The Left-wing insurgent group, CPI (Maoist), has asked people in four Jharkhand villages to “spare” one child from each family to join its armed rebellion, putting the spotlight back on minors forced into the battlefield by banned outfits in India.
Though denied by authorities, there are more than 3,000 child soldiers serving different insurgent groups in the country, according to a 2013 report by the non-governmental Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR).
The ACHR’s findings also said that most of the child soldiers are recruited by the several Maoist outfits waging a war against the government in states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
In Jharkhand, at least 14 out of the 24 districts are hit by Maoist insurgency though police claim that the rebels are fast losing their influence due to sustained operations by security forces.
Sources said that the fresh Maoist diktat was issued around a week ago by rebels who visited villages across Palamu, Garhwa, Latehar and Lohardaga and asked families to hand over one child each to the outfit.
The outfit has even threatened to blow up schools and take “action” if villagers did not comply with their diktat.
No villager was willing to talk for fear of violent retribution by the rebels.
A school teacher in Gumla said on condition of anonymity - after much prodding - that rebels “often visit our school and engage children in discussions on arms and conflict with the state.”
Sources said that the outfit was desperate to fill its dwindling ranks after many loses in operations by security forces as well as surrenders. This is not the first time Maoists have demanded children from villages.
Last year, following similar reports of Maoists demanding five children from each village in Gumla district, the Jharkhand high court had taken suo moto cognizance of media reports and subsequently directed the state to protect the children from being exploited by the outfits.
Following the court’s intervention, police had launched door-to-door search for missing children in Maoists strongholds of Gumla and Lohardaga districts.
Police in the two districts found that at least 35 children have been taken away by the rebels in one year. Though operations were launched to free the children, they yielded only partial result. While a couple of them were caught, at least five of them were released. There were reports of two children escaping from Maoists dens.
Srimuni (name changed), 13, was nabbed during an encounter in March with a bullet injury on her back.
Last month, one former rebel Sanjita Kumari (17), a resident of Sibil village in Gumla, was killed by rebels after she fled her camp.
Spokesperson for the CPI-Maoists’ Bihar-Jharkhand North Chhattisgarh regional committee, who goes by just one name Gopal, refuted the charge as baseless and claimed that children join the outfit on their own, largely driven by extreme poverty and hunger.
He said police have misguided some youths who worked for them through allurements.
“We have information that some of these children, mostly girls, are spying for the police. We are counseling them. If they refuse to mend ways, harsh action will be taken,” Gopal said.
Jharkhand police spokesperson SN Pradhan said that a major chunk of Maoist leadership are in talk with the police and have evinced interest to surrender.
“In fact, the top Maoist leaderships from all over the country are planning to converge in Jharkhand to check the exodus. We are keeping a close vigil on their movements,” he said.
Gumla superintendent of police Bhimsen Tuti said they did not have any information on rebels demanding children from villages.
Lohardaga police superintendent Kartik S, however, said the Maoists are spreading the rumour to mark their presence in the district.