New Delhi: The establishment of security camps inside primary schools and panchayat bhawans in several village of Khunti and Chaibasa districts of Jharkhand has not gone down well with residents and women’s rights activists. Alleging that these camps have adversely affected the education of adivasi children, they have urged the National Human Rights Commission and the state government to relocate them.
Schools shut for over six months, no meetings in panchayat bhawans
The lives of residents of Ghaghra, Khunti, Murhu, Arki and Badgaon villages were greatly impacted when in June this year, the security forces set up camps in nine schools and two panchayat bhawans there. These camps were set up following raids by these forces in the area.
What complicated matters was that rather than vacating the schools and panchayat bhawans after some time, the forces stayed put. Due to this the schools shut down and no meetings could be held in the panchayat bhawans.
Camps came up in violation of SC guidelines
In their petitions to the NHRC, NCST and other institutions earlier, the rights groups and residents complained that establishment of security camps inside primary schools and panchayat bhawans was in contravention of Supreme Court guidelines.
In September 2010, the Supreme Court held in Exploitation of Children in Orphanages in the State of Tamil Nadu v. Union of India & Ors. that “school buildings are not allowed to be occupied by the armed or security forces in future for whatsoever purpose”. Previously, in the ongoing Salwa Judum case the apex court also issued directions to Chhattisgarh government to release schools from the occupation of paramilitary forces.
The residents also charged that said due to these camps the right to education of the Adivasi children has been violated. Also, they claimed that they were living under a constant environment of fear and intimidation.
‘Police raided village on the pretext of nabbing gangrape accused’
A fact-finding team of Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) and Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) earlier this year noted that Ghaghra village was raided by the police on June 26 to arrest three Pathalgarhi leaders falsely implicated in the gang-rape of five adivasi women the preceding fortnight.
The real culprits, they said, were identified by the villagers but remain at large. During the raid, the police cane charged the villagers and drove them back using tear gas and firing. One of the villagers, Birsa Munda, died on the spot after being hit on the head with a lathi.
Central forces arrived the following day, unleashed violence
The following day, the rights groups said, a very large contingent of nearly 1,000 security personnel, drawn from Central Reserve Police Force, Rapid Action Force, Jharkhand Action Force and other units, descended on Ghaghra and seven nearby villages. Considering that Ghaghra itself has a population of barely 300, the group said such a large movement was aimed at intimidating the residents.
Brutal violence followed as men, women and children were beaten, lathi-charged and tear-gassed. Rubber pellets were fired, homes were raided and their belongings were destroyed. Women were mistreated and at least one of them was raped. Another woman was disrobed and a pregnant woman was also verbally abused, physically assaulted, lathi-charged and beaten up due to which she fainted, the rights groups claimed.
Victims petitioned several institutions, only NCST responded
The rights groups said as the security forces continued to occupy the schools and panchayat bhawan, they petitioned several institutions and high offices such as the NHRC, NCST, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, the state Department of Women and Child Welfare, the District Collector and Chief Secretary, Jharkhand. However, barring NCST, no one took any action on these complaints.
In fact, NCST chairperson Nand Kumar Sai during his visit to Ranchi on December 20 urged the state government to vacate the security camps from schools. The NCST delegation, which also comprised vice-chairperson Anusuya Ukil, also met state minister for women and child development Louise Marandi, and sought immediate relocation of security camps.
NHRC, NCPCR urged to act in matter
The WSS has also demanded that the NHRC take immediate cognizance of the nine complaints submitted by the residents of Ghaghra and neighbouring villages and the women’s rights activists.
It has also urged the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights take immediate action in the matter of occupation of schools by security forces and ensure continuation of children’s education in an environment free of intimidation and fear.