Schools close in Bandarban’s Ruma over fear of gunfight amid anti-militancy operation

Police say 300 to 400 residents left for their relatives’ home in India

U She Thowai MarmaBandarban
Published : 1 March 2023, 08:32 PM
Updated : 1 March 2023, 08:32 PM

Gunfights amid a series of joint operations targeting Islamist militants and tribal separatists in the Chattogram Hill Tracts have led to the closure of some schools in Bandarban’s Ruma as panicked residents stopped sending their children to learn.

Police said hundreds of people have left their homes to take shelter in their relatives’ houses in India while others have sent their children to the town for study as tension continues to run high for months.

The schools in the Upazila that have closed or are about to close include Mualpi Para Government Primary School, Artah Para Government Primary School, Bastlang Para Government Primary School, Pakniar Para Government Primary School, Munnuam Para Government Primary School and Jespai Government Primary School.

Parents are refraining from sending their children to school in light of the prevailing panic, resulting in a near-suspension of classes and significant disruptions to teaching,

“No decision can be made until the situation returns to normal,” said Mamun Shibli, the chief executive of the Ruma Upazila administration, adding that they informed the government high-ups about the closure of the schools.

Pakniar Para Government Primary School and Jespai Government Primary School closed completely after a break during the distribution of textbooks in January, said Ashish Chiran, primary education officer of Ruma.

The two schools in the remote hills of Remakriprangsa were already seeing a rise in absentees in December, according to him.

Pakniar Para School used to have a higher number of students, but they now only have around 16-17 students present, Ashish said.

“Teachers here are interested in giving lessons, but the schools automatically closed as students stopped coming due to the situation.”

Mualpi Para Government Primary School, Artah Para Government Primary School, and Bastlang Para Government Primary School resumed classes when the situation improved recently but closed again.

The administrative officials in the areas cited “unfavourable circumstances” for the closure, but declined to give details.

Alamgir Hossain, chief of Ruma Police Station, admitted the joint operations spread panic among residents.

“Many went to India and took shelter in their relatives’ homes. The number could be around 300 to 400, but many of them are now returning," he said.

Upazila Chief Executive Mamun said they do not have an accurate number of people who left for India because some of them returned.

Gunfights were reported in the hill tracts after the Rapid Action Battalion and the army launched the joint operation in October 2022. They have arrested dozens of members of Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya and Kuki-Chin National Front or the Bawm Party that sheltered the Islamist militants for training.

At the end of January, members of the Marma and Bawm ethnic groups from several villages in Ruma left their hillside homes and relocated to the town.

At least 51 Marma and 20 Bawm families from the Paindu sought refuge in the Marma Welfare Association’s hall room and the Bawm Community Centre located in Ruma Bazar. They later returned to their villages.

According to some parents, a significant portion of Jhum farmers is only able to finance their children's education in their local area. As a result, these families are currently suffering the most.

A parent of a Class 3 student expressed concerns about the struggles of students from remote areas. “School is closed again. There is panic in the area. All in all, students are suffering major setbacks in learning."

"We have no choice but to accept the losses since there are no viable alternatives. It is uncertain when the situation will improve and return to normal."

Some market-goers from the area said that prior to the campaign, jeeps used to travel to certain remote regions. However, due to security concerns, traffic has been halted in the area since the operation began. Consequently, residents have had to travel on foot for over three hours to reach their destinations.

Uhlaching Marma, the chairman of Ruma Upazila Council, said local traders, public representatives, and ethnic group leaders reported declining student attendance at schools due to the “recent situation”. The schools are closed mainly due to the absence of students.

The monthly coordination meeting in the Upazila on Feb 28 included a discussion about the closure of the schools, said Uhlaching.

Local education officials informed the administration about the closure of the schools amid panic over the gunfights during the meeting, he said.

Following the joint forces' operation, the local administration imposed a travel ban on domestic and foreign tourists in Ruma, Rowangchhari, Thanchi, and Alikadam Upazilas in Bandarban.

The ban on tourist travel in three Upazilas has been lifted after several extensions, but it remains in effect in Ruma.