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Rebels gun for schoolkids

- Child cadres & levy-funded cradles
The receipt books of Vidya Vihar Public School in Khunti district recovered as a part of PLFI arms haul by Ranchi police on Sunday. Picture by Prashant Mitra

Ranchi, July 21: As a growing number of rural youths in Jharkhand refuse to buy the Maoist dream, opting for the mainstream instead, rebel outfits are increasingly targeting child recruits in Gumla, Khunti, Lohardaga and Simdega.

South Chotanagpur deputy inspector-general (DIG) Praveen Kumar Singh told The Telegraph today that Maoists have recently taken some 40 children from Gumla and Lohardaga for guerrilla training, but not a single parent had filed a missing diary.

DIG Singh said the shocking fact emerged from a five-day survey of villages in the two districts. “It is a fact that Maoists took at least 40 children of Gumla and Lohardaga for training. A team comprising two superintendents of police (Bheemsen Tuti of Gumla and Mrityunjay Kumar of Lohardaga), two CRPF commandants and many junior officers have confirmed this after a five-day survey,” Singh said.

DIG Singh said the police would make every effort to recover the children.

“Once recovered, the police will give children proper security and education in a protected school environment,” he stressed.

But the rot has crept to rural schools as well.

The PLFI, a splinter rebel group which has clout mostly in Khunti, Gumla and Simdega, pumps a portion of its earnings through levy into running some 18 schools across its three strongholds to entrench itself firmly on young minds, police are discovering.

The PLFI, known to back, fund or own small businesses in the hinterland such as brick kilns, are investing in schools to find ready recruits and expand their community support base.

Khunti SP Anis Gupta and his Gumla counterpart Tuti have confirmed that several schools are funded by the PLFI and other rebel outfits but added that giving details might be unwise at this juncture of investigations.

“We are trying to ascertain from PLFI levy receipt books where the cash goes. If it is proven that levy money funds any school, we will recommend it is taken over by the state,” said Simdega SP A.V. Minz.

Six months ago, Simdega police arrested PLFI sub-zonal commander Heera Singh, who admitted to having invested levy cash to run a school in Girda police outpost, which ironically was being run with the consent of Gram Raksha Samiti, a village outfit patronised by the police to gather intelligence on rebels.

Apparently, the school building also gave the rebels logistic support.

This July, children of rural Khunti stopped going to schools because of PLFI fear, prompting chief secretary Sajal Chakraborty and DGP Rajeev Kumar to visit the place and initiating sustained efforts to free cradles from the clutches of rebels.

Rebel outfits routinely and openly demand recruits for Bal Dasta, their children’s squad, from village schools through poster campaigns.

“These days, people in remote villages prefer sending children to far-off places to work, fearing that if they stayed at home and went to school, rebels might take them. This issue was strongly raised at the BJP ST front national executive body meeting held yesterday in Ranchi in the presence of Union tribal affairs minister Jual Oram,” said former chief minister Arjun Munda’s political adviser Ayodhyanath Mishra.

DIG Singh added the police-cum-CRPF survey in Gumla and Lohardaga revealed casually issued SIM cards without proper identity and address verification helped Maoist operations. “We have called a meeting of cellphone network service providers on July 25 to deliberate on this,” he added.

Giridih seizure

Police found a concrete bunker and seized a massive cache of arms and ammunition from Parasnath forests after a daylong search operation in Giridih.

According to Giridih SP Kranti Kr. Garhdeshi, the police recovered Naxalite literature and 50 country made pistols, along with large grenades, 303 guns and around 15 rifles.