor is emerging in Tarai, explained Karki.
“The guardians, who could foresee the impact of the protests on their children, sent them to schools in India. But the children from poor family have been left to suffer,” said Karki.
“If there is any sector that feels complete absence of state, it is the education sector,” said Private and Boarding School’s Organization, Nepal (PABSON) chairperson Lakshya Bahadur KC.
The effort of the Ministry of Education and the National Human Rights Commission aimed at resuming schools smacked of tokenism as schools continue to remain shut due to protests and Indian blockade.