Bijapur/Dantewada: Lakshmi, Pintu, Maitu and Sumitra all have similar memories of the day their lives changed forever — first, armed men coming into their homes, dragging their father and mother away, and then, bullets from a distance. The voices of.
Their memories of this episode sometimes fade, but for these orphans the wounds of the fierce conflict between the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the Indian state in Bastar are still fresh.
“When I look around and find my classmates who happily live with their parents, I often feel sad,” Lakshmi Katlam, a Class 12 student, told ThePrint. There are moments when I feel lonely.
She told that she was in pre-school when her parents were allegedly killed by Maoists and she did not remember much about the incident.
However, Lakshmi knows one thing for sure — she has to join the armed forces.
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“Ever since I was a little girl, I have dreamed of joining the armed forces and eliminating Naxalites,” she said. She further said, “I will be appearing for the National Defense Academy (NDA) exam as well as the Common University Entrance Test (CUET).”
Lakshmi is a student of Aastha Vidya Mandir, which is a residential school. This school, located near Jaunga village of Dantewada, was started in 2013. According to government figures, there are more than 200 such government boys and girls ashram schools in Chhattisgarh.
Aastha Vidya Mandir records show that the school has a total of 1,170 students — of which 589 are girls — and 85 percent of its students are from the Scheduled Tribe (ST).
Voting for the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly will be held in two phases on November 7 and 17. Bastar, where these schools are located, is a district of this state.
The state has been one of the most affected by left-wing extremism (LWE) — 1,132 “violent incidents” by left-wing extremists between 2018 and 2022, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)’s reply to an unsolicited question in the Lok Sabha this March. Chhattisgarh is responsible for one-third of these. Data shows that of the 168 security forces personnel and 335 civilians killed in such violence, 70-90 percent were reportedly from Chhattisgarh.
In troubled areas like Bastar, schools like Aastha Vidya Mandir provide a great relief, especially since children are often forced to flee the Maoists and the now defunct salwa judum – A state-sponsored militia, which was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 2011, has been involved in the conflict by both.
Kumud Gupta, vice-principal of the school, told ThePrint that it is funded by the state-owned National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) and offers both science and humanities in its higher classes.
“The number of students choosing science and humanities subjects is almost equal, but among those who choose science, most of them prefer to take biology rather than maths and are more likely to appear for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET),” Gupta told ThePrint. Sign up for our free coaching class organized with the help of the district administration. “Many girls want to join the field of nursing.”
Also read: Vehicles changed, places of meetings also changed – How Bastar leaders are defeating Maoists in the election season
‘We had to run away’
Like Lakshmi, Neelu Kunjam’s father was also a victim of violence, but she doesn’t know who fired the killing bullet — the Maoists, India’s counter-insurgency security forces, or the Salwa Judum.
“What I remember is that I was in class five when this happened,” Neelu, another Class 12 student, told ThePrint.
When she was in 10th class, she decided that she would eventually appear for the Civil Services Examination. 17-year-old Neelu said, “I want to become an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer. I am not saying this under any pressure or for the sake of saying it.”
Sumitra Mandavi, a 14-year-old Class 9 student, was brought to school along with her four siblings when Maoists allegedly shot her father and several other members of her family. Sumitra was five years old when this incident happened and like Lakshmi, she too does not remember much about this incident.
“But I remember the villagers saying that they dragged my father into the nearby river and killed him,” he said between long pauses. Later my mother also disappeared. We had to flee the village.”
Sumitra wants to study engineering. He and his siblings stay in hostels during the holidays — it’s the only home they know now. His two brothers, Maitu (in class 9) and Pintu (in class 10), say the furthest they have gone from school is to Chitrakote Falls, 66 km away.
However, unlike her sister, Maitu has little interest in studies. This mischievous and cheerful 14 year old boy likes cricket the most. Like most lovers of the gentleman’s game, he is currently busy with the ongoing World Cup, he tells ThePrint, though he hasn’t been able to watch the last few matches because the TV in his hostel stopped working, regret in his voice. Was full.
He said, “Mahendra Singh Dhoni is my favourite. I am dreaming of becoming a cricketer one day.”
Better education facilities, bigger dreams
In its written reply in the Lok Sabha on March 19, 2013, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government said that leftist extremist groups, particularly the CPI (Maoist), are recruiting minors from tribal areas of the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Odisha. We do.
According to the response, the idea behind this is to “drain them away from their rich traditional cultural ideology and induct them into the Maoist ideology”.
According to the government response, “Such children are asked to perform various tasks like acting as informers, fighting with non-lethal weapons like sticks etc. Subsequently, after attaining the age of 12 years, they are divided into other child units like ‘Chaitanya Natya Manch’, ‘Sangham’, ‘Jan Militia’ and ‘Dalam’.
It said that CPI (Maoist) trains children in handling weapons and using various types of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). “Children recruited into ‘Jan Militia’ and ‘Dalam’ also participate in armed exchanges with security forces, where they are pushed to the tactical frontline,” the government said.
However, the Maoists have now shrunk – according to the government’s latest data cited in the Lok Sabha in March, left-wing violence in the country is set to decline by 77 per cent in 2022, with the number of affected districts falling to 90 from 200 in the early 2000s. is left.
The data shows that the geographical spread of violence has also reduced significantly, with only 176 police stations in 45 districts reporting left-wing violence in 2022, compared to 465 police stations in 96 districts in 2010.
This decline in violence has also translated into greater access to education for students like Rajman Kashyap, a resident of Pahurnar village in Dantewada district. The 17-year-old son of farmers was admitted to a government residential school in Chhota Tumnar, Dantewada, when he was in Class 5.
Rajman, now a Class 12 student, told ThePrint, “After Class 10, I chose the science stream. Now I want to give NEET and become a doctor.”
Chandan Bhavani, 14, a Class 9 student from Hiranar village, is working on improving his spoken English. Chandan’s house is in the neighboring village, but he likes to stay in the school hostel. With a big smile she said in English, “English is my favorite subject.”
(Editing: Falguni Sharma)
(Click here to read this report in English)
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