Residents of Kuwari, a village in Jharkhand’s Gumla district, denied reports that six children, of Class VI-X, were forcibly taken away by Maoists last week for conscription.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Nakul ji, Maoist commander of the east koel sankh zonal committee — spread over Gumla, Lohardaga, Latehar districts — too denied the allegation.

“We do not forcibly recruit anyone, especially children, and we cannot. If we did that, those who join will become a risk to the lives of other cadres by not following party discipline. There are some incidents in which adolescents join the party because they are drawn to what they see around them, even if their parents may not be supportive of their decision,” Nakul ji said at the rebel’s camp.

People of Kuwari, 130 km from Ranchi, said that after reading the front-page reports in Hindi daily Prabhat Khabhar on Friday of Maoists abducting six children after holding a meeting in the village on Tuesday, they submitted a statement on Saturday to the Gumla police, denying the report.

Bihar’s former Director-General of Police Anand Shankar, who was recently appointed adviser to the Jharkhand’s Governor, expressed concern at the incident and ordered a police investigation.

“It is true that a few children had accompanied the party cadre after they held a meeting in the village. They went with them to help them ferry their luggage and ‘pithoos’ [bag packs] to their camp. We cannot refuse the cadre if they make such a request. But the children came back,” said Chandramuni Oraon*.

“Six men from the village went on bicycles to the Bishunpur thana this morning [Saturday morning] to inform the police that the children were back in the village. We have submitted a statement to the thana that no children had been abducted… by the Maoists,” said an elder Sukan Oraon*.

A majority of the 60 families in the village, are Oraon adivasis and Khairwars, working as small farmers. A few families said they had only recently returned from brick kilns in Varanasi to cultivate their small plots of land.

While the villagers said the six children had returned, most families said their children were not home when asked for the children’s version of events. “School gets over by noon, and they have left to play,” said one parent. Others said the children were away at relatives’ houses.

“Based on preliminary investigation by the district police, it appears the children are back in the village,” said Jharkhand DGP Rajeev Kumar.

Gumla Superintendent of Police Rakesh Bansal said investigations were under way.

(* names changed on request).