Kids snatched at 15 comprise 70% of Naxal cadre: Survey

© Provided by The Times of India

RAIPUR: Over 70% Maoist cadres are forcibly recruited as children without the consent of their parents. They are mostly roped in at 15 and given a gun at 17, says a ‘survey’ conducted by Bastar police among surrendered Maoists.

The ‘recruited’ kids are not allowed to go home for years, some never, not even if any of their parents dies, say police. What’s more, a shocking 25% of them end up getting forcibly sterilised in youth, says the survey. Asked for her comment on the police findings, Bastar rights activist Bela Bhatia told TOI: “Children should not be used as soldiers. I would welcome similar surveys by independent agencies.”

The survey report makes for a disturbing read. The perception was that Maoists put kids only in the ‘Bal Sangham’ and don’t give them weapons till they are 18, but the surrendered Maoists, including some senior cadres, have revealed that this is far from true, say police. “Most of us didn’t join the Maoists of our own will. We were forced,” the Maoists told police. The survey was conducted among 41 Maoists who had surrendered in Dantewada between 2013 and 2021, and had bounties of Rs 5 lakh or higher. Police officers interviewed them for over a month and got them to fill up a 10-point questionnaire before they came up with this data.

“At the age of 17 when they should be studying, they were given guns and told to carry out attacks. By the age of 20, they were handling automatic weapons,” the report says.

Dantewada SP Abhishek Pallava said: “The survey results will be used to spread awareness among the locals in ‘recruitment hotspot’ villages of Dantewada district so that they don’t join the Maoists. Police will tell villagers that Maoists are not revolutionaries. There are people who were taken by Maoists as children and never returned, nor do their parents know about their fate or whereabouts. Villagers should know about the dark side of ‘holding weapons and becoming powerful’.”

There are 12 Maoists ‘recruitment hotspots’ identified by police — villages from where at least 10 cadres have joined PLGA. The surrendered cadres shared heart-breaking stories of the hardship and pain they underwent as children in an insurgent outfit. They were banned from visiting home or meeting parents for years. They weren’t allowed to go home even if a parent died, not to speak of visiting families for festivals.

At least 25% said they never saw their parents after being taken away by Maoists, and 30% could meet their families once every five years. To add to this, they saw severe discrimination in the Maoists ranks between ‘Telugu cadres’ and Chhattisgarh tribals.

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