Children have been associated with naxalites of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), Maoists in short, for long.
Replying to the unstarred question number 1605, in the Lok Sabha on July 2, 2019, the Minister of State for Home Affairs said, “There have been some reports of CPI (Maoist) inducting children in their outfit in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, using them for cooking, carrying daily use materials and collecting information regarding movement of security forces. They are also imparted military training.”
A similar assertion was made in Parliament earlier too. On December 11, 2008, the then Minister of State for Home Affairs told the Rajya Sabha that the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) has set up a special squad of minors in Chhattisgarh.
The United Nations defines a child soldier or child combatant as, “A child associated with an armed force or armed group refers to any person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, spies or for sexual purposes”.
Children are used as errand boys/girls — porters, hailers and providing logistics — as also for alerting Maoist squads on the presence/movement of security forces. The use of children by the Maoists is organised. They are a part of the Front/Mass Organisations of the CPI (Maoist).
The nomenclature of the outfit varies in accordance with the language of the affected State. In Chhattisgarh, it is known Krantikari Adivasi Balak Sangh (KABS) while in Odisha, the organisation is termed as Bal Sangam. In North Telangana — which was once the flagship guerrilla zone of the rebels and from where they have been nearly wiped out — it was known as Radical Balala Sangham.
How They Work
Thus, for instance, KABS was founded in 1998 in areas in the South Bastar region of the central Indian State of Chhattisgarh. By the next year, KABS had spread to several other areas in Dandakaranya. According to a well-known authority on the Maoists, KABS has, in considerable measure, served the purpose of ‘intelligence gathering’ for the Maoists. It is said that KABS members keep a close watch on the entry and movement of ‘strangers’ in villages and of the security forces. It is also believed that the children assist in providing logistics when a squad is on a visit to the village.
Generally, KABS members are indoctrinated — through teaching them values of protecting the environment and keeping it clean and green. They are also taught discipline and encouraged to keep away from social evils and unclean habits in order to lead a good life.
Young boys and girls initially develop intimacy with the rebels and gradually turn sympathisers and informers. Some of them eventually join the rebels’ ranks in the underground.
Children associate themselves with the Maoists for various reasons. In fact, some years ago, 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.”
Susceptible to Indoctrination
These young children, being at an impressionable age, are susceptible to indoctrination. A young lady, who joined the rebels’ ranks when she was 15 years old and quit the outfit a few years later, had told this author that she was inspired by the lyrics sung by a squad that visited her village in Warangal district.
Some of them admire and hero-worship the weapon-wielding cadre or commander of the squads that frequent their area. Young boys and girls from deprived sections of society are awestruck that the gun-toting rebels can order 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 rebels become a source of inspiration for physically exploited young girls. In some cases, as was reported from Bihar, joining the rebels was a way out of poverty and starvation. A family member, relative or someone known to the family serving in the rebels’ ranks could act as a facilitator.
The Maoists’ cadre strength is rapidly declining because of frequent surrenders by cadres and high attrition in security force operations. Therefore, there have been frantic attempts by the Maoist leadership to recruit cadres. This is yet another reason for the rebels targeting children.
It is also not uncommon for the Maoists to eye inmates of welfare hostels run by government for recruiting child cadres. In some instances, children moved around in the jungles with the Maoists 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 some others join each year. Official sources, however, indicate that their numbers are just a handful and, therefore, not a cause for concern.
Nevertheless, to prevent children from associating with Left-wing extremists, security force officials periodically visit hostels and ‘counsel’ the students about the difficulties that lay ahead if they join naxalite groups. Children who understand the futility of joining the rebels continue to pursue their avocation, while those who get carried away by the naxalites leave their studies and enter the jungles to fight alongside their elder colleagues.
(The author is Senior Consultant, Hathors Advisory, Hyderabad. [email protected])