When India joined, on April 1 this year, the league of over 130 countries having legal guarantees to provide free and compulsory education to their children, the country rejoiced this significant step towards ensuring the rights of the children and their future.

But, the truth behind this claim comes into question when in the same month, Operation Green Hunt led to military occupation of some schools in Jharkhand, civil society groups said on Tuesday, drawing the attention of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights chairperson Shantha Sinha.

In a petition submitted to the government, the civil society groups have hoped that the all steps would be taken to protect the future generation from the “throngs” of violence and uphold their Constitutional right.

“We hope you will pay heed to the warning signs and stem this tide of denial which can sow the seeds of violence later,” they said. Taking over of schools by the forces is a denial of this legally guaranteed right, according to the signatories to the petition, which included Mohini Giri, Vandana Shiva, Razia Ismail Abbasi and Father James Toppo.

As of now over 50 school buildings in Jharkhand have been taken over by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on a permanent basis and 43 school buildings have been taken over on an ‘off-and-on basis,', Father Toppo and Razia Abbasi, activists from Jharkhand, told reporters here.

Releasing testimonies from school principals on the nature of occupation of schools, Father Toppo said the consent of gram sabhas was not even sought. “If schools do not function, the mid-day meal also is not given to children. The sad fact is the mid-day meal is the only full meal most children get to eat,” he said. Apart from this, it is a fact that even if the school is not occupied by paramilitary forces, their very presence in the vicinity and brutal behaviour has created an atmosphere of fear in the villages, preventing children from going to school.

The government recently announced an integrated action plan for 35 Naxalite-affected districts in nine States — committing Rs. 13,742 crore for economic development as well as proper implementation of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA), of which Rs.1,602 crore has been earmarked for education.

“This gesture is meaningless in the light of the fact that existing infrastructure like schools are not being allowed to function as they should,” he said.

The civil society groups have impressed upon the government the need to inquire into the nature of such occupation and declare schools as peace zones, in order to uphold the rights of the future generations.

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