The Story of One School Why 650 children came and only 200 remained


By Prakhar Jain

Education in ruins The residential school in Chintagupha, Sukma

WITH THE Right to Education Act (RTE) completing two years, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal may feel smug about the decline in dropout rates. But close to 40,000 children in the Naxal-hit districts of Chhattisgarh are yet to even enrol in schools. To them, the impressive figures of the Human Resource and Development Ministry regarding addition of classrooms matter little.

Most of these children missing from schools in these areas are actually victims of conflict. During the time of the now disbanded Salwa Judum, the state-sponsored anti-Naxal militia, and later Operation Green Hunt from 2005 to 2010, the biggest casualties apart from human lives were schools and education. Salwa Judum destroyed schools as they went on a rampage vacating villages suspected of supporting Naxals; while Naxals did the same, fearing that schools would be used as camps by the security forces.

Many schools were shut permanently, while some were shifted next to the roads along the Salwa Judum camps. The residential school in Chintalnar, around 80 km from district headquarters Sukma, was among those shut in 2005, forcing all the children to go back to their homes. “More than 650 children turned up for admission when the school reopened in 2010, but we were able to take just 370 of them. There were just too many to be accommodated with the limited infrastructure available,” recalls Jairam Sinha, an instructor in the school, pointing to the school building. The building is a small house with four rooms measuring 10 ft by 10 ft.

Since then, the number of students has come down to 200, as many have run away. Still, nearly 150 boys are crammed, often 2-3 to a bed, in an abandoned, dilapidated house nearby that serves as a temporary hostel. The girls sleep in the school itself. The irony, however, is that even the new school building, which has been under construction for the past two years, won’t be able to accommodate the sanctioned strength of more than 500 children. And Jairam Sinha says there are more than 2,000 children in a 10-km radius from Chintalnar who don’t go to school.

One big hurdle in reaching Chintalnar and constructing the new building is the 45-km long virtually non-existent road, which connects it to the nearest supply town of Dornapal. The road has seen some major blasts by Naxals in the past few years, claiming the lives of several security personnel. “Transportation is a challenge on that road as whatever little is sent has to be sent under heavy security,” says Alex VF Paul Menon, Collector of Sukma.

This, however, is by no means the most dismal scenario. Hundreds of villages scattered in the forests of south Chhattisgarh exist with no sign of administration. Due to Naxal threats and difficult terrain, neither the government nor any NGO is aware about the children left out of the formal education system. KR Pisda, school education secretary of Chhattisgarh, says, “According to our estimates, there are around 15,000 children who are yet to be enrolled in four districts of Dantewada, Bijapur, Sukma and Narayanpur.” However, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in 2009 estimated that there are 40,000 such children in seven districts, and the situation hasn’t improved since then.

Plight In Numbers

• 40,000 children out of schools in seven Naxal-affected districts of Chhattisgarh
• 185 schools shut down since 2005 in Dantewada district; 86 damaged by Naxals
• 50 percent of schools don’t have boundary walls to stop children from running away
• 42 percent is the average literacy rate in Dantewada, Bijapur and Sukma
• 26 percent is the drop-out rate at primary level against the national figure of 7 percent
• 4 out of 5 children drop-out before reaching class eight

Regular schools in these areas have rarely been successful. Residential Ashram schools and Porta Cabins (structures made of bamboo), being run by the Tribal Welfare Department and the Department of School Education under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, are a common sight all across these districts.

What is, however, odd is the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camps right next to most of them. During Salwa Judum days, many schools were used as camps by the CRPF and police and were vacated only in 2011 after repeated warnings by the Supreme Court. But the new camps that came up later have been constructed quite close to the schools. Many see this as a way to check ration supplies to Naxals, often siphoned off from those meant for schools. This, in turn, make the schools vulnerable as they too can come in the line of fire in case a CRPF camp is attacked by the Naxals.

It is common knowledge in these areas that the initiation process to become a Naxal starts early and sometimes children are recruited for Bal Sanghams (Naxal schools) at an early age of six. At the age of 12, these Bal Sanghams get promoted to other ranks, which also includes armed cadres.

Gopal Buddu, 20, was taken away by Naxals at the age of 13 from his village Kamkanar in Bijapur district. “I was forced to go with them as resistance would have meant trouble,” says Buddu. After six years of hardship in the jungles and working as a bodyguard of the Division Commander, one fine day in 2011 he surrendered before the Bijapur police. Buddu has now been rehabilitated in the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force.

Most parents now, however, see schools as a safe haven for their kids as they also provide protection from being taken away forcibly by the Naxals. Therefore, the longer the children remain out of schools, more their chances of getting picked up by the Naxals. Shanta Sinha, Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) says, “It’s important to give access to education to the children and then let them decide their path after they are empowered to think.”

EVEN IF a child gets enrolled in a school, retaining and keeping track of them is a huge challenge. Recently, the NCPCR found out that around 35 tribal children had been taken to Kerala by contractors to work in brick-kilns. “We wrote to the Kerala government asking them to send these children back to their schools in Chhattisgarh,” says Sinha. The state government there was able to track 25 of them while 10 could not be traced.

Himanshu Kumar, who used to run an NGO, Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, in Dantewada district, says, “We used to work with tribal activists, who knew every student by name and village. They were quite quick in tracing them as soon as they disappeared from schools.” He has, however, now shifted to Delhi after his house was bulldozed by the police in 2009.

In places like Dantewada and Sukma, where the drop-out rate is 26 per cent at the primary level, way higher than the national average of around 7 percent, radical steps are required to retain students. “In partnership with the government, we are working on a doable Management Information System on Child Tracking, psycho-social support for children affected by violence, and a set of standards and protocols for residential institutions on child protection, which would enable tracking of children both at the community and institution level,” says Shaheen Nilofer, who heads UNICEF Chhattisgarh, which is probably the only agency with access to remote areas in Sukma, Bijapur, Narainpur and other south Bastar districts.

It’s not that the administration is not working at all, but the focus currently is on creating school infrastructure at places accessible by roads. Close to Dantewada town, a huge Education City, comprising residential schools for boys and girls, is being built at a cost of Rs 100 crore. The project, when completed, would be able to accommodate more than 2,000 children. But relocating so many children from villages would itself be a huge challenge.

In these areas, the Naxals recruit children, as young as six, from the villages for their Bal Sanghams OP Chaudhury, collector of Dantewada, says the aim is to send a message to people in interior areas that such kind of development is possible in their village too. “We want the community to come forward and take ownership of these projects,” he says.

The Right to Education Act (RTE) says that “the appropriate government or local authority shall undertake school mapping, and identify all children, including children in remote areas… within a period of one year from the appointed date…”

The idea seems difficult to implement in these areas, but certainly it is not impossible to accommodate children who wish to learn, by improving the infrastructure of the existing schools and restoring the ones destroyed during the conflict. Then only, in a real sense, would the strategy of winning hearts and minds work.

Prakhar Jain is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
prakhar@tehelka.com

Sodi Ganga’s brother was Burnt Alive


His Brother Was Burnt Alive

Sodi Nanda was killed in 2007. Four years later, his brother wants justice, but cannot get it, says Prakhar Jain

Sodi Ganga stands beside the tree where his brother was allegedly killed by Salwa Judum
Mute witness Sodi Ganga stands beside the tree where his brother was allegedly killed by Salwa Judum

Photo: Prakhar Jain

THE CBI officers came to his village, and left. But his story will not find a mention in their report. In December 2007, Sodi Ganga’s brother was burnt alive. Last year, more than 200 homes were set ablaze in the same village. In January, acting on Supreme Court orders, a CBI team visited Tadmetla in Chhattisgarh to investigate the attack. Sodi Ganga’s story is significant because the CBI team did not, and cannot record it.

The burning down of 200 houses in Tadmetla is one of those rare instances that turned high-profile. The scale of violence, media reports from the ground, civil society outrage, and the attack on Swami Agnivesh, despite assurances from Chief Minister Raman Singh, left the government with no choice but to act. Ganga’s story is testimony to why one inquiry by the CBI is not enough.

His story is from the time of the Salwa Judum, widely believed to be a State-sponsored militia responsible for the forced displacement of more than 60,000 people and burning of 644 villages since 2005. It is a grim reminder of all the horrors. Even in Tadmetla, a village on the radar of human rights groups and investigating agencies, there remains acts of violence that are yet to be recorded.

Located in the dense forests of Dantewada district, (now Sukma) Tadmetla was attacked by the Salwa Judum and the paramilitary forces in December 2007. Fearing violence, most people fled the village to hide in the forests. Ganga’s brother, Sodi Nanda, was not that fortunate. Being ill, he could not run, so he hid behind a pile of logs close to his house. He was spotted by SPOs and Judum members and burnt alive among those very logs, which he thought would save him. Two days later, villagers discovered his charred bones and buried his remains close to where he was set on fire.

Ganga has been living in fear since. “I was afraid. Where could I have gone?” he asks, pointing to the fact that the local police can’t be approached for such cases. He found hope when a CBI team from Delhi came to his village to conduct an investigation. Mustering enough courage, he decided to break his four-year-long silence and requested the CBI officers to register a case against the CRPF, SPOs and the Salwa Judum members involved in the incident.

Read Tehelka Story here

Maoist-hit cop’s wife hurls bribe salvo at seniors


By Sahar Khan, Feb 12, 2012-The wife of a senior police officer critically wounded in a landmine blast, has alleged that the Chhattisgarh Police ‘forced’ her husband to remain in a Maoist-hit area for 10 years because they could not pay up for a transfer. Additional superintendent of police D.S. Marawi‘s wife Radha lashed out at senior officers for not heeding her husband’s pleas seeking transfer out of the Maoistshit areas because he did not pay a bribe. Two constables were killed and three others were wounded including the ASP in a blast triggered by Maoists in Sukma district on Thursday. The injured were air-lifted to Raipur from Bastar for medical treatment.

‘He (Marawi) had twice written to higher authorities seeking transfer but no one listened. We don’t have “illegally earned” money and since we couldn’t pay he remained deployed in the Maoists stronghold for 10 years,’ Radha said pointing fingers at police officers responsible for transfer of police personnel in the state.

Tears welling in her eyes sitting outside the intensive care unit of Ram Krishna Care Hospital where her husband is admitted she recollected how her children always insisted their father not venture into the interior areas and seek a transfer to a secure place since he is on Maoists’ hit list.

‘This is his third miraculous escape from a attack by the Maoists,’ she said.

‘It is ridiculous to blame the transparent transfer process and policy. These are undertaken in accordance with the rules and at the government level,’ said Ram Niwas, additional director general of police (anti-Maoist operation).

Admitting that Marawi had sought a transfer the ADG said he was given a safer position equivalent to a commandant of armed police training centre in Bastar.

‘He was not deployed on the field. Rather what surprised us was his choice to follow a risky route and visit Polampalli from Dornapal, a known Maoist hotbed, by road instead of using the chopper to return in the evening,’ Ram Niwas said.

A senior officer based in Bastar stated that Marawi’s decision itself becomes a matter of investigation since it led to the death of two policemen.

Marawi was reportedly called by a visiting team of CBI in Dantewada to depose before it in connection with the attack on activist Swami Agnivesh by a mob in March 2011.

After the blast the guerrillas opened firing on the jeep in which Marawi was travelling with the police team. But top police officers rubbished the allegation.

Face of Salwa Judum killed in Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh


NEW DELHI, February 10, 2012

AMAN SETHI, The Hindu

Kartam Surya was one of three informal SPO commanders to emerge in the aftermath of the Salwa Judum.

On Thursday evening, cadres of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) opened fire on a Mahindra Scorpio vehicle in Chhattisgarh’s troubled Sukma district and killed Kartam Surya, a 29-year-old police constable, absconder from the law and alleged rapist, who had come to symbolise the excesses of the State’s counter-insurgency campaign.

Described as the “Scourge of the Maoists” by obituaries in local newspapers, Mr. Surya began his career in law enforcement as Special Police Officer [SPO] during the Salwa Judum and rapidly grew to head the “Surya Group”: a band of approximately 100 SPOs who were dubbed ‘Koya Commandos’ and operated under dubious legal cover as the vanguard of the State police’s counter-insurgency effort.

Mr. Surya was one of three informal SPO commanders to emerge in the aftermath of the Judum. In January last year, Ismail Khan, head of the Ismail group, was fatally shot at point blank range by a Maoist guerilla as he watched a rooster fight in Sukma town, while Kicche Nanda, of the Nanda group, was injured in the Thursday ambush that claimed Mr. Surya. CRPF officers and policemen who operated alongside the three men described them as brave and committed soldiers.

Since its inception in 2005, the controversial Salwa Judum has been described as either a spontaneous peaceful tribal upsurge against the Maoists, or a violent government backed vigilante force. Thousands of young men were designated SPOs under provisions of the Chhattisgarh Police Act and pushed into anti-Maoist operations. Petitions filed in the Supreme Court accuse Judum members and SPOs of over 500 murders, 99 rapes and 103 acts of arson.

Villagers and local journalists in Sukma said that Mr. Surya was intimately involved in the Salva Judum and could have been responsible for at least some of the incidents listed in the petitions, but was never held accountable as he wielded tremendous influence amongst the SPOs and was an accomplished trooper. An article in the Indian Express for instance, described Mr. Surya as the ‘mentor and first leader of SPOs’.

Charged with rape

In 2009, Mr. Surya and ‘SPO Commander’ Kicche Nanda, were accused of raping three tribal women, aged between 19 and 23, in Sam Setti village in the summer of 2006 and charged with rape, criminal intimidation and wrongful confinement.

On November 17 2009, a sessions court issued warrants against Mr. Surya and his cohorts, but the counsel for the State said the police were unable to track down the accused, even as both men continued to participate in police raids and search operations. The following day, on November 18 2009, Mr. Surya and Mr. Nanda were declared absconders.

In April 2011, villagers from the villages of Tarmetla, Timapuram and Morepalli accused the Koya Commandos of raping three women, killing three men and burning close to 300 homes and granaries in the course of a five day operation. It is unclear if Mr. Surya participated in the operation, but policemen and local journalists have confirmed that he was present when a mob of former and serving SPOs attacked a convoy carrying emergency rations to the affected villages.

In July 2011, the Supreme Court took cognizance of the multiple accounts of rape, murder, and arson levelled against Chhattisgarh’s SPOs and ruled that the use of SPOs like Mr. Surya in anti-Maoist operations was unconstitutional. The Chhattisgarh government responded by inducting Mr. Surya as a constable in the State police force and incorporating his men into a newly created Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force. The men continued to report to Mr. Surya, making him one of the few police constables in the country to command a company-sized force of armed men.

The Chhattisgarh police deny the formal existence of a “Surya group” and maintain that SPOs do not head operations and work under the supervision of senior policemen. Senior officers have maintained that any such ‘groups’ could be a remnant from the days of the Judum when SPOs organised themselves on the basis of village affiliations.

At the time of press, the Chhattisgarh police was unable to offer any information on the 2009 warrant pending against Mr. Surya, despite this correspondent mailing them copies of the court order. A police spokesperson was unable to state if Mr. Surya had in fact appeared before court and received bail, or if he had continued to participate in police operations two years after being declared an “absconder” in a court of law.

Adivasi dies in police custody in Chhattisgarh


New Delhi,  Jan 16, 2012-Aman Sethi, The Hindu

On the day that Chief Minister Raman Singh addressed a public gathering to mark the creation of a separate Sukma district distinct from southern Chhattisgarh‘s Maoist affected Dantewada, a custodial death in the Sukma police station has underlined the difficulty in winning over a disaffected tribal populace in the backdrop of a violent counter-insurgency campaign.

Podiyam Mara of Kondre village died in Sukma police station on the night of January 13, just hours after he was presented before a magistrate and remanded to judicial custody. “Mara hanged himself in the police lock up using a bed sheet. Four constables have been suspended,” said a police spokesperson, “He was to be transferred to Dantewada jail, but he was held in the police station overnight as it was too late to travel on the night of the 13th.”

“[Mara] was picked up on January 12 during a CRPF operation and handed over the police in the following morning,” said Inspector General Pankaj Mishra of the Central Reserve Police Force, “If we encounter a suspect during an operation, the CRPF hands him over to the local police.”

However, policemen and party leaders from across the political spectrum say that the CRPF picked up Mr. Mara several days earlier, and brutally tortured before turning him over to the local police. The police and CRPF have denied these allegations.

“The CRPF caught Mara on January 9, just outside Sukma town. He had come to town to cash a cheque for money earned by collecting Tendu leaves,” said Kowasi Lakma, Vice President of the Chhattisgarh Congress Committee and Member of Parliament for the Konta constituency of which Sukma is a part. “I personally called everyone from the thana in-charge upwards to get him released. He was tortured to death… the CRPF electrocuted his genitals and poured petrol up his anus.”

“The police story of suicide is completely false. Mara was brutally assaulted in the CRPF camp in Sukma. There has to be a probe into the incident and the guilty must be brought to book,” said Manish Kunjam of the Communist Party of India, and former MLA from Konta, over the telephone. As per a January 16 report in the Indian Express, the post mortem confirmed that Mr. Mara had “swelling over the penis and lateral part of the anus”. The Express also quoted a policeman who said Mr. Mara’s genitals had been doused with petrol and set on fire.

Sources in the Intelligence agencies confirmed that the CRPF had played a role in Mr. Mara’s death. “He was picked up as it was suspected that he was a Naxalite. He was subjected to harsh interrogation and may have died of an internal hemorrhage, ” said the source, seeking anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. The source stopped short of commenting on Mr. Mara’s innocence. “The fact that there were no follow-up operations suggests that he did not provide any information of value,” said the source.

In September last year, The Hindu reported a similar instance where Madkam Jogarao, a, died of a brain hemorrhage soon after he was arrested and interrogated by the CRPF and district police.

“The new district of Sukma was created to bring the administration and the justice system closer to adivasis of Bastar. This is only possible when the ordinary citizen feels free and secure” said Nandkumar Sai, a senior tribal leader and BJP Rajya Sabha MP. “The medical report confirms that Mara was tortured. Suspending constables is not enough, a free and fair investigation must affix responsibility and punish the guilty.”

Naxalite dies in police custody, 4 cops suspended in Chhattisgarh


United News of India
Jagdalpur, January 14, 2012A suspected Naxalite died in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh late last night and four police officials were later suspended in connection with the incident, police said.
While police claimed that the man hanged himself, his family members and tribal leaders accused the police of torturing the 26-year-old, leading to his death and demanded registration of a criminal case against those guilty.

Madkam Mara was arrested during a search by district police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel from forests at Murtunda village yesterday. A loaded gun was seized from his possession. He was wanted in connection with the murder of janpad member Bhimaram Markam.

“Assistant Sub-Inspector Ramavtar Patel, head constable Korsa Nagaiya, constables Shikul Kujur and Amjad Khan were suspended with immediate effect for negligence,” Sub-Divisional Officer of Police Lakhan Patel told reporters here.

Adivadi Mahasabha leader Manish Kunjam alleged that Madkami was picked up by CRPF personnel four days back and tortured leading to his death. He said suspension was no punishment and demanded booking of guilty personnel for murder.

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