In a rare instance of communities pushing back against threats by extremists, the schools that were closed in Panjgur, western Balochistan, are again open. In early May, pamphlets were distributed threatening violence if the schools did not stop co-education and what was described as a ‘Westernised’ curriculum (the schools all taught English as a second or third language). Girls’ education was to stop immediately and the van and taxi drivers who transported children to and fro were also threatened. The schools held firm and carried on. A school van was burned on May 13 and by May 23 all the schools were closed, violence and threats having done their dirty work.
Many parents, seeking a good education for their children, migrated to Quetta, others to Karachi and other parts of Balochistan. The 23 private schools and English-language centres remained closed for three months, but on August 7 they reopened though with much-reduced rolls in many cases, with some reporting a loss of a hundred or more students. The local administration has deputed a constable to guard the schools but the threats continue to arrive daily.
It is difficult to discern exactly what drives the group issuing the threats — which has been identified and is known to local people. It is said not to be religious. If they are as well known to the populace as they appear to be the greater mystery is why the police have not moved against them. They are said to be based in a specific town so their location is hardly unknown. The owners/operators of the schools have decided to stand their ground. Their businesses and livelihoods are at stake, but they also make the point that in a province chronically short of educational opportunities surrendering to the threats puts future generations at a disadvantage. Whoever and whatever organisation is behind the continuing threats needs to be tackled head on by the administration. Children have a right to education and the schools and language centres are a bright spot in an otherwise bleak educational landscape. We support their stand.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2014.