Ranchi, July 2: Over 40,000 students of some 400 primary and middle schools in Khunti’s rural heartland, tribal icon Birsa Munda’s birthplace 40km from the capital, are being deprived of lunch and learning for the past six days, thanks to arm-twisting by splinter rebel group PLFI, a threat the district administration largely wants to dilute.
Since the past week, the banned rebel outfit has ordered rural teachers to keep at least 400 schools closed, a figure claimed by villagers and contested by the administration. But there is no confusion on why the PLFI has ordered the closure — it wants all CRPF personnel to move out of schools.
So, as rural schools stay closed, poor children don’t get midday meals.
But, the irony is that CRPF camps are lodged in only two school buildings in rural Khunti, that too in unused ones. So, 400 schools are paying the price for a false perception.
Though fear of PLFI hangs heavy, a villager from Khunti today called up The Telegraph, saying they saw no help forthcoming. “No one will defy the PLFI. The district administration is doing nothing. Teachers are enjoying their undeclared holidays. The worst sufferers are poor children, who are going hungry,” he said.
Across Khunti, there are around 1,100 primary and middle schools, of which over 500 schools run in its rural belt. “Our estimate says 400 schools are closed,” the villager said.
The news is percolating slowly upwards.
Khunti district superintendent of education Neelam Ilon Topno admitted the PLFI was blackmailing schools, but added that “limited numbers” were affected.
“The problem is not so serious,” she claimed. “A few teachers from Rania and Murhu areas in the district told me about the PLFI diktat and asked me for directions. I expressed my inability to do anything officially. They didn’t contact me anymore,” she said.
She stressed that the problem was “limited to a few strongholds”, but did not name any figure.
Khunti deputy commissioner Samson Soy also did not spell any figure. “Chitfut school prabhavit hai baki to thik hi chal raha hai (Some schools are affected, rest are running fine),” he said.
A policeman in Khunti, who declined to be named, said the PLFI was fooling people by saying that CRPF personnel — some 1,400 paramilitary personnel are posted across Khunti — were lodged in school buildings.
“CRPF is not using any school. There were three camps in government schools at Sode, Token and Binda. But camps in Sode and Token are running in unused school buildings. The Binda camp of the CRPF has been removed,” he said.
He added that this was a form of pressure tactics.
“The real cause behind PLFI diktat to schools is to mount pressure on police and security personnel who are arresting their cadres,” he said.
Deputy inspector-general of South Chotanagpur Praveen Singh supported the policeman. “I have information of the forced closure of schools. I will visit Khunti tomorrow for first-hand information to figure out a solution,” he said.
On CRPF camps in schools, he said: “No, there is none. The PLFI are just creating disturbance in villages on some pretext, targeting vulnerable schoolchildren.”
“I came to know about this from you,” officiating chief secretary Sajal Chakraborty told The Telegraph over phone from New Delhi. “Whatever the case be, I have put officials on the job now to ensure schools reopen ASAP. If even one school is suffering due to PLFI diktat, it is a serious matter. I will ask my officials to find out the truth.”