Several Catholic schools stood empty this week in the frigid capital as temperatures plunged close to zero. But the weather wasn’t keeping students at home. For months, the country has been gripped by hours-long electrical outages, demonstrations and work stoppages known as bandhs. As well, a chronic shortage of diesel fuel has emptied roads across the country and kept students at home. Supplies to the Nepal Oil Company, whose sole provider is the Indian Oil Company, have dwindled in recent months, leaving fuel prices high and supplies low. Don Bosco School in Lubhu in the eastern suburb of Lubhu closed its doors earlier this week because its buses, servicing the school’s 500 students, had no fuel. But Bishop Anthony Sharma said yesterday that suspension of classes can be unpredictable and caused by political factors as well. “School closures can come without warning in Nepal,” he said, adding that other schools in the capital had also closed because of bandhs. One such stoppage was called this week by the Limbu hill tribe community, which has demanded autonomy for the Limbuwan state. As a result, Catholic schools in the area were forced to close for three days, affecting thousands of students. Dr Rabindra Khanal, a university professor and administrator of the Navaprabhat School, said a number of factors contribute to the closures. “Schools may have to close on the lightest of pretexts, including road accidents. A few days ago, all schools in our area had to be shut for a day after a goldsmith was killed in a nearby shop.” Khanal, who teaches political science at Tribhuwan University, Nepal’s largest government-run school, said political tensions could cause more disruptions for the nation’s schools. “There are bound to be protests in the coming months that will affect students quite badly,” he said. “I see a difficult time ahead before Nepal’s internal peace process is completed.” Of particular note, he added, was the decommissioning of Maoist combatants and their integration, along with members of tribal communities and dalits, in the national army. In the meantime, the continuity of the school year seems to hang in the balance. “Schools have been declared ‘zones of peace’ in parliament, but that has now become a joke on the parliamentarians themselves.”
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