The administration in the Surguja district of Chhattisgarh is taking away children from their parents on promises of better education and without proper paperwork. An investigative report published by DNA has revealed that under the pretext of a rescue operation, children between the age of 6-18 from rural areas are being taken under the custody of the government in order to avoid an increase in insurgent activities in the area. What seems like a novel initiative to better the lives of children in conflict torn areas, is actually a desperate attempt made by the government to stop children from joining Maoist ranks. Done in the most arbitrary fashion, the government is choosing those children who are seen at most risk of being recruited by the extremist left-wing group.
The report by DNA suggests that the ‘rescue operation’ underway is an anti-Maoist drive which is using the Juvenile Justice Act to take the children away from parents. Parents are promised better education and facilities for their children and are given a handwritten chit with a phone number on it to contact their children. There is no paper work involved, just word of mouth. In a place where there is an absence of a proper juvenile justice system, the whole operation is a little disconcerting.
It is no secret that children are soft targets for the Maoists in the area who use children as pawns in their war against the government. According to the data collected by the Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights in 2013, over 3000 children have been recruited by insurgent groups in India. Caught between the war between the insurgent groups and the paramilitary forces, the adivasis of the area are constantly exploited, mistreated and a lot of damage is caused to their lifestyle.
The threat to the indigenous community
Both the security forces and the insurgent groups are responsible for the exploitation of the local people, especially young children. Reports from the UN reveal that there is forced recruitment of children by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh. The maoists exhort villagers to provide atleast one adolescent from their family to join their ranks and are trained to use lethal or non-lethal weapons in order to attack government run institutes. Recruited against their will, scores of boys and girls have to give up their education and are exposed to a toxic environment.
At the same time there have also been reports of the same kind of mistreatment on the part of the security forces. The security forces are unable to differentiate between the Maoist cadres and the adivasis and unjustly arrest them under the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act. The tense environment sours the relation between the locals and security forces as the locals only fear the police and the police don’t trust the locals. Moreover there are cases of rape, torture, assault that have made the adivasis apprehensive towards the security forces.
The Human Rights Watch has been documenting how Maoists have carried out attacks on the schools to instill fear among the people. Reports also suggest that the Maoists use children as spies, for sentry duty and weapon making. These children are organised in ‘bal sangams’ and made into child soldiers. If and when they are caught by the armed forces, they are sent to remand home or rehabilitation centers.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in 2010 had called for an immediate review of state government policies in Chhattisgarh that used school ground for operations against the Maoists. Such an atmosphere puts the children in dangerous conditions and hampers with their education.
While authorities claim that the operation is meant to protect the children from Maoists abduction, others are not as enthusiastic about the way it is being done. Parents have reported that their children did not want to leave their parents but were forced to leave. The problem however is that the promises made by government officials have not yielded any results. Abuse in government undertaken organisations is rampant and therefore the operation only puts the state government under more scrutiny.
Whatever the intentions, the exercise will only cause more damage than good. Taking children away from their parents will traumatize the children further. In order to curb the problem of insurgency in the area, the government needs to maintain a healthy relationship of trust with the locals. Instead of occupying schools for operations against the Maoists, the government should make sure the school keeps running and give protection
Madhusree Mukherjee, who writes extensively on indigenous rights, notes that, “taking away children from indigenous communities in order to “civilize” them occurred commonly in the 19th and early 20th century, especially in Canada and Australia. Recently Australia apologized publicly for the practice, which caused immense emotional hardship. As for the Canadian residential schools, the death rates of the children were staggering and very recently the practice was designated as “cultural genocide” although many argue that it should in fact have been called genocide. As such, taking away children from their families and training them in such a way that they fit better into mainstream society is a form of cultural genocide.”