SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 9, No. 17, November 1, 2010
Maoists: Sabotaging the Future
Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management
Two students, aged 10 and 11 years, a woman employee and a villager were killed when a grenade landed in the classroom of a tribal school on the outskirts of Savargaon village on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border on October 8, 2010. Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres lobbed the grenade into the school during the course of an encounter with Security Forces (SFs) close to the school building. Three SF personnel were also killed in the fighting.
Again, on October 28, one Police Constable was injured when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded while it was being defused near the Jordi School building under Madanpur Police Station in the Aurangabad District of Bihar. The bomb disposal squad had been called in after four bombs, planted by the Maoists, were found in the school. The remaining three other bombs were defused.
These are far from isolated incidents. According to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report, nearly 300 schools were reportedly blown up by Maoists between 2006 and 2009.
According to the Police, the Maoists have destroyed over 150 schools in Bihar, and 20 in Aurangabad District alone. An affidavit filed by the Chhattisgarh State Government in the Apex Court on April 14, 2008, had noted: “They (Naxals) destroyed 55 primary school buildings in the last three years.” H.R. Gourela, Deputy Commissioner of the Scheduled Tribe Welfare and Development Department of Narayanpur District in Chhattisgarh on October 19, 2009, had stated, “Under Narayanpur District, around 77 concrete buildings [schools] were either damaged or demolished. We are continuing schools in alternative buildings made of tin-sheds.”
On November 7, 2009, Chhattisgarh Education Department officials claimed that the Maoists, over the preceding two years, had set ablaze 80 school buildings in just the Dantewada and Bijapur Districts. A November 6, 2009, had noted that the Maoists had blown up more than 30 school buildings in Jharkhand over the preceding five years.
Partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management documents at least 109 school buildings destroyed by the Maoists since 2006. Of these, three incidents were reported in 2006; 22 in 2007; seven in 2008; and 59 in 2009. The Maoists have, thus far, blown up 18 schools in the year 2010 (till October 31). The largest number of these incidents was recorded in Jharkhand, at 45 schools blown up over these years; followed by Chhattisgarh, at 26; Bihar, at 22; Orissa at 15; and one in Maharashtra.
These attacks were principally carried out with IEDs known locally as ‘can bombs’ – metal cans packed with explosives. Reports indicate that the Maoists primarily used gelignite, dynamite, potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate and emulsion explosives in their attacks on the schools.
More worryingly, at least 24 teachers have been killed by the Maoists in 34 attacks on teachers during this period. Three students and two school employees were also killed in three separate attacks.
Attacking schools and educational properties is an integral element of Maoist strategy, at once destroying what is the central structure in most villages, creating widespread fear, demonstrating Maoist capacities and the infirmity of the state’s agencies, and, crucially, expanding the rebels’ recruitment pool of frustrated and idle youngsters. Human Rights Watch, in its December 9, 2009, report quoted a Government official as stating, “If they want to attack any Government infrastructure then a school building is very handy, because they are all over now… This is one place were the Government gives no resistance. If you attack a Police station, you will get resistance. But in a remote area a building with no security is very easy [to target].”
The Maoists, however, claim that they attack schools because these have become ‘police camps’. A CPI-Maoist Information Bulletin editorial in November 2008 thus claimed: “No school was destroyed by the Maoists if it was not used by the Police as its camp. You cannot show a single instance where we had destroyed a school that was really meant for education purpose.” Most attacks on schools have occurred in the night, to avoid innocent fatalities; nevertheless, a large proportion of Maoist attacks have destroyed schools in which there was no Police or Security Forces (SF) presence.
Worse, teacher absenteeism on the plea of Maoist violence has enormously compounded the direct disruption of the educational infrastructure with devastating consequences for the lives and prospects of thousands of school children. A December 20, 2009, report, for instance, said that hundreds of poor school children in Bihar’s Aurangabad District had appealed to CPI-Maoist cadres not to target or damage educational institutions. In an open letter to the Maoists, the school children urged the rebels not to deprive them of education by destroying their schools.
Meanwhile, the Government has taken some steps to undercut the Maoist justification for their attacks on the educational infrastructure. A May 22, 2010, report noted that the Jharkhand Police had vacated 28 of 43 schools previously occupied by SFs in Maoist-affected Districts of the State, and were in the process of vacating another 13. The Chhattisgarh Government, however, in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on October 27, 2010, conceded that, due to administrative exigencies and lack of infrastructure, it was housing SF personnel involved in anti-Maoist operations in 31 schools, ashrams (residential schools) and hostels. The Government, nevertheless, claimed that it had made alternate arrangements to ensure that the presence of troopers in these premises did not affect the education of children
The Maoists also extort money meant for school education and infrastructure. According to a July 23, 2009, report, the Maoists in Jharkhand were demanding money from schools from the grants received by them from the Government. In Latehar, they demanded INR 50,000 as ‘levy’ from a school and threatened dire consequences in case they were not paid the demanded amount. The school had been granted INR 6.3 million for construction and development of the school.
There are also allegations regarding the Maoists looting foodstuff meant for students of several State-run schools and hostels for tribal boys and girls located in remote areas. An August 29, 2009, report indicates that the Orissa Government asked Collectors of all the Maoist insurgency-affected Districts to verify such allegations. Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste Development Department Secretary Ashok Tripathy disclosed, “Letters have been sent to all the collectors to verify allegations that Maoists forcibly eat food meant for school children living in hostels.”
A February 2010 UNHCR Report titled Education Under Attack 2010 – India, gives a snapshot of the sheer range and virulence of disruptive Maoist actions against the education system:
Over the whole of 2009 at least 50 schools were attacked in Jharkhand and Bihar. Maoists torched the house of a parateacher in Chowka, Jharkhand, and beat him up. In April 2009, a boy in Mandar, Jharkhand, was reported to have been tortured for refusing to join the Naxalites’ children’s brigade. In Bihar, four schools were blown up and a generator was seized from one of them. In Chhattisgarh State, a 15-year-old student was shot three times and stabbed by Maoist guerrillas in front of his teacher and classmates after finishing an examination in March 2009.
These circumstances have been exploited for significant recruitment of child soldiers by the Maoists. The UNHCR Report thus notes that, in 2008,
In Chhattisgarh, Maoists were reported to have used children under 12 “in droves”. Children, aged 6 and above, were indoctrinated and trained as informers; then, from age 12, were recruited into the ranks and trained to use arms and explosives.
The report, however, also observes that, “Government-backed Salwa Judum vigilantes have used children to attack Naxalite-influenced villages, and state police have used child recruits for anti-Naxalite combing operations…”
The United Nations report on Children and Armed Conflict – 2010, moreover, expressed concern over the recruitment and use of minors by the Maoists in some Districts of Chhattisgarh, noting that there were credible reports that youngsters were being abducted and forcibly recruited from schools. The Report notes:
India’s National Human Rights Commission… stated in its submission to the Supreme Court in August 2008 that the Naxals forced many families to send at least one adolescent boy or girl to join their ranks. Other credible reports indicate that many children are abducted or forcibly recruited from schools. The Naxals have claimed that children were used only as messengers and informers, but have admitted that children were provided with training to use non-lethal and lethal weapons, including landmines.
Significantly, the West Bengal Police on August 6, 2010, intercepted seven van-loads of school children at Dahijuri who were on their way to Jhargram town to participate in a rally organised by the Maoists. The students from the Ranarani School at Andharia alleged that some unidentified persons forced them to attend the rally and had also arranged for the vehicles.
Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the Government has announced a ‘multi-pronged strategy’ that includes setting up of secondary schools, girl’s hostels and reconstruction of buildings damaged by extremists, to improve educational facilities in 35 Districts worst affected by Maoist activities. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) has accorded ‘top priority’ to these districts under new schemes such as the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (National Secondary Education Campaign, RMSA), Model Schools and the Girls’ Hostel Programme. Under RMSA, which aims at universalising secondary education in the country by 2020, as many as 384 schools have been approved for these affected Districts in 2009-10. Similarly, under the Model Schools Programme, 32 schools, out of a total of 327 sanctioned in 2009-10, are located in these Districts. Another 21 model schools are to be set up in seven Maoist-affected districts of Chhattisgarh. 44 girls’ hostels have also been sanctioned for these 35 Districts. The Government categorised these as Special Focus Districts under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Universal Education Campaign) and has allocated additional funds for the creation of new primary schools, maintenance of existing infrastructure and providing other facilities. The expenditure on construction activities under these programmes can account for up to 50 per cent of the total funds allocated under the SSA in these Districts.
Unfortunately, unless the security situation improves dramatically, additional allocations and schemes will have little – if any – impact on the grounds and would, indeed, tend to augment the pool of extractable resources for Maoist extortion.
The Maoists have established their disruptive dominance across vast areas, and these have been transformed into an amorphous frontline of conflict in which the education, the prospects and the lives of children are routinely placed at risk.