The use of children as informers and messengers by Maoists is one of the major areas of concern as it is a violation of human rights, said Meenakshi Ganguly, the south Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Extensively travelling in the Naxal affected areas and speaking to dozens of local activists, lawyers and journalists, Ganguly told PTI that she believed the situation was quite serious for children living in these parts of the country.
"It is very serious. The Maoists use children, they recruit children...their argument is that they indoctrinate children and then use them in combats after they are sixteen", Ganguly said.
"We believe children who are used as informers and messengers or carriers, porters are being used in combat. We oppose that", she said.
After her organisation had reported it, Ganguly said, "the maoists printed a retaliation of our claims saying that children were interested in their own future so they want to join the fight".
"They felt the need to try and give their side of the story, but as far as we are concerned they are recruiting children which is a human rights violation," she said.
Ganguly, whose report for Human Rights Watch titled "Between Two Sets of Guns: Attacks on Civil Society Activists in India’s Maoist Conflict" would soon be released, also said that people who can bring progress to these areas were also caught in the cross-fire between the two sides.
"In the day-to-life Maoists threaten them, and that is a threat which any day could lead to a beheading because the Maoists have a 'jan-adalat' which summarily leads to death." Ganguly said.
"The threat from the other side is defamation. If someone becomes an activist and you repeatedly tell them that you are anti-state his spirit is broken. Then he or she is threatened that you are criticising us and sending this message to Delhi, we'll fix you under a murder charge," she added.
The Human Rights Watch director said that in some cases, these activists were actually arrested.
"Many people are backing off. It is sad because neither the government nor the maoists spare a thought for the people who are affected," she said speaking about the plight of activists and others who aspire to carry development work and help locals in these areas.
Ganguly said that maoists sometimes suspect activists of being informers, while government forces at the same time may suspect them of being maoist sympathisers.
"The areas are poor and whatever development work was happening is stalled because whoever works is threatened by both the sides. They could have helped the people's needs," Ganguly said.
"The Government has completely failed in these areas in terms of development. There are no hospitals, no schools, it is very tragic," she asserted.
Ganguly also said that children were the worst affected as they have to walk several kilometres to their school and that may also get blown up.
"The Maoist will blow it (school) up because it is the symbol of the government. They will blow it up because when there is an election it will serve as the polling booth," she said.
"The state fails even to rebuild that school. Half the time we find that the district officers don't even know what schools have been blown up. There is no immediacy to try and build. Its a neglect on all sides," she added.
Ganguly also said that the bureaucracy was not interested in development of these areas and now they have security reasons as well.
"The district collectors that do good work...look at what happens to them...they are kidnapped. Malkangari's collector was doing good work and he was kidnapped. It is a very difficult situation," she said.