India schools are caught in crossfire of rebel fight
NEW DELHI - Indian children are increasingly caught in the middle of fighting between the government and communist rebels in impoverished rural areas, with at least 42 schools attacked in the past year, a human rights group said yesterday.
The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than four decades in several states in central India, demanding land and jobs for agricultural laborers and the poor. But a spate of recent attacks has raised concern they are lashing out ahead of a planned government offensive aimed at routing them from their forest strongholds.
While the rebels frequently target police and government workers, schools are also often destroyed by rebels or occupied by police, jeopardizing the education of tens of thousands of India’s most disadvantaged and marginalized children, Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization, said in a report.
“The Maoists say they are fighting for India’s poor, but their attacks on schools deprive these children of the education they desperately need,’’ said Bede Sheppard, author of the report. “At the same time, long-term police occupation of schools puts these children right in the midst of danger and trauma, keeps them from their classrooms, and frightens them away.’’
At least 30 schools have been attacked in the remote state of Jharkhand and 12 in Bihar since November 2008, although students do not appear to be targeted directly, the report found, focusing on two hard-hit areas.
It said many of the attacks, 16, occurred over the past month. The spike is believed to be linked to rebel efforts to pressure voters to boycott state legislature elections in Jharkhand, Sheppard said.
The rebels have defended the attacks, which usually involve homemade bombs, saying they are targeting only schools security forces are using, but the report found that unoccupied facilities were attacked as well.
The Indian government declined to comment.