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Acid Attacks Affect School Attendance

August 11, 2001

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SRINAGAR, India (AP) _ Security forces guarded girls’ schools in largely Muslim Kashmir and attendance plunged after assailants threw acid in the face of a 15-year-old girl and at two teachers, police said Saturday.

The attacks last week were apparently meant to force women to abide by a Muslim dress code. Handwritten posters asking women to wear black cloaks and cover their faces and men to grow beards have appeared over the past few days in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state.

A previously unknown militant group, Lashker Jabbar, in letters to local newspapers claimed to be behind the campaign. More than a dozen rebel groups have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence from majority Hindu India since 1989.

Kulsooma, a 15-year-old high school girl who uses one name, was hospitalized with serious burns in Srinagar after unidentified men threw acid in her face on Aug. 7. Two female teachers also were attacked with acid a few hours later, police said.

The next day, two masked men entered a girls’ school in the Civil Lines area of Srinagar and threatened the teachers with the same punishment if they didn’t abide by the dress code.

``We are investigating the matter and are in the process of identifying those behind the acid-throwing incidents,″ Ashok Bhan, inspector-general of police, said. ``Police vigil has been intensified around girls schools and colleges.″

Attendance at schools in Srinagar has dropped by 40 percent since the attacks, school officials said.

Some schools already have accepted the rebel group’s demand.

``Our principal Salma Firdous announced at the morning assembly on Saturday that all students should wear black cloaks and white headgears and avoid using cosmetics,″ Samya Jan, a higher secondary school student, said.

``I do not dare to move out without a veil and invite the wrath of riff-raffs and get my face splashed with acid,″ Bilqees Banu, another student, said.

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