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Robbed of their innocence

Maoists have conscripted children as combatants, an idea borrowed from LTTE, and are using them in strikes against security forces, Varghese K George, B Vijay Murthy & Eijaz Kaiser report. Caught in crossfire

india Updated: Sep 30, 2009 02:06 IST

Ajay Kumar, son of a labourer in Jharkhand’s Lohardagga district, was only nine in 2004 when security forces nabbed him from a Communist Party of India (Maoist) hideout. The little boy told the police that he joined the camp for a few hundred rupees, food and clothes.
Early last year, Maoists told people in Malaida village in Rajnandgaon district, about 80 km west of Raipur in Chhattisgarh, that each family should send one child to the organisation. Around 200 villagers — including 50 children — fled to a relief camp.
“When the extremists declared they need our sons and daughters, I was frightened and left Malaida the same night,” said Phirtu Bisai, a tribal farmer.

As security forces prepare for the biggest-ever push to take back the vast swathe of territory from the Maoists — 223 of India’s 625 districts — the large presence of child combatants, many of them girls, has become a concern for the government.

Maoists borrowed the idea of conscripting children from Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), another organisation declared terrorist by India. The Tamil tigers conscripted nearly 6,000 children between 2001 and 2008.

A Maoist document, Post-Election Situation, Our Tasks, said: “The setback suffered by the LTTE has a negative effect on the revolutionary movement… The experience of the LTTE’s setback in Sri Lanka is very important to study and take lessons.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent alerts against the Maoists came after the revelation that the rebels were responsible for 90 per cent of the violence in the country. In 2008 alone, 1,591 incidents of Maoist violence resulted in 721 killings. This year till August, there had been 1,405 incidents, resulting in 580 deaths spread over 11 states.

The Central Para Military Forces (CPMFs) and state polices are working on a plan to smoke out the Maoists from their strongholds once more forces could be made available after the Maharashtra elections in October.

But the Maoists are trying new tactics. “The Maoists have made a tactical change to counter security forces, where teenagers and women fight from the front rank,” said Brig B.K. Ponwar, Director of Jungle Warfare & Counter Insurgency College in Chhattisgarh.

He said, “The extremists have created Jan Militia (people’s army) that includes Bal Sangam (children’s collective), for attacking the security forces while the main cadres guide them from behind. The attacks in the last few years in Bastar had shown this,” said R.K. Vij, Inspector General of Police, Chhattisgarh.

Over the last three years, 25 children have been arrested in Jharkhand. In just one district of Chhattisgarh over the last two years, nine children – seven of them below 16 years – have been taken into custody.

What’s more, medical examinations of the girl recruits also revealed that they were subjected to repeat sexual assaults.

But the Maoist leadership does not accept this fact. “No child below 16 years of age is part of our army. It’s all propaganda of our enemies,” Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji, a member of the Maoist Politburo told Hindustan Times.