More than two and a half years after the Supreme Court ruled against schools being used as police camps, such camps continue in Jharkhand. What is worse, Maoists are using it to shape public opinion in their favour.
In Gumla, which is one of the worst Maoist-affected districts in the country, joint forces comprising CRPF and state police are camping in at least five schools.
The presence of forces has brought students’ attendance in these schools to virtually nil, as parents as well as children are afraid of attending classes under the shadow of gun.
Pushed to the margins by improved patrolling and successful operations by security forces, Maoists have got the much-needed opportunity to exploit militarisation of schools to win villagers sympathy.
They allege no less than 15 government schools across the state are serving as police camps.
Last week, rebel leaders called up and urged HT to visit the schools occupied by security forces to assess the situation. HT visited Kuramgarh high school in the Maoist hotbed and found it to be housing a battalion of CRPF besides state police jawans.
Taken by surprise, the CRPF and state police officers initially denied permission to enter the school. "This is a dangerous place and you have risked your life coming here," said an inspector on duty.
After being assured of not using the camera, the officer allowed HT team entry into the campus. He said they had occupied the school partially barely nine days back when they came searching for top Maoist leader Arvind Singh alias Nishantji.
Arvindji is Maoists’ central committee leader, who moves on a horse in a security cordon of at least 40 armed guerilla fighters. He has successfully carried out three major strikes on security forces in the area killing at least 12 of them.
Refusing to be named as he was not authorized to speak to media, the inspector said they had only occupied the principal’s room, library and the roof top while the classrooms had been left free for the school to run normally.
A CRPF commandant seated next to him agreed. "Our jawans sleep in the ramshackle bazaar samity building."
Barely 10 km from the school, Maoists’ sub-zonal commander in-charge of Gumla district, Ashokji alias Karamchand accosted HT team and said similar conditions prevailed at the schools in Anjaan, Nawatoli, Tongo and Potam, all in Gumla district.
Tongo and Nawatoli villagers confirmed the presence of forces in their schools, too.
"Who is the oppressor," the 50-year-old Maoist leader questioned. "Your own forces are showing disrespect to the Supreme Court." He said presence of forces not only affects academics, but also disturbs socio-economic-cultural aspects of the village.
Jharkhand police spokesperson Anurag Gupta said he was not aware of any school being used as a security camp. "We will definitely investigate and get back to you," he said.
In all, 18 of the 24 districts in Jharkhand are Maoist affected.
In September 2011, the Supreme Court had ordered that armed forces will not be allowed to occupy any school premises. The Jharkhand High Court too, in response to a PIL by PUCL, had directed the state to removes forces from all government schools.