The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from CGNet Swara, an organization promoting community journalism in India, regarding the continuing occupation and use of educational institutions in Chhattisgarh by the Indian paramilitary. AHRC has learnt that two companies of the Border Security Force (BSF), deployed at remote Kodapakha village of Kanker district, about 250 km from the Chhattisgarh state capital Raipur, have been occupying the premises of three schools for several years now. They do so in violation of a Supreme Court order.
It has been reported that three school premises, namely Kodapakha Shashakkey High School, Shashakkey Uttar Madhyamik Vidayalay, and Kodapakha primary school were occupied by the BSF in the 2010 to enable the forces to carry out counter insurgency operations against the Maoist movement in Chhattisgarh. Initially, the BSF housed themselves there on a temporary basis. However, in time, the forces installed facilities to increase their comfort and continued the occupation and use of the educational institutions. The BSF has erected elevated concrete structures for surveillance and security of their ‘base’ – an indication their occupation is long term.
Not only school houses, a health care facility nearby has also been converted into a military base. Locals have said that a building was constructed for the purpose of providing health care to the local population. However, BSF occupied this building as well about three years back and are still continuing their occupancy.
There are about 15 villages surrounding the school turned BSF camp. The open space around the campus is also used for a weekly market. Due to the presence of the military camp, business activities and movement of people are restricted.
Also, primary schools in India provide free mid-day meals. Space is required for cooking and eating. The AHRC is, however, not aware if mid-day meals, necessary for nutrition of Indian children in rural areas, have been affected by the occupation.
What is certain is that the military use of the school building has affected the education of nearly 500 students, a majority of them female students. It has been reported that students’, especially adolescent girls, are dropping out of school, as they were unable to use the toilet. Elevated surveillance structures erected by the BSF have violated the privacy of the toilets and made them unfit for use by female students. Parents of female students are hesitant to send them to school, fearing sexual harassment, while many students are transferred to other schools, the nearest of which are about 25 kms away – a big distance in a state which does not have a public bus service anymore, decades of corruption by politicians and bureaucrats having destroyed the state transport corporation.
AHRC has been informed that resident have made repeated requests to the BSF authority to move out to the school premises in order to restore normal schooling for the children and for their recreational activities. However, BSF has paid no attention to such requests. The occupation is continuing though it is reported that a building has been constructed to house the BSF.
Military presence in the school house makes it a target for Maoists and it is vulnerable to armed attack. Several incidents of exchange of fire between the BSF and the armed opposition groups have been reported at the site. Military presence has heightened the threat to life and liberty of students and teachers.
The state of Chhattisgarh was carved out of the state of Madhya Pradesh on November 1, 2000. It is beset by active armed conflict. Frequent armed encounters between the Maoists and security forces are a daily phenomenon. In order to counter the guerrilla movement, the government has deployed considerable paramilitary force.
The AHRC is aware that military use of school premises in India encourages school drop-outs and school drop-outs, in turn, enrol themselves in the roster of insurgents. For example, the Tripura Human Development Report 2007 is clear about how school drop-outs end up as insurgents against the state. This report indicates how insurgency feeds upon educational deprivation. Indeed, debriefing confession reports of surrendered insurgents often show that most of them are school drop-outs.
Military use of schools restricts universal access to education and encourages drop-outs specially amongst female students. The state of Chhattisgarh has lower female literacy of 60.59%, compared to the national average of 65.46% (2011 figures). Drop-out of female students goes on to affect livelihoods and financial conditions, deteriorating women’s position in society.
Little attention has been paid by civil society or the authorities on the impact of armed conflict on children, and how their right to education and recreation, due to such occupation of school premises by security forces, is affected. Schools have been used by the paramilitary across tribal areas of central India for counter-insurgency. It is a factor in poor literacy in the current generation of tribal children.
Occupation of educational institutions by security forces received the attention of the Supreme Court in Nandini Sundar & Others vs. State Of Chhattisgarh on 5 July, 2011 (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 250 of 2007). With respect to such occupation, the Court stated that the State of Chhattisgarh has categorically denied that any schools, hospitals, ashrams and anganwadis are continuing to be occupied by security forces, and that all such facilities have been vacated. The same order goes on to state that:
“during the course of the hearings before this bench it has turned out that the facts asserted in the earlier affidavit were erroneous, and that in fact a large number of schools had continued to be occupied by security forces. It was only upon the intervention, and directions, of this Court did the State of Chattisgarh begin the process of releasing the schools and hostels from the occupation by the security forces. That process is, in fact, still on going.”
In September 2011, in relation to another case, the Supreme Court reiterated that the armed forces will not be allowed to occupy any school premises in the future (Exploitation of Children in Orphanages in the State of Tamil Nadu vs. Union of India and Others, Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 102 of 2007, Supreme Court Order of 1 September 2010). By occupying the Kodapakha schools, the state government and the BSF are violating Supreme Court orders.
In the year 2013, media reported that the Indian government has increased its defence budget by 17%. This increase, however, hasn’t disarmed educational institutions. Could this budget increase not have provided infrastructure support requisite for armed forces to vacate school premises.
Converting civilian space into military bases is prohibited under International Humanitarian Laws like Geneva Conventions, 1949. This prohibition is relevant even in case of internal armed conflict, such as the one prevailing in Chhattisgarh.
The right to education is a fundamental right in the Indian Constitution. Articles 21, 21A, 23, 24, 45 and 51A (K) of Indian Constitution mandate the state to create and maintain a protective and healthy environment for children’s education and development. Further, provisions contained in the Protection of Rights of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 and the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005, strengthen these obligations.
The AHRC urges authorities in Chhattisgarh to immediately vacate all schools from paramilitary occupation and use to uphold the right to life and education of children.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.