Around a dozen schools which were once demolished by Maoists between 2007-09 will now be constructed by the ones who surrendered and are living a normal life in the villages of Dantewada district of Bastar division in Chhattisgarh. These schools come under Bhairmagarh, Malangir and Katekalyan Area Committees of the Communist Party India (Maoist) which fall under Dantewada district.
The construction of a demolished school in village Bhansi Massapa, around 20 kilometres from the district headquarters, started a week ago with the help of local villagers and Maoists who have surrendered.
“The villagers, who were earlier Maoists, demolished the school in our village on the instructions of senior Maoists in 2012 after Salwa Judum but now we want to educate our kids hence we will construct it again. Our children also want to go for higher education and get jobs,” said Sarpanch of Bhansi Massapa village, Ajay Telam.
Other schools that are to be constructed fall under Potali, Burgum, Nahri, Kutrem and Aalnaar village panchayats.
“These schools are in core Maoist areas of the district. The construction of one such school has started in Bhansi. As and when a sizeable number of Maoists surrender in these villages and in turn takes responsibility to help in the construction of the schools, the villages will be chosen and sanctions for school building will be taken,” said Superintendent of Police ( SP) Dantewada, Abhishek Pallava.
The SP further said that commencement of construction without taking security angle in mind may lead to mindless killing of villagers by Maoists.
The activists working in Dantewada claimed it is a long demand of villagers to re-open the schools which were demolished by Maoists after Salwa Judum.
“The villagers are eager to re-construct schools which were demolished but it should not be done by deploying police force in the village. They are very aware of the education of their kids. Secondly, the administration is also dilly-dallying the construction work of schools. In Potali village, the construction project has been sanctioned for the last four months but nothing has been done till now,” said Soni Sori, a tribal leader of Dantewada.
Dantewada administration and police claimed that the school construction is going on in a process, keeping villagers’ security in mind.
“Most of these schools were demolished around 2007-2009 during and post Salwa Judum campaign. Since schools were the only government structure in the villages during those times, security forces used to stay in schools and many camps were also opened in there during those days. As induction of paramilitary forces was at a great pace in Bastar due to prevailing security situation, schools were chosen as camp site. Maoists thus started targeting schools so that security forces do not get a foothold in their area,” said a senior revenue officer working in the area.
The officer further said that the Maoists started instigating villagers against the police, forcing them to destroy schools.
“Maoists also wanted to get the schools shut so that they could instil their ideology in children by putting them in Maoists’ schools. Since most of the teachers in schools that time were not residents of Bastar, they too fled to district headquarters fearing being targeted by Maoists and thus empty schools were an easy target. These schools were demolished or vandalized by lower-rung Maoists cadres mostly from the same village where a school is located under instruction from senior Maoist cadres,” said the officer.
Now, for the construction of schools, the district administration is forming self-help groups (SHG) of these surrendered Maoists, which will help in the construction process.
“The SHG will work as they are the local youths from the village who have joined Maoism in the past and thus know all the Maoists visiting the area. They are the people who yield influence in the village and villagers listen to them. Once they start helping in the construction of the school, the fear factor will decrease and since most of the low-rung cadres who surrender are between 20-30 years of age, they are young and energetic. They are village decision swingers and thus channelize other youths too in the mainstream. When a sizeable section of lower-rung cadres surrender, rest are bound to fall in line. Direct mentoring of these youth by district administration is bound to produce results,” said an intelligence officer posted in the region.
“The SHGs of surrendered Maoists is a novel innovation and I am hopeful it would be a huge success. Those who had destroyed are now constructing the same schools and this would help these youth come out of the guilt that they had incurred so many crimes in the past,” said the SP Pallava.
Pallava further said that it would also lead to true reintegration and rehabilitation of surrendered Maoists in the society. The realization of the importance of education among villagers is a welcome change and the police administration will render all help required to these youths.
“Soft policing too can go a long way to solving complex the Naxal problem which has simmered for decades in Bastar,” said the SP.