Monday, March 11, 2013

Fearful of Maoists, school children carry weapons in Jharkhand

Fearful of Maoists, school children carry weapons in Jharkhand

Squeezed out of West Bengal, the ultra-leftist group terrorises Jharkhand villagers.

By Chandan Das for Khabar South Asia in Jamshedpur

September 26, 2012

Forced to relocate in the dense forests of Jharkhand's East Singhbhum district near the border with West Bengal, Maoist insurgents have unleashed a reign of terror in the rural areas.

Children of Pocha Pani in Chakulia block of East Singhbhum (Jharkhand) make the 2km trek to school in Madhupur armed with bows and arrows to protect themselves from Maoist kidnappers. [Rakesh Singh/Khabar]
  • Children of Pocha Pani in Chakulia block of East Singhbhum (Jharkhand) make the 2km trek to school in Madhupur armed with bows and arrows to protect themselves from Maoist kidnappers. [Rakesh Singh/Khabar]

So much so that even the local children have armed themselves with traditional weapons to protect themselves from being abducted by the Maoists to serve as cooks, messengers, carriers — or worse.
Villagers of the remote hamlet of Pocha Pani in Chakulia block of Jharkhand's East Singhbhum district are the latest victims of such Maoist atrocities. Ninety kilometres from district headquarters in Jamshedpur, Pocha Pani is surrounded on three sides by hills and separated by a river on the fourth.
The 400 tribal families live in constant fear of being attacked and abducted by "strangers."
"We have information that a group of Maoists from neighbouring West Bengal has taken shelter in the forests around Pocha Pani, Madhupur and other adjoining villages, and they are threatening the villagers to abduct their children and womenfolk if they did not provide the ultras with food and work for them," Vishwanath Singha, officer in charge of Chakulia police station, told Khabar South Asia.
Pocha Pani has no civic amenities, including water supply, electricity or communication services. To reach it by land requires an18km trek through forests and over a small hill.
It is this remoteness that makes the area an ideal shelter for Maoists fleeing the joint police and paramilitary force offensive against them.
"During the last one year, there have been a number of incidents when unidentified armed men from the forests tried to abduct our children while they were on their way to school," Chhatar Sabar, Pocha Pani village head, told Khabar.
"We have also formed vigilante groups who take turns to guard the village at night," he said. "As there is no protection from the authorities, we are being forced to deal with this nightmare in our own way."
Weapons for children
Fear and a lack of immediate police protection have compelled the villagers – including the children – to arm themselves with bows and arrows, knives, iron rods, slingshots, axes and even hacksaws.
Class VI student Birendra Mardi, 14, vividly remembers one such abduction attempt.
"Two months back," he told Khabar, "some people came out of the forest and tried to drag some of my friends to the nearby woodlands. However, they escaped when we raised an alarm and the villagers arrived in large numbers with their weapons.
"Since then, all the students from this village make the trek back and forth to school in a group. We also carry bows, arrows, knives and slingshots to protect us from these unknown miscreants."
A brewing battle
Sunil Kumar Dera, principal of the state-run Madhupur Middle School, told Khabar the assailants remain unknown.
"As many as 22 students from Pocha Pani study at this school and all of them come and go in a group," he said. "They also carry their traditional weapons along for fear of being apprehended by unknown mischief makers who have tried to abduct some of these students in the past."
Chakulia police records show a group of Naxalites, as the Maoists are locally known, raided Pocha Pani on the day of panchayat (village council) elections in December 2011, and injured several villagers with random gunfire.
The extremists had earlier threatened villagers of "dire consequences" if they did not boycott the polls.
Singha, the Chakulia police authority, expressed frustration with the Maoists' escape.
"We have also raided the place a number of times, but by the time we reach the area, they manage to flee to some other part of the jungle. I have written to the higher authorities for support and necessary actions in this regard," he said.
Help is apparently on the way. East Singhbhum Senior Superintend of Police (SSP) Akhilesh Kumar Jha told Khabar an offensive is imminent.
"We have communicated the issue to the government and soon a joint operation will be launched in the area to flush out all the Maoists who have taken refuge there," he said.

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