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School kholo: Hundreds protest in Manika against closure of primary classes in state

Ranchi: Hundreds of children and parents under the aegis of Gram Swaraj Mazdoor Sangh (GSMS), a local organization of rural workers in Manika district in Latehar, on Friday took out a rally on the occasion of Human Rights Day demanding reopening of primary schools which are closed due to covid-19 since two years. The protestors shouted numerous slogans and raised questions on the continued closure of schools at a time when the state government has unlocked everything and is allowing all other crowd puller events be it marriages, government functions among others.

“The government expects online study to fill the gap, but in areas like Manika very few children study online,” said a protestor. During the village-to-village campaign that preceded the rally, GSMS volunteers found that most children in the primary-level age group are unable to read a simple sentence. This is consistent with the findings of the School Children’s Online and Offline Learning (SCHOOL) survey conducted in 15 states earlier this year. The survey found that, among poor rural families, only 25% of children enrolled in Class 3 were able to read a simple sentence.

Many parents in remote areas like Manika rued that they can’t even afford private tuitions for their children. “If crowds are allowed in markets, marriage parties and even cricket stadiums, when why are schools closed,” some of them point out. “Just today, a huge crowd was allowed to attend a meeting addressed by Chief Minister Hemant Soren in Daltonganj, an hour from Manika. A few weeks earlier, 40,000 people were allowed to crowd a stadium in Ranchi for the India-New Zealand cricket match. Why can’t schools be allowed?,” they added.

Participants also brought up other instances of human rights violations in Manika. In Bishunbandh village, there have been two recent incidents of rape, including the rape of a minor girl. In Sadwadih, villagers are opposing an illegal stone mine that causes blast damage to their houses and endangers their children. In Kutmu, farmers are being threatened with eviction from their ancestral fields after the Forest Department bought the land from an absentee zamindar who should not be in possession of it in the first place.

Mahavir, who has been organizing Parhaiya (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group) families in the area for many years, castigated the police for failing to act on people’s complaints. “The police thana is ours,” he said, “If they don’t listen to us we will gherao them.”  

James Herenj, coordinator of NREGA Watch Jharkhand, explained the value of workers’ organizations to the audience. “Landlords, contractors, dealers and middlemen keep trying to undermine our rights, but together we can resist,” he said.