Young students of a primary school in Salboni, Midnapore, (West Bengal) will not forget the eve of Teacher’s Day three years ago. Armed Maoists raided the school, dragged their beloved headmaster Dibakar Mehto out of the classroom and shot him dead. Unable to do anything they watched in horror, screaming for help as he bled to death.
The shadow of terror looms over many schools today in Naxalite and trouble-prone areas such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Orissa. Many teachers there have lost their lives for the cause of education.
“Maoists suspect us of being police informers. They think that we inform the police about their whereabouts and movements,” says a teacher from a primary school of Midnapore. He doesn't want to be quoted in the story fearing that he may be targeted for speaking to the press. What is worse is that the police, too, suspects them of being Maoist sympathisers.
“A few months ago, the police arrested 12 teachers in Lohardaga in Jharkhand as they were suspected to be working for Maoists. It's very common. Quite often teachers are tortured and jailed. We are caught in a peculiar situation. Both the opposing parties - police and Maoists - do not trust us and think that we work for either of them,” says a lady teacher from Kartik Oraon College in Gumla, Jharkhand. She, too, like many others, requests not to be quoted in the story as it might put her life at risk.
It’s mostly the primary and secondary school teachers who face the ire of the police or Maoists as these schools are located in remote or dense forest areas. If they travel from cities to these remote locations the Maoists think they work as police informers and, on the other hand, “the police think that we work with the Maoists because we manage to go to the interior areas without being harmed,” says a teacher from Jagargunda near Dantewada in Chhattisgarh.
Two months ago, he was accosted by four armed Maoists while he was on his way to school. “My school is about a few kms from Jagargunda. Even the police are apprehensive of coming in here.
I cycle to school every day. That day I was about to reach the school when these people came to me and asked if I inform the police about their movements. I pleaded innocence. They let me go on the condition that if I am suspected doing any such thing in the future, I will not return to my city alive,” he recounts. “There are times when Naxal groups pass by school and through mere coincidence the police arrive minutes later searching for them. The Naxals think that we have informed the police about their movements,” he adds.
College and university professors say that they do not have to face such threats as the institutes of higher learning are located mainly in the cities which are much safer than the villages. Despite that, however, life is not that easy. “Students try to scare us, telling us that they have links with the Maoists if we don’t allow them to cheat in the examinations. A student had threatened me of dire consequences because I had stopped him from copying answers during an exam,” says a professor from a college in Dantewada.