Indian school girls protesting sexual harassment end hunger strike on gov’t assurance

Indian school girls protesting sexual harassment end hunger strike on gov’t assurance

NEW DELHI: Over 80 schoolgirls in northern Indian state of Haryana, who were on indefinite strike against alleged sexual harassment that they faced at the hands of rowdies on way to school, called off their strike Wednesday after local government accepted their demands.

The schools girls, 13 of whom were on "fast unto death," ended their strike following an announcement by local education minister that their school has been upgraded to the senior secondary level. According to the officials, from now onwards, the girls would be able to study Class 11 and 12 at their village school. "After discussing the matter with chief minister the Gothera school has been upgraded," local government education minister Ram Bilas Sharma said. "The district education officer along with deputy commissioner have deputed a principal who from tomorrow will initiate the process of admission for classes 11 and 12."

The schoolgirls of Gothera Tappa Dahena village in Rewari district, about 101 km southwest of New Delhi, the Indian capital city, were on strike since last Wednesday demanding upgradation of their village high school. Local officials who went to meet the protesting students offered them fruit juice to end their hunger strike. "Since you know the school was not fulfilling the upgradation norms but due to the demand of girls, the government has issued a notification in just one day and other relevant process would soon be initiated," Yash Garg, deputy commissioner of Rewari told media.

The girls had skipped school and were on protest against alleged sexual harassment that they had faced at the hands of rowdies on way to school in another village. "We were asking government to upgrade our high school to the level of senior secondary school, as it was becoming impossible for us to walk to the school in another village in wake of the daily harassment from the local boys on way," said a girl student. "The boys used to take their photographs using mobile phones and passed sexual remarks."

The girls had to walk a distance of around three kilometers through fields to reach senior secondary school at Kanwali. "These young men used to pull our scarves and pass lewd comments," the student said. "Sometimes they come riding the bikes wearing helmets and it becomes difficult to recognize them." The girls had threatened to drop out from school and stop studies, in case the government failed to fulfil their demands. Locals said more than 10 girls were hospitalized after they fell unconscious during the hunger strike since the protest.

The schoolgirls prior to going for strike approached the village head, who reported to the local authorities. Seeing no end to their miseries, the girls took it upon themselves and sat on strike. Some parents have also joined the protest to support the demand of their wards. "The demands of the girls are genuine," village head Suresh Chauhan told Xinhua. "While walking to the school, they are the ones who face problem harassment and molestation."

Initially local authorities were reluctant to upgrade the school, for according to them it was not fulfilling certain norms. The protesting parents of the schoolgirls had questioned the government policy over granting registration to private schools with less number of students. "Private schools have just 20 to 30 students enrolled in Class 11 and 12, how come they fulfil the criteria and our school doesn't," Shewta Devi, mother of a schoolgirl said.

Devi was also sitting on protest in support of her daughter. Police meanwhile has refuted the allegations of sexual harassment faced by the schoolgirls.