Where schooling is sabotaged
- Kennji Kizuka was a consultant to the children’s rights division of Human Rights Watch and conducted research for their new report, Sabotaged Schooling: Naxalite Attacks and Police Occupation of Schools in India’s Bihar and Jharkhand States. The opinions expressed are his own. -
Late in the evening of November 29, 2008, a group of guerrilla fighters entered the remote village of Dwarika in the Indian state of Jharkhand and detonated improvised bombs inside the village’s only school. Doors blew apart, desks and chairs splintered, and portions of the classroom walls crumbled. No longer suitable or safe for learning, the school closed.
When I visited Dwarika in June of this year, local residents attributed the attack to the “Naxalites”—the term used in India to refer to Maoist-oriented insurgent groups who seek to overthrow the Indian state and establish a new social order to protect oppressed and marginalized people. They wage their armed struggle by attacking police, assassinating politicians, extorting businesses, and targeting government infrastructure – trains, roads, and schools.
Although I visited Dwarika more than six months after the attack, the village had yet to receive government support to rebuild the school that had served 250 children. Families with the means had sent their children outside the village to study. But residents told us that many parents were too poor to enroll their children elsewhere. For these already disadvantaged students, the chance to learn lay in ruins, along with the school.
Two weeks ago, exactly one year after the Dwarika bombing, Naxalite forces destroyed another school in Jharkhand, in the village of Bhavwar. In just the last month Naxalites have attacked at least 16 schools there and in the neighboring state of Bihar. One would expect these bombings to draw international attention, but outside of India few people have heard of the Naxalites. Even within the country, there is little recognition–including among government officials–of the extent to which the conflict disrupts the education of tens of thousands of students.
But it is not just the Naxalites who are sabotaging education. Government security forces are too.
As I was leaving Dwarika, a contingent from the Central Reserve Police Force was setting up camp in the wrecked buildings and grounds of the school. In areas of Bihar and Jharkhand affected by Naxalite violence, government security forces have taken over dozens of primary, middle, and high schools to conduct counter-insurgency operations.
The Naxalites claim that these occupations prompt and justify their attacks. But the school at Dwarika was not occupied at the time of the bombing, and Human Rights Watch research confirms that at more than two-dozen schools attacked in Bihar and Jharkhand in the last year, security forces were not present. Furthermore, security forces often still find bombed schools usable for their operations, even though the damage makes schooling impossible and frightens parents into withdrawing their children.
These supposedly temporary arrangements for police security operations often persist for months and even years. Although the bombing at Dwarika put an end to studies there, most occupied schools that I visited had been functioning before being taken over. Where police have completely occupied schools, children sometimes are displaced to unsuitable structures: in one village I visited, the children were taking classes in a disused public transport passenger shelter. Where police and students share school premises, children are crammed into fewer classrooms or forced to study outside, and often are denied access to recreational facilities and toilets. Although some communities, fearful of the Naxalites, welcome police protection, few support their presence at the expense of education.
Both the Naxalites and the government need to recognize that the continued targeting and occupation of schools will neither protect the marginalized nor secure the state. Instead, these tactics cut off tens of thousands of Indian children and huge areas of the country from their hope for a better future.