Maoist militancy takes heavy toll on school education

Dornapal (Chhattisgarh), Feb 17 (IANS) By bombing hundreds of schools since 2005, Maoist militants have taken a heavy toll on education in Chhattisgarh, officials say.

‘Education and children’s life have been severely hit in Bastar’s interiors, militancy has virtually destroyed school education in vast areas where schools were either blown up or a majority of teachers refused to attend schools due to risks to their lives,’ Raja Toram, a teacher based in this small town in Dantewada district, some 500 km south of capital Raipur, told IANS.

The mineral-rich Bastar region spread over about 40,000 sq km in the south of the state has witnessed over 1,500 casualties in Maoist violence since 2005 and at least 440 school buildings have been bombed by Maoist rebels after the government started to use the buildings as temporary shelters for securitymen.

Officials estimate that Maoist militancy has denied at least 100,000 children access to primary education since 2005 in Bastar, especially after a government-backed controversial civil militia movement, Salwa Judum, started against the guerrillas in June 2005.

Bastar — termed the nerve centre of Maoist militancy in India — has five districts, Bastar, Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur and Kanker. After the birth of Salwa Judum, a large number of troopers occupied the school buildings for anti-Maoist drives and the rebels retaliated by targeting schools.

School teacher Toram said that Maoists were making the most of children’s lack of access to education by forcibly recruiting into their ranks those who had dropped out. The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) has a children’s unit called Bal Sangham.

Dantewada district Superintendent of Police Amresh Mishra said: ‘Militancy has surely affected education. Dozens of schools based in forest areas were blown off by militants though schools that come under the ‘war zone’ are being relocated to Salwa Judum base camps or areas where schools can be protected by forces. But attendance has dropped heavily.’

Om Prakash, sub-divisional police officer at Dornapal — an area which witnessed a string of deadly attacks by Maoists since 2005 — remarked: ‘Children’s life and their education have been really the worst hit since 2005; the primary school students are not enjoying education at relief camps under security cover as they earlier were in their villages.’

He added: ‘The whole educational system in interiors has been devastated; Maoists are taking advantage of the situation and persuading parents to send their kids to Bal Sangham for which recruitment age starts at six.’

The NGO Human Rights Watch released a book in July 2008, titled ‘Being Neutral Is Our Biggest Crime’. It had two chapters – one called ‘Recruitment and Use of Children’ and the other ‘Impact of the Conflict on Education’.

The book says: ‘Naxalites (Maoists) usually enlist children between ages six and 12 into Bal Sanghams, the village level children’s association where children learn Maoist ideology. Most children who are part of Bal Sanghams also work as informers and are trained in the use of non-lethal weapons such as sticks…’

‘In some cases, Naxalites approach parents and pressure them to send their children to join the ‘people’s war’. In other cases, Naxalites visit schools and ask children to join them.’

Quoting a former Maoist leader, Subha Atish, the book said: ‘They go to school and ask children to join a dalam (unit). This has happened in the Jagargonda area.’

Jagargonda, in Dantewada district, is near Dornapal, where the state’s most populous Salwa Judum camp houses over 10,000 residents who have fled their villages, plus a Central Reserve Police Force company to guard them.

Authorities deny that the presence of troopers is affecting studies. ‘At present, there are security forces staying in around 40 schools. Of them, 18 are schools where classes are going on at the same time. The other 22 are school buildings that had already been damaged after being bombed by Maoists and no classes could be held there any way,’ a Dantewada district official said.

(Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at sujeet.k@ians.in)

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