Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A child soldier of the Maoists caught

Anirban Roy
Kolkata, November 24, 2010
Updated 10:53 IST

Maoists 'hide' child cadre in school

The West Bengal Police have picked up a 13- year- old girl-said to be an active member of the Maoists' Raniband squad - giving credence to reports that the Maoists are recruiting minors in their ranks.

The girl Lakshmi (name changed) was picked up by the police from Bagdubi village in Bankura district, one of the hotbeds of Maoist activities in the state.

It was exposed by Mail Today on September 11 how the Maoists were recruiting children from schools in the remote areas of Purulia district.

Bankura SP Pranab Kumar said Lakshmi was lured by one Chhotu, whose identity is yet to be established, and handed her over to the Ranibandh squad last year. She was promised good food, new clothes and a prosperous life for joining the rebels.

" Even though she is young, Lakshmi is trained in guerrilla warfare," Kumar said, adding she has taken part in Maoist operations carried out in several places in Bankura district.

Kumar said Lakshmi was unable to bear the hardship of guerrilla life and had tried several times to leave the squad. She requested senior squad members to let her go home, but she was not allowed. Instead the rebels threatened her with dire consequences if she tried to flee.

" She gave a tragic account of her days with the Maoists," the superintendent of police said. The little girl was forced to perform rigorous physical exercises, sentry duties at Maoist camps and even forced to carry " challenger" land mines on her shoulders, he added.

Lakshmi had a miraculous escape when a bullet whizzed past her head during an encounter with the police on November 8 at Lithira forest near Ranibandh in Bankura.

During the encounter, she managed to escape.

A team of doctors on Tuesday examined Lakshmi in Bankura to ascertain whether she was sexually assaulted.

It is believed that Bankura police located Lakshmi based on information given by Maoist leader Kinkar Pal, who was arrested from Huangana forest in Barikul on Sunday.

Arrangements are being made by the district administration for Lakshmi's rehabilitation, including her education, vocational training and health care. A well- known NGO has been contacted, Kumar said.

" It is sad the Maoists are now forcing children to join their peoples' war," said a member of Bankura Mahila Samiti, requesting anonymity.

Shobha Mandi alias Uma, a Maoist squad member who had surrendered in West Midnapore in September, had alleged that she was sexually exploited by the Maoist leaders for two years.

Maoist ideologue Vara Vara Rao termed the allegation of recruitment of child soldiers in West Bengal as a " propaganda" by the ruling Left Front.

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