Sabotaged schooling: Naxalite attacks and police occupation of schools in India's Bihar and Jharkhand states

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I. Summary

This school has been badly damaged... The whole building has been ruined, the windows are smashed and blown, and the floor is cracked, as are the walls and the ceiling. Even the door is broken. The wall outside that connects to the veranda is also destroyed, everything is in ruins.

- A 16-year-old student whose school in Jharkhand was bombed by Naxalites on April 9, 2009

Sometimes [the security forces] bring culprits back to the school and beat them... I feel very bad when they beat them.

-Indira Parkesh, 16 years old, whose school in Bihar was partially occupied by State Auxilliary Police, as of June 12, 2009

The education of tens of thousands of India's most disadvantaged and marginalized children is being disrupted by the ongoing conflict between Naxalite insurgents and police and other security forces in the eastern states of Bihar and Jharkhand. Security forces are occupying government school buildings as bases for anti-Naxalite operations, sometimes only for few days but often for periods lasting years. Meanwhile, the Naxalites-a longstanding, pan-Indian Maoist revolutionary movement-are directly targeting and blowing up government schools, including those not used or occupied by security forces. The government's failure to promptly repair damaged schools enhances the lasting negative impact of these attacks.

The Naxalites claim that their attacks on schools cause no disruption to children's education because, they assert, they only target schools being used by state security forces in counter- Naxalite operations. Human Rights Watch's research suggests this claim is false. Our research suggests that many schools that have been attacked were not being used by the security forces at the time. Deficiencies in government monitoring make it difficult to get clear information on the extent and pattern of Naxalite attacks. Nonetheless, a combination of Human Rights Watch's own on-the-ground investigations and a survey of public news sources suggest that at least 25 of the schools that were attacked in Bihar and Jharkhand during the year between November 2008 and October 2009 were undefended and not in use by security forces at the time. The Naxalites appear to be attacking government schools because they are often the only government building in the remote rural areas where the Naxalites have their greatest influence and ease of movement. Moreover, undefended schools are a high-visibility, soft target attacking them garners media attention and increases fear and intimidation among local communities. While the Naxalites do not appear to be targeting students directly, attacks on schools that are not being used for a military purpose are violations of both international humanitarian law and Indian criminal law.

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