The Maoists, who have been indoctrinating children and using them for their missions for decades, recently suffered a setback to their catch-them-young agenda.
The rebels first deployed children as spies, couriers and most recently, foot soldiers – a trend associated with the Taliban or African insurgent groups. However, the death of a 10-year-old boy during a training session and subsequent escape of many other children from captivity reveal that their plans are going awry.
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————————————————————————————————————————————–Pardeshi Lohra was one among the 10 people – eight children and two adults – abducted recently by the Maoists from tribal-dominated Bandhua village in Latehar, one of the Naxal hotbeds in Jharkhand. He was killed while planting a bomb. Around 48 hours after he was abducted on September 13, Lohra’s injury-riddled body returned home wrapped in a blanket. The parents were asked to bury the body and keep quiet. In the subsequent days, the remaining nine somehow escaped from the rebels’ clutches, but the harrowing experience has forced them to flee the village. “Lohra did not connect the wires properly,” said Bhamru (name changed) – one of the children who fled the Maoists’ captivity – referring to what the police believe is training in laying Improvised Explosive Device (IED) gone wrong.
The villagers, according to the police, are facing such hardships for flouting the Maoists’ diktat by felling trees. “They had cleared some trees for agricultural purposes, which the Maoists had objected to. Enraged rebels asked the villagers to shell out Rs.5,000 per tree felled, something they cannot afford,” Michael Raj, superintendent of police in Latehar, said.
Those who defied the diktat got another option – one member from each family should join the Maoists’ fold. “According to the villagers, that’s why they abducted 10 people,” Raj said. Getting a tonsure ahead of his son’s funeral, Bhilokhan Lohra told Mail Today, “How will I make Rs.5,000? My son wanted to study.”
Though the village is located around 10km from the Herhanj police station, the police received news of Lohra’s death only 48 hours after his burial. The police and the CRPF men then arrived at the village and exhumed Lohra’s body and sent it for autopsy, which confirmed blast injuries as the cause of death.
The houses of those who escaped from the Maoists were locked. Despite the district administration’s repeated assurances that the escaped children would be sent to residential schools, where they will be provided with free food, accommodation and education, they chose to leave the village.
They demand food sometimes but never have they harmed us,” said Kaleshwar Lohra, a villager. District Collector Aradhana Patnaik said a special team was probing the incident. “We will, if need be, provide the villagers with new ‘pattas’ of land.
Freed trio stares at uncertainty
Magan (16), Ram (14) and Sudesh* (12) are clueless about what the future holds for them, but they know the worst is behind them. More than a year ago, the three were picked up, on separate occasions, at gunpoint by the insurgents and inducted into the ‘party’.
Ram was given a gun, and the other two cooked for the platoon. The memories of their time under abduction still fill them with terror – they recalled how their parents’ desperate entreaties to the Maoists for their release would be answered with death threats.
“Party members never said anything (to us). They only made me walk endlessly and then cook. Whenever I said I wanted to go back, I was abused,” Sudesh recounted. The trio was eventually rescued by the police, but is still being kept away from their families, because of a looming threat of retribution by the rebels.
As a stretched police force tries hard to “at least keep them healthy and secure”, the children await formal education; their future yet uncertain.
Eyeing young blood to reinforce ranks
In the recent past, several senior leaders of CPI (Maoist)’s local hierarchy have been arrested or killed. They include:
1. Prabhat Mochi, member, Special Area Committee2. Anup Thakur, member, Special Area Military Committee3. Indrajeet, company commander of the Eastern Regional Bureau (ERB)-1
4. Pawan Ganju, zonal commander
5. Umesh Yadav, zonal commander
6. Shyamlal Yadav, sub-zonal commander
7. Shekhar Kurva, company commander ERB-1 (killed)
8. Naresh Kerwal, sub-zonal commander (killed)
Coping with silence
One of the eight children abducted, Bhamru (name changed) was with Pardeshi Lohra when the explosive the latter was reportedly trying to plant went off. The police say the Maoist abductors were training the children in planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Recalling the incident, Bhamru said timidly: “He did not connect the wires properly.” When we met him, Bhamru was wearing something closely resembling a school uniform, and was visibly reluctant to meet our gaze, perhaps still haunted by his experience in Maoist custody.
He was not ready to talk about it, and only revealed that his captors made him walk a lot. And that he walked for hours on end to escape them once out of their clutches.
The ghosts are likely to haunt him for a long time – especially as the administration has made no efforts to get the children counselled to help them deal with the trauma they have just experienced.