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Publication Date : 20-03-2013
For students in Nepal, it would be a miracle to go through a couple of months of school uninterrupted by shutdowns
Strikes are regular in Nepal. The whys and whens of calling these bandas (literally translated to "shutdowns") have long ceased to be relevant in this nation. In the past few weeks, educational institutions in Kathmandu remained closed for most part because of countless general strikes, almost all of them called for various political reasons. The banda has become the most favoured form of protest. And for those who defy it, cruel punishment - from faithful banda followers and enforcers - awaits.
Educational institutions in the country have long become politicised. This is particularly true of government institutions of higher education where several students’ unions exist, unions that seldom undertake the serious task of working for the progress of the college or university.
All educational institutions across the nation remained closed for several days very recently due to a dispute between private school proprietors and students’ unions over the establishment of unions in private schools. The controversy resulted when Golden Gate, a private college in the capital, disbanded a union its students had established, and a bus belonging to the college was allegedly burnt down by disgruntled union members.
The Association for Private Educational Institutions Nepal (APEIN) - a network of private educational intuitions - called an educational strike protesting the incident. So did the concerened union. Unsurprisingly, the banda affected the lives of numerous students and teachers, and the schedules educational institutions had set for themselves were adversely affected. “It is very difficult to complete courses on time, and students are not able to take full advantage of classes when such bandas are called,” says Kaushal Sapkota, a teacher at Modern Indian School in the city.
Students too complain of the difficulties they face because of such strikes. Ashim Gautam, a student of engineering at Pulchowk College had a hard time when the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and indigenous groups called a two-day banda last week. Gautam had an internal examination to take on one of these days and had to walk for two hours just to sit for his test. “This is completely ridiculous. Bandas are never beneficial to students,” he complains.
And Gautam is not the only one who had to face an extremely difficult situation because of the banda. “One of my friends had to cycle all the way to the exam centre from his home, but still could not get there on time. He has now been told college authorities that he will not be considered if he misses the board exams scheduled to take place next month.”
Suju Bhattarai, a student at St Xavier’s College says that bandas are pure torture. “I was taking my grade 11 board exams and so I had to walk for hours to reach the exam centre. The whole time, we were more about the security situation and how to get to the exam hall than about the exam itself,” she says.
Often, students in Nepal are not even aware of who or what group has actually called a given strike. Bandas catch people unawares and the reasons they’re called are often trivial when considered in a larger context. Authorities generally fail to impose restrictions on those who are prepared to call a banda as a means to oppose any decision (usually a government decision) they’re dissatisfied with, encouraging picketers even more.
And although the government has, on paper, decaled all educational institutions ‘zones of peace’, this is hardly effective in the every day scenario. Even the annual school leaving certificate (grade 10 tests) exams have been affected by strikes. As Ayushma Singh Thakuri, who’s taking her tenth grade finals explains, she was taken by surprise when a sudden strike was called on the day of her English exam. “We were about to return home after finishing our examinations but learnt that a strike had been called. Most of our parents could not come pick us up so we had to manage on our own,” she says. By the time Thakuri and her friends were returning home, public vehicles (those that were still running) were packed, and thousands of students like Singh and her friends were effectively stranded where they were.
It is therefore not surprising that students, parents and teachers have become frustrated by the frequent disruptions in academic routines. At a time when the country is marred by political irregularities, someone should suggest an alternative means of protest so that perhaps one day, Nepali students are able to complete a whole academic year sans interruptions.