THE SOUND OF MUMBAI – Human Rights Watch hosted by the Institute of Contemporary Culture

Another Great ICC Event! What can I say? Like I wrote in my post last week on ICC’s programming, I so appreciate what they do there at the ROM. For each exhibit the events that they host offer an amazingly comprehensive context to the current show.

The wrap up event for “BOLLYWOOD CINEMA SHOWCARDS” was last Tuesday. ICC screened the documentary “THE SOUND OF MUMBAI: A MUSICAL” by director Sarah McCarthy. This film takes place in the city of Mumbai and follows the practices and eventual performance of a bunch of school children singing selections from Rogers & Hammerstein’s musical masterpiece.

“The Sound of Music, with its imagery of mountains and edelweiss, may not seem like a natural fit for India’s Maximum City, but the Bombay Chamber Orchestra begs to differ. Recruiting kids from the slums – home to half the city’s population – the Orchestra sets out to stage a choral performance of the Rogers & Hammerstein score. In capturing the process, The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical overflows with emotion. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve previously embraced or resisted The Sound of Music, after this rendition your association will never be the same.” Read more

The screening was in conjunction with HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH and was followed by a Q & A with HRW’s Bede Sheppard. Bede is a researcher for children’s rights. His role is to go into areas of unrest to ensure that safety of the children is not compromised. In North India, ongoing conflicts between the state and Maoists (Naxalites) have taken their toll on schools and school children. The Maoists, “a longstanding, pan-Indian armed militant movement, are targeting and blowing up state-run schools. At the same time, police and paramilitary forces are disrupting education for long periods by occupying schools as part of anti-Naxalite operations” (sited from

Human Rights Watch Organization website
The Human Rights Watch’s agenda to stop schools from being battlegrounds. View more of photographer Moises Saman’s incredible images at the HRW website.

The interviews with the competing sides revealed that the Maoists justify their actions by saying that they only target schools where the Indian security forces are based and this is a legitimate strategy of combat. In their investigations, the HRW has revealed that this is not always the case and schools are being targeted regardless because of their importance as symbols of the government. During heated times, such as elections, the bombing of a school sends out an intimidating message.

The police and paramilitary justify their use of schools because the construction of the schools, for example thick walls, makes them ideal as strongholds. Both sides belligerently claim that their presence does not disrupt the school children.

The irony is that the Maoists claim to be fighting for the poor but the attacks on rural schools negatively impact the marginalized people that the Maoists say they are trying to liberate. For these children, education offers one of the few means for them to have upward movement in society. If they lose even some of their education they lose a potential future; they lose potential dreams.

Indian security forces, like the police, occupy the schools, utilizing the rooms for sleeping quarters and places to interrogate.

“In schools where the security forces operate a police station out of just part of a school building while the students remain at the school, Human Rights Watch collected complaints that when the security forces bring criminal suspects back to the school they physically assault and mistreat the suspect in view of the children. Students also told Human Rights Watch of being intimidated by security force personnel who pointed their weapons at them, or questioned them for personal information. Some students also found the environment hostile when security personnel bathed in their underwear in front of them, while other students objected to the men littering the school yards with beer bottles or other empty bottles of liquor.

…Girls especially appear likely to drop out following a partial occupation of a school…The increased rate of girl students dropping out is linked to either perceived or experienced instances of harassment by the security forces of girl students.” (sited from the )

Human Rights Watch Organization website
The Human Rights Watch’s agenda to stop schools from being battlegrounds. View more of photographer Moises Saman’s incredible images at the HRW website.

When a school is occupied and/or devastated by bombs, teachers are forced to teach with several grades in one room or outside under the elements. Compounding the problem is government money allocated to fixing schools that have been bombed is not getting to the schools and is being sent back, untouched, to the government. But that is where Human Rights Watch has been able to be effectual. They have been instrumental in getting the government offices involved to set up an organized system of documentation of the schools that have been hit so as to get the money out sooner and have it be used for appropriate purposes.

The largest goal that HRW plans to accomplish is to help inform the public that international laws need to be changed with regards to war time procedures.

“Governments have been slow to update and align their domestic legislation with the explicit prohibitions on attacks on schools under international criminal law, Human Rights Watch said. They are also failing to account for the negative consequences for children’s right to education when armed forces convert schools into bases and barracks.”

HRW hopes to mobilize Canada as an international example. Along with being deployed in peacekeeping missions, the Canadian Armed Forces trains others in how to conduct themselves while on missions. Implementing consideration and avoidance of using schools as military strongholds during conflict during training will help to ensure that regardless of who is doing the patrolling children have a better chance of it not impacting directly on their right to education.

The Human Rights Watch Organization's presentation on
The Human Rights Watch’s agenda to stop schools from being battlegrounds. For more information visit their website.
For more information on the HRW agenda to change the trend of “schools as battlegrounds” download their brochure.

Learn more about the situation in Bihar and Jharkhand States in India.