Broken doors, scattered books, destroyed chairs and tables, broken utensils: Wither right to education in Saranda forests?

gladsonThe new book by well-known Ranchi-based human rights activist Gladson Dungdung, “Mission Saranda”, is based on his travel to the so-called Red Corridor of India, offering a plethora of evidence to prove that the state-sponsored effort to curb Naxalism in Jharkhand is actually a war against the Adivasis to snatch their resources – lands, forests, water, hills and minerals — in one of the densest forests of India, rich in its biodiversity with an extraordinary variety of wildlife. “The centre of the war is mineral resources, which I am able to establish through my mission to Saranda forest”, he says. Excerpts from the chapter “Where is the Right to Education (RTE)?”, which points to how the state campaign snatched away childhood from boys and girls who should be going to school:

 The CRPF Jawans alleged us of running a school for the Maoists’ children. They destroyed books, teaching equipment and sport materials. They also broke the boxes, tables and chairs, and ate up rice provided for children under the mid-day meal scheme. — Binodiny Purty, Primary School, Tholkobad

On 27 September 2011, our team arrived at Tholkobad village in the afternoon by motor bikes. There was no road; a slippery path full of mud was the only way to approach the village. Tholkobad was once one of the safest hideouts for the CPI-Maoist in Saranda Forest. As soon as we approached the village, we saw about 100 security forces deployed in the village. They had been carrying out joint anti-Naxal operations in the region since July 2011 and had set up a security camp in primary school premises. This served as their centre for checking out each and every passer-by, on the assumption they may be either a member or supporter of the CPI-Maoist. They thoroughly checked us too before we could start our investigation work.

Since we were already aware of the gross human rights violations committed by them during anti-Naxal operations in this village, we were there to collect evidence. As far as the children’s right to education is concerned, Tholkobad village was one of the worst affected villages in Saranda region.

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School destroyed by security forces during anti-Naxal operation at Tholkobad village

When we entered the primary school building, the broken doors, scattered books, destroyed sport materials, scattered utensils and broken tables, chairs and boxes were enough to tell us that the children’s right to education was officially denied in this village. We could see some cows, goats and dogs inside the school building.

Indeed, two rooms had become a cattle shed, but the government officials were least bothered about it. The security forces had messed up this school because they assumed that this government primary school was providing education to the Maoists’ children. In fact, security forces consider all the Adivasis living in the Saranda Forest as members of the CPI-Maoist.

While talking to the villagers, they told us that the security forces had messed up the school, as well as targeting the teachers and staff, whom they alleged were Maoist aides. They beat a para-teacher Oliver Barla on allegation of teaching the Maoists’ children. Oliver Barla said, “The CRPF Jawans entered into my class and beat me alleging that I teach the Maoists’ children, even though I was doing my duty like they were.” After this incident, from terror, Oliver stopped going to school.

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Children’s mind of Saranda Forest: A drawing by children on school’s wall at Baliba village

The CRPF Jawans destroyed the utensils, land entitlement papers and voter card of Binodini Purty too who was working as convener of the Mid-day Meal Committee and a cook as well. The Jawans also ate up nearly 200 kg of rice, which was kept in the school to serve meals to children under the midday meal scheme. Again, the Jawans said that this rice was being kept for the Maoists.

Binodani Purty said, “I cook food for children in the Primary School. While searching for the Maoists, the CRPF Jawans entered my house. They destroyed utensils, boxes and land pattas (entitlement papers) alleging me as working for the Maoists. I told them that I work for the government but they didn’t believe me.” She further said, “The CRPF camp was set up in the Primary School. The CRPF Jawans alleged us of running a school for the Maoists’ children. They destroyed books, teaching equipment and sport materials, they also broke the boxes, tables and chairs, and ate up rice provided for children under the mid-day meal scheme.”

After some time, we left for Baliba village, that was another hideout for the Maoists, that is why the security forces had set up another security camp in this village’s school building too. The walls in a half built school building nearby were full of drawings of AK-47, SLR218 and pistols.

Malnourished children standing in their agricultural turned barren land caused by mining at Dubil village
Malnourished children standing in their agricultural turned barren land caused by mining at Dubil village

I was shocked to know that these drawings were made by the children, who hardly understand their school curriculum. This clearly shows that these children are learning more about the arms used by the security forces and Maoists than anything else. They were seeing these weapons on a daily basis, that is why they drew them instead of making the picture one expects to see in a school of fruits, flowers, birds, animals or, trees. How can one imagine these children’s future?

Baliba Primary School was closed for many reasons. The school building was converted into a security camp, a para-teacher Haris Mahto and President of the Village Education Committee Suleman Topno, were arrested on allegation of being Maoist aides. The Jawans had also eaten up the food grains meant for children under the mid-day meal scheme.

Next we went to Trilposi village, which was another centre of the CPI-Maoist. Here the security forces had destroyed a newly built school building. They also ate up the rice meant for midday meals, and captured the ration shop of Pator Gagrai, President of the Village Education Committee, who used to supply the food grains for the scheme. He had to desert his home after Jawans threatened, they would kill him if he returns to the village. Besides this, the construction of two new school buildings was stopped at Baliba and Tirilposi, after the police arrested Suleman Topno and threatened Pator Gagrai to kill him. There was no Anganbari219 centre in many villages and no High Schools in the range of 30 to 50 kilometres.

Children help  mother in collecting contaminated water from a stream near Tholkobad village
Children help mother in collecting contaminated water from a stream near Tholkobad village

Travelling in Saranda Forest for a week, we found that all school buildings were converted into security camps since July 2011, with similar patterns of destruction and embezzlement of supplies. As a result, schools were closed and mid-day meals suspended. This was a State sponsored gross violation of children’s right to education, but the violators were not even questioned by the State, whose duty is to protect and ensure children’s rights.

As far as the quality of education is concerned, the children here are well educated about AK-47s, SLRs, pistols, bombs and landmines, but they do not know their text books. The students of of Class- VII cannot even read the books of Class- V, or solve the maths problems of Standard- III. In these circumstances, one can foresee the painful future for these children. They will be either victimised by the police or the CPI-Maoist will engage them in the war against the State. In either case, they will suffer. In this situation, can they hear about their rights from someone and demand enforcement of these rights when the government is not even ready to accept the serious violation of their rights by the security forces but blames the CPI-Maoist for everything?

On 1 April 2009, Dr Manmohan Singh, as Prime Minister of India, appeared in the television channels with a blue turban on his head and declared the day as a historic day for free education for all. He said, “Today, our government comes before you to redeem the pledge of giving all our children the right to elementary education by enforcing the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009. The needs of every disadvantaged section of our society, particularly girls, Dalits, Adivasis and minorities must be of particular focus as we implement this Act… I want every Indian child, girl and boy, to be so touched by the light of education. I want every Indian to dream of a better future and live that dream.”

The bitter truth is that the kind of education children are being provided in Jharkhand gives them no basis to dream about a better future. Who is responsible for such a situation – the State, the Maoists, or both together?

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