The ideological battle, which started in Naxalbari for the rights of vulnerable, impoverished and landless tribal groups, has over the years grown into a bloody one. According to official data, naxal violence claimed the lives of 287 civilians and 113 security personnel in the year 2012. But perhaps of even graver import is the fact that Naxals are using schools to subvert the minds of the young.
In Naxal dominated areas, schools are being targeted to propagate Naxal ideology. Lessons imparted to young impressionable minds are distinctly anti-establishment and give a message that a revolution is necessary to overthrow the Government. The youth in affected states are thus being subverted to Naxal ideology which aims to overthrow India’s democratic structure through violence. Many instances have also come to light where children are used to collect information about the location and movement of security forces. Even worse, they are at times used as human shields by the Naxals while operating against the security forces.
This simply lays bare the abysmal state of education prevailing in Naxal affected districts. Government run schools have shut down due to high violence levels forcing the locals to send their children to schools run by Naxals. In many areas, Naxals are known to blow up school buildings or raid schools to pick up young students and forcefully recruit them into armed cadres. The locals out of fear of Naxal retribution shy away from registering complaints and simply allow their children to drop out of school.
During the previous elections, the naxals inscribed anti-government slogans on the school walls, which demanded the locals to boycott polls. These instances generate a constant fear psychosis and have a detrimental impact on children and teachers who wish to attend schools. In Latehar district, for example, teachers are either threatened to stay away from schools or often kidnapped and only let off once they have paid a ransom. Such cases are increasing in frequency; teachers therefore prefer being posted in towns and cities rather than interiors of such villages where Naxal violence is rife. In addition lack of financial incentives for working in such areas and the poor salaries being paid further reduces motivation levels. The standard and capability of teachers is also suspect. According to Jharkhand Academic Council, out of 13,807 teachers who had appeared for the exam, only 7 per cent were actually qualified.
The State Government’s inadequacy to provide basic facilities in schools has further isolated the tribal communities from the mainstream and fuelled anti-establishment sentiments amongst them, which are responsible for a steep increase in the Naxalite movement despite its paradoxes. Quality education still faces severe challenges in these regions. Around fifty to sixty per cent students in Bihar and Jharkhand are yet to receive midday meals. Several schools have no drinking water or toilet facilities. As per the National Secondary Education Programme, around 65 percent gram panchayats in Bihar are yet to have secondary schools. This kind of education system does not ensure continuity and security; it propels students to drop out of primary and middle schools. Due to lack of opportunities, many such students are easily lured towards the Naxalite movement.
The Naxalites, while ostensibly espousing the cause of the landless and oppressed classes, leave their children deprived of the basic right to education. Their claims that only such schools have been destroyed which were being used by the security personnel is also suspect. The report released by Human Rights Watch in 2009 named as “Sabotaged Schooling: Naxalite Attacks and Police Occupation of Schools in India’s Bihar and Jharkhand States” shows that “ twenty-five schools which were attacked in Bihar and Jharkhand between November 2008 and October 2009 were undefended and not in use by the security forces”. Nearly 260 schools have been destroyed by the Naxalites from 2006 to 2011 and the number is steeply rising.
Destruction of educational buildings unless meant for military pursuits is considered a war crime both by Indian and international Law. According to International Humanitarian Law, “Military objectives are those that contribute to the military action and whose destruction under the existing circumstances would offer a definite military gain”. It also “forbids acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population. However, schools remain soft targets, through which Naxalites can gather media attention and keep the masses under a shadow of fear.
Citing the occupation of schools by police personnel as one of the reasons for attacks by the extremist elements, the Centre has given clear instructions to the State Government that under no condition should the police forces involved in counter insurgency operations use or occupy school buildings. The occupation of schools by the security forces also highlights the poor conditions under which they have to operate. Most of the police stations in the interiors have been destroyed by the naxals and lack of infrastructure and developmental interventions to support the troops inevitably lead to the occupation of schools. The police forces claim that partial occupation of schools does not disrupt education; however militarising schools definitely has a damaging psychological impact on children. In an environment as precarious as this, which is dominated by gun and violence is not conducive to functioning of schools. The dropout rates are highest amongst girls due to actual or perceived sexual harassment by police personnel.
The occupation of schools by police forces at times lasts for ten days to a month or more. The school staff is not served any prior notice before the occupation to arrange for an alternative accommodation to continue the process of education unhindered. Lack of redressal schemes emanate from the poor monitoring mechanisms of the Government which have neither managed to determine the extent and pattern of the destruction caused to the school buildings by naxals nor the exact number of schools still occupied by the police.
The government is however sensitive to this problem as indicated by various interventions on this score. In Chhattisgarh, under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, porta cabins, which are pre-fabricated residential schools for students have been established in the Naxal affected regions. The Jharkhand Government has also released funds to replicate the same model in conflict-ridden regions where school buildings have been destroyed. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has started “Bal Bandhu initiative in seven strife torn districts of Sukhma, Gadchiroli, Khamman, East Champaran, Sheohar, Jamui and Rohtas. Under this scheme, youngsters from within the community keep a check over the number of children who attend schools or drop out. Their job is also to trace and restore missing children. These young recruits may not have the power over implementation but can put pressure on the authorities by involving the community and the panchayats. This programme has been known to instil confidence in the school-going children.
The ongoing violence has had a damaging effect on the growth and personality of children. Therefore, UNICEF has used its Physical Education card methodology to engage with students in Chhattisgarh. To make Education more attractive they have used sports as an intervention to enhance their confidence levels. Trainers and “khel mitras” under this scheme deliver lessons on teamwork and life skills to these children who often act as a connecting link to the whole community. In spite of such interventions, the socio economic problem in these areas has persisted and is still growing in proportions across States in India. The police forces can only address the symptoms of the Naxal problem, the root cause has to be addressed by bringing more development and long lasting measures, which shall guarantee inclusion of these tribal communities into the mainstream. The President, Shri Pranab Mukherjee recently had emphasised that Left Wing Extremism affected regions should have a special focus on education since it is seen as the “best antidote to violence”. Though difficult, this must be the implemented in these strife torn regions. There will still be children who shall incline towards joining Naxal armed cadres but erasing the importance of education from the mind map of policy makers in these regions will stifle the aspiration of those who yearn for knowledge.
-Sarita Brara , “Educating Children in Naxal Affected Areas” , Press Information Bureau (GOI) , January 8 ,2013
-Deepthy Menon, “Sports for Development and Peace building” , UNICEF, October 10, 2012
-Prakhar Jain, “The Story of One School. Why 650 Children came and only 200 Remained” , Tehelka(Issue 15, vol 9) ,April 14 2012
-Press Trust of India, “Number of casualties in Naxal Violence see decline”, December 16 ,2012
-post.jagran.com, “Primary teachers in Latehar District not attending school over kidnapping incidents” , September 27, 2011
-Mitali Mohanty Ghosh , “Using Education to bring Development”, Millennium Post, January 5, 2013
-Aarti Dhar, “Pedagogy in the time of flux” , The Hindu, May 23, 2012
-Human Rights Watch report on , “Sabotaged Schooling: Naxalite Attacks and Police Occupation of Schools in India’s Bihar and Jharkhand States” , 2009
-Anil Mishra , “Schooled in Rebellion, An Imperilled Generation” ,Tehelka( Issue 10, Vol 10) ,March 9 , 2013
-IPCS Conference Report, “The Naxal Problem: Understanding Issues , Challenges and Alternative Approaches” ,March 2012
The author is a Research Assistant at CLAWS.
Original Source: Centre for Land Warfare Studies