Jharkhand: Schools serve as security camps, military barracks

This article is from July 2014 on presence of security forces in school buildings in Jharkhand before and after the general elections.

High School for SC-ST children in Tiskopiya village in Bokaro where CPI(Maoist) blew eight classrooms in in 2009 after security forces stayed there during the elections. photo-Manob Chowdhury

High School for SC-ST children in Tiskopiya village in Bokaro where CPI(Maoist) blew eight classrooms in in 2009 after security forces stayed there during the elections. photo- Manob Chowdhury

In recent years, as the presence of security personnel in Jharkhand has multiplied, schools and civic buildings have frequently become the theatre of conflict between the paramilitary forces and the rebels. In the absence of large, concrete structures inside densely forested districts, security personnel use civic buildings, schools, anganwadi for accommodation, and camps. For instance, April 4 onwards, in Palamu, CRPF’s 157 Battalion deputed in Chatarpur before polling made barracks out of the government middle school building cordoning off the school with concertina wire and converting its roof into a watch-post. It was the same in several other districts.

Four days after the second phase of polling for Lok Sabha elections got over in Jharkhand on April 17, the CPI(Maoist) blew up panchayat bhawan in Rajabar in Koderma. The building had been used as a temporary camp by one of the 212 additional units of the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) deputed to keep watch in the state during the Lok Sabha elections. Recently, on June 25, the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a Maoist splinter group active in western Jharkhand, called for a bandh in all schools in Khunti district citing CRPF’s continued use of school buildings to station troops here. There are instances of classes being disrupted, and overall, this exposes schools to the risk of becoming civilian targets of CPI(Maoist).

In 2008, Ranchi-based activist and school teacher Shashi Bhushan Pathak filed a PIL in Jharkhand High Court objecting to school buildings being turned into temporary and permanent security camps. On the High Court’s orders, Jharkhand police furnished a list of 40 schools in 13 districts where it had set up pickets and security camps, including primary, middle, high schools, hostels, schools for visually disabled children. On November 21, 2008 the Jharkhand High Court ordered security forces vacate all school premises by January 2009. Senior police officials say they have since complied with this order.

Investigations in West Singhbhum and Latehar, however, reveal the CRPF continue to camp schools buildings temporarily and have even converted parts of schools buildings into permanent camps. Villagers pointed out instances where first schools had been occupied temporarily during elections, and then the same camps being turned into permanent camps later.

In Chotanagra in West Singhbhum, a CRPF camp and a thana function at one end of the ground of the Upgraded High School and Residential School for Scheduled Tribes. The school is one of two residential schools catering to tribals villagers from 56 forest villages in Saranda.

“This space used to be a maidaan where people came to play sports from all over. In 2004, the Border Security Force camped here before general elections and then the CRPF set up a permanent camp,” said Ajay Sahu who runs a grocery shop across the road from the school. A wall in the center of the playground was built a few months back, taking away the students’ access to the playground.

“Sometimes the jawans would come to the school to fill water from the handpump, and when the special forces CRPF’s CoBRA, Jharkhand Jaguar visited, they camped in the school at night. Parents of children from Sonapi proposed a wall be built to discourage this as adolescent girls live in the hostel,” said a school teacher requesting anonymity. A CRPF jawan filling water from the school’s hand-pump told this reporter that the jawans had no option but to use the school’s hand-pump, as the camp had an Aquaguard water filter but electricity failed regularly.

Bombings, demolitions; schoolchildren suffer

In retaliation for the security forces making barracks out of school buildings in the last few years, the Maoists have bombed dozens of schools all over Jharkhand. In Tiskopia in Bokaro the rebels blew up eight classrooms of a high school for SC-ST children after the CRPF stayed in the school for 45 days during the elections in 2009. School staff recounted seeing iron doors, windows, sports materials, books lay scattered all around the school building, and classes were held under a tree for the next two years.

Upgraded Middle School Salve village in Garu block in Latehar district where Maoists demolished a freshly constructed boundary wall in 2013 objecting to it as schools are often used as barracks by security forces. photo-Manob Chowdhury

Upgraded Middle School Salve village in Garu block in Latehar district where Maoists demolished a freshly constructed boundary wall in 2013 objecting to it as schools are often used as barracks by security forces. photo-Manob Chowdhury

The same year, in Banbirwa, Kone and Saryu in Latehar, they planted bombs and demolished portions of the school building at night soon after they were used by CRPF. Last march, the rebels demolished the nearly-built boundary wall of the Upgraded Middle School in Garu in Latehar. Schoolgirls who watched from a distance recounted watching the rebels break the wall with their rifles soon after school had got over late afternoon: “Dhakol dhakol ke tod diya. Hum ne Master ji ko duur se aate dekha, aur chilaye, ‘Masterji party aayi hai, bhago!'(They broke it bit by bit. We saw the school teacher approach and shouted out, ‘the “party” (Maoists) are here. Run!’). Vishram Oraon, the village Shiksha Samiti member whom the rebels beat up for allowing the construction of the wall, said security forces had camped at the school during panchayat elections of 2010.

In several villages, paramilitary personnel camped temporarily inside classrooms as permanent camps were built in the immediate vicinity of the school. Now camps exist cheek by jowl with schools.

In Latehar’s Saryu village, a CPI(Maoist) “liberated territory” till 2009, the government high school staff recounts the rebels would hoist a black flag in the school on republic day. As paramilitary operations to oust the rebels began, the CRPF stayed in the school innumerable times, even as Maoists warned the school staff against letting security forces camp there. In 2009, the rebels blew up the middle school building a kilometer away. Now, a permanent CRPF camp has been set up across the high school playground, while the ground serves as a helipad for the camp.
Over 360 students of classes till VIII study in the school, and 87 senior students, including 50 girls. “If additional forces come they still stay in the school but not more than three days at a time. Sometimes they come during school hours to take water or borrow chairs and tables,” said the school principal Chandrashekhar Singh, while he supervised the construction of a boundary wall. “If a wall had been built earlier, perhaps the helipad would not have come here?” mused Mohammad Hakimuddin, a farmer.

Upgraded Middle School  in Marangloia in Latehar where Jharkhand Armed Police have set a camp since 2008 in a part of the building even while the school runs in the other part. photo-Manob Chowdhury

Upgraded Middle School in Marangloia in Latehar where Jharkhand Armed Police have set a camp since 2008 in a part of the building even while the school runs in the other part. photo-Manob Chowdhury

In another block Balumath in village Marangloia, the only government middle school catering to ten villages in Marangloia has served as Jharkhand Armed Police(JAP) camp for the last six years. Police personnel occupying the classrooms complained of being cramped for space as over 100 of them live in five small classrooms. The earthen courtyard of the school was being used by mining firm Abhijeet Group to park JCB excavator machines. After the Maoists set fire to the group’s vehicles in 2012, district officials gave permit even to the Abhijeet Group to park vehicles next to the JAP camp inside the middle school.

“The police came to stay in the school when I was in class VIII. We would find it difficult to go to the toilet because there were no toilets and we used the fields. The jawans would use the fields too. Now they have built a toilet,” said Sangeeta Kumari, who is now studying for a Bachelor’s in Arts at the Ranchi University. The schoolchildren and the security personnel still share a hand pump for drinking water.

Police, maoists deny responsibility

Jharkhand has a rural literacy level of 61 percent; female literacy in rural areas in 48 percent. The dropout rate in middle school is very high at 48 percent. A report by Human Rights Watch on militarization of schools in Jharkhand and Bihar identifies that government’s failure to ensure necessary infrastructure for the police violates communities’ right to education as schoolchildren must bear with overcrowding and manage in temporary spaces, and girls’ education suffers.

Officials either deny, or disagree. “Normally, we stay in the open to avoid staying in schools. Or, we stay in schools which we find abandoned, where no teaching is going on. For instance, in one school where we camped, 100 students were enrolled but there were shrubs growing everywhere,” said a CRPF commandant in Latehar. “To my knowledge there is no CRPF camp running out of a school, or disrupting classes in any way,” said Jharkhand’s Director General of Police Rajeev Kumar.

The CPI(Maoist) cadres acknowledge that bombing school buildings as part of “People’s war” has put rural children at a disadvantage but put the onus on security forces’ practice of staying in school buildings.

They cite rare instances where the party has helped rebuild bombed schools in their defence. “We demolished the high school building in Tiskopia after the CRPF stayed there 45 days during the 2009 elections. But we contributed when the villagers pooled funds to rebuild it in 2011,” said Rakeshji who leads local guerrilla squads in Bokaro’s Jhumra hills referring to a non-government school for SC-ST children in Gomia block. When asked to confirm, staff at the school were apprehensive of both acknowledging the rebels’ role in rebuilding the school building even as they expressed anxiety over the possibility of the school being occupied by security forces a second time in future elections.

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