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Children in Indian Maoist Ranks

Dr. P. V. Ramana was Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • August 06, 2015

    It has been known for long that Naxalites of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), Maoists in short, deploy children in their ranks. As reported in a section of the media on July 31, 2015, a recent report of the United States government entitled Trafficking in Persons Report-2015 stated that “children are forcibly removed from their families and used by Maoists in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Odisha to act as spies and couriers, plant improvised explosive devices and fight against the government.”

    Indian media, both English and vernacular, as well as foreign media have reported on this issue several times in the past. And this researcher had the opportunity to speak with a few children –– both boys and girls –– who had spent some time in the rebel ranks before returning to their families.

    For instance, quoting a senior police officer of Bihar, a Reuters report of May 22, 2012 said: “We heard that Maoists were recruiting children for their operation at a training camp and to our surprise we found a large number of teenage boys there.” Yet another media report of June 20, 2012, quoting the United Nations Secretary General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, said: “Maoists recruit and indoctrinate children for children's squads and associations, particularly in Chhattisgarh and some districts in adjoining states. This is part of the Maoist strategy for mass mobilization.” Several years ago, on May 29, 2003, the Telugu media reported from Karimnagar district (in Telangana now), that the Maoists, in their earlier avatar as the People’s War Group (PWG), had, on May 24, abducted a minor girl, Narsingojula Padma, aged 14 years, from Patha Rudraram village. It is another matter that the girl was about to be married a day later, in violation of the laws applicable in the country. And a year earlier, in Chhattisgarh the Maoists targeted both boys and girls in 2002 and parents around Tanda and Bagh rivers had sent away their children to save them from being taken away by the Maoists.

    These young children, being at an impressionable age, are susceptible to indoctrination. A young lady who joined the Maoists when she was 15 years old and quit the outfit a few years later –– who this researcher interviewed in February 2002 –– said she had joined the rebels as she was inspired by the lyrics sung by a Maoist squad that visited her village in Warangal district.

    Conversations with the people in Maoist-effected regions reveal the reasons for children joining the rebel ranks. Some of them admire and hero-worship the weapon-wielding cadre or commanders of the squads that frequent their area. Young boys and girls from deprived sections of society are awestruck that the gun-toting rebels can dictate and threaten their village headman or a rich landlord, sometimes an upper caste person who looks down upon and humiliates the poor and the downtrodden. Besides, the Maoists seem to have turned into a source of inspiration for physically exploited women. In some cases, as was reported from Bihar, joining the rebels was a way out of poverty and starvation.

    Children initially develop intimacy with the group and gradually turn sympathizers and informers. Some eventually join the underground. A family member, relative or someone known to the family serving in the rebel ranks could act as a facilitator.

    At one point, there were an estimated 800 children in the ranks of the Maoists. They are known variously as Bal Dasta, Bal Sangh and Bal Sangham. These children were and are utilized for intelligence gathering, carrying food and arms and serving extortion notes. Amnesty International noted in a report entitled Children in South Asia: Securing their rights that the Maoists had recruited children between the ages of eight and 15, "believing that they could train children more effectively than women to resist police interrogation."

    It has also been noticed, as this researcher was told, that the Maoists lure inmates of children welfare hostels run by the Government. In some instances, children moved around in the jungles with the squads for some weeks or months, but tired of the rigours of an underground life returned to their respective boarding houses. They were lucky to be accepted again and have been able to pursue their studies. Though exact statistics are hard to obtain, some of them continue to remain with the guerrillas, while others join each year.

    A former senior lady Maoist rebel told this researcher in Karimnagar in July 2014, “I was born in the Party”. Her parents (both of whom were killed in encounters with the police) were part of a Maoist armed squad when she was born. She was raised in a welfare hostel of the Government. She would go and spend time with them during vacations and return to school/hostel. Eventually, she, too, joined the underground, but later surrendered to the authorities. She is now happily settled down with a family of her own and is, herself, employed as a Home Guard in the Karimnagar Police.

    To prevent children from associating with left-wing extremists, security forces officials periodically visit the hostels and 'counsel' the students about the difficulties that lie ahead if they join Maoists. Children who understand the futility of joining the rebels continue to pursue their avocation, while those who get carried away by the Maoists leave their studies and enter the jungles to fight alongside their elder colleagues.

    Though statistics are not available, security officials concede that the number of children in the underground, moving alongside armed squads, is not large. Also there is no information on how many of them stay on to eventually graduate into armed fighters. The possibility does exist. At the same time, it is not certain how many children, who have worked over-ground and or have been subjected to indoctrination, joined the armed squads. One thing appears to be certain, however. Children assist the Maoists as cooks and porters –– if associated with the underground –– and as couriers and intelligence gathers –– if they are over-ground.

    Various organs of the government on their own and in partnership with NGOs and civil society groups can play a pro-active role to wean children away from Maoists. Some of these measures include: teachers, parents and guardians could frequently ‘counsel’ them; short skits and street plays could be organized; where available, cinema houses and local TV channels could be used for brief insertions, not to speak of the print media and radio. All these can, and need to, be done, to save children from the Maoists and give them a better and bright future.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.