On the 50th anniversary of the Naxalbari uprising, a direly distressing trend is evident in Jharkhand ~ a hotbed of Naxalite activity. Indeed, the neighbouring states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand exemplify cases of role-reversal, indeed two sides of the extremist coin half a century after the spark was lit by the peasantry in Naxalbari… a movement that was scuttled by the CPI-M, then in the first United Front ministry. Whereas the Chhattisgarh administration recruits teenagers to confront the Maoists behind the garb of Salwa Judum, the extremist leaders of Jharkhand are inducting children into their ranks, if this week’s notice of the National Human Rights Commission to the administration in Ranchi is any indication. In a word, children and teenagers are being used as cannon fodder in both states, though the tasks assigned are diametrically opposite ~ to fight the Maoists in one state and to fight for the Maoists in another. A more shameless travesty of the rights of the child would be hard to imagine. The abductions and recruitment of children as Maoists on the make has underscored the inherent vulnerability of kids in the backwaters of Jharkhand. It is amazing that the state government can be so impervious to this calculated attempt to ruin the lives of children, who are being denied their fundamental rights, most importantly the trumpeted right to compulsory education.

Rather than the crime per se, the NHRC appears to be riveted to the social impact of the Maoist strategy ~ “The issues are a gross violation of the human rights of the children,” is its caveat to the Jharkhand government and the state’s police chief. The Commission has raised certain pertinent issues and it devolves on the state government to respond within the fortnight’s time-frame. It has demanded to know the actual number of children who have been recruited to the Maoist cadre in Jharkhand, the action taken by the government and police to trace such children, and re-integrate them into society’s mainstream.

The NHRC has placed the onus on the government to educate and rehabilitate such children. No less crucially, it has directed action against those Maoist activists who have been involved in dragging the innocent child into the forbidding extremist network. Nay more, training them in such activities that challenge the idea of the State as an entity of governance. It is a measure of the collapse of the rule of law in Jharkhand that more than a thousand children have been abducted over the past few years. It beggars belief that they are deployed as footsoldiers, couriers and sentries around the Maoist camps in Jharkhand. Rescuing these “child Maoists” is no less critical than confronting the extremist challenge. This is the stark message 50 years after May 1967.